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On Friday 27 July, 1990, the republic of Trinidad and Tobago had experienced a most unfortunate series of events over what seemed as the longest six day period ever. At the hands of approximately one hundred and fourteen members of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, an attempt to overthrow the NAR Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, was on the agenda. With Yasin Abu Bakr as their ring leader, the Trinidad and Tobago television station (TTT) was used as a medium by Bakr to inform the public of what was taking place. The Jamaat members stormed the Red House and held the Prime Minister at the time, Mr. A.N.R Robinson along with several other members of parliament hostage and they suffered at the hands of these Muslimeen members in the form of torturous acts. From the bombing of buildings, to extreme cases of looting and even deaths of citizens, the events of the 1990 coup will forever be a painful memory in the minds of many citizens as it the most serious event experienced by the state and though it is now twenty two years later, the country still has not recovered fully from it. The Muslimeen members were tried on treason but were released due to a signed amnesty granted by the cabinet at the time.
Mr. A.N.R Robinson was one Prime Minister who was known for his “unpopular decisions,” There are many factors that play a role in being the possible cause of the coup. These include:
People were upset by the fact that the Prime Minister had imposed a fifteen percent Value Added Tax on the country, although he made this decision in order to bring economic stability to the state.
The fact that Abu Bakr’s view that “society had become consumed by corruption, prostitution, rape, incest, child and woman abuse, racism, murder, tobacco, alcohol, and cocaine addiction, poverty and a deterioration of the health services and that the NAR government was doing nothing about it.” (Ryan, pg 53)
The possible erection of a $500,000.00 statue in honour of Gene Miles, an individual who was instrumental in exposing “corruption during the PNM regime.” (Ryan 53) Abu Bakr could not understand why in a country where the poverty rate was so high that the government at the time would choose to possibly erect such a costly statue when ” people have no food, shelter or medicine!” (McComie pg 78)
Abu Bakr had made an effort to assist the sector by importing medicinal drugs from the country of Libya (Ryan 53) but the government refused his numerous attempts due to the fact that Libya is a dominantly Muslim state and Bakr’s likely intention was to have the state of Trinidad be a model such as that as Libya. This would have given Bakr reason to want to arrest the Prime Minister.
The land dispute between the government and the Jamaat concerning the properties on the compound at Mucurapo. The Jamaat claimed that they owned the land and that the government refused to grant them the deed for the land. (Figueira pg 85) This is another reason for the animosity between the Jamaat and the Government. The following research paper would attempt to examine the impact of such a heinous act on the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago from an economic and social/psychological perspective. It would evaluate the causes for such an act and also the events that followed after.
IMPACT FROM AN ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVE:
LOOTING & DESTRUCTION OF BUILDINGS:
According to Dennis McComie’s “1990 The Personal Account Of A Journalist Under Siege,” an estimated $150,000,000.00 was reportedly looted and burned. Major buildings included the Police Headquarters, the Red House and TTT (Trinidad and Tobago television station) which came with a price tag of $50-$350 million to rebuild and restore. (Ryan pg 55)
Also, several buildings were looted though Abu Bakr; ironically instructed the population not to loot. These buildings included businesses in the Port of Spain area; of which were not granted compensation by their respective banks causing them to go bankrupt. There is one particular case of the Sant Family who owned a business which was looted at the time the coup occurred. Their son took on the responsibility of guarantor to reduce the level of financial stress on his parents and grandparents. However, due to not being compensated by their bank, their son still owes the bank a sum close to one million dollars at present day. Other businesses suffered great losses and were given little to no compensation by the government or their insurance companies. However the upsides that came as a result of the 1990 Coup include:
A boost in the construction industry because of the damage done to buildings. This damage required the work of contractors as well as labourers.
The checks on containers done by customs became more intense. At one time a container containing ammunition arrived on the port of which Abu Bakr suspected being responsible for. The weapons were available for use and because of this, improvements were made in the system to ensure that no unwanted items whether it be ammunition or otherwise, were brought into the country illegally.
In 2004, the firearms act was passed. It was a bill that stated that persons who wanted to own firearms must have a license to do so.
Although it was extremely costly, Port of Spain was eventually rebuilt. The new face of the country’s capital was a drastic change in comparison to the face it wore before. The Police Headquarters was restored and the Red House continues to go undergo restoration and expansion. Hotels such as the HYATT, was built which includes a waterfront. The HYATT is currently a popular hotel which brings in revenue for the state. Though the money spent was plentiful, it brought new infrastructure to the city of Port of Spain. Many businesses were not rebuilt after the coup and this made way for the expansion that took place.
COMISSION OF ENQUIRY:
Mr. Wendell Eversely was an individual present at the Red House at the time of the 1990 Coup. Since that day; every year on the anniversary of the 1990 coup he marches from “the dial” in Arima, his hometown, to the Red House in Port of Spain where the incident took place. He was one man who was persistent in the request for a Commission of Enquiry as to why the attempted Coup occurred. Every year he wrote a letter to the President so that the Prime Minister would grant the waiver.
However, his march would have discontinued in the year 2010, when the Commission of Enquiry finally commenced. Though the Commission of Enquiry is viewed as a necessity in Mr.Eversely’s eyes, it continues to cost the country thousands of dollars as they have now began the thirteenth session and we are currently in the year 2012 which is only two years later. The expense has been this high due to the British Council brought in by the government to assist with the Enquiry.
