PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Wednesday April 9, 2014, CMC – Former president Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson, who once told Trinidad and Tobago that he was committed “with everything I have or shall have to the future of this land,” has died. He was 87.
Robinson, the only person to have served as both head of state and prime minister died Wednesday at the private St. Clair Medical Hospital on the outskirts of the capital where he had been a patient since March 8.
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General Irwin La Rocque, said despite the fact that the region knew of his illness and hospitalization, “his passing…still came as a shock.
“The Caribbean Community has lost one of its truly great sons who will always be remembered for his historic role at the landmark Grand Anse Meeting in 1989, where the decision was taken to significantly deepen our integration,” La Rocque said.
The 15-member regional grouping in 1998 bestowed its highest order, “the Award of the Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC) on Robinson for his “distinguished service to the Caribbean region.
St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony said no one can deny Robinson the accolade of statesman, saying his life was “a tireless journey in the pursuit of justice and equality for all” recalling the role he played in the formation of the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ).
“Trinidad and Tobago and the region have lost a great son, one whose reputation and influence went beyond the narrow confines of local and regional politics and instead reverberated throughout the world,” Anthony said.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, who described Robinson as “my friend and political mentor” said as president “he stood as an exemplary Head of State, even when faced with declining health, and served with distinction.
“As a true national hero, he earned a sterling reputation as a visionary and champion of the people. Even as he battled his illnesses for many years, Mr. Robinson never lost his fighting edge, and remained driven by what he believed to be just and right.”
She said she had instructed that the national flag be flown at half-mast during a period of national mourning.
“I have also instructed the relevant Ministers to liaise with the family of Mr Robinson to prepare for a full State funeral.
“Mr. Robinson’s passing is a deep and tragic loss for our country, but the legacy he leaves behind shall surely live on to inspire today’s and tomorrow’s generations,” Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said.
But former prime minister Basdeo Panday said while his death was not unexpected, history would “not be kind” to the former head of state.
“I don’t think history will be kind to him for some of the things he did in office,” said Panday, who in 2001, was removed as head of government by Robinson following the historic 18-18 tie in the general election.
Insisting that “I do not have a spiteful bone in my body,” Panday said he could not recall the former prime minister and head of state doing anything “historic” apart from ensuring the establishment of the ICJ.
But Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley said that Robinson ‘served with distinction” and “has left a legacy of leadership which has come to immortalise the words “Attack with full force”.
“Even in the midst of what has become known as one of the darkest periods in our nation’s history, he was resolute in his role as leader,” Rowley said, an apparent reference to the 1990 attempted coup by members of the radical Jamaat Al Muslimeen group to overthrow his government on July 27, 1990.
Rowley said that Robinson’s love for Trinidad and Tobago was aptly demonstrated through service to this twin island state and a special dedication to Tobago.
Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Orville London described him as a “fierce and strong Tobagonian” who was “never afraid to make hard decisions regardless of the consequencies”.
Joseph Toney, who served as national security minister in Robinson 1986-1991 administration, said that “the nation has lost a great man. He was very committed to Trinidad and Tobago,” while Planning and Development Minister Dr. Bhoe Tewarie, who also served in the Robinson government, described him as ‘an honourable citizen.
“A giant of a man…a leader who risked his life for country,” said Tewarie, noting that while he had disagreed with Robinson, the first and only prime minister of the oil-rich twin island republic, to seek funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “we did not have a choice”.
Speaker of the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament Wade Mark said robinson, who is survived by his two children, had made a ‘very remarkable contribution to public life.
“He was a very patriotic public servant of the people. His character was impeccable. His contributions were rich and varied,” Mark said, while David Abdulah, the leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) described Robinson as “among the most important figures in a post independent period.
“It is important that we remember him for standing up for Tobagonians to have a certain level of autonomy,” Abdulah said, adding “he saw public service and building institutions as being more important than private gains”.
Robinson was born on December 16, 1926 in Calder Hall, Tobago, becoming the first and only person to hold the three highest offices of Trinidad and Tobago: Chairman of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), from 1981-1986; Prime Minister from 1986-1991; and President from 1997-2003.
He studied law as an external student of London University and, after getting his LLB in 1949, moved to England two years later to attend the Inner Temple, where he passed the Bar in 1953. He then went to St. John’s College, Oxford, and obtained a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
In 1958, Robinson was elected as a member of the Federal Parliament in the short-lived Federation of the West Indies.
A founding member of the People’s National Movement (PNM), Robinson was appointed the Minister of Finance after the Federation collapsed in 1962. He held that post until 1967, when he was shifted to the Ministry of External Affairs, acting also as head of government in the absence of the then prime minister Dr. Eric Williams.
Robinson resigned from the PNM and ecame leader of the Tobago-based party, the Democratic Action Congress (DAC), which would eventually come to defeat the PNM in Tobago.
In 1977, Robinson, then Member of Parliament for Tobago East, presented a motion in Parliament which called for internal self-government for Tobago. Three years later, the Tobago House of Assembly was reconstituted under the THA Act, which specified the areas under which Tobago would run its own affairs. In 1981, Robinson teamed up with the Organisation for National Reconstruction (ONR), led by Karl Hudson-Phillips, to contest the general election.
But while the ONR got 22 per cent of the overall votes, the party failed to win a single seat.
In 1986, he teamed up with the United Labour Front (ULF) led by Panday to form the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) and becoming victorious in the general election.
On July 27, 1990 Robinson faced his greatest test when the Jamaat al Muslimeen staged their attempted coup and despite being held captive for six days he urged the protective forces to attack “with full force”.
In the 1995 election, with both the PNJM and the United National Congress (UNC) winning 17 seats each, Robinson used the two Tobago seats won by his party to form a coalition with the UNC.
Two years later, he resigned to become the head of state.
Robinson was the holder of two international awards: The Distinguished International Criminal Law Award of 1977 and the Distinguished Human Development Award of 1983.
He wrote three books: The New Frontier and the New Africa; The Mechanics of Independence; and his autobiography titled “In the Midst of It”.
In 1987, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honour from California Lutheran University. On a state visit to Nigeria in 1991 he was made Chief of Ile Ife by the Ooni of Ife. He was a Freeman of the cities of Los Angeles and Thousand Oaks and holds Venezuela’s highest award – the Simon Bolivar Award.