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.

The Stuart Hall I knew

Excerpted from my new blog on EPW’s website…this inaugural post shares memories of Stuart Hall along with some photos.

Stuart Hall at INiva (Institute of International Visual Art) with Annie Paul and artist Steve Ouditt from Trinidad and Tobago
Stuart Hall at INiva (Institute of International Visual Art) with Annie Paul and artist Steve Ouditt from Trinidad and Tobago, 2000

This post was written for the Indian magazine EPW (Economic and Political Weekly), it’s website to be specific, where I’ve been invited to blog.  They asked if I would share some of my personal memories and photographs of Stuart Hall in the wake of his passing on Feb 10. The post follows.

RIP Stuart Hall, doyen of cultural theory (1932-2014). “The cultural dimension is not a secondary, but a constitutive dimension of society.”

I found Ranjit Hoskote’s tweet quoted above, worth retailing, because it encapsulates Hall’s vastly influential work most admirably and serves as a suitable introduction to the Jamaican-born thinker the world has been mourning since Feb. 10, 2014.

I first heard about Stuart Hall from Tejaswini Niranjana, an Indian scholar who visited Jamaica for three months in 1994. She was a Homi Bhabha Fellow (named after the Physicist not the theorist of hybridity) and had come to the University of the West Indies to familiarize herself with Caribbean culture. Teju was interested in and fascinated by the Indian diaspora in the Caribbean but equally by Jamaican popular culture which is predominantly Afro-Caribbean.

I credit Teju with awakening my now abiding interest in Caribbean, and in particular Jamaican, popular culture by introducing me to the relatively new field then, of Cultural Studies. Having studied English Honours at Lady Shri Ram College and Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University in the 70s followed by Journalism at the University of Kansas, and even a foray into visual art, I had found myself rudderless. Neither English Literature nor Sociology really enthused me; it wasn’t until that fortuitous encounter with Cultural Studies that I began to feel an interest in matters intellectual again.

Having wandered through several different ‘disciplines’ as I had, I was excited to find new ways of thinking and writing that synthesized my different areas of knowledge. Of course this was something that JNU’s multi-disciplinary approach to scholarship had also prepared me for. In 1995 I started writing a weekly column in a Jamaican newspaper while working at the University of the West Indies in scholarly publishing.

I named my column ‘Hyphen’ to signal my lifelong feeling of ‘in-betweenity’, of being formed between cultures in an India that was rapidly modernizing, producing tectonic cultural shifts not always easy to navigate. Born and brought up a Syrian Christian, albeit by liberal parents, I always felt envious of my Hindu friends, especially the numerous rituals and festivals they could lay claim to. There was also a sense of feeling illegitimate, especially since I grew up in Ahmedabad, not Kerala, where I wouldn’t have been as out of place.

There is something profoundly destabilizing about watching your mother carefully crow-proof fishbones and other scraps of our non-vegetarian meals in secure little packets before consigning them to the garbage can in case rapacious birds outed us in front of our finicky vegetarian Gujarati neighbours, forcing us to leave the community in disgrace. There is also a deep discomfort in feeling disconnected from the vernacular culture around you because your father thought English was the only language you needed to know. Not being allowed to go to Hindi movies like all my friends did produced yet more alienation; by the time I reached my teens I felt like a classic misfit, like someone looking at the world through an impervious bubble.

It wasn’t till I came to Jamaica in 1988, after sojourns in the United States and Brazil that I started to feel at home, leading me to settle down here. Here was a vibrant, vernacular culture I could be part of. Jamaica is also the most welcoming society I’ve ever come across.

For more go here.

A Stuart Hall-shaped hole in the universe…

A few photos of Stuart Hall along with a 2004 interview done in Jamaica

Stuart Hall, North Coast, Jamaica
Stuart Hall, North Coast, Jamaica

When I saw Stuart at his home in London on December 14, 2013, I knew he wouldn’t last much longer. He had been ill for years and his health had deteriorated considerably since the previous year when we celebrated his 80th birthday at Rivington Place, the art centre born of his inspiration and hard work. All the same his departure comes as a blow. It’s too early for me to come to terms with this loss, for Stuart has been a close friend and mentor since 1996 when he came to the University of the West Indies to speak at the Rex Nettleford Conference.

