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In the late half, coming unstuck

By Lennox Grant

It was always a historically valid, and even compelling, obligation to derive some authoritative finding about what has passed into common talk as the attempted coup. History was certain not to absolve T&T and its responsible classes of failure to ascertain reliably how the idea of a coup came about, and the actions taken to carry it into effect on July 27, 1990. 

Successive administrations, starting with the NAR, identified target of the coup, however, averted their eyes from any moral imperative to educate T&T about the means employed and the forces deployed against duly constituted authority. Nor was it just the governments. The high tolerance threshold for terror and horror, which now allows the public to shrug off at least one bloody murder a day, fell in place almost immediately after that July 27. 

Reporters from leading world media descended upon Port of Spain. US embassy officials were chartering aircraft to fly Americans out of the country. But a local tendency prevailed to downplay to zero the killing, the burning, the looting, the sacking of the seat of government, and the murderous ill-use of ministers and MPs.

Blood was still on the floor, smoke still rising, and bodies lay unburied, when PSA president general Kenrick Rennie characterised it all as "an unfortunate incident". Dr Rennie spoke as if the Prime Minister, shot at close range in both kneecaps, otherwise battered and near blinded had, in a wet-carpet misstep, tripped and tumbled down a Red House staircase.

Little taste showed for clinical interrogation and contemplation of what had really happened: who did what; who knew what; and when did they know it? Instead, opinion abounded.

The single urgency lay in the rush to judgment about why it happened. A session of the constitutionally elected Parliament had been overrun by Islamist urban guerrillas, and MPs taken captive. Police Headquarters had been firebombed to ruins. The one TV station, and one of the then two radio stations, had been invaded and occupied. And it was all the fault of the ruling NAR with its "insensitive" economic policies.

Or that was prominent among the wisdoms then conventional. A poll reported more than 60 per cent sympathy with the views expressed by the Muslimeen jihadists in their single broadcast over a captured TTT.

After their surrender, it was a NAR "vindictiveness" that insisted on treason and murder charges and trials. By June 1992, the courts, affirming that the Muslimeen gunmen were not the bad guys, ruled they should never have been charged with anything, and indeed were owed compensation by the State.

Punching the air for Allah, and in solidarity with public and T&T judicial (but not UK Privy Council) opinion, the coup makers walked free. For two decades, this outcome bore the label "done deal". A political consensus held that no questions about July 27, 1990 merited reopening.

The consensus held between 1991 and 2010, that is, for as long as Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday shared the prime ministership. What may now be called the Manning-Rowley PNM resisted the very suggestion of something about 1990 to revisit, or even remember. Dr Rowley once disdained the commemorative eternal flame erected on the grounds of the Red House as a "stove for vagrants".

Enter the People's Partnership, borne aloft by a fresh wind of historical revisionism.  The 1990 file was thrown open in 2010 by Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Anand Ramlogan. They first went after outstanding Muslimeen accounts receivable by the State as a result of litigation. Next, they set up the enquiry sitting now at the Caribbean Court of Justice chamber.

By last week, the Partnership's 1990 enquiry project appeared strikingly in the disarray incorrigibly affecting this administration's initiatives. Amid allegations he had misrepresented his training and experience as a military expert, one commissioner all but recused himself, and even looked set to be fired.

At once, the enquiry stood to lose the services of one commissioner, and suffer collateral damage to its credibility. Just then, too, its proceedings also stood in danger of going without testimony of star witness, Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr.

It was not a chamber in which the imam ever wanted to star. And when he finally said No to the summons, the commission sought the involvement of  Director Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard to enforce the subpoena rules.

After four-and-a-half months of "much anxiety" and "most careful contemplation", the DPP found a way to wriggle out of the involvement in prosecuting the imam for failing to come when the 1990 enquiry called. No Abu Bakr; no commissioner with Muslim name and military background.

Suddenly, the 1990 file, taken out and dusted by Persad Bissessar SC and Ramlogan SC, from under the carpet where it had been swept, looked fraught with the familiar pattern of mishap, misadventure, and mismanagement affecting People's Partnership projects large and small.

In this, the late half of their term, following serial bacchanals in Trinidad and a big reversal in Tobago, the present juncture feels like the end game, as characterised by Lloyd Best, in which, for these players, "everything they do is a mistake". Coming attraction: Next week, the next President.

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