Darcus Howe revisits 1990

Submitted by Darcus Howe on 18 July, 2005 - 13:00

On my way to the airport and home, a bomb exploded in the centre of Port of Spain

Fifteen years ago almost to the day, a group of Muslim insurgents stormed the parliament of Trinidad and Tobago and declared themselves liberators of "the people". A second group from the same organisation exploded a bomb at the police headquarters yards away, while yet another seized the main state-run television and radio stations.

In the following hours, working people in the suburbs of the capital, Port of Spain, joined the insurrection and thousands gathered in a looting spree that destroyed all the city's retail businesses. Police officers stripped off their uniforms and joined the looters. It was 24 hours before remnants of the government and the armed forces could assemble at one of the army camps to contain the revolt.

I had predicted a couple of years earlier that insurrection was looming in the country of my birth. It was there for all to see in a documentary I produced for Channel 4 called The Gathering Storm. The Trinidadian government got hold of the film, called a special session of parliament, and told the population that I was conspiring with foreign forces to undermine the economy.

Members of parliament, government ministers and their supporters ranted and raved for months. I listened and I thought. It was then that I understood who I was, and what was the society that had shaped my early life.

And now, so many years later, I found myself invited to take part in a two-and-a-half-hour broadcast on the island to review the historic events of 1990 and to explain my prediction to the nation. On the programme with me was one Bilal Abdullah, who was commander-in-chief of the military operation.

Abdullah spoke at length about what happened on that fateful day in July 1990. Much of what he said had not been made public before, and in recent weeks I had been told that government ministers were calling for a commission of inquiry into the events.

Right up to the day of the broadcast, the reputation of the insurgents continued to be abused. But this programme aimed to educate and clarify, not to blame.

I don't know how successful it was in that regard. I know only that it was well received. As important members of the public calling in to the programme offered commiserations for the bombings in London, I was gracious in my acceptance.

But guess what? On my way to the airport for my journey home, a bomb exploded in the centre of Port of Spain. A woman lost a leg. Some people speculated that mischievous political aspirants had planted the bomb to associate Bilal Abdullah with continuing malfeasance.

A new storm? Of that I am sure.