Address by the Hon. Gaston Browne Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda on the observance of Emancipation Day 2020
One hundred and eighty-six years ago, on August 1st, 1834, the people of Antigua and Barbuda ended the system of involuntary servitude and hoped to begin building a new Antigua and Barbuda. For 100 years, following Emancipation, the oppressors of our forebears intensified their grip by utilizing their monopoly over the law-making machinery, then in existence.
- The Presidency of Antigua and Barbuda within the Colony of the Leeward Islands was a miserable place, where illiteracy, poor wages and early death awaited those whose birth was recorded within the 170 square miles of our territory. Our people intensified the struggle to escape the pain which unbridled colonialism inflicted, seeking ways to strengthen their ambition to capture the hard power which had been used against a vulnerable population for ten decades after 1834.
- The founding of the first trade union, in 1939, whether or not our people knew their fate then, was the incarnation of the end of centuries of exploitation and misery. While the detractors argued that the union ought to be concerned with workers’ wages and working conditions only, the leaders knew that political control of the colony was key to overcoming the harsh realities of colonialism.
- Our innovative grandparents understood that they would be required to birth new institutions to further the work began by the trade union; the ultimate objective was freedom and sovereignty which could only be achieved through political parties. Tens of political parties were created between 1936, when the first constitution was promulgated, and today, 2020, thirty-eight years following sovereignty. The political party which I lead, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party, is the longest-lasting and the most successful.
- It was the political party, functioning within the framework of the trade union, which led the emancipated people in 1951 to adult suffrage. Sixteen years later, in 1967, it was the same party and leaders that led our optimistic people into quasi-independence and a new constitution; it placed all domestic decision-making into the hands of the elected representatives. That step was a remarkable departure from colonial rule which was collapsing all over the world. The Bandung Conference in 1955 assured the death of colonialism, which was formally buried by United Nations Resolution 1514 of 1960.
- When Antigua and Barbuda eventually stepped into the United Nations in November 1981 as its 157th member-state, the emancipated people of our great little country achieved the sovereignty which generations of our ancestors had prayed to God to achieve. We celebrate our 186th Anniversary of Emancipation knowing that the current generations stand upon the shoulders of those who labored for more than 300 years of unrelenting struggle to achieve freedom. Our regional neighbours, celebrating the identical number of years of freedom, have been an integral part of this remarkable history.
- Today, our challenge to build a better Antigua and Barbuda has been confined by the Coronavirus Pandemic that challenges the mightiest of states. We have assembled several of the smartest and well-informed men and women to form an Economic Recovery Committee (ERC). That Committee’s work is near completion and will be presented to the Parliament, to the Media, and to the people of Antigua and Barbuda.
- Our future looks bright, our plans are crystal clear, and the likelihood of success is great. We will lift Antigua and Barbuda out of this morass called Covid, and will redeem the dream which our ancestors and forebears set for future generations. We shall therefore succeed. Let us move forward in optimistic solidarity.
Once Again, Happy Emancipation Day!