On the occasion of Emancipation Day 2020

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By Kamla Persad Bissessar SC

Today, I join the national community in commemorating the 186th anniversary of the Emancipation of enslaved Africans in Trinidad and Tobago. 

Emancipation is as much a time of celebration as it is a time of earnest reflection on the horror of the enslavement of human beings. In celebrating Emancipation, we celebrate the diversity of our nation and the rich cultural heritage of all our people. Moreover, we celebrate the strength and perseverance of our forefathers who maintained their dignity despite the oppression and inhumanities meted out to them. We must never lose sight of the fact that many of our African ancestors experienced the most inhumane conditions and were forced to endure cruelty in some of its most horrific forms.

The pain of a people ripped from their homeland, shipped like cargo across thousands of miles of sea, sold as chattel, suffering further indignity, oppression, and abuse under slave-owners – these are experiences that none of us alive today can fathom. Slavery remains one of the most heinous crimes against humanity which African people endured, and the trauma of that dark period has been passed through generations.

On Emancipation Day, the descendants of the then irrepressible enslaved, pause to reflect on what their ancestors endured and celebrate the hard-won freedoms which were granted on August 1st, 1834. The courage, resilience and sheer will to survive, to hold on to their hopes and dreams of an end to the brutality of their reality are inspiring.

We recognize the tremendous sacrifices made in the name of freedom, and, in so doing, honour the memory of those who stood at the forefront of the battle for liberty, many of them giving their lives for the freedom we enjoy today.

Today, we see that their descendants have gone on to accomplish great things. They have risen to all the top levels of politics, business, medicine, military, science, sport, and all other arenas possible, showing the dynamic strength of our African brothers and sisters.

In fighting for freedom, our African ancestors found expression music, song, and dance, which then formed part of the beautifully resplendent history of our nation. Trinidad and Tobago’s vibrant cultural industry owes a great deal to how we overcame the challenges we faced as a people. A new United National Congress (UNC) government intends to aggressively promote all aspects of our creative industries and the marketing of our rich culture within our specific Creative Industries Sector.

To the sons and daughters of the descendants of the enslaved, we can truly never understand what our ancestors endured or what they felt, but let our accomplishments today be a tribute to our fore-parents and their struggle. Let us continue to make them proud, let us make our nation a better place than we found it so our children can have a better one than the one we inherited.

Today as we reflect on the atrocities on the past, we recognize that the last shameful bastion of the enslavement of human beings still exists today in the form of human trafficking. That this practice occurs in our country is an affront to the memory of our African ancestors and all who value our shared humanity. We must do all in our power to eradicate this vile practice once and for all. It is our duty to fight for the freedom and dignity of every person. Many in the past stayed silent during slavery, but we must not repeat their failure.

We speak with one, united voice and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. The elimination of human trafficking has always been a priority for the UNC and would continue to be a primary focus for my administration.

Our beloved nation stands as a model to the world because of our history of peace and unity and it is a reputation we all have a responsibility to uphold.

Amid this General Election campaign, let us remember the struggles fought and obstacles we have overcome in the pursuit of freedom. Let us remember that throughout it all we still have to live with each other as brothers and sisters. Let us not allow the politics to divide us, you can disagree with me politically, but we can still respect and love each other.

As we commemorate Emancipation Day 2020, I renew my appeal for all of us to join hands in solidarity, and unity of purpose, to protect the freedom we inherited and defend it for the generations still to come.

Happy Emancipation Day to all.

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