Unexpected explosions, fires, gunshots, looting, and hostage taking. Bodies strewn in the streets of a burnt out-city, a city that was just ending the work-week, and had plans for a weekend of pre-Independence celebrations. Sounds like the fictional work of the master of espionage and mayhem, the late Robert Ludlum? Well its not. Its the personal recollection of the experiences of journalist, Dennis McComie, during and immediately following the 1990 attempted coup d etat that rocked T&T exactly 20 years ago to the date. Its amazing how after two decades, McComie has been able to give such vivid details of the sights, sounds, emotions, scents, and conversations that pervaded during that period.
A clueless journalist
The publication begins by exploring the similarities and differences between the two frontline characters–McComie and Imam Yasin Abu Bakr - setting the stage for the ultimate "bacchanal" that follows. In 1990: The Personal Account of a Journalist Under Seige, McComie recalls how fate and his journalistic instinct took him back to the NBS building on Abercromby Street in Port-of-Spain, following the massive explosion at the Police Headquarters a mere seconds before six o' clock on July 27, 1990. McComie had left the NBS building just a few minutes earlier, and at the time, had no idea what had caused the explosion. Nor was he aware that the country was under seige.
He recalls witnessing the chaos in the streets below, from his vantage point of the fourth floor balcony of the building, which he later found out was not as safe as he had thought. He recounts the fire attacks on the two lower floors of the building, and how he was forced to assume leadership of the skeletal staff at the radio station–a staff and station that later became the eyes and ears of T&T and international interests during the ordeal. He relives his blood boiling emotions when Bakr brazenly addressed the nation shortly after 7 pm, via the television station TTT, where several members of staff were being held hostage. He lauds the hard work of the NBS team, and the countless callers to the newsroom, from whom he drew inspiration to continue broadcasting. He explains the role the soulful music of Kenny G played during the first hours of the crisis.
NBS, the window to T&T
McComie explains how, with the deliberate cut-off of the TTT broadcast signal by the authorities, the then linked 100FM and 610AM became the window to T&T for the public and the international media, as well as facilitator to some of the major players in the game–among them, Bakr himself, who called the station and was subjected to a candid on-the-air interview by McComie. McComie recalls the frustration of being torn between his inability to piece the entire puzzle together, and giving the public the information and hope they so desperately needed. Reports of an amnesty; an order by then Attorney General, Anthony Smart, for NBS to cease broadcasting news and interviews; the eventual release of the hostages from TTT and the Red House, and the surrender and detention of Bakr and his followers on August 1; his near death experience prior to a press conference on that same day; his departure for London; and his battle with post traumatic stress disorder, are all articulated by McComie as events that will be etched in his memory for a lifetime.
When the smoke cleared
McComie's bitterness toward the Imam for the events of July 27, 1990 are not lost in the descriptive chapters, nor are his allusions to the roles played by certain characters in the book in one of the darkest periods in the history of T&T. While the publication attests to his adherence to the journalistic principle of reporting facts during the attempted coup, it paradoxically highlights his forthright opinions regarding certain aspects of the terrifying ordeal. On a lighter note, one of his burning questions then and now remains, why weren't the 40 sandwiches delivered to TTT? While that question may never be answered, at least the very last question in the pages of 1990: The Personal Account of a Journalist Under Seige, was answered by Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar at the Post Cabinet Press Conference on July 22.