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Griffith: 1970 mutineers were a ‘disgrace’ and T&T must stop celebrating them

“In some countries when similar acts take place, such persons are put before a firing squad, hung or tried and sentenced to death.
“Yet amazingly, some were given the opportunity to become members of parliament and then later permitted to communicate to the country through daily newspapers—which gave them the window to have weekly newspaper columns and to be so audacious as to have the unmitigated gall to talk about the shortcomings of others…”
The following column on the Defence Force mutineers during Trinidad and Tobago’s 1970 upheaval—since coined the ‘black power movement’—was submitted to Wired868 by Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith Junior:

Photo: Scenes from Port of Spain during the 1970 uprising.
(via Angel Bissessarsingh)

No one in uniform must ever even dream of being a mutineer, as what took place in 1970 must never happen again.

The 1970 Army Mutiny would remain as one of the biggest scars in our nation’s history. Yet for some reason every time this is discussed, even as recent as the articles published in daily newspapers on 26 April 2020 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of such an unfortunate event, the perpetrators are portrayed as dreamers—being too bright for their own good, standing up in defence of the oppressed, and doing what was best for the country at that time. That is totally wrong, misleading and if not addressed, creates the propensity for that scenario to reoccur.

As the youngest officer in the Defence Force exactly 20 years after that fiasco during the attempted coup, and now being the Commissioner of Police, I feel compelled to address this misnomer and clearly state that nothing is further from the truth. And such misconceptions must be totally eliminated from the minds of our citizens, because such views may cause others to think that way, inclusive of those who presently wear uniforms.

My statements are particularly poignant based upon the attempted coup in 1990, when the 100-plus terrorists did not have a snowball’s chance in hell to succeed. However, a brief moment of concern came the following morning, when the leader of the insurgents boasted that he had the support of many from the protective services.

The last thing you need in armed combat is to be looking behind your back, owing to the fear of a Trojan horse in your own camp. Such actions must therefore be condemned and rejected at every level in our nation.

Photo: Solders pose for the camera outside the Red House in Port of Spain during the 1990 attempted coup.

Persons who carried out such actions, as seen in 1970, must be deemed as not dreamers, heroes, and persons acting based on a higher good. They should be labeled as what they ought to have been deemed when they committed such actions: as being enemies of the state, mutineers and a disgrace to any service where they wore uniforms.

If this continues to be stressed, it would ensure that there would never be any copycats who would take such treacherous actions again in our nation’s history.

In some countries when similar acts take place, such persons are put before a firing squad, hung or tried and sentenced to death. Yet amazingly, some were given the opportunity to become members of parliament and then later permitted to communicate to the country through daily newspapers—which gave them the window to have weekly newspaper columns and to be so audacious as to have the unmitigated gall to talk about the shortcomings of others.

My comments have become necessary to address the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ and deal with this hideous scar on our nation head on, as this issue always seems to be circumvented.

For far too long, it has incorrectly and continuously been perceived that because these were bright young soldiers, being highly trained at arguably the best Military Academy in the world, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, it gave them some degree of righteousness. As if they were smarter, brighter and better than their seniors, so maybe they were right to do what they did.

Photo: A 25-year-old Raffique Shah during the 1971 mutiny trials.
Shah, a former lieutenant, led 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Trinidad and Tobago Revolution of 1970.

As a graduate of that same Academy, I can state that this is total hogwash and nothing could be further from the truth.

The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK, does not train you to revolt, defy orders, put your senior officers under arrest at gunpoint, be deemed a traitor and commit mutiny. NO! Rather, they train you to be disciplined, patriotic and adhere to your oath and allegiance to country and office. Only if you perceive that you were ordered to do an illegal command, should you be prepared to do reject a command—even at your own demise.

There was no illegal command given in 1970. Instead, these were the actions of young upstarts who became full of themselves, because they thought their dinosaur leaders were moving too slow. And, as quoted in a daily newspaper, the catalyst to justify revolting and becoming traitors to their country was because then Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams declared a State of Emergency.

