This was the account of Smart’s escape from the Parliament given by Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Mervyn Assam yesterday to the commission of enquiry investigating events surrounding the attempted coup.
Assam, who was at the Parliament when the Muslimeen insurgents stormed the Red House, said Smart was not there but had gone to the Law Association’s cocktail party and had just returned when he realised what was taking place.
Smart, he said, disguised himself as a pantry maid and sneaked out of the Red House. Smart in his account on how he managed to escape from the Red House said he ran out of the
Parliament Chamber and hid in an office, under a counter. After he was discovered, Smart said he was told he looked like a Special Branch officer and was asked to hand over his identification card. He had shed his jacket, tie and glasses so he would not be recognised as a member of Robinson’s Cabinet. He was saved by a woman who told the insurgents he was a co-worker.
Assam also said Smart had a close relationship with high-ranking Muslimeen member Bilaal Abdulah as they lived close to each other in Belmont as children and Smart’s mother also babysat Abdulah as a youngster.
Assam, who was at the time of the insurgency, executive chairman of Clico Investment Bank, said he went to the Parliament to meet Finance Minister Selby Wilson to secure the operating licence for the bank. He too was held hostage as the Muslimeen mistook him for a member of the NAR government. Assam took the opportunity to clear up misconceptions about his captivity at the Red House, saying he never told the insurgents he was this country’s representative, “to Her Majesty’s court of St James.”
Assam said it was a totally erroneous statement which he attributed to former minister Kelvin Ramnath. Assam was TT’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and his appointment ended in April of 1990.
He said he was assaulted, pushed and shoved by the gunmen and he as well as Selby Wilson, Raymond Palackdarrysingh and deputy speaker Anslem George were treated badly and roughed up.
However, Assam said Robinson and former national security minister Selwyn Richardson were treated the worst. They were hog-tied together and Assam said he witnessed when Abdulah shot both men, after Robinson’s “attack with full force” command to the army.
Assam said he did not agree with the command. “It was courageous.” He gave the former prime minister credit for standing up very well during the ordeal. “He never broke down even though he was brutalised and battered. Mr Robinson stood up well,” Assam said. Assam also said no one resisted the Muslimeen, however he was perhaps the “only one sufficiently stupid enough” to engage them in discourse. Some hostages, including Rawle Raphael, Palackdarrysingh, George, Trevor Sudama and permanent secretary in the ministry of national security Reynold Fernandez dealt with the situation badly.
Assam said while the insurgents expected to take over the government in the first 48 hours of the insurgency, as time went by they became disillusioned and by the third day they began to lose discipline when they realised they could not succeed in the misadventure.
He did not agree with former junior national security minister Joseph Toney’s account that the insurgency was over by Friday night.
“It is a figment of his imagination. Friday was the most troubling night. The Red house was being shelled. We were threatened to be lined up and shot. Unless he had an absent memory, I don’t see how he could say that. We were in a state of terror,” Assam said.
He described the Friday as chaotic, Saturday as dicey and said he personally went through three stages of emotions — extreme fear, extreme anger and total resignation. Assam said he was angered by the fact that the young insurgents did not know the consequences of their actions and had also resigned himself to dying.
At one point during the ordeal, Assam admitted he was told by the insurgents: “Mr Assam you may be a good fellow but Wilson, Robinson and Richardson were wicked men. We should kill them.”
He said he did not mind if all the Muslimeen insurgents had been killed if foreign troops had been called in. “I am not a cruel person but I found it was so inhumane the way they went about this. Such people are not human beings,” he said.
Assam also pointed to the “obstinate position” taken by some members of the sect, who
have refused to apologise to the country. “They have to reconcile to the nation before the nation can reconcile with them. I think it was hate and revenge which motivated the Jamaat,” he said.
As he spoke of his release, Assam said he protested against going to the Hilton Hotel with the parliamentarian hostages, instead demanding that he be allowed to go home.
As a founding member of the NAR, Assam said he was unaware of any promises being made to the Muslimeen by the NAR during the 1986 election campaign.
He said there was serious contention in the NAR and the fracture in 1988 was not unexpected as tensions were always there. “There was fighting, bickering, instability. Perhaps that is why Bakr felt he could do what he did. It was not a stable government,” Assam noted.
At the time of the 1990 attempted coup, he said, the NAR was perceived as a bourgeois Government and this led to discontent. “Abu Bakr felt with this seething discontent if he did something he would receive support. He miscalculated. Trinidadians are not revolutionary people. His plan backfired,” Assam noted.
Assam was very critical of the lack of treatment and care provided for victims and the families of victims after the attempted coup.
He also bemoaned that commendations were not given to former minister Dr Emmanuel Hosein, who tended to the injured hostages and hostage takers as well as Anglican clergyman Dean Knolly Clarke, who acted as a mediator and had a calming effect on those in the Red House when he made his visits.
The ninth session of the enquiry came to an end yesterday at the Caribbean Court of Justice, Port-of-Spain, where it is being held. Chairing the commission is Sir David Simmons. Also sitting on the commission are vice-chairman Sir Richard Cheltenham, Dr Eastlyn Mc Kenzie, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt and Dr Hafizool Ali Mohammed. Lead counsel to the commission is Avory Sinanan, SC, while junior counsel are Jagdeo Singh and Christlyn Moore.