Thursday, January 27, 2011


So, almost 21 years after the event we are finally getting a Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the 1990 coup. It is going to be interesting to see what comes out of it. So far, there has been nothing that we didn't already know ... then Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson was shot, the policeman outside police headquarters was murdered in cold blood, the Muslimeen stormed the Parliament and took the Parliamentarians hostage, then Minister of Planning Winston Dookeran was mandated to "negotiate" with the Muslimeen, and so on. But the really serious issues which have been kept out of sight and not discussed are what we need to know, for these unanswered questions can help us understand the past and plan appropriately for the future.

First of all, there is the very, very serious question that has not been addressed, i.e., the terrible lapse in the State's security apparatus that allowed the Muslimeen not only to import into the country the terrible firepower that was so obviously in their hands, but actually to be able to use it with such devastating effect. Prime Minister Robinson was head of the National Security Council (NSC). What reports was he getting before the coup? Did he have any information on teh activities of the Muslimeen? If so, what information exactly did he have? What steps did he take to deal with that information? And if he took none, then why not? The buck for national security at the end of the day stops with the Prime Minister. Mr. Robinson has got a lot of explaining to do and the CoE has a duty to extract that information from him regardless how sympathetic (or pathetic) a figure he may cut at the age of 84 where he is clearly weak and fragile. No right thinking person can approve in any way the treatment meted out to Mr. Robinson by the Muslimeen. he did not deserve to be shot, nor did he deserve a boot in his face, nor any of the other indignities suffered by him at the hands of these men. But that does not take away from his responsibilities to the nation for this very obvious lacuna in the nation's security. He is/was ultimately responsible for the breaches and we need to know how these breaches in security came about. For if we don't know, they can happen again ... and again, and again, and again!!

There are other obvious questions as well: How did the guns for the coup get into the country? Who facilitated the entry? Were they brought in on regular containere ships and smuggled through Customs? Were they brought in by small boats from Venezuela? How did they get here? There must have been agents for the Muslimeen buying these guns in the United States. We know that one person has already been convicted in the USA for purchasing these weapons. Were there others? If so, who? This was before e mail, Facebook and Twitter. How did they communicate with their co-plotters back in T&T? Were the Muslimeen's communications being monitored back then? If not, why not? If so, then what reports were going up the chain of command to the regular autorities?

It is important to remember that at the time of the coup the Jamaat al Muslimeen were being closely monitored by the State and there was an army outpost at the Jamaat's lands in Mucurapo. How the Muslimeen were able to leave their compound on that fateful Driday afternoon, under the very noses of the army, armed to the teeth, and be allowed to go into Port of Spain unimpeded is a serious question that has never been answered to date.

There are also peripheral questions which need to be answered, for they too are most serious. For example, both Messrs. Manning and Panday were not in the Red House when the rebels stormed in. This could well be coincidence and certainly over the years there has not been one iota of evidence to suggest that either or both of these men had foreknowledge of the crime of treason that was committed by the Muslimeen. But rumours persist that both men knew in advance of the Muslimeen's intentions. This is most unhealthy for everyone, not least Messrs. Panday and Manning. The CoE has a duty either to clear the names of these two men ("they had nothing to do with the coup and had absolutely no foreknowledge of it" or "they knew about it in advance and that is why they absented themselves. In the circumstances, they ought to be charged with being an accessory before the fact to treason"). The fact is that asuuming (though certainly not accepting) that either or both men knew about the coup in advance and did not alert the authorities then they would be guilty of being an accessory to the crime of treason. Treason and murder, by the way, carry the death penalty in T&T!

If the hard questions that have remained unanswered over the years are not answered now then this CoE will have been (like so many before it) a total waste of time and money. If the CoE does ask and get answers to these questions then it will have done a tremendous service to the country and the Caribbean as a whole. All of this comes at a time when national security is in the spotlight with the imbroglio over the appointment of Ms. Reshmi Ramnarine. In other words, it underscores the critical importance of competent persons being at the reins of the nation's security apparatus ... which, of course, is the reason why there has been such a fuss made over the appointment of the unfortunate Ms. Ramnarine in the first place!

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