1990 Enquiry: Exercise in Futility

Abu BakrI DO not know how Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her Cabinet arrived at a decision to appoint a Commission of Enquiry into the attempted coup of 1990. I suspect the hype that always surrounds the anniversary date of the Muslimeen assault on the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government may have prompted the PM and her colleagues to attempt to “put this matter to rest for once and for all”. It certainly was not part of the People’s Partnership manifesto or 120-day action plan.

I can only conclude that the perennial deluge of calls for an enquiry into the events of July 1990 drove the People’s Partnership Cabinet to try to bring “closure” to that unfortunate chapter in our recent history. Whether the Enquiry will serve any purpose other than open old wounds, and maybe raise some embarrassing questions for some retired holders of high office, is left to be seen. The PM, making the announcement, raised the possibility of “charges for offences that are not statute-barred”. That seems far-fetched, given the Privy Council ruling that set the 114 accused free.

But I am no attorney, so I leave such issues to wiser heads. What I can say is there were two enquiries into the mutiny of 1970, in which I was a lead player. The first was a committee comprising World War II veterans that sat even as we mutineers held Teteron Barracks. The three-man Military Committee was headed by Major Roderick Marcano. Mainly Defence Force personnel, including several mutineers, appeared before them. They sat for two or three days and immediately reported to the then Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams.

I don’t know of anyone who has seen their report. Maybe Williams and his Attorney General, Karl Hudson-Phillips, did. But its contents never arose during the preliminary inquiry into charges of treason or at the three courts martial that followed. While we mutineers were in prison, a Commission of Enquiry was named. I don’t recall its composition, but I know the late Dr Martin Sampath, a PNM member who later followed Ray Robinson when he resigned from the ruling party, was a member.

No mutineer was given the opportunity to appear before that enquiry, but many senior officers of both the Regiment and Coast Guard did. Again, the report of that Commission appears to have been buried with the rubble of 1970. In 1989, Sampath, who often wrote Op-Ed pieces for the daily newspapers, referred to the Commission and its report in one such column.

Sampath wrote, inter alia, “…if the contents of that report had been made public in a timely manner, no soldier would have been charged with mutiny”. I don’t know if he was correct, but I have to accept his word since he was an author of the report.

What I can say is that we mutineers, in particular the two leaders, accepted our culpability. But we argued that the then “high command” was equally culpable, since it was they who dragged the Regiment into the sorry state it had reached.

We went on to win our matters at the Court of Appeal, not on any legal technicality, but on solid points of law. In fact, the Privy Council confirmed the Appeal Court’s decision. I need to add that knowing what we did had constituted a serious breach of the law, we took responsibility for our actions, accepted our period of imprisonment (27 months) as men, and thereafter never made an issue of it. We all moved on, many making contributions to our country as good citizens.

The events of 1990 cannot be compared with what happened in 1970. The latter came out of a mass movement, even though the leaders of NJAC (Daaga, Kambon and others) were neither privy to, nor part of, the mutiny. Still, as young men fired with notions of freedom and justice, we considered ourselves part of the struggle to liberate our country from the shackles of neo-colonialism.

In 1990, the leaders of the Muslimeen took it upon themselves to precipitate armed action against the NAR government. Scores of people were killed (two or three deaths can be apportioned to the events of 1970—a miracle, given the firepower the mutineers and the Coast Guard controlled). There was widespread arson, looting and other violent actions. While much of the latter was not directed by the leaders of the insurrection, the power vacuum their assault left allowed for mob rule.

There was always speculation that others, among them senior politicians, had prior knowledge of the attempted coup. That could be just rumour. In 1970, it was said that Robinson knew of the mutiny; nothing is further from the truth. So allegations that both Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday had some knowledge of what was about to take place may well prove to be unfounded.

I should add that with the passage of time, people’s memories fade. I know. As I write my account of the mutiny I have encountered some glaring untruths (some published as facts) and gross inconsistencies. The enquiry into 1990 could face similar challenges. Who will determine fact from fiction, lies from truths? There is always a tendency for people to embellish their roles in events like these, to allow fantasy to override reality.

But, if the principal players are comfortable with an enquiry, then bring it on.

11 thoughts on “1990 Enquiry: Exercise in Futility”

  1. “I DO not know how Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her Cabinet arrived at a decision to appoint a Commission of Enquiry into the attempted coup of 1990.” The preamble to this discourse on the events of 1990 indicate that the writer was out of the county, does not understand the need to have a formal end to this display of raw anti-democratic power or is just plain ignorance. It is okay to be ignorant but to be “willingly” ignorant is dangerous.

    All events in the democratic world that have a significant impact on the lives of the citizenry comes under scrutiny of the government in the form of an inquiry. An inquiry answers the questions that may be lingering on the minds of citizens and allows citizens to speak their mind and bring healing because someone listened. Further the impact of 1990 insurrection continues to this day. Guns entered the nation, and mercenaries we allowed the freedom to live and to engage in kidnappings of the worst kind. This with the blessings of the PNM regime. The result is a spiralling murder rate that would make Sadam blush.

