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41 years of Republicanism – do we care?

Top: Odette Dennis, Stefon Evans, Middle: Sinclair Plowden, Nekeisha Nelson,

‘What does being a Republic mean to you?’

If this question has you stumped you are not alone. There is a lot of fanfare attached to Independence; Republic Day is another public holiday leaving little impression on the minds of citizens.

The Catholic News went to the ‘University of Woodford Square’ on September 18 to get different perspectives on the question.  It was not easy.

Most folks did not want to participate, yet their pessimistic comments showed the thinking among a section of society. “With all due respect…This country gone through!” said a young man as he briskly walked away.  Another said “They [government] don’t do nothing for we!” He was not impressed by the Constitution either, “What laws do for we? When people do bad they have to pay money and they get it”.

The question was like a joke to a man in his thirties who retorted, if he said what he wanted to it would sound weird. Many of the persons responding had to be prompted.  The question was interpreted based on their perception of the current state of the country or their own condition.

Eighty-eight-year-old Sinclair Plowden, of Success Village Laventille said at his age he was just glad to be in the “land of the living” and in good health after health issues years ago. “God had brought me where I am today and I am thankful for small mercies.” Asked if the country has benefitted from Republic status, he said, “To a point…I will give it a nine out of ten”.

Odette Dennis, 72 years, Carenage, said being a Republic meant, “We run our own business. We don’t have to depend on England”.  Dennis, a victim of a robbery three years ago said the country was “not going very good” because of the crime situation. “As a child, you could have gone out any time and nothing happened to you; I know about playing hoop at nights…you can’t allow your children to be out after 6 p.m.” As a victim of crime she said she now does not go to the supermarket alone. Dennis said parents have to teach their children to pray.

Rhonda McLaren, 27 years, St James said “being a Republic is basically country standing on its own and not dependent on a monarchy system.” Has the country grown? “We have grown… being able to make a lot of decisions for ourselves and being able to move away from being under the Queen.”

There have been improvements said 32-year-old St Joseph resident Shannon Lallite, but “citizens of the country need to check themselves. There is good and bad in everything, basically it is just citizens need to straighten up, get their act together…the crime rate – they need to think before they act.”

Ricardo Bristow, 38 years, East Dry River said the country was at a standstill with good and evil things happening. He referred specifically to crime and killings adding “otherwise, it have nice people in the country”.

Nekeisha Nelson, 34 years, Couva, said “We are able to make our own decisions, we have a country that is able to sustain itself and develop its people in terms of education, health care.”

On the other hand, she thinks there is more to be done especially with the education system, “getting our citizens to be more developed in terms of entrepreneurial skills, to be more sustainable instead of dependent on the country with respect to certain things; I think there is more to be done with life skills at the primary-school level.”

San Juan resident, Stefon Evans, 20 years, said republicanism goes “hand in hand” with being an independent country. He added, “It’s all about having pride in your country; it’s all about love and ownership and respecting your country.” As a country have we grown? “I think much more growth needs to be done so it’s evolving; we are still growing.”

Before you consider scoffing at some of the responses what do you think?

Last July in announcing the shifting of the National Awards’ ceremony from Independence to Republic Day, His Excellency President Anthony Carmona disclosed the rationale in his letter to stakeholders. He stated when Trinidad and Tobago became a Republic 41 years ago, the country no longer owed allegiance to the Queen and this “paved the way for National Awards” to be conferred in the name of the Head of State, the President whose constitutional and ceremonial authority, legitimacy and remit are embedded and rooted in the Republican Constitution. He referred to his Republic Day address to the nation in 2013 where he noted that in the minds of many there was some uncertainty and ambivalence about the significance of Republic Day.

“Perhaps the key difference between Independence Day and Republic Day is that Independence Day commemorates the road to freedom from colonial rule—which in our case was a relatively peaceful one —while Republic Day celebrates our achievements born out of our thirst for self-governance and the desire to determine our future. Independence Day celebrates the birth of our Nation but Republic Day celebrates our adulthood, our coming of age.” LPG

Photos: Simone Delochan