What Really Happened in Grenada? Part 2

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Bernard Coard signing my copy of his book, The Grenada Revolution: What Really Happened? at the launch

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Gleaner column of Sept. 27, 2017

In this column I continue my reportage of the launch of Bernard Coard’s book The Grenada Revolution: What Really Happened? Put on by the Department of Government at The University of the West Indies on September 15th the anticipation-filled event fully lived up to its promise.

One of the enduring beliefs about the unhappy events of October 19th, 1983, when Prime Minister Maurice Bishop along with several cabinet ministers and other supporters were lined up at Fort Rupert and assassinated was that the orders to kill him came directly from the Worker’s Party of Jamaica (WPJ), from none other than its leader at the time, Trevor Munroe.

The question of Munroe’s role came up more than once at the launch, the first time during

Professor Rupert Lewis’s eloquently articulated response to Coard’s book. Lewis who had lived in Prague 1982-84 as a representative of the WPJ on the World Marxist Review, a theoretical journal containing jointly-produced content by Communist and workers parties from around the world. As such Lewis  had direct access to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. What he said was this:

“The letter that Trevor sent to me to deliver to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union basically said there were two trends in the New Jewel Movement (NJM). There was a working-class trend, a proletarian trend led by Bernard and a petit-bourgeois trend led by Maurice. I was very angry at this simplistic portrayal of the complex struggle that had taken place in Grenada.”

Coard’s own response to the question of Munroe’s role during the tense and emotion-filled q and a afterwards was passionate, his voice rising an octave or two:

“With respect to the role of anybody, any Jamaicans, and in particular the WPJ, let me just say this, that Rupert’s critique of myself and all of us in the leadership in Grenada was based on the fact that we were very jealous of the little piece of sovereignty that we had. We bad for wi piece of sovereignty. We will decide everything ourselves, we will listen to advice but we will take our own decisions. Listen, if people givin’ us arms and training and economic help and help with our international airport, and we weren’t prepared to let them dictate to us, you think Trevor Munroe or anybody could tell us what to do in the Grenada Revolution? Come on, get serious. Call it petty nationalism if you want but that nationalism runs very deep so I don’t care what anybody says, or what anybody says to anybody else, we are going to make our own decision. That’s how we are. I don’t agree that that’s a wrong approach. I don’t agree that people helping us have a right to tell us what to do, they can advice yes, but we decide whether to take that advice or not. I’m sorry, I make no apologies for that.”

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Militia

Coard’s own response to the speakers before him was methodical, articulated in nine points. He started by describing how painful the process of writing the book had been, how he had been unable to write for the first 19 years in prison despite being urged to do so by many and had finally decided to do so because there had been hundreds of thousands of articles published on the Grenada Revolution during that period, most of them by outsiders, almost exclusively detailing one side of events and it was important for someone to write from within the revolution as it were. So as emotionally painful and difficult as the recounting of those traumatic events was Coard had finally decided to write to provide a different perspective.

After outlining his methodology ( extensive use of contemporaneously kept minutes and court documents) and objectives for writing this memoir (to document the mistakes they made), which he said would be the first of several volumes, Coard mentioned two things that to me are worth highlighting. He said a study of US actions in Grenada, not just at the end, but throughout the life of the revolution, “would help to cast light for those who are interested, in happenings going on right now in various parts of the world.”

“You cannot understand what is going on in Venezuela unless you understand what we went through in Grenada. And just like we made mistakes from the beginning, the Venezuelans are making mistakes. But the fact of the matter is it is one thing to make mistakes and to suffer the consequences of those mistakes. It’s another thing to have a very powerful country deciding that in addition to whatever stumbling you make on your own I’m going to make sure you can’t get up and walk.” Coard said that despite having held 11 elections Chavez was consistently referred to as a dictator by US media.

The next point Coard made was that on August 9, 2017, an article had appeared in the Washington Post, by a specialist on North Korea, Benjamin Young, in which he details the connection between Reagan’s decision to invade Grenada and the current potentiality for nuclear war between the USA and North Korea. “This is important because what he says in that article is that Kim il Sung, the grandfather of the current leader, was not just extremely disturbed by the invasion of Grenada but that it was the basis of a decision by the North Korean leadership to embark on a program of acquiring nuclear weapons.”

The Korean leader’s fear that N. Korea would be next in line for a Grenada-style invasion led to an investment in nuclear weapons as a deterrent, a “delayed fuse” as Coard put it that we are confronted with today. “In other words the US invasion of Grenada, as far back as October 1983, is directly linked to the current potential for nuclear war between the United States and North Korea.”

A sobering note to end on.

What really happened in Grenada?

Gleaner column, September 20, 2017. Photos above from Social and Economic Studies, Vol. 62: 3&4, September 2013, Special issue on Grenada

On Friday, September 15, an emotion-wrought, politically fraught event took place at the University of the West Indies. The occasion was the launch of a book by Bernard Coard, former Deputy Prime Minister of Grenada, called The Grenada Revolution: What Really Happened. Coard, along with 17 others spent 26 years in prison for the assassination of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and others in 1983. It was the most sensational, traumatic political event of the Anglophone Caribbean and as the evening wore on, it became clear that the gaping wound is far from healed, although 34 years have now passed between then and now.

