Grenada: Remembering the Revolution

This month marks thirty years since the end of the People's Revolutionary Government in Grenada. An era came to a bloody end on October 19, 1983, when Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, along with union leaders and members of his Cabinet, were lined up against a wall and executed by an army unit loyal to the deputy leader of the governing New Jewel Movement, Bernard Coard, at Fort Rupert in St. George's. Coard, who was later convicted of murder, has denied giving any orders to kill Bishop.

The two were not always at loggerheads. Former schoolmates with a mutual interest in left wing politics, the revolution began with their group's overthrow of the Eric Gairy Government in 1979. The Gairy regime had come to be seen as despotic and the revolution had great popular support, but power struggles ensued between the charismatic Bishop and Coard, who had proposed a power-sharing agreement between them. When Bishop refused, the Coard faction placed him under house arrest, which led to street protests and violent clashes between Bishop supporters and the military, culminating with the mass executions. Six days later, the United States (with the support of several Eastern Caribbean governments) launched Operation Urgent Fury. U.S. troops invaded Grenada and put an end to the short lived military regime which had taken control of the island.

Looking back on the course of events, Invent the Future felt that the end of the revolution was a great tragedy which hindered progress in the Caribbean:

There are many stones still to be unturned in connection with the revolution’s collapse and the anti-popular coup that paved the way for US invasion, but it’s clear that the movement fell victim to the sectarianism, dogmatism and individualism that emerge with frustrating frequency on the left. Combined with the systematic campaign of destabilisation and psychological warfare waged by the US, these factors led to the destruction of one of the most promising political processes of the latter part of the 20th century.

The blog placed Bishop within the pantheon of other left-wing leaders in the Americas:

Maurice Bishop was a popular, creative and intelligent revolutionary, with an intuitive grasp of where the masses were at. The clear leader of the Grenadian Revolution of 1979 that overthrew the corrupt and pro-imperialist administration of Eric Gairy, Bishop was a brilliant communicator, and his mutual empathy with the masses of the people was one of the major driving forces of the revolution – not unlike the relationship between Fidel and the Cuban people, or Chávez and Venezuelan people. 

Petchary recounted her recent trip to Grenada and the feelings of the locals about Maurice Bishop, the People's Revolutionary Government and the invasion:

During my recent visit to Grenada I did not visit Fort George (sic), where Bishop and his ministers were killed. But I sensed that there were very mixed feelings about the period among older Grenadians. One told me Grenadians were all glad when the United States invaded, just a few days after Bishop’s assassination, because the country was in chaos and there was no food to eat. Others regretted the tragic chain of events, and pointed to the achievements of the Bishop regime during the few years he was in power.

Painting of Maurice Bishop; photo by Paul Lowry.

Painting of Maurice Bishop; photo by Paul Lowry.

Opinions about Bishop himself were especially mixed:

In particular, everyone credited Maurice Bishop with the construction of the international airport at Point Salines (now named after him), which was officially opened just a year after his death. It was a huge step forward for the island. The Cuban Government reportedly provided about half of the funding for the airport to be built, plus much of the labor and equipment. Someone else told me that the Cubans had done much for Grenada at the time of Bishop’s revolutionary government. Everyone seemed to have their opinion about the Bishop era and its aftermath, and every opinion was different.

 Canadian writer N Oji Mzilikazi felt that for some, the American actions in Grenada are praised more than the revolution itself:  

Apologists for America’s invasion of Grenada use the term ‘intervention’ rather than ‘invasion.’ Sadly, October 25, the date of the infamous invasion is a public holiday in Grenada — Thanksgiving, commemorating the anniversary of the 1983 Caribbean and American military ‘intervention’ in Grenada.

Logically, methinks October 19, is much more deserving of public holiday status, giving the economically downward slide Grenada has taken after the killing of Bishop and America’s ‘intervention.’

 Mzilikazi also argued that despite the rhetoric, the United States has not actually done much for Grenada:

What has America done for Grenadians as compared to Cuba, when Maurice Bishop was alive? Did America invest in Grenada and raised (sic) its standards of living?

On September 7, 2004, Hurricane Ivan destroyed by conservative estimates, over seventy per cent of Grenada. Only when Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State surveyed the devastation one month later, did America truly made the effort to assist.

America’s economic neglect of nations inhabiting the Caribbean Basin forced them to look elsewhere for investments and aid — to predatory China and Taiwan.

Grenada got into bed with Taiwan, and then switched to China. The Export-Import Bank of Taiwan then sued the Grenada government in a New York court for US$21 million plus interest payments for its loans for several projects.

Groundation Grenada said the the gains from the Revolution should never be forgotten:

From the implementation of free health care to increases in real wages for workers to education being treated as an inalienable right, Grenadians were witnessing important and material changes. Other changes included the creation of a national social insurance plan to the entrenchment of women’s rights and the implementation of national training and education programs for teachers and the general public. Despite one’s political take on the Revolution, it’s extremely hard to deny the real and material benefits that were gained. Not only were these changes led by the leadership of the People’s Revolutionary Government but from farmers to students to teachers, Grenadians remained critical to the decision making process.

Groundation Grenada is currently soliciting thoughts about the revolution for a project they plan to unveil in March 2014, in honour of the 35th anniversary of the beginning of the revolution.

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