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  Albert Gomes

Multi-ethnicity which grew out of the experiences of slavery and indentureship has been a distinguishing characteristic of Caribbean societies. As a result, men of different races have played a part on the basis of merit in the political and economic life of the region. Indeed, so comfortable are the Caribbean people with its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nature that the election of a Prime Minister of Portuguese descent in one of the member states of the Caribbean Community provoked no comment. The Prime Minister in question, the Hon. Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, remarked that if this had happened in any other part of the world, it would have been hailed as a victory. In the Caribbean, it is an accepted fact. Albert Gomes was a politician of Portuguese descent who was prominent in the politics of Trinidad and Tobago and Caribbean unity.  

Albert Gomes, born in Belmont, Port-of-Spain, on 25th March 1911, was the first and only son of Madeiran parents. His early education was at the Pamphylian High School; he later studied in England. Although he came from a fairly middle-class background, Gomes soon became acutely aware of the plight of the common man and turned his energies to the cause of the labour movement and trade unionism. Gomes recognised that the political system created by colonialism was suppressing the energies of the people of Trinidad and had to be discarded.  

In the 1930s, Gomes became involved in the publication of a radical literary magazine, "The Beacon", which provided a forum for the angry young men of the time and which attracted, along the way, numerous libel suits. In his view, the magazine provided "a much needed safety valve for the pent up feelings of many" and thus ensured its popularity. However, because the magazine depended on the business community for its survival, it could not last as the colonial representatives controlled this element of the society. The Beacon closed in 1933. In his autobiography, Gomes stated what happened next: "When the Beacon ceased publication in 1933, my father bought a pharmacy and installed me in it." But work in the pharmacy could not suppress the desire for public service. Gomes was soon in the political fray contesting elections for the Port-of-Spain Council. He organised workers into the Federal Trade Union and fought continuously with the government on behalf of the lower classes. During an argument in the City Council with Mayor Arthur Cipriani, Gomes created a sensation by lying on the floor when asked to leave the chamber, necessitating his physical removal from the room - no easy task, since Gomes was a man of extraordinary girth. For the record, he ended by winning his point; his motion was eventually accepted.  

In 1945, Gomes contested and won the seat on the Legislative Council formerly held by Cipriani, who died earlier that year. This was the start of a brilliant career as a legislator - one which would see Gomes rise to become the most powerful and influential politician in the country. In 1946, he confirmed his position in the Legislative Council by running in the adult franchise elections and beating out popular demagogue Uriah "Buzz" Butler, who had made the mistake of challenging Gomes in his home constituency. The following year, he was the chief delegate for Trinidad and Tobago at the Conference on Federation held in Jamaica; he was a strong federalist and many of his basic principles were accepted by the other West Indian leaders. In 1947, as a senior member on the Reform Committee, he proposed radical changes to the make-up of the Legislative Council, which were accepted; these gave the voice of the people more weight in the legislative process. In 1950, under the new Constitution, he was re-elected to the Council and was appointed Minister of Labour, Industry and Commerce - one of the first five ministers in Trinidad and Tobago.  

In the 1950s, Gomes formed a new party, the Party of Political Progress Groups (POPPG), to campaign for the 1955 elections. The elections were postponed until 1956 and in this vital year Gomes lost his political momentum. Eric Williams and the new wave of politics were surging in; Gomes' party did not win a single seat in the 1956 elections. In the Federal Elections of 1958, he staged something of a comeback, joining Bhadase Maraj and the DLP to win one of his greatest election battles ever. When the Federation disintegrated in 1961, however, Gomes realised that he had reached the end of the road. He migrated to England in 1962 where he lived and wrote until his death in 1978.

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