For what it’s worth I publish a few photos taken over the years along with a substantive interview I did with Stuart in 2004. Stuart Hall was such an extraordinary thinker that his work ranged over a broad field of interests including visual art which was the one thing we truly bonded over. It was a preoccupation that didn’t get much coverage in other interviews which tend to focus more on his activism, his Marxism, and his political interventions. Here’s a link also to the post I wrote on the John Akomfrah film about him, a must see, which I hope will be shown on Jamaican TV soon.

Stuart when I first met him in 1996.
Stuart when I first met him in 1996.
David Scott and Stuart Hall, 1996
David Scott (editor, Small Axe) and Stuart Hall, 1996
Stuart Hall outside Rivington Place, under construction.
Stuart Hall outside Rivington Place, under construction.
stuartaggreyhse
1998

Stuart Hall at Aggrey Brown's home
Stuart Hall at Aggrey Brown’s home, Golden Spring, Jamaica, 1998
Stuart Hall at Good Hope Estate, Trelawny, Jamaica, 2004
Stuart Hall at Good Hope Estate, Trelawny, Jamaica, 2004
Stuart Hall (R) reading a copy of The Caribbean Review of Books at at Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; June 2004.  Photo by Annie Paul.
Stuart Hall (R) and Catherine Hall reading a copy of The Caribbean Review of Books at Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; June 2004
with Stuart Hall at a bar in Edgeware, London
with Stuart Hall at a bar on Edgeware Road, London, 2008. Photo by Dilia Montes-Richardson
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Photo by Dilia Montes-Richardson

and one of my treasures–a letter Stuart wrote to the Librarian at Birmingham U so that I could gain access to their inner sanctum:

birminghamletter

Cross-Border Politics: Why TnT may have blanked 13 Jamaicans…

A look at some reasons 13 Jamaicans were denied access to Trinidad and Tobago.

deportees

Diana Thorburn Chen: An apology is not necessary. What is necessary is for Jamaicans to have an honest conversation among ourselves about why we are turned back so often from our neighbours’ doors. But that would require us doing some soul-searching and talking honestly about how our actions bring on these reactions. Highly unlikely, so we will keep up the facade of indignation over and over again as until we face the truth nothing will change.

VERITAS also thought that Jamaicans needed to open their eyes and look within…

We are hypocrites too. When CARICOM member Haiti was struck by that devastating earthquake recently, and many Haitians turned up at our borders, desperate for admittance and “free movement”, we demanded the government send them back. Many of us were angry any money was even spent to accommodate them for the period they were here. Is it that free movement only applies when we want it?

What really troubles me about all this is the nagging feeling that most of us are angry because of our false sense of pride. We have always been a proud and, as one of my colleagues pointed out, reactive people. Trinidad’s exercise of its sovereign authority hurt that pride and so we are now reacting. If we are honest with ourselves, we have always harboured the unhealthy sentiment that Jamaica is the best of the Caribbean, a capital of sorts, and therefore we have behaved accordingly entitled.  That is the source of our pride. Many of us are incredulous because we deem Trinidad a “spec in the sea” and “two likkle fi even be a country”, an “insignificant” country should never seek to disrespect Jamaica, right? We took the same stance on Mugabe’s comments on Jamaica. Meanwhile, the United States rejects us in droves every single day and we sit pretty smiling at that, with little more than a peep. In our quest to satisfy our wounded pride, we have gone as far as accusing Trinidad of “badminding” Jamaica for our achievements. I admit myself baffled at that argument, because we have such precious little to ‘badmind’. We are on auto pilot, veering on the edge of a political, economic and social abyss, who would ‘badmind’ that? Pride aside, how about we accept the fact that statistics are not in our favour? Most countries have instituted visa requirements against us because we do not have a good track record for international conduct and behaviour. We have to accept that; the bad mek it worse for the good. It is unfortunate, but true. Let us put our pride aside and accept the realities.

Click here for more.

Then there were those who still thought Jamaicans had been wronged:

Michael Andrew David Edwards Whatever the reasons, the treatment as described is unacceptable; they wouldn’t accept it from us

And others who imagined the worst case scenario:

Nicholas Laughlin: I find myself thinking it’s a good thing Trinidad and Jamaica don’t share a land border.

Oh Nicholas, the very thought makes me shudder. But honestly i do have to ask: how can a population that has no qualms about turning away neighbouring Haitians when they arrive on Jamaican shores in dire need be so self-righteous when 13 of theirs are shown the door?

