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TAPIA's Resurgence

Going Public At 50: TAPIA'S Resurgence

Lloyd Taylor
Lloyd Taylor

Our Historical Antecedents

Tapia House Group (Tapia) had its genesis from the New World Group (1963 – 1972) * which began in Guyana and which, in turn emerged out of the West Indian Society for the Study of Social Issues (WISSSI) (1961-1962), a collective of academics on the Mona Campus, The University of the West Indies (UWI).

In so far as Tapia was led by Lloyd Best who, George Lamming, a West Indian novelist, described as the driving force behind the NWG enterprise*, it was never a deviant movement. Instead it was a full representation of the best that NWG worked for in its intent to lay the intellectual foundations to invent a great West Indian society within a unified state.

Tapia House Group’s members who straddled the last years of NWG and the emerging phase of Tapia know that Tapia was an unpremeditated off-shoot of the New World Group (NWG), Trinidad. Contrary to what has been consistently portrayed, Tapia came into being, not as a pre-calculated conspiracy to undermine the NWG, but as a direct result of the absence of a culture of democracy.

Obstacles, more than any clearly articulated objections, at two NWG’s weekly meetings, prevented the presentation and discussion of issues offered by Lloyd Best. The resolution of those issues was necessary to recreate and reinvent NWG in the circumstances of ripening political disaffection leading up to November 1968 and which in 1970 spilled over into the streets of Port of Spain. THG was therefore a default democratic position for a substantial number of persons who opted for discussion. Nor was Tapia a result of anyone’s personal proclivity for ‘Doctor Politics’, the label Lloyd Best gave to a West Indian brand of authoritarian political culture. 

Thus, Tapia House Group (THG) emerged, only after the opportunity requested to discuss the future of that NWG was frustrated by an unwilling Chairman, on two subsequent Thursday-night meetings. Tapia was, therefore, a default democratic position that was decisively seized upon by most persons attending the NWG meetings.

The desire for unfettered democratic discussion was the context in which 32 individuals responded to the openly-announced call by the late Lloyd Best to “start a serious organization”. The number of persons that migrated to Tapia to become, founding members of the then new fledgling organization, had been reduced to 11 persons. These facts are inconsistent with the notion portrayed online that Best, perhaps sinisterly, led “key members” mindlessly away from the New World Group.

The founding members of Tapia House group were:  Paula Williams (deceased), Krishna Augustus Ramrekersingh, Syl Lowhar (deceased), Adrian Espinet (deceased), Ivan Laughlin, Lloyd Taylor, Lloyd Best (deceased), Hart Edwards, Arthur Atwell (deceased), Yussef Otego (deceased) and Irvin Best (deceased).


Tapia House Group’s transformative methods were based on a few deceptively simple ideas which formed the basis of an ideology of ‘Self-Hood’*. These planks, taken together, would serve as instruments for the common man to enhance his cognitive sovereignty, and so   strengthen his individual capacity to unleash his creative potential. These ideological planks are as follows:

1, Building from earth

Building from the earth is the Tapia motto. It places emphasis on the fact that the industrial effort required to boost the domestic capital sector is possible only with tinkering in machine shops, garages and backyards and experimentation with dirty hands. It is a gentle reminder that the resources for improving civilized existence are to be found in the bowels of the earth and when combined with the human mind creates technology and industry. Our own unique history is proof of how a generation of males born into households within the locale of the Shango yards*, and without musical instruments, hammered steels drums over generations to produce today’s *steelpan. ‘Building from the earth’ is often used alternatively with ‘Building from the ground up.’ In the process they created a production and tuning technology that relied essentially on local imagination and domestic producer goods. This is the most obvious example of how native capacity can transform economy away from a specialized export sector.

2. Take up thy bed and walk

This Christian injunction culled from the New Testament is often mis-understood. Tapia adopted it because we see it as a call to individuals who want change, to first become the change they wish to see. It is a call to personal responsibility for repairing defects in our nation by starting with the individual person. The injunction disavows reliance on the idea of a universal Messiah for personal, as well as, collective salvation.

