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Compensate 1990 Trinidad coup victims, says report

Bert Wilkinson | 3/20/2014, 11:59 a.m.
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The report of a commission of inquiry into the July 1990 attempted coup in Trinidad is out and has come up with some interesting recommendations for authorities, including a suggestion that those who suffered actual beatings, forced detention and various forms of humiliation at the hands of armed rebels should get monetary compensation from the state.

Compiled by a team led by prominent Barbadian attorney Sir David Simmons, the report was laid in Parliament and released to the public last weekend.

Large portions of it make for interesting reading 24 years after a rebel Black Muslim group tried to violently overthrow the administration of Prime Minister Ray Robinson as it was implementing tough and highly unpopular austerity measures in the southern Caribbean island nation.

More than 20 people were killed in the insurrection. Large parts of commercial Port of Spain, the capital, were burned and looted as the rebel group stormed Parliament, shot and assaulted legislators, including Robinson, and held staff at the state television station and other buildings hostage for several days before a controversial negotiated “amnesty” was announced, ending the siege.

The group of 114 heavily armed Islamist members also firebombed the main police station. Mayhem ensued, and citizens ran for cover as bullets whizzed past them.

But as locals digest the extensive document, no one on the twin island republic with Tobago has yet emerged to criticize the recommendation that victims of that fateful attempt to remove the government be rewarded for the pain, suffering and psychological trauma that many have endured and been forced to live with ever since.

“The commission respectfully recommends that a small, special unit be created to ferret out and investigate credible information concerning all innocent victims of the attempted coup. The unit should be headed by an attorney-at-law and include investigators. There should be categorization of the victims; for example: those who died, those who were injured and still suffer the effects thereof, those who were injured but have made a complete recovery, those who received compensation and those who received no compensation,” the report says.

A key recommendation from the commissioners has to do with the sharing of information of sensitive matters by the police’s special branch. The investigators accused branch members of sitting on crucial information that the Muslim group, Jamaat al Muslimeen, was planning a coup and even an assassination attempt on Robinson. Such information was never properly communicated to the prime minister nor to the military or serving police chief at the time.

The report describes the branch as “its own republic” and says that its culture of secrecy should not be encouraged anymore. Intelligence should be centralized into one authority functioning as a security superstructure to ensure it is fed into the system and to the ears of who should be in the know.