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Grenada: Remembering a Revolution

October 19 was the 29th anniversary of the bloody military coup in Grenada which ousted leader Maurice Bishop from government and prompted the United States-led invasion of the country. Two bloggers marked the occasion with detailed posts about what happened and how it forever changed the course of Grenada's history.

Blah Bloh Blog, who reposts her 2005 blog entry about the events every year on the anniversary of the uprising, noted that:

The events of that fateful day would have profound social and political ramifications that resound in Grenada even now in 2012.

North American Congress on Latin America blogger Kevin Edmonds remembered the date as “[when] the United States attacked the island’s population of 110,000 with 7,000 troops via land, sea, and air” and put examined the decision in the context of the Cold War:

Reagan was also eager to score a military victory and restore the confidence that had been lost after the Vietnam War and the overthrowing of the Shah in Iran. This victory was to come at the expense of the Grenadian people, and the wider hopes of the Caribbean, in constructing a model of society based on social justice.

Edmonds provided further background by explaining:

The Grenadian Revolution began on March 13, 1979, when the New Joint Endeavor for Welfare Education and Liberation, or the New Jewel Movement, overthrew the corrupt and increasingly oppressive government of Eric Gairy. Bishop described life under Gairy as one of ‘a total dependence on imperialism, a reality that meant extreme poverty, characterized by massive unemployment, with more than half of the work force out of work, high malnutrition, illiteracy, backwardness, superstition, poor housing and health conditions combined with overall economic stagnation and massive migration.’

The role of the Grenadian Revolution, its importance to the wider Caribbean, and the threat it posed for the United States was best summed up by Bishop who remarked in 1980 that ‘We are obviously no threat to America, nor is Cuba for that matter. I think Washington fears that we could set an example for the rest of the region if our Revolution succeeds. In the Caribbean region you’re talking about small countries with small populations and limited resources, countries that over the years have been classic examples of neo-capitalist depend­encies. Now you have these new governments like Nicaragua and Grenada that are attempting a different experiment.They are no longer looking at development as how many hotels you have on the beach but in terms of what benefits people get. We certainly believe in Grenada that the people of the English-speaking Caribbean want to see an experiment like that succeed. America understands that and obviously if we are able to succeed where previous governments following different models failed, that would be very, very subversive.’

The blog post claims that “the Reagan administration had to figure out a way to portray Grenada as an immediate threat to the world’s preeminent superpower” and claims that “this was done by portraying the construction of the Port Salines International Airport as the latest Soviet attempt to launch an attack on the United States.”

Both bloggers agreed on the push factors that caused the coup. Blah Bloh Blog explained:

In the latter years of the Revolution (or the Revo as it is still called), Bishop and his political partner Bernard Coard began to drift apart ideologically. As one writer would put it, ‘One current of Grenadian socialism was egalitarian, democratic, and Jamesian; the other was hierarchical, statist, command-oriented, placing power above the masses..’

…while Kevin Edmonds wrote:

A personal and factional rivalry began between Bishop and Bernard Coard. Bishop was regarded as being more pragmatic, while Coard on the other hand was seen by many as being much more ‘Stalinist’ and doctrinaire in character. Coard’s ultra-left counter-revolution was extremely bloody, killing Bishop, his pregnant girlfriend, and many of his supporters in the Revolutionary cabinet. With the killing of such a charismatic and visionary leader, this was the date when the Grenadian Revolution was dealt its hardest blow; the invasion simply finished things off.

Before this could happen, one of the most vital elements which helped Reagan build his case for invasion came in the form of a request by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States to invade Grenada to restore democratic institutions. The OECS leader and Prime Minister of Dominica, Eugenia Charles, made the request.

Twenty-nine years later, the events are still fresh in Blah Bloh Blog's mind:

I remember that day even now. October 19th 1983. I was 12, and my grandmother kept my brother and me home from school. Days before this, Maurice Bishop had been placed under house arrest by the Revolutionary Army, under the directive of Bernard Coard and Hudson Austin.The citizenry was worried, confused and agitated. There were rumours of impending student demonstrations and strike actions.

At about 1pm we could hear the sounds of gunfire coming from St George’s, the sounds of car horns blaring, the screams and shots of people running out of town. I remember my grandmother being terrified for the safety of my uncle who was working in the heart of St George’s; thankfully he showed up unhurt and full of news later on that afternoon.

The total civilian casualties from that day have never been accurately assessed. What had become apparent is that there were definitely some young people who were never seen again, but whose families have NEVER reported them missing, for reasons I don’t know.

The blogger continued:

Despite the best, and often grossly misguided, efforts at delving into the truth about what really happened that day, who was to blame, etc., the events of October 1983 have left a brutal, sad and violent scar on the psyches of Grenadians. This is still evident in 2009, when the last of the Grenada 17, which included Bernard Coard and Hudson Austin, were recently released from Richmond Hill Prison, a sensitive topic for Grenadians on either side of the issue. There are too many wounds, hurts and grievances have been left unattended, paramount among which is the question of the whereabouts of the remains of Bishop, Creft and the others who were executed. Additionally, because of the poignant silence from the families of the others who died or disappeared on that day, it is still unknown if there are other bodies as yet un-recovered or accounted for. There is so much about that day we don’t know; a lot we probably don’t want to know.

Kevin Edmonds summed it up this way:

The Grenadian Revolution was notable in the English speaking Caribbean for its firm declaration of anti- imperialist politics and the advancement of grass roots democracy, economic self-reliance, and agricultural cooperatives.

In many ways, [it] was also traumatic blow to the wider Caribbean left, revealing sharp warnings about ideological factionalism and ever-present U.S. destabilization campaigns and military intervention. That said, we can see signs of hope. As a sign of the transition towards recognizing the good of the Revolution, in 2009, the Point Salines International Airport—the target of so much U.S. propaganda efforts—was renamed the Maurice Bishop International Airport.

With the deterioration of living conditions and limited opportunities for so many people in the Caribbean, the words of Bishop and the positive lessons from the Grenadian Revolution are now more important than ever. While August 2012 marked the 50th Anniversary of independence for Jamaica and Trinidad, the current levels of poverty, inequality, violence, and lack of opportunity across the wider Caribbean, reveal that political independence is often a hollow prize if not reinforced by efforts to remake society along the lines of greater equality and justice.

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