3. Be the person speaking

The idea is to invent all the means necessary to re-make ourselves as subjects in the world; not as the object of a sordid history implied in narratives of complaints of how other people treated us.  We need to write from the perspectives of how we dealt with the challenges of 4 centuries of trials and tribulations. To be the subject of our story means to determine our destiny ourselves. We must shape it as befits that which we chose to become. This approach to existence must be our chosen path. We are made equally like all men in the Image and Likeness of God. This view does not mean a withdrawal of compassion from our fellow men. Nor is it a surrender to a practice that might makes right, implied in the late Vidia Naipaul’s much quoted opening sentence from a Bend in the River (1979) thus: “The world is what it is. Men who are nothing or allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.”

4. Independent thought and liberation

After centuries of imperial indoctrination, lies and fake news, the dehumanizing of Caribbean folk has never been so comprehensive, as to make us into a society of mindless zombies. The mind of man is ultimately incapable of complete subjugation and control. Glimpses of divinity will always shine forth. The mind is the instrument we apply to solve problems and to conquer obstacles to man’s immortality over generations.  Independent thought, liberated from the shackles of foreign ways of perceiving, from borrowed ideological categories, from irrelevant philosophizing and self-loathing, is essential to restore self-confidence in our own capacity to prevail as masters of our own destiny.

5. Playing for change

The option to become a movement for change requires the acknowledgment that change is never programmatic or subject to predictably definite timelines or outcomes. ‘Playing for change’ is a subtle reminder that there are limits to our capacity to engineer social transformation where humans enjoy the freedom to think for themselves. The capacity for change requires us to persuade others opposed to our view and to first win their trust, while speaking the truth of how exacting are the demands of transformation on their personal commitment. One corollary for a political movement’s capacity to create the conditions for change is that it must enjoy a high order of moral authority and legitimacy in the publics’ imagination.


Tapia House Group (Tapia) began in November 1968, as a newly organized, post- independence attempt, started in Trinidad and Tobago, in order to build a great West Indian civilization in the Caribbean Sea, and the littorals of the mainland in Central and South America. To accomplish that goal we founded Tapia as an intermediate political organization that bestrode the interface between a community group and a political party. This idea was an operational strategy for converting people’s demand for immediate change into a participatory organization that provided ample opportunity for democratic discussion. In terms of ideas there could be no sacred cows. Periodically orthodoxy would be challenged by a perpetual round of research, reflections, critiques, and new knowledge, untrammeled by political pressures, personal insecurities or ideological conflicts.

More, the proposal for an intermediate political organization was just part of a coherent agenda that would have been proposed for re-inventing NWG to deal with its own crisis of intentionality and incapacity for direct political action. In the late 1960’s key spokespersons of NWG, an avowed ideas, publishing and pamphleteering organization, were confronted by demands to abandon their intellectual ivory tower, and form nothing less than a political organization to canvass for office.

NWG faced an existential crisis. It had to resolve the ambivalence of choice between its own intellectual mission and the political temptations for executive office. The proposal to construct an intermediate political organization was the only idea offered as a progressive way to resolve its crisis of choice.  NWG denied itself the opportunity to be born again and to survive, essentially because it lacked a culture of democracy. Subsequent to that the Carifta debates (1968-69) joined by James Millette with late businessman Tommy Gatliffe, had a rejoinder by Lloyd Best that seemed to widen the difference of approaches, views and interpretations between NWG and Tapia.


To bring into existence those lofty but doable goals, the organization dedicated it- self to sustaining hard-thinking of the issues, and institutionalized discussions once a week on Thursday nights from 1968 for a period of at least 12 to 18 unbroken years. From 1969 there arose in Trinidad-Tobago heightened social resurgence of hope that change was possible despite two psychic hurts. One was the disappointment caused by the leadership’s unapologetic, historically visionless refusal to back strong regional sentiments for a West Indian Federal enterprise, even the circumscribed option held aloof within the pages of W.A. Lewis’ Agony of the Little Eight. The other was a progressive surrender of all pretense to transformative politics, in exchange for the politics of office at all costs.  By February 1970, Woodford Square, Port of Spain, was transformed into the People’s Parliament* from the bully pulpit of a People’s University, after a spate of Black Power led marches. Tapia House Thursday night meetings held in Tunapuna that frontier town, became a non-sectarian/non-partisan national forum* for heated debates on the state of our nation, and of the movement for economic development and social transformation. Out of the heightened political debates of 1970, the discussions were weekly assessments about the state of the nation, and provided the editorial content called the Movement that was published in the pages of Tapia. It is worthy of recall that some of the Movement pieces leading up to the 1970 social upheavals were written by the late Adrian Espinet before his detention in March, 1970.


