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.

A visit to Rev Claudius Henry’s church, Sandy Bay, Jamaica

In which i visit a small church steeped in Jamaican history, which once attempted to mount the only modern-day guerilla activity in independent Jamaica

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On Saturday I accompanied my friend Deborah Thomas, author of Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica and Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica, to a church service in Sandy Bay, Clarendon. Deb is now researching the International Peacemakers’ Association of the African Reform Church which once ran one of the island’s black-owned bakeries, making their communities self-sufficient until political interference forced their closure. Although they don’t wear the customary locks and other outward symbols of Rastafari the roots of this Church are firmly entwined with the history of Rasta.

The leader of the church was one Reverend Claudius Henry, who also led the so-called Henry Rebellion in 1959, the only full-fledged guerilla movement to be found in independent Jamaica. Today a handful of his aged supporters keep the faith alive. According to one narrative:

“This religious group was linked with the First Africa Corps, a militant group from New York that got its weapons from bank robberies that were masterminded by a black policeman. The First Africa Corps and the ARC-militants joined forces in a guerrilla training camp in the Red Hills of Jamaica. Overcoming a preemptive police raid in which Claudius was arrested (based on intelligence from New York handed over to British authorities), Claudius’s son took over the movement. His armed group had one violent confrontation with the police, in which two British soldiers were killed.”

In his book about Walter Rodney’s intellectual and political thought Professor Rupert Lewis writes of accompanying Rodney on a visit to Henry’s church in 1968. By then according to Lewis Henry had  shifted his ‘Back to Africa’ position to one that emphasized ‘building Africa in Jamaica’. In this context the black nationalist evangelist leader (who had been released from prison in 1966) had turned his church into a religious and entrepreneurial centre with a blockmaking factory, a farm and a bakery. Lewis writes:

“Henry’s lieutenants gave Rodney a tour of the premises. The church was packed and the drumming was powerfu. Henry was not a moving speaker but he was held in respect and the fact that he had been to prison and been a target of political harassment gave him standing as a prophet among his followers. At that time Henry claimed some 4000 followers, of whom, 1000 were active members in his organisation.”

In a letter written after Rodney was exiled from Jamaica, he wrote:

“At Kemp’s Hill…Rev. Henry has gathered together a number of black brothers and sisters, and they have turned themselves into an independent black community. In less than a year they built themselves an attractive church and several dwelling houses, all of concrete for they make the concrete building blocks. They have proper plumbing and electricity and in case the local supplies are inadequate they have their own water tanks and electrical generator. They operated a fish shop from the outset and later they set up a bakery. In spite of massive persecution by the government, the police and the army, the Henry community has extended to several other parts of the island…”

Other scholars who’ve written about Claudius Henry are Brian Meeks in his book Narratives of Resistance and Anthony Bogues in Black Heretics, Black Prophets. The question is who will keep his memory alive once the small band of followers left in Sandy Bay are no more?

Angry Birds?: #revolution #eggthiefs #Mideastuprisings

I tweet about the Mideast uprisings being similar to Angry Birds killing Green Pigs and voila a brilliant, satirical video along the same lines appears!

On the 27th of February I tweeted the following:
 
The Libyans, Egyptians, Tunisians et al are like angry birds revolting against the ‘circular green pigs’ #revolution #eggthiefs #Egypt
 
Today someone in my timeline tweeted a link to an incredibly sharp, satirical video parody of the Middle East uprisings. You might be excused for suspecting the author of this brilliant sendup was inspired by my tweet. The video was uploaded by on Mar 28, 2011 and is at the bottom of this post. View and enjoy, its hilarious. I guess we must be on the same wavelength!
 
Oh for those who don’t know, Angry Birds is the bestselling smartphone game app that millions are addicted to, including myself. I quote from an Economist article on the phenomenon:
 

The chances are that you have either played it, or seen someone else playing it or been invited to play it. But if not, the basic idea is that you use your mobile phone touch-screen to lob a preordained series of coloured birds, one after another, towards precarious buildings containing one or more circular green pigs. There is some kind of plot that explains all this, but nobody I know has ever bothered to pay attention to it, because that would delay the arrival of the next level.

The idea is to kill all the pigs by getting things to fall on them, knocking them to the ground or blowing them up (the colour-coded birds have different abilities). This usually requires multiple attempts as you try different demolition strategies. Once you’ve finished a level, another slightly harder one appears, and another, and another. It is life-stealingly addictive and hugely popular: about 30m copies of the game have been downloaded in the past year. But “Angry Birds” is more than just another mobile-phone game. It epitomises gaming in 2010 in three ways. First, it can be enjoyed by people of all ages, and by both casual and hardcore gamers. Each attempt at a level takes just a few seconds, which is great when you’re standing in a queue or on a train platform. But it can be played for hours on end. It’s simple enough to pick up quickly, yet also has depth and replay value for the more obsessive gamer. This is a circle that game publishers everywhere are suddenly trying to square.

 

Egypt, Gladwell and the Social Revolution

Why Gladwell is wrong about the recent revolts in the Middle East from Iran to Egypt.

