24 persons died in 1990 attempted coup

Twenty-four persons were recorded by doctors at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital (PoSGH) as having died during the insurgency.

In a table provided to the commission by surgeon Dr Denaesh Ariyanayagam, who was the senior registrar of Surgery at the PoSGH in 1990, 15 persons died of gunshot related injuries at the hospital; two police officers, one Jamaat al Muslimeen insurgent and four others died in the capital city and at the Red House; another insurgent died at Trinidad and Tobago Television studios at Maraval Road, and the sentry at the Police Headquarters when it was bombed on July 27, 1990.

Ariyanayagam and two other doctors compiled a report on the hospital’s response which was presented to the Caribbean Medical Research Council and another international medical agency.

His report, which also included data on the number of casualties seen during the insurgency, was provided to the commission.

The inquiry is being held at the Caribbean Court of Justice, Henry Street, Port-of-Spain.

During the period July 17 to August 1, 1990, some 560 patients were seen at the Accident and Emergency Department of the PoSGH; of that number 302 were admitted and 250 were discharged. Eight persons died at the department.

His figures also provided data on the types of persons injured with 133 persons being looters; 28 bystanders; 12 police and army personnel; two Muslimeen insurgents; 17 civilians and 39 unknown persons.

Ariyanayagam said they were able to identify looters by the nature of injuries they sustained which included lacerations, chops and some gunshot wounds.

There were 107 persons who were treated for gunshot wounds; 12 for Motor Vehicular Accidents; eight for cuts from glass; 16 chop and stab wounds and 27 as a result of falls and fights. The latter three were attributed to looters.

He described the wards at the hospital on the morning following the insurgency as ‘walking through a MASH hospital’ — a reference to the popular US television series based on the work of three army doctors.

“There were casualties all over. They came in waves,” he said. The most serious of the injuries were caused by high velocity gunshots where the person’s internal organs were severely damaged by high-powered weaponry, he said. It was the first time they had encountered such injuries only having been accustomed to simple gunshot wounds.

He admitted that following the attempted coup, those types of injuries were more frequent.

For the first 48 hours, Ariyanayagam admitted there was chaos at the hospital since medical staff were not provided with curfew passes. While there was a disaster plan at the hospital, it was not shared with staff.

A lack of communication between the security forces and the medical staff at the hospital also proved to be a bugbear for the doctors. This was the weakest point for the doctors and Ariyanayagm said if there was a plan, it fell short.

“But as time went on things began to settle down.We just had to deal with situations as they came up. We did not have a plan,” he said, adding, “We weren’t sure what was happening. What we were seeing were not the usual civilian casualties. We tried to mobilise and function as best we could.”

Ariyanayagam rated the work done by the staff at the hospital as excellent.

As they were admitted to the hospital, patients were triaged and of the four operating theatres, three were put to use on a continuous basis. Multiple crash stations were set up in anticipation of casualties and resources were focused on treating with emergencies.

Ariyanayagam admitted that the hospital was well supplied during the insurgency and one of the main ‘ethical’ dilemmas doctors faced was separating politicians and insurgents if it came to that. He said areas were identified to separate and isolate the two if it became necessary.

“Fortunately that did not arise,” he said. Ariyanayagam said it would take a ‘very brave’ person in the medical field to pronounce on a protocol to treat with politicians or important persons before anyone else since as doctors they are sworn not to differentiate patients.

“We triage patients,” he said. On five occasions doctors were placed on red alert, when news reached that the Parliament was on fire, but each time they called it off when nothing occurred. Of the patients they admitted on the wards, the doctor said they could not ascertain who was a Muslimeen or not.

Staff were transported by PTSC buses, WASA vehicles and some ambulances, which were also used by the army to transport soldiers. Ariyanayagam said there was little security at the hospital, which was shot at, and an ambulance carrying medical personnel was also riddled with bullets.

He believes senior staff at the hospitals must be involved in any disaster plan so as to be able to properly direct junior staff in the event of an emergency. Also testifying yesterday was former clerk of the House of Representatives Raphael Cumberbatch, who returned to correct statements he made in testimony before the commission in January.

Cumberbatch clarified that former house speaker Nizam Mohammed did not seek to attain landing rights for a Libyan aircraft during the July 27 attempted coup in Trinidad, but was told by an official that Mohammed attempted to get permission for a Libyan aircraft to land in Barbados.

He also said shortly after August 10, 1990, he made the arrangements for Mohammed to travel to Saudi Arabia on the invitation of one of the princes.

Cumberbatch said his previous testimony were made in error and was not attempt to mislead the commission, nor was it an attempt to embarrass Mohammed.

The inquiry resumes today.


"24 persons died in 1990 attempted coup"

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