Today, July 27th, marks the 31st anniversary of a failed insurrection in Trinidad and Tobago. It is a day that has been described as the darkest in this nation’s history, when armed insurrectionists stormed the home of democracy, the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament, and the then state-owned Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT).
For six days thereafter, Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu-Baker and his men held Prime Minister ANR Robinson and several other government officials hostage in the Parliament at the Red House and at TTT’s Maraval Road headquarters.
On August 1, 1990, the insurgents surrendered. But not before they had killed many, including MP for Diego Martin Central Leo Des Vignes and caused millions in damage to property in the capital.
Prime Minister Robinson was also shot in the leg but survived and never surrendered to the insurgents, directing this country’s security forces to “attack with full force.”
Many felt that the insurgents’ objective was to get rid of the Robinson-led National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government, under whose watch unemployment rose from 10 per cent in 1981 to 22 per cent in 1986.
The government back then had to implement several tough economic measures, including spending cuts, tax increases, cuts in public servants’ salaries, removal of the cost of living allowance and devaluation of the T&T dollar.
In the face of the austerity measures then, the trade union movement organised a one-day strike and in the weeks leading up to the insurrection, the streets of the capital city were flooded with protesters.
But the violence that was wrought on this country in the so-called name of social justice in 1990 must never be forgotten. No matter how bad things were then, no one had the right to attack T&T’s democratic foundations in the way the insurgents did.
That insurrection cost this country billions and set back its development significantly—money that could have gone into alleviating some of the very things the insurrectionists attacked the then government for. Some parts of the capital were never rebuilt as business owners could not afford the reinvestment needed.
July 27, 1990, cast a stain on T&T’s democracy that we should never forget. Our commitment as a nation must, therefore, be that the most brazen and senseless assault on our democracy should never happen again.
It is sad that 31 years later, nothing of significance at state level has been done to help generations of citizens understand the impact of what happened and how it continues to affect our lives. One man, Wendell Eversley, observes the event annually. Today, Red House officials will join him in laying a wreath outside Parliament in memory of those lost.
Yesterday, President Paula-Mae Weekes, in a message commemorating the day, renewed a 2018 call for a “proper and fitting annual national observance” of the event. President Weekes is right when she says “this dark chapter of our history merits a permanent memorial that would capture the horror and chaos of those six days with appropriate images, testimonials and historical information.”
It is time we teach the young people about the horror T&T endured. It may be the only way to stop it from happening again.