I understand fully about being younger, smarter and sharper than others senior to you. I experienced it via a motley crew, labelled in the Defence Force then as the ‘magnificent seven’, whose ego based on their rank, was larger than their ability to be productive.

But in the military, you comply and then complain. You do not rebel.

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.

The audacity of the 1970 mutineers was promulgated even further with statements that one of their plans was to tell the government that the Defence Force should play a more interactive part with youths. This is the result of when power goes to the heads of persons who do not think clearly.

Their skewed logic was to do the wrong thing to get youths to do the right thing, which reminds me so much of the present situation where attorneys are demanding that people have rights and can exercise them by doing the wrong thing during this ‘stay at home’ period of the Covid-19 pandemic. And it is threatening to destabilise our country.

Thankfully, now we have a Defence Force and a Police Service where hopefully there would be no mocking pretenders who may be as foolhardy as those in 1970. History must never repeat itself, being mindful that the 1990 attempted coup was another example of a failed attempt at such illogical ideology.

We must therefore make it impossible for those who should have been deemed as mutineers and persons who breached a sacred oath of office, to ever be viewed as heroes.

Editor’s Note: Raffique Shah, a mutineer during the 1970 uprising, is considered one of Trinidad and Tobago’s foremost columnists and is a former contributor for Wired868.

Click HERE to read as columnist Cory Gilkes offers a contrasting point of view on how history should view the 1970 army mutiny.

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7 comments

  1. The Commissioner tried to be definitive with his references to mutineers , social anarchy, runaway crime and legal / constitutional disrespect for the Police service under the atmosphere of Covid-19 all in one lump.

    In my opinion, the glorification of the mutineers is a dangerous , lopsided, revisionist approach to interpreting history. What about those militia who objected, abstained from participation. They were made to be seen as turncoats, cowards, mentally shamed and ostracized in society.

    Can Griffith, say, if he were translated to the army of 1970, where he would have stood? Maybe in his exalted position he could have been one of the soldiers who would have shot Shah and La Salle at point blank range.

    However, I fear that Griffith, in trying to create his own history and trying to assimilate the events of 1970 into today’s scenario of Covid-19 and insubordination, is ironically creating the same revisionist history that he’s accusing the romanticists of creating. It’s not so simplistic as it may appear.

    By the way, comparing the events surrounding 1970 and 1990 are like ‘chalk and cheese’ in my opinion.

  2. GG you start to sound like DT. One part of your body wil start to vex with your mouth,

  3. So if it’s a choice between the lives of the people of this country and orders, GG knows where he stands?

    Some people never heard of the paper bag test and it shows

  4. Raffiqie Shah and those who revolted in 1970 are heroes, champions and true leaders of the people. Even today the amount of corruption and oppression in the land cannot be right. The Gov’t taxing us beyond we can bear. Corruption everywhere. Party cronies gets all the benefits yet complain. Successive Gov’t still put their two hands in the cookie jar. Since 1970 and 1990 things have changed. Our judiciary is a mess. What have KPB, GG, PM BP and KR done for TT. Covid 19 one day will be recorded as a game changer.

  5. Earl Best

    Given a choice between Raffique Shah and Gary Griffith, Wired868 had little doubt about where it stands. if the Editor’s note is any guide.
    Given a choice between the Raffique Shah of today and the Gary Griffith of today, which would you go with? Even before reading this piece of whatever this is, I was clear on my choice.
    Given a choice between the Raffique Shah of 1990 and the Gary Griffith of 2020, which would you go with? Even before reading this piece of whatever this is, I was clear on my choice.
    And almost every time Motor Mouth Gary Griffith makes a public statement, I feel reassured that I was in no way misguided.
    There ought to be a law–or at least a vaccine–against such.

    • The 1970 revolution paved the way for persons of African and East Indian heritage to get better working opportunities. So I can only see the mutineers as heroes. The system in the Trinidad and Tobago at that time was extremely elitist, racist and cruel to the underprivileged. I will stand diametrically opposed to that measure of social injustice any day and anytime. Sorry if GG sees it otherwise. Power to the People.