Mon | Dec 11, 2017

Annie Paul | What really happened in Grenada?

Published:Wednesday | September 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM

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.

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.

The unravelling of the Grenada Revolution and the PRG, the People's Revolutionary Government, had much to do with the unravelling 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 ... . 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. ... Coard was meticulous."

 

Photographic memory

 

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 organising committee of the party, along with his tight fiscal management, incurred the ire of some."

Rupert Lewis summarised 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 organiser and behind-the-scenes person, very disciplined and hard on others who did not live up to their responsibilities."

The childhood friendship had blossomed, Rupert Lewis said, with the synergies between Bishop and Coard that had developed during 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.

"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.

"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. Second, the political nature of the Grenadian population, so well described in Archie Singham's classic study, The Hero and the Crowd, was definitely in favour of one leader at a time, not joint leadership."

Lewis continued: "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 Two, which I hope to provide next week.

- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.comor tweet @anniepaul.