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Daly Bread: How the NAR Gov’t bungled the 1990 Coup trial

My colleague Anthony Smart asked for particulars on my assertion of bungling by the NAR Government following the attempted coup in 1990. He reminds us that he was Attorney General of the NAR Government during that period, until the NAR lost office in November 1991.

That’s easy, Anthony. After the hostages were released, the dominant elements in the NAR Government decided that they would represent to the world that the Muslimeen had surrendered unconditionally. The Government would also try to avoid acknowledging the grant of the amnesty and to postpone having its validity determined by the Courts for as long as possible.

Photo: An impassioned Yasin Abu Bakr (right) speaks to fellow Jamaat-al-Muslimeen members shortly after their release from prison in 1992.
(Copyright AP)

I was told to my face at the time, by one member of the dominant elements, that a reason for the strategy was that they did not want the amnesty subsequently to become an election issue.

The strategy backfired, precipitated by the lawyers for the Muslimeen promptly launching habeas corpus proceedings challenging their detention.

The rest, as they say is history. The attempted coup makers were not tried in the criminal courts. As a result, the country received a message that if you allegedly do something wrong ‘nothing will come of it.’ That message, according to some commentators, was a catalyst for a general decline in law and order.

I use the expression the ‘dominant elements’ in the Government because the NAR Government did not always appear to be acting collectively or including all of its members in its decision-making concerning the attempted coup. Then Prime Minister ANR Robinson had been shot, key figures were kept away from interaction with the lawyers voluntary assisting, and certain other dysfunctional things happened from time to time.

I am not reliant on hearsay or folklore for my assertions. The NAR Government had an unprecedented legal situation on its hands. I was one of several Senior Counsel and other lawyers who responded to calls to serve the country and give advice. I was present at meetings in Camp Ogden and the Hilton Hotel and went to Robinson’s residence twice.

Photo: Late Prime Minister Arthur NR Robinson (right) is greeted by then Cabinet colleague and subsequent Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.
(Courtesy Trinidad Guardian)

Despite the excellent job done by Sir David Simmons in his Commission of Inquiry, the country will only have the complete story of 1990 if those active in its unravelling tell what they know first hand, as late journalist Raoul Pantin did about the hostage situation inside Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT).

It must be emphasised that the Simmons Commission remained perplexed at the fact that an important legal point about the amnesty was not taken. That is on the Commission’s record of proceedings.

When I gave evidence to the Commission and produced documents, I was asked why the point was not pursued. My answer was: ‘politics.’ I was not asked to elaborate. Had I been, I would have given chapter and verse on the bungling particularised above, as there is so much to tell.

I had intended to write a book about the grant of the amnesty and the political manoeuvres around it, carried out against the advice of many of the lawyers. I did not because of pressures on my time and more recently there was another impediment.

I learned when I produced The Daly Commentaries that there is a dearth of publishers or others able or willing to fund such a work, which requires the hiring of a highly competent editor and the essential work of referencing with foot notes.

As to marketing a book without an agent, let me relate an experience I had with the National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS).

Photo: A Trinidad Express headline in August 1990.
(Copyright Trinidad Express)

NALIS has a commendable first time authors’ programme but I had a sobering experience with its Education Division, which I paid a visit at their Chaguanas office.

The Division took two copies of the book to have it reviewed for placement in school libraries. The book passed review, but I was finally told earlier this year that the Education Division had no money ‘for purchase of resources for the schools.’ NALIS stated that ‘every year since 2016, monies have not been released.’

So much—at least for now—for what the public should know and a sign of how frustrating it can be to leave an historical record.

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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6 comments

  1. Earl Best

    Where else in the world can some people defile the precincts of the parliament, hold the government hostage at gunpoint, shoot the prime minister and get off scot-free because there is no law under which they can be charged?

    Brooks needed to write a book to explain his judgement.

  2. My memory
    of the coup is always Clebert Brooks

  3. Earl Best

    Only the most naive of us can be persuaded that money is the problem. There are some truths that are deemed better left untold…

  4. This article tells so much about how we view history as a vehicle toward national development and broad education. How can there not be resources to publish a book of that nature? We still don’t know what happened, and that’s a damn shame

  5. They bungled the security of the country too that led to it