“(What happened in) 1990 would have been a Christmas party compared to what could have happened had we not taken action,” Sandy told MPs as he piloted a motion for MPs to take note of President George Maxwell Richards’ reasons for declaring a state of emergency on August 21.
In a special continuous sitting, Sandy said the state of emergency stopped “the loss of innocent life,” “ruthless killing, brutality and mayhem” and came about after he received certain national security intelligence on August 21.
Sandy said he would have no hesitation recommending a state of emergency again.
“I wish to say categorically that were I to be faced with a similar challenge, with similar intelligence at my disposal, I will be inclined to make a similar decision.”
“I remain confident that the decision taken by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago was the correct one. Had we not taken that decision and averted what was about to happen, we would have been regarded as an irresponsible Government,” Sandy said.
Giving no details of the threat, he said “a crisis of unprecedented proportions” was stopped.
“I considered the mayhem and bloodshed that could have attended our law-abiding citizens, some of whom could have easily been close relatives of those on the other side,” Sandy said.
The Minister of National Security said he received national security intelligence at about midday on August 21 and informed Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the chairman of the National Security Council (NSC).
The NSC considered the issue and then a Cabinet meeting was held at which there was “extensive debate and discussion.”
Sandy, who was the one who recommended a state of emergency, said he did not take that decision lightly.
“There is no way in the world I would take such a decision to recommend such an option as bold as a state of emergency had I not given it tremendous thought myself,” he said, noting that he had military training “at every level”.
Yesterday’s sitting was the first of its kind since August 10, 1990, when MPs debated a state of emergency in the Third Parliament after the Jamaat insurrection.
The historic sitting started at 10 am with the arrival of Speaker Wade Mark. Exactly three minutes later, at 10.03 am, the Minister of National Security tabled President George Maxwell Richard’s statement to MPs, in which the President outlined his reasons for declaring a state of emergency. At 10.21 am, Sandy moved that the House take note of the statement.
No lunch-break or tea-break was taken after the Speaker suggested to MPs that the debate be allowed to progress as quickly as possible given the curfew hours of 9 pm to 5 am.
As Sandy hinted that a specific threat triggered the state of emergency, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley lamented that the minister failed to disclose the exact nature of what caused the security measures.
“A state of emergency has stripped us of fundamental rights of the Constitution. Those are the facts,” Rowley said. He argued that the State could have used the Anti-Gang Act alone to target gangs. Noting that that act was proclaimed in August, Rowley said its operation, combined with that of the state of emergency, was “a toxic cocktail.”
Sandy said for the last eight years, the country has been under siege from gangsters and it was now time to take action to deal with this.
He noted that the decision to declare a state of emergency came after a series of police drug busts.
“These seizures initiated a series of senseless and brutal murders. Law-abiding citizens were being slaughtered for simply being at the wrong place,” he said.
“The Government of the People’s Partnership has always held that public safety is paramount and this nation cannot continue to be held to ransom by criminals and gangsters,” Sandy said.
He said the majority of persons murdered over the last eight years were of African descent. Of 2,086 murders since 2006, 1,668 were of African descent or 72.3 percent. He said 51 percent to 57 percent of the prison population since 2006 were of a similar ethnic background.
“Our people for the past eight years were virtual prisoners in their own homes left cowering in fear of being shot, robbed, raped or kidnapped by rogue elements of our society. Ordinary citizens have gone so far that they have put themselves behind bars of burglar-proofing and have implemented self imposed curfews because of a runaway crime rate,” Sandy said.
“Our citizens have lived on the edge because of the murder, mayhem and madness occurring outside of their doors.”
Hundreds of murders, he said, became the way of life in Trinidad and Tobago.
“What is even more devastating and embarrassing is the fact that in those eight years very little was done to alleviate and dispel the mounting fears and concerns of our people. We were left to accept that these (incidents), where innocent lives were being taken, were just part of the norm or a part of our daily way of life.”
“Our citizens were constantly living in nauseating fear. But for each and every birthday, each and every anniversary, each Christmas Day and every other significant event in the lives of our citizens they have been forced to relive the awful pain and memory of the previous year’s murder of their loved ones.”
Sandy said his family, like so many, had been affected by crime.
“Even a relative of mine every Easter morning weeps in memory of a dear son who was murdered for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
To the Opposition, Sandy said, “our colleagues on the other side refuse to accept the reality that they lost the war on crime and that the criminal elements in our society got the upper hand and was everyday gaining ground and slowly and surely taking control.”
“Even as our country’s international image was sullied this did not awake the reality that alternative measures were needed. Homicides got out of hand. The Government of the People’s Partnership did not and will not follow in the steps of its predecessors,” Sandy said.