PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD, AUG. 2 -- This is the land of carnival and calypso, of cow heel soup served up on the Victorian verandas overlooking Queens Park Savannah. Before last Friday, Trinidad was utterly unaccustomed to carnage.
A Moslem imam with a populist streak and a flair for the dramatic changed all that. And today, Trinidad and Tobago was tallying up the losses.
The losses include the grand old police station downtown, reduced by the imam's car bomb to a charred shell of twisted wreckage; the hundreds of stores and businesses around the capital smashed and gutted by looters, and the lives of at least 30 people. At least 150 were injured, the government said.
The damage was personal, but it was also general: This was the week that Trinidad lost its innocence.
"What has been achieved?" asked The (Port of Spain) Daily Express. "A blot on the image of Trinidad and Tobago . . . that will take many years to remove."
The Moslem rebels -- members of Imam Yasin Abu Bakr's small, extremist Jamaat Muslimeen (Group of Moslems) -- abandoned their coup attempt and surrendered Wednesday after government negotiators duped them into believing they would receive amnesty and the prime minister's resignation in return for the release of hostages, the government said today.
"Tricked, double-crossed, whatever you want to call it," said government spokesman Gregory Shaw. "I think it is foolish to quibble about ethics with people who have done these deeds."
Indeed, there was little sympathy for Abu Bakr and his 112 rebels, who stormed the Parliament and state-owned television. But even though the rebels are widely dismissed as an aberration, almost everyone thinks the shock waves of their assault will be long felt in this southern Caribbean country of 1.3 million people.
Abu Bakr's religious commune had fewer than 500 members, and many of them joined because the imam dished out free food at a soup kitchen on the site.
Abu Bakr, who railed against government corruption and waste, may have talked tough from time to time, but by and large he wasn't taken very seriously. He was widely seen as more interested in prevailing in his dispute with the government over property rights at his commune than in upsetting the social order.
A coup against the government? " 'Never happen,' as the local saying goes," said The Daily Express.
But suddenly this week, guns and violence were everywhere. People gawked in disbelief as camouflaged soldiers with their guns patrolled the city -- even in the downtown's lovely botanical gardens.
"We're not used to this situation with guns," said a shopkeeper. "We are accustomed to people picketing the Parliament and booing and jeering their ministers and that kind of thing. But when it comes to taking up arms it's a foreign thing to us."
Bridget Brereton, a social historian at the University of the West Indies here, said: "Not only are we vulnerable because we have small armies, but also because we have no tradition of this kind of violent coup and hostage-taking, so security has always been extremely relaxed."
Trinidad and Tobago is a stable republic that had been free of political violence since a black power movement with roots in the United States touched off a spasm of rioting here 20 years ago. No one has been sentenced to death here in more than a decade, and, until this week at least, a government commission was debating whether to do away with the death penalty.
Trinidad, which sits on vast oil deposits, got suddenly rich as oil prices soared in the 1970s and just as suddenly saw the bubble burst when oil prices collapsed in 1986. The change was convulsive and the discontent widespread. But an election was held, the incumbents were dumped, and no one thought democracy was threatened. Rather, the government of Prime Minister Arthur Robinson launched a tough austerity program, cutting public sector salaries, levying new taxes on most purchases and trimming patronage jobs from the civil service.
The measures were unpopular, and Robinson, whose public manner runs from dour to aloof, seemed unable to help himself politically. When the attack on his government came this week, Abu Bakr's first demand was that Robinson resign on national television. When the prime minister refused, they shot him in the leg, just above the ankle.
But rather than prompting a wave of national sympathy for the government, the coup attempt seemed to inspire new criticism of Robinson's policies. In dozens of interviews, people expressed nearly equal disdain for Abu Bakr and for the government, whose harsh program was seen as the cause of 25 to 30 percent unemployment, declining living standards and higher prices.
In public statements today, the government took an unapologetic stance, almost proudly describing the deceit by which it achieved the rebels' surrender.
Said Shaw, the government spokesman: "Why not promise them the moon and the stars? You had hostages under gunpoint." He said any agreements signed "under duress" are "completely invalid at this point."
Shaw said that in the course of negotiations, the government was prepared to offer the Moslem group virtually anything -- within the bounds of credibility -- to secure the release of the nearly 50 hostages, which included seven members of Robinson's cabinet.
"You had to promise them credible things," said Shaw. "There had to be a strategy to make the discussion process believable. . . . Let's face it: The strategy worked."
By the time the rebels gave up Wednesday, he said, "They weren't eating or sleeping; they were being picked off gradually by the military." The government called their surrender "unconditional."
The government said the Moslems would face criminal charges, including treason and murder, which carry a penalty of death by hanging, and kidnapping, which does not. Robinson remained in the hospital and was reported ill. He has not addressed the nation since his release at midday Tuesday. Hostages freed Wednesday were undergoing psychological and medical examinations and debriefings after their five-day ordeal, during which they had no food.
Conditions in the capital seemed to be returning to normal today, but lingering signs of the ordeal were visible. A 12-block area around Trinidad and Tobago Television, one of the buildings held by the rebels, was evacuated and searched after authorities said they discovered a vehicle that had been wired with explosives.