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Eric Eustace Williams Edit Profile

politician , statesman

Eric Williams is considered by many to be the "Father of the Nation" for the two former British colonies of Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies. An Oxford-educated historian, Williams had a unique understanding of the racial and eco-nomic processes that affected the development of the West Indies and the Caribbean.


Eric Eustace Williams was born on September 25,1911, in the Trinidadian capital of Port-of-Spain to Thomas Henry Williams, a civil servant who worked for the posted service, and Elisa Bossiere Williams.


Williams attended the Tranquility Boy's School before winning a scholarship to attend the elite Queen's Royal College, where he excelled in his studies and as a soccer player. Because of his scholastic achievements, Williams obtained a prestigious "Island Scholarship" to attend Oxford University in England, where he studied history and obtained a first-class honors bachelor's degree. He received a doctorate in history from Oxford with a concentration in the social history of the Caribbean in 1938. His doctoral dissertation, "Economic Aspects of the Abolition of Slavery in the British West Indies," argued that Britain gave freedom to the slaves in their colonies not for humanitarian reasons but because slavery no longer served Britain's economic interests. The dissertation was the basis of his book Capitalism and Slavery and is considered a classic in the field of Caribbean studies.

After finishing his studies, Williams moved to the United States, where he taught social and political science at Howard University. By 1945 he had attained the rank of full professor at the institution.


Because of his considerable expertise in Caribbean history and politics, Williams was hired in 1947 to serve as a consultant to the Anglo-American Commission, which later became the Caribbean Commission. This organization was established by Great Britain to examine the social and economic problems of the Caribbean and to serve as a resource for development in the region. Williams left Howard in 1948 and accepted a full-time position with the Commission as deputy chairman in charge of research. He worked for them until 1955, when he left because he thought that the commission supported the continued colonial status in the Caribbean.

After leaving his post at the commission, Williams became interested in politics and gave a series of lectures and speeches at Woodford Square in Port-of-Spain about the problems faced by Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean nations. He presented ideas for solving their problems and strengthening their social and economic development. In 1956 he founded the People's National Movement (PNM), a new political party on the island. Like Norman Manley from Jamaica, Williams fostered nationalistic and patriotic fervor on the island and was a strong advocate of independence for West Indian colonies. One of the most serious problems hindering the social and economic development of Trinidad and Tobago was the lack of unity due to the ethnic diversity on the two islands. Williams called for the unity among the Trinidadians, an important strategy toward development. His new party won the elections and obtained a majority in the Legislative Council and Williams became the chief minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

In 1959, largely because of Williams' efforts, the island achieved its first comprehensive cabinet government, and by 1960 achieved full internal self-government as well as its own constitution. Like many other Caribbean political leaders, Williams worked hard to integrate Trinidad and Tobago into the West Indian Fed-eration. The federation had been planned by the British West Indian colonies since 1947 with the support of Great Britain. It was intended to unify the different islands under a federal political apparatus that would facilitate their social and economic development. Finally established in 1958, the federation was short-lived because there was a great deal of dissent among its different members, who preferred to focus their energies on obtaining independence from Great Britain rather than in developing a regional unity. When Jamaica left the federation in 1962, Williams pulled Trinidad and Tobago out of the federation and petitioned Great Britain for independence.

Trinidad and Tobago became independent on August 31,1962, and established a parliamentary form of government. Williams became prime minister and stayed in control of its government for the next two decades. Using his profound knowledge of economics and development, Williams focused his efforts on attaining selfsufficiency for his island. One of his achievements was free mandatory education for all Trinidadian children. Under his governance, school enrollment increased by eleven-fold and literacy rate increased to 78 percent (Thomas 1981). He developed an economic strategy by which the government was able to control significant assets such as the oil industry, traditionally controlled by transnational companies. He also worked with the private sector by assuring them of the sta-bility of his government.

Eric Williams recognized the importance of creating an organization that could facilitate economic exchanges between Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean nations. He was instrumental in establishing the Caribbean Free Trade Organization in 1966 and the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) in 1973.

