Portrait of a People Forever Playing Mas’ With Their Taken-for-Granted Democracy

It looked like Carnival Monday, the way how scores of men armed with big guns in Muslim costumes, came down St Vincent Street like a group of masqueraders hoping to win the  first prize for Best Military presentation.

When Yasin Abu Bakr and his band of terrorists rushed into the Parliament on Friday July 27, 1990.

Unlike the  Fridays ritualistically invoked by the Qur’an as “a sacred day of worship in a chapter called “Al-Jumah,”, the Jamaat al Muslimeen of Trinidad and Tobago selected July 27 to invoke mayhem and murder on a most unsuspecting people whose main preoccupation at  that time  would  be Where we  drinking later, bro?  and How can  I can squeeze in a secret date before floating home on a wave of White Oak and coconut water?.

Firing shots left-right-and-centre, these insurgents left a number of citizens dead and badly wounded, including Leo Des Vignes, Member of Parliament for the constituency of Diego Martin Central who was injured on July 27and died of his injuries on August 1.

They roughed up and humiliated the Prime Minister to the point of such embarrassment that, it was said, a gun with a panty at the end was shoved into his mouth for talking too much.

Evidence that a large number of citizens were ecstatic over this this kind of treatment of Robinson – and even berated Bakr for not killing the man who had unceremoniously deprived them of their COLA (Cost of Living Allowance), was obvious in the delight with which people outside delightfully received the news of his injuries.

Among the other casualties was National Security Minister Selwyn Richardson who was shot in the leg and lay suffering while coup leaders successfully parlayed with the President for an Amnesty to allow them safe passage from state-sponsored passage from the Red House and the TTT National television station to prison.

For those  constantly hungry pariahs waiting for a sign, there was no hesitation when Coup leader Abu Bakr told them in forked tongues: 

Do Not Loot!

Which was the exact signal they need to start the murders, robberies and mayhem which left a number of people dead and many businesses burnt to the ground.

Oh what a great disappointment the  sitting Prime Minister and would have felt as, under severe siege, he summoned up all the and got no support from his troops.

Instead, Acting  President Emmanuel carter  (who heard the background cries of many citizens who felt that Abu Bakr should have killed Robinson for taking away their Cost of Living Allowances), watched timidly signing a paper giving the insurgents a guaranteed Amnesty if they would release the hostages in the Red House.

After spending two years in jail, Bakr was and his men were released from prison on the basis of the Amnesty of then Former Senate President, and Acting President of the Republic, Emmanuel Carter who died on January 22, 2015 at the age of 85.

Speaking on behalf of the Government, Minister Bharath described Carter as “a true patriot who stood tall with the people of our country at a time when leadership and calm was most needed.”

Although it was a far less violent event, the story 20 years earlier was similar in that a group of University if the West Indies students, encouraged by Trinidadians who rioted at the Sir George Williams George Brown University in Canada, took to the streets and invaded Port of Spain.

Unable to pull off the final coup de grace despite a mutiny in the army, Makandal Daaga and his men, including  Khafra Kambon  eventually surrendered to the police and, together with mutineers led by Lieutenant Raffique Shah and Rex La Salle, were taken to prison on charges of sedition and treason.

The illusion that this place is really a democracy kept alive only on paper, was played out in the ease with which Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams was able to quickly dispatch his chief gun man Inspector Randolph Burroughs to flush out the remnants of the revolution by taking no prisoners in his search for guerrillas in the hills.

The obvious latest effect can be seen in the dictatorial government administrative system dressed up in Democratic clothes where the Speaker presides over a House in which she is, in fact, an obedient servant  of the Prime Minister who can say to all, as  former Prime Minister Williams once did:

“When I talk, no damned dog bark!”

Despite  the crudeness of Williams’ remark , it displays the grim contradiction of how an Opposition today – which won 46.9% of the popular vote in the 2020 General Elections  and suffers from a very slim 3-seat minority in the 41-member House of Representatives – still seems so fettered in its quest to have any thing of substance passed in the Parliament.

TT Public servants protest Government’s Two per cent wage increase

Photo by Joshua Seemungal – Trinidad Guardian

That said, the question must be asked: Isn’t it the Opposition’s responsibility to make itself seen and heard in the House where they were placed by such a large number of constituents to make a strong case for their concerns and general issues affecting the country based on constant feed back from on the ground? 

It’s a matter of proud record that the Dr Keith Rowley-led PNM government was seen to perform yeoman service for country beyond its narrow interests as then Opposition members voted in favour of certain key bills being passed into law by unanimous decision.

In taking this strategic approach, the PNM leadership was perhaps unconsciously presenting itself as an entity to be taken seriously as an alternative government which could easily step into any breach caused by the sitting government.

So said, so done.

So what passes for Opposition today is a miss match of political dinosaurs sitting it Parliamentary time for their  pensions and while a number of young and harmless Energizer Bunnies keep chooking fire to get  the people’s attention.  

So, unless they table one of their regular, bound-to-fail No Confidence Motion Motions, today’s House of parliament is a very dull, boring and predictable place where the big debate can be based on some petty ethnic tit-for-tat issue or – as in ancient but most disappointing failed coup-de-gras attempt by Vanella Alleeyne-Toppin – the alleged circumstances under which the Prime Minister was conceived. 

Lord, Put a hand!

As Prime Minister Rowley himself once remarked, as long as Kamla and her wrecking crew continue with this kind of gutter politics in and out the House, it’s guaranteed that the PNM will remain in power for a very long time.

While this may be a source of  encouragement to the dedicated  hard-working PNM posse, it gives the nation no comfort to realize that nearly half the population has been so marginalized by their own outsider-inclined  leaders that the government itself is finding difficulty to bring them into the family fold.

As a consequence, hundreds of thousands of our national brethren  are in danger of missing out on the benefits, amenities and services widely available to keep them “topped up” on the country’s strong  social and infrastructure platforms, such as Health Services, Education, unpublicized Family Support  and Infrastructure .  

This is the only way in which the average Joe and Jane that can rise up from mediocrity and poverty by   assuming their rightful place among all of us as citizens proudly  deserving the best that any government can offer in service to the nurturing and development of a young, fragile democracy.

This is especially so at this  crucial time –  when we need all ethnic and social hands on deck to shatter our dangerous illusions of grandeur as a thriving, harmonious democracy – for us all to march forward as one force celebrating  the greatest possibilities as a nation that is small but looms large on the world 

stage in the likeness of Peter Minshall’s Tan Tan and Saga Boy dingolayong to the magical notes of the steel pan mixed with rum and laced with brassrum, steel and brass in the Queen’s Park Savannah on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. 

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