By WILLIAM D. PINKNEY | OP-ED
The Hartford Courant
5:16 PM EDT, September 9, 2013
I have been aboard the sailing ship Amistad several times recently here in Puerto Rico and she looked better than she has in years — despite the recent controversy surrounding her not being in Connecticut waters after receiving millions in state payments.
I should know — I gave the order to lay the keel in 1998.
I was there when the ship went to England, Portugal and Sierra Leone. I was at the helm in 2010 when she sailed into Havana under a historic flying of the American, Cuban and United Nations flags together. I also sweated out late payments from the state that had us dodging creditors during tours of U.S. cities.
The current brouhaha that I'm reading about in emails and links to The Courant sent by friends in Connecticut seems like a staged grandstand play by those who were not involved in the role the ship has played in setting an international platform that Connecticut and its taxpayers failed to ascend.
Where were the trade and tourism representatives when we sailed under Tower Bridge in London in 2007 as the British observed the 200th anniversary of the act in Parliament that abolished the slave trade? The U.S. Congress voted in March 1807 to ban the importation of slaves into the country in a measure that was to take effect on Jan. 1, 1808, nearly a year later. These measures did not stop international slave trading, considering that the 53 captives taken from Sierra Leone to Cuba and then put on the Amistad revolted on July 2, 1839, three decades later.
I was the only representative from Connecticut on the Walk of Witness with the archbishop of Canterbury and thousands of British citizens recalling the abolition of slavery. Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and Tony Blair sat in a service of remembrance in Westminster Abbey; but again, not a single representative of Connecticut, just the semi-retired captain of Amistad, the "State Vessel of Connecticut." There was no support or acknowledgment from Connecticut's trade or business community representatives, who could have primedthe pump for the Nutmeg State during the many events that took place before during and after the arrival of Amistad in England.
The funding of Amistad has at best been hand to mouth after the initial building funds used to produce one of the finest wooden vessels to be built in the state in the last 100 years were exhausted. An audit of the current finances should be conducted to be sure, but there should also be an audit of the efforts made by the media and state representatives to let the public know the "bang for the buck" they have gotten and missed opportunities by the tourist board and trade commissions.
I have been here in Puerto Rico, my new home for three years, and have never taken my eyes off the goings and comings, triumphs and travails of the ship. Like many who put their blood, sweat and tears into the fundraising, construction, sailing and the telling of Connecticut's "international story," I am disgusted that this has become a political football kicked around by those to whom I say, "Those who talk don't know and those who know don't talk." It's time to talk about what the politicians failed to capitalize on in prestige, recognition and domestic and international exposure for their state.
I stand available to any and all to give a firsthand account on what the state and taxpayers got for the $8 million (I question the numbers). It is easy to grandstand when you never were at the wheel.
Capt. William D. Pinkney is master emeritus of the Amistad, a replica of the schooner that carried captives brought to Cuba along the Atlantic Coast.
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