Grenada Revolution revisited
ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada – They have now all been released from prison, but as Grenadians today reflect on the events 28 years ago that led to the collapse of the Maurice Bishop government that come to power by the bullet rather than the ballot in 1979, there are still lingering questions about the island’s brief flirtation with that brand of socialism.
“There are still a lot of unanswered questions because those who committed the crime are claiming innocence in many instances,” said Dr. Terry Marryshow, a member of the Maurice Bishop October 19 Martyrs Foundation.
“Over the years they have also told us that we have never heard the real story and when they get free we will hear that story. They have been free for well over a year now and nobody is yet to tell us what that story is and what new can come out of all of this to make us feel any better.”
In September 2009, Bernard Coard, who served as deputy to Bishop, and the remaining 13 members of the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) and People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA) were released from the Richmond Hill Prison after they were given life sentences for their role in the deaths of Bishop and other close associates. The courts had originally jailed 17 people including Coard’s wife, Phyllis.
“The sentiments that were expressed 28 years ago by the majority of Grenadians you wouldn’t hear those sentiments today. People have grown to recognise and accept what time does,” said Edwin Frank, 53, who was the acting programme manager at Radio Free Grenada when Bishop was killed.
“There has been a very slow healing process. Clearly as people mature they realise that the majority of people involved in 1983 were very young, passionate persons who really thought that they could have changed the world and make Grenada a better place.
“It was a very genuine feeling among those who were associated with the revolution that their contribution was in the ultimate interest of the entire population,” said Frank, who now serves as Public Relations Officer of the Grenada Board of Tourism (GBT).
Like Frank, Prime Minister Tillman Thomas believes the healing process is taking hold and that Grenada has learnt a lot from that experience.
“I believe over the years that we have been able to focus on democracy and building democratic institutions because we see the difficulties we went through it was as a result of the absence of democracy and democratic institutions.
“There was no dialogue, if you had an open society where people could speak and express their views and were able to protest; but when you have no channels for dissent that is a danger and that was one of the dangers of that period,” Prime Minister Thomas said, recalling how his detention under the PRG.
“They (PRG) amended the law and they said you must get 27 shareholders to establish a newspaper. So we got 27 shareholders and we established a newspaper including myself, Lloyd Noel and Leslie Pierre.
“After our second publication they detained Noel, Pierre and myself. There was nothing critical of the government at the time but it just shows you the totalitarian system. It is not a system that we should encourage or tolerate in the region at all.
“So we learn from this that we must always flight for our right. Even within the democratic system and you see tendencies of this autocratic and dictatorial way I think we ought to protest against it,” Thomas said, noting that while people would reflect on October 19 every year, the healing process is going okay.
“People who were involved in the revolution they are now involved in different activities, some in government and other aspects of life in the country. It’s going to take time, it is part of our history we cannot forget it but I think the healing process is really taking place.”
Pierre, who continues to serve as editor of The Grenadian Voice Newspaper, agrees with Thomas that remembrance of that fateful day should be encouraged.
“I think it would be a mistake for anybody to forget that kind of history when it has happened to you and you have experienced it because you need to be on guard in case some other group wishes to behave in the same manner,” Pierre said.
Pierre also agrees with those who say that no enough is being done to ensure that the country’s youth can better understand what transpired in 1983.
“I don’t think people want to talk about it. That is the unfortunate thing. I think it is something that someone should prepare a good historical document that could be part of the schools’ library so to speak…I don’t think we can afford to forget an important part of our history like that,” he said.
But for Bishop’s 96-year-old mother, Alimenta, there has been no closure.
“I still cannot understand why government after government is not insisting on getting the body of Bishop and the loved ones of others,” said a 45-year-old woman, who did not want to be identified.
“There you have a mother, irrespective of who her son or her daughter is, that son or daughter could be a criminal, they have a mother and that mother has a heart and every mother wants to see their child, no matter if they are condemned by the state or the rest of the people, get a decent burial.
“The thing that angers me is that in following all the events over the years I know that the United States of America would go all out, spend millions of dollars to recover the remains of anyone of their soldiers regardless of how many years have passed.
“There is an old woman, a mother, I have children and there is an old woman praying and hoping that she can lay the remains of her son, even if it is ash that has gone past grey. Give the woman that peace before she closes her eyes. That’s one of the things that burns me and bothers me inside,” she told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).
There are conflicting reports as to what has happened to Bishop’s body soon after he and 10 others were lined up against the wall of the 18th Century garrison, Fort George, and killed by PRA soldiers.
Soon after he was released from prison, Coard said he planned to lobby the United States government in an effort to recover the remains of the country’s revolutionary leaders and that he would be using his connections to bring some closure to the case.
“We are utilising people who I happen to know in the (United) States from my days at university who are very close to people…networking in order to reach directly to the top and get them to crack the whip,” he said then in an exclusive interview with CMC. “We also want some congressional committee or subcommittee (to be formed). This is vital to open a hearing.
“Why a congressional committee or subcommittee? Because the one thing no bureaucrat in America will do easily is lie under oath before Congress because that has jail in it. That is serious jail”.
But a number of prominent Grenadians including former Governor General, Sir Paul Scoon, have been quoted as saying that Bishop’s body and the bodies of his colleagues were destroyed and disposed of before the United States troops landed here more than 26 years ago.
Coard has consistently disputed these claims adding that he has formed a broad-based committee to capture the attention of the Obama administration. Not much has been heard from Coard since then.
Tour guide, Roger Augustine says Prime Minister Thomas understands the “bigger picture” by re-naming the Point Salines International Airport after Bishop.
“You cannot ignore the contribution that was made by Maurice in terms of tourism. He built an international airport; tourism is the main-stay of the economy; so these are things you cannot ignore.
“Maurice Bishop’s daughter Nadia, she did forgive the people who killed her father and she has shown quite a lot of maturity. And the fact that Grenada has over the years become a growing Christian community, I think people have healed over the years,” Augustine said. (CMC)