A step forward
The Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup has closed but closure remains elusive. Perhaps a clearer narrative of the events related to Friday, July 27, 1990 will emerge once commission chairman David Simmons and his team present their findings. Already, however, he has alerted the hopeful public to the omission that will result from the failure of coup leader Abu Bakr to appear before the enquiry. It is not a given that Bakr’s testimony would have added light to the record, although it would almost certainly have given heat.
At the end of it all, the country now has an official record of the perspectives of most of the key persons who experienced this event although little, if anything, in anyone’s testimony has provided deeper or wider insight into the factors which came together to permit this attack on the nation’s democracy.
Coming twenty-three years after the fact, the enquiry was stripped of much of the sting that an earlier hearing might have had for the public. Still, it was clear how enduring the trauma has been from the emotional testimony of several witnesses, most notably those held hostage. If only for them, and the validation of their pain, the enquiry has been worth it.
No society can go on in wilful ignorance about an event in which the State itself was hostage and innocent lives lost. It is a blot on the politics of this country that successive governments have been willing to bury their heads in the sand on this national horror and move on as if it had nothing to do with them. Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday will have to answer to history, not only for their cavalier responses to news of the coup, but for their repeated failure to disregard this attack on our democracy. If nothing else, their handling of it betrayed their inability to rise above partisan politics and rescue some sense of the primacy of the State above and beyond ordinary political rivalry.
The People’s Partnership Government has therefore done the country a service by keeping its pledge to subject the events of 1990 to a Commission of Enquiry. While it may not yield definitive answers, it does lay an important framework of information on which the future can build. The work is by no means complete but what has been so far accomplished does indeed take us a few steps towards some answers.
From what was revealed to the commission, there was a large network of complicity that was allowed to develop in the absence of alert public bodies, including the intelligence services, the Police Service, the Defence Force and Customs among others. There are also indications that the nature of our politics provided a facilitative and conducive environment for the coup.
If Sir David’s report could point us to our mistakes, and if we could integrate the findings into policy and operations, we might be able to spare ourselves from passing that way again.