Due to the damage done to the buildings that the Jamaat supposedly claimed were theirs, Bakr filed a constitutional motion against the state and he was granted a sum of $2.1m. However the state filed this same motion against Bakr and his followers of the Jamaat for the destruction done to the Police Headquarters and the Red House. An estimated $15m was the outcome, but only some of this money was repaid via the sale of properties around the Queen’s Park Savannah owned by Bakr. (McComie pg 10)
IMPACT FROM A SOCIAL/PYSCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
A reported thirty two people were killed and these included Leo Des Vignes, the MP for Diego Martin Central and seven Muslimeen members (McComie pg 9). There have been other deaths, but they were not reported. The Prime Minister then, Mr. A.N.R Robinson was shot in the leg by one of the Jamaat members and laid in excruciating pain in the Red House. To this day, he is still dealing with the repercussions of him being shot in the leg. Also, there have been people that have fallen ill and even died due to the aftermath of the 1990 Coup. This was due to financial stress among other reasons. One can set a price on compensation for the losses suffered by business owners in 1990, but you could never provide compensation for the families that lost relatives on that day.
There are two ways to view this individual. One as a man who went to great extents in order to make the society in which he lived a better place for everyone, or a man who stopped at nothing in order to make himself along with his followers the most powerful group in the society in which they lived. Regardless of what way one chooses to view Abu Bakr, there is no justification for the unlawful act he committed.
Currently, there is a man by the name of Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh, who is on a hunger strike in order to stop the commencing of a government decision to build a highway in the southern end of Trinidad. Doctors claim his health is at serious risk due to the period he has been carrying on this hunger strike. However, he refuses to give up unless the project is stopped. Dr. Kublalsingh may be seen like Bakr, which is as a man who is going to extreme extents to see to it that what he believes is not jeopardized in any way. Regardless of what both men believe in, one would think that there are other ways to get things done that does not involve a hunger strike neither an attempted Coup.
Abu Bakr committed a terrible act on that day 27th July, 1990. According to one particular article, Bakr wanted a fair trial. There is a saying that goes, “there is no big sin neither small sin, sin is sin.” Maybe this was Bakr’s point of view when he requested a fair trial. The unlawful act of overthrowing the government calls for severe punishment, but Bakr did not seem concerned with this as he asked for fair trial totally disregarding the extent of his actions. Also, he could have viewed himself as being above the law which is another reason for requesting a fair trial.
LIVING IN FEAR:
The 1990 Coup has affected everyone who experienced it differently. Seeing your country’s government being overthrown by citizens like yourself, would obviously create a great sense of panic. Another factor being that it was a particular group of people; Muslims that staged the act which would cause you to always have a sense of fear regardless of how small that sense is; of that group of people in your society. Especially when the society is one consisting of a variety of religions, one of which being Muslim.
Another reason why people would have a fear instilled in them because of the 1990 Coup is due to the fact that the term “radical” is used so loosely when referring to Muslims. People, who are of the Muslim faith, are usually extremely disciplined and are grounded strongly in what they believe. Their views are based solely on what “Muhammad” tells them or guide them to do and that they will be rewarded for doing accordingly. According to a particular website, the term “Jihad” is considered to be every Muslim’s duty – be it the struggle to improve society, preventing the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable or improving oneself before the day of judgement.
Since this definition includes the struggle to improve society and preventing the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable, maybe Abu Bakr was attempting to fulfil the “Jihad.” He was not a fan of some of the “unpopular decisions” made by the Prime Minister at the time Mr. A.N.R Robinson and Bakr had ways of attempting to improve the society; which unfortunately included a Coup. Additionally, he spoke about the deterioration of the health services and at
often times when people hear others mention that they are Muslim, there is some amount of fear that creeps in.
Young Muslims are often the ones that are feared by some people. One may question why it is a sense of age, but the younger the generation, the easier to it become misguided and Bakr used to this to his advantage as he knew that the younger men would feel a sense a belonging being in a “brotherhood” such as that as the Jamaat al Mulismeen. One journalist in particular, even claimed that at the time the Coup took place, and the Red House was stormed, some of the men did not even know who the Prime Minister, Mr. A.N.R Robinson was. There is just a sense of twisted power being a young individual having the ability to control someone with the use of a gun.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST MUSLIMS:
Discrimination is never a pleasant thing. Whether it be discrimination against religion, race, gender or sex, no individual favours being discriminated against. Because of Abu Bakr and his followers’ actions with respect to the 1990 Coup, it is the case of “Peter pay for Paul and Paul pay for all.” This statement is applicable because of the fact that when Abu Bakr and his followers committed the actions that they did, they made it very difficult for Muslims to live comfortably in the society of Trinidad and Tobago. Also, opportunities that may have been opened to Muslims, would now be given with a slight increase of hesitation.
For instance, reference can be made to the attacks of September 11th, 2001 on the United States’ World Trade Centre. Some of the terrorists that were involved in the attacks, were students at some American flight schools learning how to fly aircrafts. Due to people knowing
that they were flight students and what they were involved concerning the attacks, they have made it extremely difficult for any other individual of the Muslim religion who genuinely wants to study at any particular American flight school. In some cases, when a person of Muslim background or religion has to travel abroad, there is always extra interrogation in comparison to an individual of another religion.
The 1990 Coup has definitely left its trademark on the carpet of time, however until the Commission of Enquiry has ended entirely, the question of how and why the Coup occurred will be in the minds of many citizens in Trinidad and Tobago. In the words of Anglican Bishop Calvin Bess in an article written on 29th July 2005 in the Express newspaper, “There was never justification for removal of an elected government by any means other than the democratic process and to me that is the message of July 27th 1990 and we must not forget it. July 27th has left us with a land that is wounded. Trinidad and Tobago needs to learn the lessons of the past to show the present how the future would be shaped.” Though this statement was made seven years ago, the wound that the Anglican Bishop spoke about is one that would always be a little more sensitive on the psyches of certain Trinidadians.
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