PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad & Tobago: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has announced that a Commission of Inquiry will be set up to look into the circumstances of a failed coup attempted 20 years ago.
Persad-Bissessar made the disclosure last week at a post-Cabinet press briefing, days before the anniversary of the July 27, 1990 failed coup by the Yasin Abu-Bakr-led Jamaat al-Muslimeen group which was launched against the government of ANR Robinson as Parliament was in session.
Twenty-four people died in the insurrection, including security guards, a parliament staff secretary and parliamentarian Leo Des Vignes.
“We took a decision to launch an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding what is referred to as the 1990 coup. For several years, and particularly as we approached the anniversary of this incident, calls have been made from a generous percentage of the population for such an investigation,” said Persad-Bissessar.
“It is felt that this investigation was necessary for several reasons. One, to bring finality to this matter, this inquiry should be conducted. It’s also well recognized that there were varying degrees and categories of trauma experienced by citizens in different institutions, directly and indirectly,” she said, adding that the results of the inquiry would bring “psychological relief”.
“We also know and we feel that it is important for us to have this inquiry to find out what went wrong and why it happened so that we can take steps to avoid such a thing ever happening in this country again, said Persad-Bissessar.
The attempted coup saw 114 members of the Jamaat al-Muslimeen attacking Parliament, bombing police headquarters, and seizing control of two state-owned broadcasting operations – the Trinidad and Tobago Television Company, which was the only local TV station at the time and the Trinidad Broadcasting Company, which was one of the country’s seven radio stations – all in an attempt to wrestle power from the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government.
Prime Minister Robinson and other members of parliament were taken hostage and Abu Bakr appeared on television that evening and announced that the government had been “arrested”. He called for fresh elections and Robinson’s resignation.
The leader of the radical group had also urged citizens to remain calm, but there was looting and panic in the capital and neighbouring areas.
After six days of negotiations, the members of the Jamaat surrendered and were taken into custody. They were charged with treason but claimed to have been given amnesty. Two years later, the Court of Appeal upheld the amnesty. The Jamaat members were released from prison in late 1992 and although the Privy Council later invalidated the amnesty, they were never re-arrested.