EVEN 29 years later, Winston Dookeran still vividly remembers the horrific events of the July 27, 1990 attempted coup.
Before a packed Learning Resource Centre at the UWI, St Augustine campus on Monday evening, the economist and former minister of planning under the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government told his audience: "I remember I had to walk over dead bodies."
In his first public discussion of the coup attempt, Dookeran was interviewed by CNC3 talk show host Hema Ramkissoon and academic Shane Mohammed.
Dookeran said after the insurgents, led by Bilaal Abdullah, stormed the Parliament he was scared and did not want to get involved, but realised the need to try and talk with his captors after some encouragement from his colleague Dr Emmanuel Hosein.
“I tried to get the attention of one of the men who was guarding us while we were tied up on the floor of the chamber. He nodded and told the man who I thought was leading them to come over.
“He (Abdullah) asked me who I was, and I told him I was the Minister of Planning. He said, ‘I’m certain you didn’t plan on this happening.’
"I was a little relieved to know that these people had a sense of humour, which meant this situation could be defused without bloodshed.”
He said the dialogue with the insurgents was the beginning of several hours of tense negotiations as he tried to understand their motives for the overthrow and persuade them to release some of the hostages.
He said how well these discussions went varied depending on the information the hostage-takers received about the activities of the army outside, as he and other MPs were threatened with being shot and thrown over the balcony of the Red House if soldiers tried to storm the Parliament chamber.
Dookeran was released before his colleagues and acted as prime minister while negotiations and attempts to free the hostages in Parliament and at Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) went on. Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr was in charge of the insurgents at TTT.
Recalling his initial feelings on being released, he said while it was a relief he was no longer in such a dangerous situation, the magnitude of the incident hit him when he saw the bodies and the extent of the damage outside the Parliament.
“It was a chilling message. When they allowed me to leave I was relieved, but then while walking down the steps of the Parliament I had to walk past and cross over dead bodies.
“I only remembered recognising the bodies of one of the men, who was a driver at the time. I realised that this was a terrible situation where innocent people lost their lives.”
Responding to claims from some academics and historians who tried to justify the coup as a response to sub-standard social and economic conditions, Dookeran asserted that nothing could justify the violent overthrow of a democratically-elected government.