    My hope is that the end of this inquiry that the insurrectionist would recieve their just reward….

    1. Are you blaming the Jamaat for the gun problem and kidnapping??? Interesting….also, what blessing did the UNC regime give us?

      1. All those questions need to be answered my friend. What agreement did the PNM have with the Jamaat? And why is it Mr. Bakr feels that that agreement should be honored today. Why was Abu feted by the President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez. What is his relationship with uncle Hugo. Where are the guns coming from into T&T. Hopefully, this inquiry will being to answer these painful questions.

  2. Unfortunately,what khem the criminal apologist fail to recognize-or rather remember-is that Abu Bkar did not attack Manning and Panday,but Ah we bouy ANR Robinson.We will leave this dishonest soul,to speculate as to why this was the case.
    If these closet pro terrorist,had any moral bones in their bodies,we could have ask them what they think would have been the results on any Privy Council decisions, if the Islamic kingpin had shot Panday in his knees,run his SLR up the rear end of Manning,or a Sandhurst coup school teacherr had tried any such stupid stunts, in Westminister,like Shah and pals did during the infamous 70’s ,or this mounted branch ,ex police/ goal keeper/canadian indoctrinated ,so call engineer student name Bakr.
    One cannot help but again enquire,with citizens like these,who needs enemies?
    Oh yes,and they want to think that they can miraculously end crime today in our country,because of what again? I forgot,they showed up with a Canadian Commissioner,smile for the media,and continue business as usual,while crying like Lot’s wife,for a distant era,when Massa was running our country.
    What a joke! Wake me up in 2014.

  3. What a joke! Wake me up in 2014.–Neal Make that 2020 my friend. Keep on sleeping though….








  5. it seems to me that this abu thing is a jamaat thing and not a trinidad thing. why abu get money from Lybia?

  6. “I should add that with the passage of time, people’s memories fade. I know. As I write my account of the mutiny I have encountered some glaring untruths (some published as facts) and gross inconsistencies.”
    The media record of events is very detailed. Because we live in an electronic age, information is readily available for all to access. I few weeks ago I was clearing out some items and came across the Express book produce after the event. On the front page was the Imam clad in white with a soldier pointing a gun at his back. The soldier wore a ski-mask. A detail choronology of events was in that book. When and where the events ocurred, who was involved and pictures of soldiers detaining shop lifters. Sure there will be a few people who through the normal aging process will not recall some details, however the most important thing for an inquiry is to collectively put the puzzle together to paint a picture. The second most important thing is the scope of the inquiry. What areas would it cover. What question need to be answered etc. That can be determined by those conducting the inquiry. I think international lawyers should be called in, perhaps some from other parts of the Caribbean…..

  7. Never again
    AS THE country marked the 20th anniversary of the Jamaat al Muslimeen’s failed coup on July 27, 1990, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday said never again should a small group of dissidents believe the only way to air their discontent is through violence and terror.

    Enquiry details soon
    PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar says details including the terms of reference on the Commission of Enquiry into the July 27, 1990 attempted coup will be approved at the Cabinet level tomorrow.

    Of Bouterse and Abu Bakr
    QUITE unlike Desi Bouterse, the controversial politician and former military leader and now new President of Suriname, Yasin Abu Bakr, the ex-policeman of Trinidad and Tobago previously known as Lennox Phillip, remains unrepentant about his known involvement in sensational political/criminal developments that have wasted lives, and traumatised the nation as many questions are still unanswered.

    Robinson hailed as hero
    PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday singled out former president Arthur NR Robinson for praise for his role during the July 27, 1990 attempted coup.

    Jamaat auctions will go on–CoP
    Acting Police Commissioner James Philbert says the auctions of properties owned by the Jamaat al Muslimeen will continue.

  8. Boy revenge isn’t always sweet.
    No Apology
    War crimes have no Statute of Limitation!
    If Abraham Lincoln had to pay for his revolt America would have never have its freedom. Yasin because of his greed have brought this on himself and the racist government have taken the bait.
    My Name: Ghifari Al Mukhtar formerly known as Davy de Verteuil.
    I was unjustly sent to prison for wearing a Muslim cap(topi). I had recourse but no means to that recourse. Why can’t I fight a state which broke into or homes humiliated and abused us and our families invade our lands and with the connivance of big-shot and political ignoramus. If I were to have free access to the freedom of information act in the US, I can without a shred of doubt prove that the US Embassy and the US Government have sufficient information of NAR Government officials and very senior police men involvement in the drug trade, and the US embassy supplied Jamaat Al Muslimeen with these information over a period of time.The US Embassy was aware and supportive of our struggle in the eradication of drug import for domestic use and export to US & Europe. I will personally file a war crimes complaint in the Hauge against Mr. Dookeran Ops! don’t fall Government just fire the NAR component.

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