Remembering 1990

I wasn't writing a lot in 1990, still in the grip of a four-year writer's block. My memories of the event are framed by the pursuit that filled my forebrain in those days, images of what happened.
Despite all the words that have been recorded about the 1990 coup attempt, I still believe that the lasting impact of the insurrection that shut down Trinidad and Tobago for six days at the end of is the imagery that survives of the event.

There are images that are only in my mind now. Two rolls worth of Tri-X shot from the window of the newsroom of the Guardian that show uniformed police officers scampering out of the burning headquarters building were souped in fixer first by photographer Lester Forde leaving me with perfectly blank film. I would return to shooting later that night from the roof of the building, capturing the blaze of Police Headquarters glowing against the darkness of downtown Port of Spain, a photo that would run in the next published issue of the paper.
Other images were not lost.

Click: The Jamaat al Muslimeen exit the shattered facade of Trinidad and Tobago, weapons held over their heads, the visual, framed by the wet street and blurred background is that of overwhelmed rebels who would eventually have their amnesty upheld.
Click: The heroic defiance of former Prime Minister Arthur NR Robinson leaves him in a wheelchair and temporarily blinded by his ordeal. A humbled NAR leader is wheeled out of the Red House in a wheelchair.

Most people don't read carefully and the people most likely to be swayed by visual shorthand read the least of all.
The story of the civil response has never been fully told and in that vacuum, the spotlight has been left on the killers who instigated a murderous assault on Trinidad and Tobago's democracy. In the minds of many a local bad boy, the Jamaat al Muslimeen lost their battle, but won their war.

For disaffected young boys in 1990, these images offered a powerful lesson. Pick up a gun, shoot people who get in your way and demand what you want. Even if you don’t get it, you will get away scot free.
At the core of the public lack of confidence in the police response to crime, there is a lingering sentiment that what those boys learned from Abu Bakr and his cohorts has proved to be appallingly true.

I've posted a review of Raoul Pantin's Days of Wrath, originally published in the May 2008 issue of the
Caribbean Review of Books in the Other Writing section.
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