Maurice Bishop (FILE)
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WHEN British-trained lawyer, Mr. Maurice Bishop, seized power in Grenada in the early hours of March 13, 1979, it was the culmination of a long, bloody struggle against overwhelming odds marshalled by the rightist dictator, Sir Eric Gairy.
Mr. Bishop, 39, whose father died during a 1974 demonstration against the brutal Gairy regime, has long been regarded as a moderate socialist, and built up a reputation on his return to Grenada from London in 1970, as a leading spokesman for the oppressed and poor, not only in Grenada, but in the region as a whole.
In 1970, he protested against poor conditions at St. George's General Hospital and was arrested. Subsequently, he co-founded and became joint coordinating secretary of the New Jewel Movement (Joint Endeavour for Welfare, Education and Liberation).
At the same time he conducted a legal practice in which he undertook to fight against injustice, to champion the cause of the downtrodden, to end exploitation and build a new and just society.
As a result, he was several times a victim of police brutality, arbitrary searches and false imprisonments and it was during this struggle for justice and equality in Grenada, that he lost his father, Mr. Rupert Bishop, who was murdered by a policeman during a popular demonstration in 1974.
Despite the fanatical and repressive hostility to opposition by the ex-dictator Sir Eric Gairy, his systematic violation of the fundamental human rights of the Grenadian masses, and alleged irregularities of the December 1976 elections, Mr. Bishop convincingly won his St. George's seat and emerged leader of the opposition in parliament.
Since leading the NJM in the 1979 revolution in the English-speaking Caribbean, Prime Minister Bishop has led Grenada's delegation to several international fora, including the 22nd Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Lusaka, Zambia; the 34th General Assembly of the United Nations and the Sixth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana, Cuba, where Grenada was the only member elected to the executive body of the movement.
The New Jewel Movement, including Maurice Bishop (standing, second left).
Since the takeover, Mr. Bishop has been under the intense pressure from Caribbean governments, as well as the United States, to return the Spice Isle to a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy - a move he has stoutly resisted.
However, in what was regarded as a major concession to the call for elections, Mr. Bishop last June 4 announced the establishment of a five-member commission, headed by Trinidadian lawyer, Mr. Allan Alexander, to draft a new constitution, replacing the old suspended document, superseded by So-called "Peoples Laws".
This commission, whose terms of reference call for presentation of a draft within two years, has been mandated to adhere to certain stated "guiding principles upon which the Grenada revolution is based".
Mr. Bishop, who has expressed warm admiration for communist Cuba's president, Comrade Fidel Castro, returned home last week from official visits to the eastern European states Hungary and Czechoslovakia, where he was promised an aid package that included three much needed electricity generators that would supply the Country's power needs up to 1985.
The Hungarians also promised assistance in the areas of health, industry and agriculture.
Mr. Bishop also signed, on behalf of the New Jewel Movement, a party-to-party agreement under which the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia is to provide the government with material for housing development programmes and is to carry out feasibility studies on development of a pig industry.
Grenada, under his leadership, played a major role in ensuring the unanimous passage of the resolution declaring the Caribbean a “Zone of Peace” at the October 1979 meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) General Assembly in La Paz, Bolivia.
Inside Grenada in the first year of the revolution, Mr. Bishop and the People’s Revolutionary Government have been successful in lifting the level of national pride, and patriotism of the Grenadian people.
An estimated 90 percent of the country’s communities have been mobilised, and give voluntary labour to projects on evenings and weekends in a massive effort to rebuild the country, and to provide amenities for the people.
Strides have been made in every area of national life, particularly in education, health and agriculture.
Fees to secondary schools have been drastically reduced, scholarships to secondary schools and universities have been increased, and a far-reaching programme of popular education has been launched. In its first phase, it aims at eradicating illiteracy.
A young but vibrant state sector in agriculture, agro-industries, fisheries, tourism, banking and the import trade has started. The principle of equal pay for equal work for women has been proclaimed and is being implemented. A low income housing scheme and housing repair programme have been started.
Laws Mr. Bishop considered repressive have been repealed and new ones, such as the trade union recognition law, aimed at extending the right of the people have been enacted.
Source: The archives of The Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.