I met Wendell Eversley last week. We had not spoken since he appeared before the commission of enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup as a witness.
I was a member of that commission. Wendell Eversley was in the Red House when the terrorist attack took place. He saw the Jamaat drag Lorraine Caballero—a parliamentary clerk they had shot in the stomach—and deposit her on the floor next to him. He watched her die. A boy, aged about 16, stood guard over them with a rifle while she struggled with her pain until the end.
Mr Eversley, a civilian, was eventually released and reported that he walked past three dead bodies on the steps of the Red House as he left. He was the first person to demand a commission of enquiry into the events surrounding the attempted coup. He did this year after year, writing to the prime minister, holding anniversary vigils, fasts and protests. Despite being ignored, he kept it up for 20 years until, finally, the commission was appointed.
It is to the credit of this Government that memorial flags, each one bearing the name of someone who died, have been mounted in front of the little park by the Botanic Gardens. Somehow, placing them there, where life is flourishing and hundreds see them, is appropriate.
What I don’t see, however, is mention of others who were injured and left by an indifferent society to manage their trauma with the help of family, if they were “lucky”.
No litigation has ever been brought against the State by any of them, and by now it would be statute barred anyway, but lest we continue to forget, let me mention some of them.
First, Leslie Marcelle, a police officer who fell from the roof of police headquarters after the first explosion. All of the ribs on his left side were broken and one lung collapsed. He had severe head injuries, his right shoulder was fractured, his wrist was broken and he was bleeding from both battered ears. At the hospital they took X-rays and discharged him, after two days.
He was “lucky”. He had family that took him to a private doctor, who sent him to Caura. Eventually this “lucky” man, with the financial assistance of his family, went to the US to get treatment for his impaired hearing, which has to be adjusted, at his own expense every year. He was on paid sick leave for a year while getting physiotherapy to help him to walk again. Then terminated. Apart from his NIS injury benefits, he has been on his own ever since, permanently disabled.
Sgt Julien was beaten by the Jamaat, bound and stripped. For six days he was left there with no food, nor was he fed when he was finally rescued and taken to Camp Ogden. He was medically boarded from the Police Service in 1994. He was told by one government minister the government would send him abroad for medical treatment if he would pay for his own accommodation. He could not afford it, so he never went.
WPC Ward said despite her ordeal (she was one of the officers standing guard that day in Parliament) and severely traumatised, only Snr Supt John Grant ever contacted her afterwards. “No other officer in the hierarchy, no one from government ever contacted me,” she testified.
Security officer Sgt Maurice, of the prime minister’s security detail, threw his body on top of the prime minister to protect him. He was dragged off by the terrorists, stripped to his underwear and beaten about the face and neck with a gun. PC Pilgrim, gone to his aid, was thrown atop his prone body.
Months afterwards when the PM was asked about them, he replied: “I don’t know what became of them subsequently. I heard that one of them was killed, but I cannot give direct evidence of that.”
The left leg of PC Thong, the PM’s driver, was shattered by a Jamaat bullet. When he woke up from a coma in the hospital, his leg had been amputated and there were gunshot wounds to his other leg, and chest. He was compensated financially for his injuries.
Mervyn Teague, a government employee, was shot and killed, his body left on the ground to decompose. He was the only support for his family. His wife testified before the commission that no one from the government ever contacted the family or expressed condolences. She did receive an ex-gratia payment from his employer and the funeral grant from NIS to help bury him. She is in receipt of $500 a month pension.
Raoul Pantin, a hostage in TTT, wrote a book about the attempted coup, but he never completely recovered from what he experienced at the hands of the terrorists, which included real mental and emotional torture, despite the devoted assistance of his sister who attended the sittings of the commission at which he testified.
He died still valiantly bearing the scars of the trauma he suffered.
Emmett Hennessy, Pius Mason and Edison Carr, all employees of Radio Trinidad, although injured, bravely escaped with their lives. But Mason, who was shot in the upper back, spent 13 days in Park nursing home begging to die as a result of the pain, and saw his weight drop from 155 pounds to 90.
In his testimony before the commission of enquiry, he said he went to Minister Joseph Toney for help and compensation, and was abruptly turned away—told they were only helping government employees.
The courage and professionalism of Jones Madeira and Dennis McComie have been written about elsewhere, but their valiant persistence in carrying out their duties, which inestimably helped the entire population of T&T, must never be forgotten.
This article is in tribute to all of them. Lest we forget.
—Diana Mahabir-Wyatt is an industrial relations specialist.