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Monday, July 28, 2008

18 years ago today...


Eighteen years ago Monday, I was on day one of six days locked inside my parents' home in Diamond Vale.

When Yasin Abu Bakr announced on TTT the evening before that he had taken over the country, my father had closed the door and said that no-one was going outside.  I can remember Emmett Hennessy on the radio.  I remember, and still shudder when I think about it, The Little Mermaid being broadcast over and over and over again on TV over the course of the next five days.  I remember that the video wasn't working, so all our videotapes were useless for entertainment purposes.  I remember the phone lines giving trouble.  I remember using precious phone uptime, much to my parents' chagrin, trying to find out whether my then girlfriend - who was on a camp somewhere in the back of oho-e-oho - was okay...

Eighteen years later, it's all very vague, very jumbled...

I remember, in the aftermath and in subsequent months and years, being patently upset that a group of men could commit treason and live.  I remember the drama that it took just to get jurors to sit on the case.  I wish I could remember who defended the insurrectionists in the Chaguaramas Court...

I remember feeling more than a little sick at the idea that all the looting could actually be considered a process of income re-distribution.  I remember too finding it very interesting that Port of Spain rebounded as quickly as it did...

Two decades later and there are still so many things, so many unanswered questions...

Didn't somebody smell a rat when young people suddenly found it cool to be a member of the Jamaat, an organisation with ties to Muammar Gaddafi's Libya?  Maybe I'm remembering incorrectly, but couldn't somebody tell that something was wrong when all the Jamaat's women headed off in one direction and the men headed off in another that Friday afternoon?  Maybe it's nothing strange to be away from the Parliament Chamber on a Friday, but why were so many MPs away anyway?  Who was responsible for letting the containers that carried the weapons into the Jamaat pass our borders?  Who are the bank chicks that got caught on camera breaking shop windows to steal jewellery?  How many businesses inflated their losses to get higher insurance payments?  Who was the Police Officer that reputedly took off his shirt when the first bullets went off and ran out of town?  Did they have anything but The Little Mermaid to show on TV?  Did the Army really beat as many people mercilessly as Trinis had reported during the curfew period?  Who authorised Curfew Parties?  Who knew that it was coming?  Who sat back and watched it play out having had advance notice?  What advance notice did who have?  Could anyone have done anything at all?

So many questions remain unanswered eighteen years later...

What now then?  Do we engage a Commission of Inquiry to look into the 1990 Insurrection?  Do we go on the hunt for an eminent jurist that everybody in the House can agree on, as well as a distinguished panel to hear testimonies and allegations of the events of the July 27th, 1990?  Do we rent a location large enough and suitable, hire support staff, and engage legal counsel in order to collate information from various persons and circles to eventually compile a hardbound tome chronicling events of two decades ago?  Couldn't an eminent historian or even an investigative journalist with a distinguished career do the same for less?

But what really are we looking into?  Do we have a specific allegation or allegations to investigate?  What will be the Commission's terms of reference?  Or are they just to freewheel?  Are we looking at a specific person or persons as we did in the Piarco Airport Terminal Inquiry or the coming UDECOTT Inquiry?  Do we have a location to examine, and contracts and building arrangements to look into as we did with the Biche High School Inquiry?

According to someone dear to me, isn't this whole Commission of Inquiry arrangement just a placebo, something to make us feel better while doing little to nothing at all?  In my opinion, it's worse than that, frankly, because in doing nothing, we're also going to be spending a lot of money to achieve little.  And subsequently, we will complain about how much money was spent to engage and execute a Commission of Inquiry with little return.

When we do engage this Trinbagonian panacea, this universal miracle cure-all for all our ills, all we do is provide an expensive avenue for people to sit in camera and launch allegations which are then questioned and documented.  Recommendations are then forwarded to Cabinet or President in a form that is not even necessarily actionable.  And then all a body need do, per precedent set, is file for judicial review to prevent President or Cabinet from acting, pending the results of some obscure thing or other.

So eighteen years later, what's our remedy really?  At the end of a six-month to year-long inquiry, after millions of dollars are spent, do we anticipate that we'll have a crime that we can successfully charge someone with other than that which the insurrectionists should have hanged for?  Or will we have a document full of he-said-she-said that couldn't stand in the face of basic rules of evidence?

If someone does have something holding strong enough to support a charge, why not take it to the Police or the DPP for investigation?  Is the statute of limitations on any such crime up?  Why duck down behind "alleged" and "reputed"?  Why hide behind veils of Parliamentary Privilege?  Why toss ancient red herrings around if you still have something holding eighteen years later?  Are you, herring-tosser, fooling anybody?  Are we fooling ourselves?  Are we feeling better by throwing blame around at no-one in particular for something that happened 20-odd years ago?  Are we hoping that if we throw everything at the wall that maybe something will stick?  Does someone have something that dastardly to hide?  Even if a Commission were engaged, who is to say that the people who would deny any allegations made in a Court of Law would not make the same denial before the Commission?

Eighteen years later, and there are still so many questions...

POSTSCRIPT: Let it not be said that I feel no sympathy for those who died and the many who were injured during the insurrection and in its aftermath.  Let it not be said that I do not empathise with the survivors.  But what we do next after all this time has to make sense.  Like everything else, we need to think through the hows and whys and determine incisive objectives of our next actions.  Otherwise, to wax colloquiol, we're just spinning top in mud... again.

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