“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
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‘Climate of unease in T&T’
Former hostages of the 1990 attempted coup believe T&T’s National Security agencies should be on the alert as a result of the climate of uneasiness pervading the land—rising murder toll, gang warfare, labour unrest and poor governance. They also feel that the authorities should take action against Fuad Abu Bakr, son of Jamaat leader Yasin Abu Bakr, for beating and dragging an effigy of the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader through the streets of Port-of-Spain.
On July 3, Abu Bakr posted on his Facebook wall “action against the injustice in our society starts today. Walking round and round has been ignored. It is time for a people who talk too much and take too much to act. To act now and ensure a better tomorrow. Our leaders will listen if we make them listen.” One day later, effigies of Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Dr Keith Rowley were beaten and dragged through the streets.
In response to the beating of the bobolees, the United National Congress Tabaquite constituency called on the relevant authorities to act against the “disrespectful” actions against the PM. Three former hostages—Wendell Eversley, former national security minister Joseph Toney, and former National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) MP Rawle Raphael—feel that the Jamaat, with which Abu Bakr is associated, poses a serious security risk.
Seventh-Day Adventist pastor Clive Dottin agreed that the country was in a “fragile state” and the beating of the bobolees sent a “dangerous signal that security can be breached at any time.” Dottin said it was “more than an act of disrespect. It was an act of lawlessness. I feel strongly about it. This should be taken seriously. We should condemn it in a significant way.” He said T&T was “not alert as a nation.”
Eversley: We are heading down a dangerous road
Eversley said if Abu Bakr had acted as he did in another country, he would have been called in by the authorities or arrested. “If he was in another country, he would have been charged. It is up to the authorities to act. I cannot go and charge him. That is why I keep saying that he is taking advantage of the climate right now. They are watching how the climate is ripe. This is what led to the 1990 coup back then. Who can’t hear will feel.”
The upsurge in murders and gang warfare, Eversley said, was a clear sign that all was not well in T&T. He said criminals were getting too restless, and there was an uneasy feeling pervading the land with government offices shutting down, unions staging protests, and poor governance. “We are heading down a dangerous road. You also have to question the motive of the trade union leaders.”
Stating that for several days he was held against his will in Parliament, Eversley said, “I don’t want to see something like this happen again. That is why I protested for 20 years for an inquiry.” Asked if he was fearful of another coup attempt, Eversley said, “yes.”
Toney: Jamaat not to be taken lightly, they’re a serious security risk
Toney, who was in Parliament when the Jamaat invaded its chambers, believes that Abu Bakr’s actions should be taken seriously. “They embarked on a similar type of activity in years gone by. We did not take it seriously and we paid a heavy price. They are not to be taken lightly. They must be treated as a serious security risk. They have to be looked at very closely. They are embarking on that type of activity that led to July 1990,” Toney said on Thursday.
Toney said it was extremely bold on the part of Abu Bakr to violently flog the effigies “when his father is yet to apologise to the national community, in particular, those who suffered and died as a result of his recklessness in 1990.” Toney said the young man should instead make an effigy of his father and whip it through the streets of Port-of-Spain. Toney said he did not feel threatened by the Jamaat. “I want to believe National Security will be alert to that type of inclination.”
He said citizens too were more circumspect today. “It is important, I think, for the authorities to ensure that they do everything...that they take heed purposefully of the recommendations of the March 2014 commission’s report to ensure that there is no repeat performance.”
Raphael: The State should take necessary precautions
Former NAR MP Rawle Raphael, who was held captive during the uprising, feels that Abu Bakr should be monitored closely and National Security should take the “necessary precautions.” Raphael said Abu Bakr and the Jamaat should not be dismissed lightly. He said one of the recommendations in the commission’s report was that “Government must be on the alert. I can only hope that they are doing just this. I would be shocked if the Government is not fully prepared if another coup is staged.”
Raphael said when he was warned not to go to Parliament on July 27 by a Jamaat member, he did not take it seriously. “I took it for a joke then, but now, I will not take that chance. I thought that could never happen in T&T.”
Humphrey: A total waste of time
John Humphrey, who testified at the Commission of Enquiry into the coup, did not see Abu Bakr’s actions and comments as a threat. “I think it’s a total waste of time.” A former NAR minister, Humphrey said he agreed with the young man that he should not be blamed for his father’s actions. Humphrey said Abu Bakr was not the only one who had been expressing dissatisfaction with our political leaders. “I don’t know why people are upset by that.”
Shabazz: There are lots of alarmists
Jamaat member Jamaal Shabazz believes the young Abu Bakr meant no harm, but was only “expressing himself.” Insisting that he was not speaking on behalf of the Jamaat, Shabazz said Abu Bakr was only “trying to find his political feet” having formed his own political party, New National Vision, in 2010. He said Abu Bakr was one of several young men in the Jamaat who gave their views daily. “There are over 100 young Fuad Abu Bakrs within the Jamaat and over 1,000 in the general Muslim community.”
Shabazz, however, insisted, “Coups do not just occur every July 27 as if it is a seasonal matter.” He said a lot of alarmists have been using the month of July to fan the nation’s fears and play on the minds of the population. “Some were even using it for their own political intrigue. Fuad is an ambitious young man with a political viewpoint. There are many like that in the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen and, unlike me, they refuse to take a spectator position in the country’s pavilion.”
Shabazz denied the Jamaat was engaged in the trafficking, supply and possession of illegal drugs, arms and ammunition. “It takes a certain amount of financial capital, business contacts in several important security institutions in the country to deal in big drugs and arms and ammunition. There is no one within the Jamaat that is currently involved in either. And I say this with all sincerity.” The weapons used in the 1990 coup, Shabazz said, were just “a few bird guns and two slinging shots” in an attempt to slay Goliath.
“Today, the smallest man in a gang has guns bigger than him and there must be some political reason that the society has arrived at this violent morass. How could the politician just try to cast blame without taking any responsibility for creating this North American gang culture that has developed? And now that the chickens are coming home to roost, they want to blame the Jamaat. For what?” Shabazz feels the country needs a different type of leadership, “a leader who can consult more with the people.”