Fly Jamaica…

plane-staff-sm

I flew Fly Jamaica on my recent trip to New York. I chose it because the return flight from JFK is at noon rather than 6 am like American Airlines or Jet Blue. AA even forces you to negotiate Miami’s vast and boring airport, it has no direct flight from Kingston to New York.

I had no idea what to expect with Fly Jamaica as its fairly new and is a collaborative venture between Jamaican and Guyanese interests. In fact i was taken aback by the number of Indian-looking passengers on board till i remembered that the flight originated in Georgetown, Guyana.

By coincidence the lady sharing my row also looked Indian. We both assumed the other was Guyanese till we started talking; she turned out to be Indo-Jamaican while I’m from the subcontinent itself, though resident in Jamaica for 25 years now.

The plane seemed much larger than the ones that usually ply between the Caribbean and North America. It was a Boeing 757. No wonder Fly Jamaica can afford to allow Economy passengers two check in items instead of the measly one almost all airlines now allow you. What’s the point of travelling if you can’t bring back all kinds of goodies with you?

And perhaps because they’re new and want to make an impression Fly Jamaica also serves a hot meal in-flight. On the way there it was delicious ackee and saltfish and on the return leg I had curry chicken. Good quality too. The film showing wildlife in Guyana looked fascinating but i’d forgotten to get one of the free earphones so couldn’t hear the soundtrack. The images were truly compelling, i couldn’t believe the wide variety of creatures you can find in Guyana. I’ll definitely visit now that there’s a direct flight.

Curry chicken lunch on Fly Jamaica
Curry chicken lunch on Fly Jamaica

Out of curiousity I looked up Fly Jamaica’s website to find out more about their background. I had heard that it was a former Air Jamaica pilot and a Guyanese pilot who started the airline. Here’s what the website says:

Fly Jamaica Airways began with a dream to create a truly regional airline, using local talent and with an emphasis on providing a truly local experience to its customers. A full-service, local airline that would bring the Diaspora, and the world, home to the Caribbean.
Fly Jamaica Airways is a partnership between Chief Executive Officer and Guyanese-born Captain Paul Ronald Reece, and Jamaican shareholders, including Chief Operating Officer, Captain Lloyd Tai and Manager of In-Flight Services, Christine Steele. The Company was incorporated in Kingston, Jamaica on September 7, 2011 and started with a Boeing 757 aircraft. We faced a rigorous start-up process, including meeting national and international requirements.
Through the stewardship of our experienced management and dedication of our amazing employees, we proved to aviation regulators that we have what it takes to be a world-class airline.
On August 24, 2012, Fly Jamaica Airways conducted its demonstration flight from Kingston, Jamaica to Georgetown, Guyana, as part of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority’s (JCAA) approval process.  On August 31, 2012 the JCAA issued our Air Operators Certificate (AOC). Fly Jamaica Airways has also satisfied rigorous requirements for the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Transportation and Security Administration (TSA), in order to operate as a commercial US-registered carrier. Now, we look forward to taking to the skies and sharing our passion for safe, reliable and enjoyable aviation with the world!

I generally don’t buy things just because they’re locally produced but if you give me local AND good you have my vote. The service on Fly Jamaica was warm, friendly and efficient. I would fly them again. And again.

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?

SALISES 50/50 Project

Sometimes I don’t write about the things that are closest to me…the preceding post is by Emma Caroline Lewis and is about a work project that i’m very involved in…spread the word and come out and attend! you’ve been give plenty of notice…also check the 5050 Project blogspot.

Petchary's Blog

Jamaica’s fiftieth anniversary (Jamaica 50) celebration has not been a smooth, gentle glide to the August 6 finish line. In fact, it has been fraught with political niggling, confusing press statements and slick marketing jargon, (with the local media trying to make sense of it all) and apparently rising levels of frustration and irritation on the part of the Jamaican populace. Amidst the confusion, it seems we are all searching for meaning. Surely, we cry, Jamaica 50 is not just about signature songs and parties and Jamaica 50 sunglasses, cute as they may be. Recriminations have been heaped on the head of an overburdened Culture Minister who is valiantly seeking to create something coherent. According to a Gleaner article this week, the youth of Jamaica – those who will take over for the next half-century – believe that “the true essence of Jamaica 50 is lost on the masses.”…

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