Put on by the Department of Government, the launch featured speakers Heather Ricketts, Head of the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Psychology, herself a Grenadian, Professor Rupert Lewis, Clinton Hutton and Bernard Coard himself.

Ricketts opened by describing the book. “In the 340 plus pages divided into 3 parts, Bernard recounts the highs and the lows of the revolution. The book is captivating, detailed, filled with intrigue, providing graphic and factual recollections in a methodical manner, typical Bernard.”

“In spite of how one may feel about his account,” Ricketts continued, “Bernard  must be commended for his bravery in putting his credibility on the line. He lays bare his soul, and his conscience, acknowledging his shortcomings, even short-sightedness. For me there is a lot of new information which may be due to a PTSD affliction which I confess rendered many of us unable to read anything written about the revolution. The book is invaluable for providing answers to questions Grenadians and others have long wanted closure on but knowing Grenada it might be a case of reopening old wounds and the start of new rumours. I hope not.”

The unraveling of the Grenada Revolution and the PRG, the People’s Revolutionary Government, had much to do with the unraveling of a friendship cemented in childhood between Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard. Much was made of Coard’s efficiency as a manager and administrator. According to Ricketts a participant in a 2013 focus group she conducted described his experience of working under Coard in glowing terms:

“I was the accounting officer in the Ministry of Works; our budgetary control was so effective and efficient that we knew at each point in time how much money we had to spend and what we were spending it for, there was tight control in the whole process. I recall us having meetings upon meetings to discuss the works of the government and ministries and we had to make sure we kept within our budgetary allocations. And if at all we had to go outside of it we had to give a reasonable explanation as to why we had to do it. It was a period that taught us, me in particular, how to manage finances extremely well. Coard was meticulous.”

But the very qualities that made him an effective administrator worked against him too. As Ricketts noted: “Bernard has a sharp mind and a photographic memory and he isn’t given to diplomacy. He ruffled some and he made some enemies within the party. His strong chairmanship of the organizing committee of the party along with his tight fiscal management incurred the ire of some.”

“It is a sad tale of confidence and friendship betrayed,” said Ricketts. “To give some insight into how caustic the split had become another participant in the focus group discussion in 2013 said that she heard that in Gouave at the time “If you only say ‘co-‘ make sure it’s ‘coco’ you saying and not Coard.”

Rupert Lewis summarized the personality differences between the two: “Bishop was the political leader with strong ties to the Grenadian people, Coard was the economist, Minister of Finance, he was administratively innovative, and had gained the reputation of running the economy well. But he was also a very effective organizer and behind the scenes person, very disciplined and hard on others who did not live up to their responsibilities. Bishop was loved and Coard respected.”

The childhood friendship had blossomed, Rupert Lewis said, with the synergies between Bishop and Coard that had developed during the the anti-Gairy years of bloody struggle in the 1970s and continued during the revolution. “The relationship between these two boyhood friends was crucial.”

However in 1983 the New Jewel Movement, the party both men belonged to proposed joint leadership of the Party in a bid to move away from the Westminster model of government. This move Lewis thinks contained the seeds of the disintegration that would follow, setting off a series of misunderstandings, misconceptions and mistakes that would lead the revolution to implode.

“The party membership accepted joint leadership at the level of the party, not of the government, and this worked to an extent but the trust between Bishop and Coard was hanging on a thread,” said Lewis. The security apparatuses around both men and the  intelligence apparatuses of the main international players in Grenada were also spinning rumors that developed into deadly threats and escalated into violence. The stakes were high around the leadership issue so the joint leadership proposal was read as an attempt to remove Bishop and install Coard. There was no doubt that Bishop was the people’s leader not Coard.”

Lurking in the wings was the Cold War, with the United States and Reagan on one side and the Soviet Union and Cuba on the other.  The Cubans were very invested in Grenada and Castro opposed the joint leadership proposal instead pushing for Bishop to remain maximum leader but this generated paranoia in the New Jewel Movement. The paranoia wasn’t helped by Castro’s obvious affection for Bishop and dislike of Coard. Coard resented Cuban involvement in the political life of the revolution.

“In my view,” said Lewis, “on two counts joint leadership was not workable from the standpoint of the traditions of West Indian politics. First in the Westminster system, the power of the Prime Minister is based on his being elected to parliament and being leader of the party. Secondly the political nature of the Grenadian population, so well described in Archie Singham’s classic study, The Hero and the Crowd, was definitely in favor of one leader at a time, not joint leadership.”

“This memoir must have been an arduous journey of reconstruction, painful reliving and reflection,” continued Lewis. “The book ends with extraordinarily sharp self-criticism by the author. He takes full responsibility for the events of October 8, 1983. My regret however, is that Maurice Bishop is not alive to tell his story. This is Bernard’s story. Maurice’s story has to be told.”

The full story of the book launch will require a Part 2 which I hope to provide next week.