In 1970 Trinidad and Tobago faced serious social problems when its population rebelled and demanded more power. Following the precepts of the popular Black Power movement and inspired by American leaders such as Trinidadian Stokeley Carmichael, Trinidadian blacks complained of many inequities in their treatment. They felt other island minority groups such as Hindus and Muslims discriminated against blacks. This period was difficult for Williams and he decided to resign as prime minister in 1971, but later withdrew his resignation.

Like neighboring Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago have significant oil reserves. After Arab nations and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) decided to control the production and export of oil in 1973, world markets saw a significant increase in the cost of oil. Williams maneuvered carefully to take control of the production of oil in Trinidad and Tobago. Williams used the funds from oil investments for businesses and industries. This surplus income led to a strengthening of the economic and social infrastructure of the island and to an increase in the quality of life of most Trinidadians.

Despite his successes, Williams has been criticized for his autocratic and totalitarian governing style. Williams exercised almost absolute control over the most important agencies and organization of his government. One scholar points out that Williams stayed in power by controlling opposition attempts to raise awareness about the problems with his administration or government.


  • Even with his autocratic traits, Eric Williams has been one of the most diligent and capable Caribbean leaders of the twentieth century. Using his knowledge of the history of the Caribbean he was able to strategically maneuver Trinidad and Tobago into one of the most prosperous and stable islands of the Caribbean. He made some of the most significant contributions to the social, political, and economic development of these Caribbean islands.


As a chief minister he began a program of industrialization based on the country’s oil resources.

Williams launched a campaign in 1957 to remove an American military base from the colony, seeing it as a blatant symbol of foreign domination. He also began a campaign for full self-government as a prelude to independence. Britain was induced to concede on both issues by 1960. Williams then led the PNM to a massive electoral victory in 1961. The new government immediately prepared and circulated a Draft Constitution for an independent Trinidad and Tobago, which was granted on August 31, 1962. Williams became the first prime minister.

One noted failure of the Williams pre-independence government was over the issue of federation. An ardent integrationist, Williams lought hard for a centralized federal government. Unable to sufficiently influence the eventual federal structure, which was inaugurated as the West Indies Federation in 1958, Williams saw the experiment fail in 1962, when Jamaica seceded. Upon hearing the news, Williams also withdrew his country from the federation.

Williams' efforts at integration were revived after independence. In 1966, upon his initiative, a Caribbean Free Trade Area was organized with Antigua, Barbados, and Guyana. It was soon expanded to embrace all the Anglophone Caribbean except the Bahamas, which did not join until 1983. In 1973, the Free Trade Area became the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom).

Domestically, Williams oversaw fundamental reform of the public service sector as well as educational reform. He embarked on a second Five-Year Development Plan, presented in 1963, with primary emphasis on import substitution ndustrialization.

In 1968 Williams formulated a highly comprehensive third Five-Year Development Plan aimed at creation of a “peoples sector,” including small-scale industry, handicrafts, and service activities. The new plan focused on development of the locally owned capitalist sector as the pivot of etlorts at economic transformation,” with emphasis on private rather than public enterprises. However, an oil-related economic crisis which sparked serious political disturbances in 1970, as well as serious opposition to the Williams government between 1970 and 1973, hampered fulfillment of the Third Development Plan.

After 1973 Williams used revenue generated by the phenomenal increase in the price of oil to embark on an industrialization and massive state spending program. The result was tremendous growth in the economy and an explosion in the income level of the entire Trinidadian population. The state became the major investor in the economy, with most foreign enterprises being relegated to partnership status.


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    He remembered not only for his political achievements but also by the superb scholarly legacy that he left through books such as The Negro in the Caribbean (1942), Capitalism and Slavery (1944), The Historic Background of Race Relations in the Caribbean (1955), Constitution Reform in Trinidad Tobago (1955), Britain and the West Indies (1969), and From Capitalism to Castro: the History of the Caribbean (1969).