30 years later, TT, how do you feel?

THREE decades ago, on an overcast Friday evening, Yasin Abu Bakr and his lieutenants led an uprising against the elected government of TT.

He led a group to the country’s lone television station, TTT; Bilal Abdullah oversaw the bloody taking of the Red House, then in parliamentary session; and Jamaal Shabazz was tasked with seizing control of Radio Trinidad.

Abdullah shot an unarmed and bound National Security Minister Selwyn Richardson and Prime Minister Arthur NR Robinson after the PM commanded officers to “Attack with full force” instead the expected withdrawal order.

The coup d’etat ultimately failed, but for seven days the nation spent a harrowing week under a cloud of uncertainty and violence, as dead bodies lay around the Red House and the Police Headquarters building smouldered.

TTT was besieged by the army, innocent workers and insurrectionists alike facing bullets and explosive ordinance during the tense and harrowing stand-off on Maraval Road. No one who was present during those terrible days can feel any sense of proper resolution, even 30 years after the fact.

The Jamaat al Muslimeen remain a presence in civil society and to this day, there is a national nervousness about the religious group. In May, an accusation of a land grab by the Muslimeen raised unwelcome memories of a similar, triggering issue in 1990.

Abu Bakr until only very recently was determinedly unrepentant, and his recent apology, couched in a self-serving explanation, was more tactical than heartfelt, and since denied, at any rate orally.

President Paula-Mae Weekes, in her message to the nation about the coup attempt over the weekend, rejected the hollow apology. There was no remorse or regret for inciting a reign of terror, enabling the murder of innocents and overturning the rule of law so sharply that it has never since fully righted itself.

There have been scholarly books written about the event and at least two memoirs. A formal probe into the events of July 27, 1990 was convened in 2010 under the leadership of Sir David Simmons.

But any appetite for introspection into the event has waned over the last 30 years. Politicians have largely chosen to ignore both observance of the anniversary and the significance of the damage it did to the national psyche. The failed coup was pushed off the public agenda soon after the authorities regained control of government, in favour of the narrative of an economically stable TT.

Introspection into the causes and consequences of the insurrection were an untidy reminder that there was more to be done than repair damaged buildings.

The national trauma was pushed aside in a spirit of rebuilding and wallpapering that never acknowledged the issues that led to days of destruction and looting in the capital city, and linger to this day.


"30 years later, TT, how do you feel?"

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