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Setting the record straight, Raf

By Ferdi Ferreira

DEAR Raffique Shah. This is in response to your article in the Sunday Express of January 19, head­lined, “I came not to praise Karl”. Knowing you as I do, I am sure that like myself, you can take a good knock, return and retaliate. 

Karl is dead, Ernest Pierre is dead, Joffre Serrette is dead, Eric Williams is dead, Ignatius McPhillip is dead, Teddy Guerra is dead, Jim Rodriguez is dead, former commissioner of prisons Capt Munroe is dead, Capt Bloom is dead, Julien Spencer is dead, but I am still alive. I am sure you know these names as well as I do or, maybe, even better. 

Now, Raf, let’s get this story right: 

The Public Order Bill was ini­tiated under the PNM (People’s 

National Movement) government, under the supervision of the then attorney general, Karl T Hudson-Phillips. It was introduced to contain the daily Black Power de­mon-

­strations in the city of Port of Spain and several other places, inclusive of Tobago. 

You are aware of how explosive the situation became with the police shooting of Basil Davis at Wood­ford Square. During the period of these marches, neither the government nor the minister of home affairs, Gerard Montano, was aware of you and your fellow mutineers’ plan to overthrow the constitutionally elected government. You are absolutely correct when you and your men made your move, “the foundations of the country shook”. 

The Black Power marches were one thing, mutiny of the national army was a different kettle of fish. You and your reckless, irrespon­sible, self-proclaimed revolutionaries, whatever your reason/reasons, took control of the army and armou­­ry and proceeded on an illegal, unauthorised march to Whitehall. 

I am sure that you were not going there to have coffee and delicious pastries with the prime minister and/or our elected govern-

ment. As a Sandhurst graduate and self-proclaimed revolutionary leader, you were stopped in your tracks. You neither retaliated nor had an alternative Plan B. 

You did not accept Sparrow’s advice in another context, “Doh Back Back.” You and your followers back-backed, retreated and held the nation to ransom until May 1, 1970, when Lasalle, Bazzey and yourself were arrested under the supervision of Brig Geoff Serrette and Supt Ignatius McPhillip and safely deposited at Police Headquarters on St Vincent Street, bringing an end to the unsuccessful attempt to unconstitutionally overthrow our elected government. 

I am sure that as a former elec­ted MP, you will agree with me that our young nation had a choice between living with the notorious public order legislation which, in your words, “sought to abrogate our human and civil rights, curb our free­dom of speech and the right to protest” and being led by a bunch of reckless, irresponsible, young mutineers who sought to govern us by bullets rather than ballots. 

Our young nation, then only eight years old, would have chosen the lesser evil of a constitutionally elected government, the very constitutional process you successfully used in 1976 to become a progressive member of our Parliament— yes or no? 

Raf, for the records, I was one of the members of the PNM general council who opposed the Public Order Bill and sought the advice of the late Selwyn Richardson, who was then the secretary of the Law Association. He accepted my invitation to address the general council at Balisier House on the controversial bill.

It was after Selwyn’s presentation that the general council successfully advised the government to withdraw the bill. This was party democracy at work in its purest form. We bowed to public opinion as we did with the Finance Act, and not military might.

Again, the Machiavellian government responded to your request when you and the other insurgents, who in spite of your incarceration, refused to consume food served there and successfully demanded your meals from the Defence Force.

Raf, again, you are totally incorrect in your statement, the Public Order Bill “was aimed at the opponents of the PNM, not criminals”. What were the results of the 1971 “no-vote” general election; the 1976 general election, the year you entered Parliament and became the Hon Raffique Shah? In 1981, every NJAC (National Joint Action Committee) candidate lost their deposit, clearly demonstrating  that our young nation, whatever its problems, unanimously supported the ballots instead of the bullets.

Come on, Raf, you are no fool, neither are you a national hero. With all due respect to my old and respected friends Lennox Oscar Pierre, Allan Alexander and the late Desmond Allum, you, more than anyone else, know that you all won the case, just as Abu Bakr did, on a legal technicality, with the amnesty that Brig Serrette offered to you, without the knowledge and authority of the government, which was accepted by the court. He who fought and ran away as you did lives to fight another day.

Iam to remind you that it was on the advice of the late Machia­vellian Karl T Hudson-Phillips that the government did not appeal the court’s decision. This would have extended your incarceration. Don’t forget the Privy Council’s decision on the attempted coup of 1990. 

Our democracy was put to the test, and you and your followers won at great cost to this young nation, whose citizens had to endure two months of curfew and almost eight months of a state of emergency. Who then deprived us of our rights and freedoms? 

While all this was going on, you and your reckless band enjoyed tasty meals at the Royal Jail, courtesy our government from the Defence Force, at taxpayers’ expense. 

Come on, Raf, criticise Karl. I have done so myself, but every morning you wake up, count your blessings and say thank God that it was Karl Hudson-Phillips and Dr Williams and not Machiavelli! 

I anxiously await your response.  

• Ferdi Ferreira is a founding member of the PNM.

 
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