The Egypt Protests Part 2
Protesters take part in an anti-Mubarak protest at Tahrir square in Cairo February 1, 2011. At least one million Egyptians took to the streets on Tuesday in scenes never before seen in the Arab nation's modern history, roaring in unison for President Hosni Mubarak and his new government to quit. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
The Egypt Protests Part 2
58. Protesters hold a banner during a demonstration in Cairo January 30, 2011. Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei told thousands of protesters in central Cairo on Sunday that an uprising against Hosni Mubarak's rule cannot go back. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

I’d bet my bottom dollar that somewhere in Tahrir Square today they’re blasting Bob Marley’s revolutionary lyrics while chanting down Babylon. We’re going to chase those crazy baldheads out of town–Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights–Rebel Music–Burnin’ and lootin’–almost every one of his songs yields a line of sheer rebellion and his music is all-pervasive. As @kristainchicago said on Twitter today: Universal truth: no matter what country you’re in, there’s a bar somewhere playing No Woman, No Cry.

Clovis, Sunday Observer, February 6, 2011

Malcolm Gladwell has been shooting off his mouth insistently about whether or not social media played a role in the latest set of insurrections in the Middle East. His thesis is that revolutions took place before Facebook and Twitter from which he concludes that the recent uprisings had nothing to do with social media and even if they did, this is ultimately fundamentally unimportant compared to the reasons for the respective revolts.

People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along. Barely anyone in East Germany in the nineteen-eighties had a phone—and they ended up with hundreds of thousands of people in central Leipzig and brought down a regime that we all thought would last another hundred years—and in the French Revolution the crowd in the streets spoke to one another with that strange, today largely unknown instrument known as the human voice. People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.

A respondent to Gladwell, AliaThabit, succinctly pointed out the flaws in his thesis:

I just got back from Egypt last night. If the internet were of no consequence, the govt would not have shut it down–along w/ the mobile network in Cairo, and FB and the SMS network over the whole country, which is how most people there communicate–everyone has a mobile, and sms are free (calls are not). I spent most of the first week of the revolution in Aswan with a hotel full of Cairo students who were on holiday–we (and the whole town) were all glued to the television, and they were also glued to their phones. Information raced around the country. The French may not have had Twitter, but they would have used it if they had. There are twenty million people in Cairo alone. How many lived in Paris?

There is a crucial point that the prolific Gladwell (whose mother is Jamaican) is missing. The celebrated revolutions of yesteryear all had heroic leaders around whom sustained acts of dissent, rebellion and revolt were mobilized. What is noteworthy about the recent wave of popular uprisings everywhere from Iran to Tunisia to Egypt is that they have been ‘leaderless revolutions’. This marked change in modus operandi between traditional revolution and its contemporary counterpart is worth studying; the reasons for the shift are attributed to the speed with which information is collected and disseminated by groups of people using the new social networks. The era of the charismatic leader may be over.

I’m indebted to Nicholas Mirzoeff and his new blog For the Right to Look for these insights:

Whether or not the revolutions will have been fully successful–and no-one has really defined that success–there is a palpable and electric sense of change, not just in North Africa but globally. The events have revealed that there is already a network for change and how it has worked. One tweet widely circulating from Egypt outlined the method: “Facebook used to set the date, Twitter used to share logistics, YouTube to show the world, all to connect people.” The dispersed co-ordination shows that the network has learned from Iran that social networking can also be used by the police to track down activists. Mubarak tried to cut off all Internet access, hoping that this would quell the street actions. Facebook went first, followed by Twitter, then all connections. It was a revolution watched on social networks, but acted in the streets.

…The result has been the now-characteristic “leaderless” revolutions, as the Western media have depicted them, as if expecting new Castros and Lenins to materialize. Unable to comprehend networked change, those working in hierarchical companies are already writing banal opinion pieces predicting the collapse of the revolutions for lack of the very kind of leadership that provoked the uprisings. Should the revolutions fail, it will be following the combination of local state violence and globalized governmental and corporate hostility. Israel and Saudi Arabia found an unusual point of agreement in opposing the Egyptian revolution, while stock markets plunged on January 29 as it became clear that the revolution was not going to be crushed. Oil prices hit $100 a barrel on January 31, the usual profiteering from democracy. Israel has begun leading a movement to support Mubarak for fear of the unknown.

Cairo Graffiti

On his blog The Pharaohs of My Egypt Ernesto Morales Licea writes:

Tunisia exploded first, and a domino effect spills over multiple countries. Yemen, Algeria, Jordan. And now Egypt, cradle of humanity, that threatens to remove the Mubarak cancer by the force of the protesters…

…I wonder: why not Cuba? As I watch TV, listen to the demands of the volatile Egyptians. Listen, for example: “We got tired of lies, misery. For decades we endured the dictator Mubarak who has ruined this country.” We hear Egyptian scholars say:” I am a lawyer and live like a beggar. I earn $60 a month, and my rent alone is $75.” And we can not avoid the immediate association with our island.

I’ve heard all the arguments of the Egyptians. And I do not think there is one, I repeat — not one — which does not apply to my country. The same hunger and hopelessness, the same distaste for an inept government; the very low wages that don’t stretch even to survive, the underground corruption; the warning, just look at the living standards of the ruling class; and now, ironically, Cuba is also added to the list of countries with high unemployment.

And then there arises, inevitably, the pointed question: Why not Cuba?

If I had to respond I would start by pointing out a subtle reality: The control of information in my tranquilized country is, aberrantly, more fierce than in countries such as those that have just exploded. For those who don’t believe information has such an important role, I suggest they ask themselves: Why has the opening act of every classic dictatorship in History been to seize the methods of communication?

So this is what Gladwell glibly elides–how messages of revolution are transmitted is crucial–this is why as Licea observes dictators and powerbrokers have always tried to control the media, whether these were the drums of the enslaved signaling revolt on Caribbean plantations or more contemporary forms of broadcasting which now include Twitter and Facebook. Sorry Malcolm you can’t just blink this one away…