There were no major observances organized for last week’s 28th anniversary of the July 27, 1990 Muslim-led attempted coup in Trinidad but there was confusion as several former cabinet ministers and other high officials struggled to accurately recall events.
Former Agriculture Minister Brinsley Samaroo claimed that the US CIA, armed with high tech listening devices and other equipment, had coached the then administration of Prime Minister Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson on how to deal with the mayhem, bedlam, confusion and sheer chaos of a country which was totally unprepared and surprised by an armed insurrection.
It was just before the afternoon rush hour on Friday, July 27 when the sound of rapid and heavy gunfire, backed up by loud explosions, reverberated around commercial Port of Spain. Those shots and explosions, were signals to a startled population that the Jamaat Al Muslimeen had begun an armed insurrection to topple a government which it claimed had inflicted unbearable economic hardship on Trinidadians and was heartless. It had lost touch and had to be punished.
Leader Yasin Abu Bakr, a former policeman and 113 other mostly Black Muslim followers had decided that the time had come to get rid of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government and led a high afternoon assault on parliament while it was in session, the state television station (TTT) and other installations. The Jamaat was also at the center of a major and highly tense row with authorities over ownership of its western Port of Spain headquarters and had threatened rebellion. Few people took them seriously.
Once they had crashed through the entrance of parliament, they inflicted beatings on several legislators and even shot PM Robinson in the leg as neighboring Caribbean countries monitored the situation in silence, stunned that such a development could have occurred in the regional family backyard. The entire standoff lasted almost a week and had included dusk to dawn curfews. Large sections of downtown Port of Spain was destroyed by fire and looting was widespread. More than 20 people including a lawmaker and policemen were killed during the mayhem.
Trying to recall events, ex- minister Samaroo, said that the CIA had installed listening devices at a nearby hotel and were monitoring events in the assembly while advising authorities what to do.
His recollections of events were quickly shot down by then attorney general Anthony Smart. He contended that Samaroo was not even around during the peak of the insurrection and during negotiations to quell it, noting that he had appeared on the scene when the worst was over.
“He wasn’t even there, all the activities took place between the 27th of July, the 28, the 29th and by the 30th we had the situation under control. That’s when Brinsley entered the picture and by the next day, the hostages were released,” Smart said.
Nevertheless, Samaroo offered an interesting insight into events and suggested that the government in neighboring Venezuela was on standby to invade Trinidad as the cabinet there was convinced that Libya was financing the attempted coup and would have entrenched itself in Trinidad and used its nearness to the country to destabilize it after. Smart did not refute these claims, saying only he will one day tell it all as it had happened.
“President Carlos Andres Perez made it clear to us I have two warships just on the border line between Trinidad and Venezuela, just outside of the territorial waters. And the minute I find that you have lost control, I am coming to take over. Not to recolonize Trinidad or take over Trinidad, but to restore stability. And once that is done then you can run the government again. Our feeling was that he (Perez) was really very fearful of the Libyan threat. He certainly wasn’t asking for permission. He said this is my intention, and I’m monitoring the thing on an hourly basis, and the minute I find you guys can’t handle it, I’m going to come,” he said.
Bakar and some of the senior leadership of the Jamaat Al Muslimeen had indeed had close links to Libya and other Middle Eastern states.
Meanwhile, ceremonial President Paula-Mae Weekes said as July 27 rolled around that time had come for proper annual, national observances to be held to teach today’s generation about “the darkest days in our history” that occurred 28 years ago. Such formal observances she argued, would “serve as an annual reminder to remain vigilant in preserving our hard won democracy. We have to continue to reinforce our commitment to democratic values and to our complete opposition to violence, whatever the justification,” she said. “I have long wondered why there has never been an annual official remembrance.”