1990, enriching the narrative

Trinidad Guardian editorial for July 29, 2008

Almost 20 years after the attempted coup in July, 1990, the group gathered at the Red House Cenotaph at the anniversary observations continues to shrink.
Calling for those present to ensure that "it never happens again" broadcast journalist Dennis McComie, who was the lone independent voice on the air during the assault of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, insisted that "we cannot and must not relapse into the wilful ignorance that predated July 27, 1990."

McComie may well have been preaching to the choir on Saturday, but there is a generation that has grown to maturity with only a vague understanding of what happened 18 years ago. What lingers in the public consciousness may not be the message that those who experienced the coup attempt directly might hope for.

In 1990, a group of men, many of them young, several almost children, took up arms against the elected government of Trinidad and Tobago, detonated explosives at Police Headquarters in Port of Spain and took control of the Red House, then in Parliamentary session and the lone television station, TTT.

Over the next six days, the country ground to a halt as the overthrow of the Government turned first into anarchic looting on the streets of the capital city, then a protracted series of negotiations that led to the surrender of the Jamaat al Muslimeen on August 01.
There is has been no formal public review of the events of those six days in 1990 and at this year's memorial ceremony the call for an inquiry into the coup attempt was renewed.

In many similar instances of social upheaval and disruption, commissions have been appointed to hear testimony and gather the stories that form our understanding of such events as the assassination of President John F Kennedy, recorded in 15 volumes by the Warren Commission, the era of apartheid in South Africa, heard by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the report of the 9/11 Commission.
The 7/7 bombings in London in 2005 was refused a public inquiry, and legal action is still in progress by survivors and relatives of the slain to initiate one.

Even 18 years after the tumultuous events of 1990, there remains a lingering sense of a story untold. Little has ever been said for the public record about how the civil response to the coup attempt was handled, and in that void, we are only left with a narrative of a murderous rebellion derailed by public disinterest.
There have been books written about the events of 1990, most recently journalist Raoul Pantin's self-published account of his experiences at TTT during its occupation by Yasin Abu Bakr's armed insurrectionists, but none have pierced the screen of silence lowered by the military over their actions during that time.

It's clear that those aspects of the story will only ever be told to a formal commission created to hear them.
There is clearly need for more scholarly investigation into the causes and repercussions of the attempted coup and that can only truly begin when there is a resource of eyewitness accounts and procedural details read authoritatively into the public record.

With each passing year, the people who are available to share this knowledge diminishes, though with the passage of time, some may prove more willing to talk about their experiences and perspectives.
The nation is owed a more balanced and thorough accounting of the events that began on July 27, 1990, and in particular, the civil response to it.
Until then, the public will continue to be denied an opportunity to properly understand this aspect of our past and ultimately, to learn from it.
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