Ninety-two-year-old Percival Austin Bramble, former Chief Minister of Montserrat, is the only surviving Head of Government who signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas which established the Caribbean Community. Errol Barrow, Forbes Burnham, Michael Manley and Dr. Eric Williams, the Prime Ministers of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago respectively, were the four original signatories on 4 July 1973, at Chaguaramas in Trinidad and Tobago.
Mr. Bramble signed the founding document on 17 April 1974, at a Special Conference of Heads of Government of the Commonwealth Caribbean Countries which was convened in Castries, Saint Lucia, for the purpose of signing the Treaty. George Price, the Premier of Belize; Patrick R. John, Deputy Premier of Dominica; Eric Gairy, Prime Minister of Grenada; John Compton, Premier of Saint Lucia; and James Mitchell, Premier of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, also signed at that meeting.
George H. Walter, Premier of Antigua and Barbuda and Robert L. Bradshaw, Premier of St. Kitts and Nevis signed the Treaty on 4 and 26 July 1974, respectively.
Mr. Bramble was born in the village of Cork Hill, Montserrat on 24 January 1931 to William Henry Bramble and Ann Albertha Bramble nee Daley. He first entered politics as a member of his father’s (Montserrat’s first Chief Minister) Montserrat Labour Party (MLP) in the 1966 general elections. He won the Plymouth seat with over 70 per cent of the votes, beating the other contenders, Robert Peter Riley and the veteran Robert W. Griffith. He was appointed Minister of Communications and Works for the first three years and then moved to the Ministry of Education, Health and Welfare. After being fired from the MLP a few months before the 1970 general elections, he formed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and won on the first hustings that very year, becoming Montserrat’s second Chief Minister. He was again successful at the polls in his 1973 snap election.
Austin Bramble looks back on the early years of the Community with great fondness and recalls the camaraderie among the leaders. He felt that although Montserrat was the smallest Member State, it was a natural step to join CARICOM, since the Emerald Isle (name given to Montserrat) was previously a part of the West Indies Federation (1958-1962), and then the “Little Eight,” which comprised those countries who tried integration after the demise of the Federation. Attempts at having a federation of the “Little Eight” ended in 1965. Montserrat was also a member of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA).
As an example of cordial relations among Heads of Government, Bramble recalls Prime Minister Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago facilitating his travel to Trinidad to negotiate an assistance package from Trinidad and Tobago to Montserrat. Trinidad and Tobago made a cash contribution of EC$100, 000 to facilitate technical advice on industrial relations in Montserrat. The Eric Williams government also provided six trained primary school teachers indefinitely, in support of Montserrat’s programme to accelerate the training of primary school teachers.
In preparation for its entry to CARICOM, Montserrat and CARICOM’s More Developed Countries (MDCs) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). That MoU mapped out a package of support for Montserrat, including help for industrial development, access to funds under the Commonwealth Caribbean Technical Assistance Programme, and support for the development of the agriculture sector, among other areas. From that MoU, Montserrat also benefitted from free access to teacher training facilities in Guyana and Barbados; and Jamaica contributed to capacity-building within the public service.
Last man standing
Today, Mr. Bramble gives thanks for life, but feels remorseful that he is the only surviving Head of State from those early days. It is a realisation of the passage of time and literally being ‘the last man standing’ from a generation past. That generation carved a path for the future, understanding that small states needed each other for survival.
There were trepidations and faltering along the way. He recalls his own caution proceeding with the Common External Tariff (CET), thinking that it would put Montserrat consumers at a disadvantage. But he appreciated the support given to his island from the Region and is proud to have guided Montserrat to join CARICOM.
Although leaving active politics decades ago, he keeps abreast of the political and socio-economic issues in Montserrat and in the Region and gives advice when asked. His encouragement is for persons to speak the truth, which he thinks is such a rare but necessary tenet for success and fairness in all facets of life.
The former Chief Minister currently resides in London but has every intention to return home. He is extremely proud that his granddaughter, Pia Nicholls, who lives in Antigua and Barbuda, is now a CARICOM Youth Ambassador.
Mr. Bramble has only best wishes for the Caribbean Community and extends blessings for the work ahead. (Salas Hamilton)