Sunday, February 25, 2018

The day PoS burnt

July 27:


HQ ON FIRE: The burning Police Headquarters on the night of July 27, 1990. It seemed that the whole of Port of Spain was on fire.

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AMID THE RUINS: A man sits in the midst of the rubble of a destroyed building.

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At around 6 p.m. on July 27, 1990 the "normalcy" of life in Trinidad and Tobago was shattered when the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen led by Abu Bakr attempted to stage a coup d'état against the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) Government. People were sent scampering for safety when the insurgents used a car as a bomb to blow up the Police Headquarters on St Vincent Street, Port of Spain.

The explosion rocked the entire city and members of the Muslimeen fired their guns and set other buildings on fire. Terrified people scrambled to get out of Port of Spain, believing that the city was burning down.

The Muslimeen stormed the Red House taking Government Ministers, Opposition members and others unfortunate to be in the building that time as hostages, while Bakr himself went in the studios of Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT), then the lone local television station and took control. From there he went on air to inform the nation that the Jamaat had wrested power from the Government and that everyone should remain calm, staying in their homes and not engage in lawless activity.

Several individuals did otherwise and businesses throughout Port of Spain and other areas in Trinidad were looted and in some cases destroyed. The military and police eventually got things under some control and a curfew was put into effect.

Soldiers surrounded the Red House as well as TTT. In an unforgettable command then-prime minister, Arthur Napolean Raymond Robinson, ordered "Attack with full force", which he shouted out to the soldiers without fear for his own life. Robinson was shot in the knee, while Member of Parliament Leo Des Vignes was killed. More than 20 people died as a result of the coup attempt.

After six days of negotiations between the Government, Emmanuel Carter was serving as acting president during this time, and the Muslimeen an agreement was reached and Bakr and his men surrendered on the condition they would be granted amnesty.

They were, however, placed on trial for treason, but the Appeal Court upheld the amnesty and they were all freed. There is now a commission of enquiry into the insurrection, which caused millions of dollars and is said to have set the country back years. An eternal flame at the Red House reminds Trinbagonians of the events during those dark days from July 27 to August 1 and even the months after when a curfew remained imposed.