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The 1990 Attempted Coup Could Have Been Averted
Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2005

By George Alleyne,

"I shall return, I shall return again, To ease my mind of long, long years of pain": Claude McKay, "I Shall Return."

Much has been written and said within recent weeks of the need for an Inquiry into the July 27, 1990 attempted coup by the Jamaat al Muslimeen, but the sad, bitter truth is that had the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) Government, acted on crucial information contained in an article I had written in a Trinidad and Tobago newspaper, mere days before the event, the attempted coup would and could never have taken place.

After 15 long years of agonising over the inaction by the 1986-1991 NAR administration, inaction which allowed for the attempted coup, however unintentionally, I must break my silence if only to set the record straight for history.

In the article I published information I had received from a source, who shall remain forever nameless, that a container of arms and ammunition had arrived by ship from the United States and the container unstuffed at a warehouse a relative few miles from the port of landing and discharge. It was these arms, most of them old rifles, many of which were inoperable, which would later be used in the attempt to overthrow the NAR Government. What shocked and hurt, but this was much later, was the discovery that the Government of the United States was aware, indeed well beforehand, that the shipment would be made, and later had been made.

It pains me to write all of this but I must set the record straight for history, if even so that a generation of young Trinidadians and Tobagonians will be in a better position to judge for themselves.

My source, a very senior public servant, now retired, felt that the authorities and the public should be alerted to the arrival and unstuffing of the arms. The unstuffing, he pointed out, had taken place at a warehouse well away from the port and not officially supervised, at least fully, through the employing of two arguments: There were not enough Customs and Excise officers available for the exercise, and the individual to whom the container was consigned was trustworthy! The information I received on the illegal import of the arms and ammunition and their inferred use turned out to be correct. I ask the question, and not rhetorically, is it possible that the intelligence passed on to me, subsequently, that specially assigned agents of another country had been in Trinidad and Tobago, prior to the clandestine landing of weapons in the run-up to and during the 1990 attempted coup, was correct.

Incidentally, the issue of prior United States knowledge of the shipment of arms and ammunition to Trinidad and Tobago was drawn to the attention of then US president, the late Ronald Reagan, by a leading member of the NAR administration, if my recollection of newspaper reports on the meeting are correct.

The psychological scars of the July 27, 1990 attempted coup are great. So, too, are the physical scars. Then NAR Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, the Hon A N R Robinson, was shot and severely wounded when he called on his troops to attack with full force, even at risk to his own life. Several innocent persons were killed during the attempted coup. It was a bitter and traumatic coming of age for Trinidad and Tobago. Had the whole affair been part of, as some people have told me, an attempt by a foreign power, to which I shall not allude to destabilise the government?

The critical question is why? It is clear that the dramatic slump in the international price of crude to below US$9 a barrel had created social and economic discomfort in oil producing Trinidad and Tobago, and the NAR Government was under attack from several quarters. But the NAR administration had not been responsible for the fall in the price of crude, nor for the conditionalities imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). The social unease, the fall out from the drop in crude prices would make it relatively easy for mischief makers to plan what would take place in 1990. I ask readers to bear with me.

When the NAR Government, in an effort to obtain the rescheduling of the country’s massive debt to the Paris Club (of creditors), as well as Structural Adjustment Loans from the IBRP, the international lending agency had imposed conditionalities. In turn, Government’s seeking of assistance from the IMF, to wit, "an arrangement under the Compensatory Financing Facility and a standby arrangement" had also triggered conditionalities. The IMF described the overall measures as a "Stabilisation Programme."

The programme was harsh, if not unjust. Particularly so when it is understood that Trinidad and Tobago which had been a formal member of the IMF since shortly after becoming independent in 1962, had "sought IMF assistance for the first time in 1988," 26 years later. In addition, its quest for this assistance had been forced upon it by the slump in crude prices.

Both the IMF and the IBRD in imposing conditionalities - the freezing of public sector wages and salaries (in some cases they were reduced), suspending acting allowances, reducing employment opportunities as well as price controls - made it appear as though they were policies of the NAR Government.

I will be specific. On page 4 f the November 21, 1990 IBRD report recommending the granting of a structural adjustment loan of US$40 million to Trinidad and Tobago the IBRD speaks not of its own conditionalities, but of the "Government response to crisis."

In fact, paragraph 12 specifically states: "Government suspended cost of living allowances and annual merit increases for public servants and reduced production and consumption subsidies as well as transfer payments to the state enterprises." And on and on and on. Nowhere is there even the slightest hint that these were conditionalities imposed by the international lending agencies.

The NAR Government, whether or not unintentionally, was placed in a bad light and, gradually, there was the public perception that it was the NAR administration that was responsible for these socially repressive measures.

It is difficult to miminise the possibility of being either misunderstood or misinterpreted. Nonetheless, it is difficult to accept that the US Government which has tacitly admitted that it knew beforehand of the illegal shipment of arms and ammunition in 1990 could not have prevented this.

That having been said, the NAR Government had it acted, and expeditiously, when my article was published re the unstuffing of arms and ammunition, could have averted the tragedy of the attempted coup.

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