1990 20/20 vision

They may not have been pained by guilt pangs over their cowardice and treachery, but with time, surely they had to see how incredibly, colossally stupid and shortsighted they had been. With the passage of years, revenge for a reduced salary must have tasted less sweet when they realised they’d forfeited the population’s respect that July. The army was seen as saving the day.

The police had to feel foolish as the future unfolded: 1990 obliterated the little regard Trinbagonians had for law and order. After 1990, Muslimeen arbitration would replace the legal resolution of conflicts and Abu Bakr’s criminal band was more respected and feared than the TT Police Service. Bakr walked the land like an emperor, a star, a mafia boss. Who can forget the alarming Muslimeen show of force in Woodford Square in late 1995 after Patrick Manning announced a snap election?

On an ordinary weekday afternoon, hundreds of Abu Bakr’s male and female soldiers, aggressive, disciplined, radios in hand and clad in stiff scarlet uniforms, took charge of the square, converting TT’s police into standing jokes. The officers on duty appeared helpless and inadequate as Bakr’s red army encircled the bandstand, pushing them and everyone else toward the fringes of the square, almost onto the rails. In a public space, while Bakr ranted about who to vote for, Bakr’s bullies openly and freely shoved and intimated citizens of Trinidad and Tobago as they wished. How could one hold the police in esteem?

1990 in 20/20 retrospect, I also wonder if the police wouldn’t have been more concerned about country had MPs outside the Chamber displayed solidarity. Perhaps had Patrick Manning or Basdeo Panday called on the nation to defend the NAR Government, however unpopular it was, the police might have had the foresight to view the Muslimeen assault as an attack on democracy instead of concluding the violence was directed at the NAR regime and at no one else. But it is obvious the two men, as the police who cursed the government over the walkie talkies, put their self-seeking political agenda before nation.

This past week the coup inquiry has addressed the who knew and it seems likely everyone had an inkling. The NAR Government was not aware the insurrectionists were coming that Friday, but it was repeatedly warned about the Muslimeen’s questionable activities by the media and did not take the threats seriously enough. The police and the soldiers posted outside Bakr’s Mucurapo Compound must have had some idea of what was up.

They either neglected to report their observations or their reports went unheeded. As for Mr Panday and Mr Manning, Bakr himself has said what the witnesses at the Inquiry have alleged: they were tipped off that something was going to go down that Friday and stayed silent and far away.

What the pair hoped to achieve is difficult to fathom because the coup, if successful, would have left the Muslimeen in charge. Did the two men think they could negotiate power sharing afterwards? Was there an agreement beforehand? Or did the PNM and UNC leaders assume the insurrection would be quelled, but not before the NAR was brought to its knees? Who knew, what they knew — some seem to have been prepared to take a huge gamble.

I wonder, too. On reconsideration of the events of 1990, do Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday have any misgivings? Do they grasp how truly myopic they were when they distanced themselves and thus, their followers from the incursion? The political gains were short term. Certainly, the attempted coup extinguished whatever remained of the NAR government’s spirit after Panday’s departure and by 1991, the down NAR was out. Both Manning and Panday were able to build political empires of a sort from the ashes of 1990. But by abandoning the Government the year before, they had handed Abu Bakr most of the power: they’d legitimised his leadership of the new “Black Power” revolution.

It’s clear they never stopped to consider the long term, dangerous consequences, that they’d be forever reliant on Bakr for electoral victory.

They’d forget that it is risky business and bad karma to negotiate with a man who is responsible for the death of over 20 citizens, one of these your parliamentary peer. Abu Bakr’s support would always come at an unacceptable, unethical price and it would become an embarrassment and a liability in a game of cross and double cross.

When we look in the 20/20 rear view mirror, the greatest lesson of the thwarted 1990 coup may be that you can be gutless and unfaithful but never unintelligent or narrow minded. The target of the Muslimeen bullets may have been the NAR representatives, but when these found their marks, the entire nation began to bleed.


"1990 20/20 vision"

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