One year after the state of emergency “not one red cent” has been paid to any of the thousands detained. In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian yesterday afternoon, on the eve of the anniversary of the declaration of the emergency, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said Government had no regrets about calling the emergency. “During the state of emergency, in the aftermath of the negative publicity, the gloom and doom of lawsuits against the state, I am pleased to announce, one year on, not one red cent has been paid out because none of the claims by detainees have been successful in courts,” he added. The Attorney General said several of the detainees arrested during the emergency have since been arrested and charged with other crimes. He added: “A number of the detainees also have been sentenced and convicted and others have perished in gunfire, whether at the hands of gangs but mostly in the course of some illegal enterprise. “With the benefit of hindsight, one can always see room for improvement but by and large the national security agencies preformed quite well. “In comparison to other countries where emergencies exist there were minimum reports of police and army brutalities. There were no reports of citizens’ property being confiscated by Army or Police and there was a very responsible, mature and disciplined approach to the performance of their duties at a time when they had greater powers over the citizenry.”
Ramlogan also spoke about the controversial anti-gang legislation. One of the major successes of the legislation, Ramlogan said, was its deterrent value. He said: “The anti-gang legislation has been modelled on similar legislation which exists elsewhere in the world. One of the major successes is its deterrent value.” The police, he said, have received training and experience [through the emergency] in the implementation of the law. A dedicated unit has been formed to deal with the suppression of gangs, he said. While he could not provide recent statistics on gang-related crime, he said there had been a reduction in the number of gang-related murders.
Twenty-one men from Nelson Street who were detained during the emergency laid claims of victimisation against the Government and even planned on suing the state for wrongful imprisonment and false arrest with the assistance of former PM and leader of the United National Congress (UNC) Basdeo Panday. Some of the Nelson Street men who were released, Ramlogan said, were later identified in CCTV footage robbing a woman during daylight on Nelson Street, Port-of-Spain. As a consequence of that, Ramlogan said, he had “mandated the Law Reform Commission to produce a paper with a view to having Cabinet consider the introduction of tough and strict photo and video enforcement laws that will facilitate a more expeditious criminal trial.”
Many of the central actors during the emergency’s implementation have since moved on. Former Commissioner of Police and Deputy Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs and Jack Ewatski, have both left T&T and returned to Canada. After Government’s most recent reshuffling of Cabinet, former Minister of National Security, Brigadier John Sandy, no longer sits in Parliament. T&T Guardian spoke with politicians and a member of the trade union movement to get their views on the emergency a year later. Many people may be able to recall exactly where they were at 8 pm on August 21 last year when PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar made the announcement that a limited state of emergency would come into effect. One year on, acting chairman of the Congress of the People (COP), Vernon de Lima, believes the emergency has not achieved much. In a brief telephone interview with the T&T Guardian, De Lima said he also would not be surprised, if under new Minister of National Security, Jack Warner, another emergency was called. The emergency, he said, showed the Government had no structured plan to combat crime. De Lima also questioned, again, Warner’s appointment as Minister of National Security saying: “Mr Warner should not be there until matters hanging over his head are cleared up.”
However, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan referred to the emergency as “a successful learning experience.” He said it demonstrated Government’s commitment to fight crime by “thinking outside of the box and by using the full force of the law.” Although Government’s decision to call it was questioned by many, Ramlogan said, it was within its constitutional right to do so. There has been no successful legal challenge against the validity of the emergency, he said. He added: “I think the emergency was by and large successful. There is always room for improvement and important lessons were learnt but none of the legal doom and gloom predictions about a frontal assault on the Government’s decision to call the emergency has not materialised. “The intelligence and experience from the emergency has done our security agencies well and the state has remained steadfast and resolute in its determination to act in the public’s interest and defend the constitutional rights of all citizens.” The AG defended the detention of groups, such as the Nelson Street 21, saying public opinion for the emergency turned when the public saw some of the same men arrested for robbing a young woman in broad daylight on Nelson Street.
The actions of some authority figures, such as former PM Basdeo Panday, who offered legal assistance to the Nelson Street 21, sent a bad message to the nation’s youth, Ramlogan said. “When they appear on the front page with a former PM we glorify them to the detriment of our youths,” the Attorney General said while explaining why he was seeking to have photo and video submissions be made admissible in court. Vincent Cabrera, Banking, Industrial and General Workers’ Union (BIGWU) president, maintains the Government’s decision to call an emergency was a smokescreen to divert the public’s attention from the joint union mobilisation over the Government’s five per cent wage cap. He said Government panicked when the union’s public meeting in Arima on the Friday prior to the emergency drew larger numbers than anticipated. Cabrera believes the Government had no crime plan, although the People’s Partnership came to power on an anti-crime platform. Cabrera said the Government had made many mistake, and he called the emergency the Government’s greatest political sin. Government will pay a high political price for it, he added. Calls to Opposition leader, Keith Rowley and Opposition Senator, Faris Al Rawi yesterday went unanswered.
Interesting SoE facts
The state of emergency was declared on August 21 and ended on December 6.
According to Sharon Lee Assang, Director of the Police Public Affairs Unit, the SoE resulted in:
• 463 gang-related arrests,
• 1,405 people being detained on outstanding warrants,
• 12,739 rounds of ammunition, 34 magazines and 154 firearms were seized,
• 484 people were arrested for breaching the curfew, 833 for other offences and 1,024 on drug offences.
No charges have been laid for an alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and three Cabinet ministers.
August 21 2011 - Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced a state of emergency.
The announcement was made at a press briefing held at her home in south Trinidad. Initially, curfews were imposed in the following areas from 9 pm to 5 am: The City of Port-of-Spain, The City of San Fernando, The Borough of Arima, the Borough of Chaguanas, The San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation and the Diego Martin Regional Corporation.
August 29 2011 - Attorney General Anand Ramlogan urged the YouTube user who posted a threatening video to PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar to surrender to the police. Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs confirmed an investigation into the YouTube video. Attorney General Ramlogan later said he received an apology from the YouTube user.
October 7 2011 - Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced the state of emergency would remain in effect until further notice. The curfew hours, which were initially 9 pm to 5 am, were reduced to 11 pm to 4 am. PM Persad-Bissessar said the state of emergency resulted in the country’s “lowest homicide rate in a decade” and the seizure of $700 million in illegal drugs.
On December 6 2011 - SoE ended. Former detainee and central businessman Selwyn “Robocop” Alexis claimed charges against him for the plot to assassinate the PM and three other Cabinet Ministers were fabricated by the police. Alexis and 15 other detainees were released from the Eastern Correctional Facility, Santa Rosa, Arima.
January 2012 - The first SoE-related lawsuit against the State was filed in the San Fernando High Court by Kevin Stewart, 33, of Marabella. Stewart was among five men who were released in the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court last September after Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard dropped charges brought under the Anti-Gang Act. The men were kept in prison for almost a month.