  1. Individual freedom, civil liberties and human rights (including the right to happiness) as the bedrock of the new civilization continuously under renewal, review and construction
  2. Localization as distinct from mere nationalization of the traditional commodity export sector 
  3. Deepening investment in Best’s Residentiary/Inshore* sector, now consistent with the developing literature on the Domestic Capital Sector *(Vanus James) in order to confront decisively, after 50 plus years of dithering representative governments, the challenge of growth in the nationally owned economic sector
  4. A People’s House with sovereign legislative capacity, that makes it independent of the executive; and possesses powers to investigate, summon witnesses, hold hearings, initiate money bills, make foreign policy, and to legislate on informed issues that facilitate the development of the domestic capital sector.
  5. Power to the People. Forty-eight years ago in 1970, the most persistent cry among young urban blacks demanding change was ‘Power to the People’, and ‘Africans and Indians Unite’. Both demands can best be met with constitutional and political reforms. Tapia has made many recommendations that address them. (See Power To the People, Dec, 1973.)
  6. Equitable distribution of assets and an egalitarian society
  7. A Constitutional reform agenda that strengthens the sovereignty of the People’s House or legislature and provides mandates for the average citizen to participate in decisions, particularly economic ones that affect their lives, at all levels of government. {See Power To the People, Tapia House Publishing, Dec 1973).
  8. The invention of political reforms to strengthen national solidarity across ethnic differences.
  9. Regional collaboration in sport, culture, trade, economic and political integration


Tapia’s attempt at political reform began with its formation as an intermediate political organization for reasons advanced above. Its intent was to provide solutions to circumscribe political leader’s domination of political parties (‘Doctor Politics’), ethnic mobilization (social fragmentation), the absence of strong local leadership and no participation of little people in decision-making. The Tapia solution was to establish a firm foundation for a permanent professional political party. (See a Party Politics for Trinidad and Tobago, 1991, TTIWI).  What put paid to those efforts were the ethnic divide in Tobago, the East West Corridor and Caroni- Naparima that was confirmed in the results of the elections contested in 1976 and 1981. As the need to service the Constitution Reform agenda was deemed critical to the objective of economic transformation, and unfettered democratic participation, Tapia followed the Wooding Commission in 1974 around the country and entered the Senate appointed by MP Richardson who defected from the PNM 1971 administration to become the Opposition Leader. Tapia had 4 Senators: Lloyd Best, Ivan Laughlin, Hamlet Joseph and Denis Solomon

Tapia contested the 1976 elections which the PNM won, and the ULF emerged as the formal of parliamentary Opposition.  Tapia had a token presence in 1981 general elections in which its strategic objective was to strengthen the opposition voices contained in the National Alliance for Trinidad and Tobago comprising the United Labour Front, the Democratic Action Congress and Tapia itself. Tapia’s strategy for consolidating the opposition forces into a single striking force was based on the invention of a Party of Parties. By then the ONR which garnered 91, 000 votes in the 1981 elections and won no seats, joined the strategy. This effort finally achieved success in the construction of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) which swept to office in 1986. Tapia did not agree that NAR had a capacity for change after removing the PNM. Accordingly, our front bench opted to stay out of NAR which became, tragically, a one-term government.

Two subsequent attempts in 2007, the UNC-A and in 2010 the UNC-Peoples Partnership, were made by Basdeo Panday and Kamla Persad Bissessar respectively, to construct a party of parties. These fell far short of the prescriptions proposed by Tapia in at least 8 statements written by Lloyd Best, Allan Harris and Ivan Laughlin. The first of the last two suffered from a circumscribed condition of participation that unity was possible only on a UNC bed. The next attempt, the People’s Partnership won the government in the general elections on May 24, 2010. This attempt ended with a fatal evisceration of the Congress of the People (COP) that was deliberate and sustained throughout the term of the government. To quote Karl Marx history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy the second time as farce. The work of political reform still needs to be continued. The NAR, for all its defects, was a better thought out attempt at constructing a party of parties. We have the experience to know fails and what succeeds