Thirty Years Ago Today…in Grenada


I could not let today pass without noting that on October 19, 1983 Prime Minister of Grenada Maurice Bishop and seven of his advisers and ministers were executed by an army firing squad at Fort Rupert (now Fort George) in St. George’s. A faction of his New Jewel Movement had placed Bishop under house arrest five days earlier, because he had refused to share leadership of the political party with Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard. This was the only political assassination in the Caribbean – hopefully, the first and last.

Former Prime Minister of Grenada Maurice Bishop: Born May 29, 1944. Died October 19, 1983.
Former Prime Minister of Grenada Maurice Bishop: Born May 29, 1944. Died October 19, 1983.

Bishop had seized power on March 13, 1979, burning down the army barracks at True Blue while Prime Minister Eric Gairy was away at a United Nations meeting. These were the Cold War days; and troubled days they were.

Maurice Bishop meets with members of the Grenada Nurses' Association. (Photo: therealrevo.com)
Maurice Bishop meets with members of the Grenada Nurses’ Association.

During my recent visit to Grenada I did not visit Fort George, where Bishop and his ministers were killed. But I sensed that there were very mixed feelings about the period among older Grenadians. One told me Grenadians were all glad when the United States invaded, just a few days after Bishop’s assassination, because the country was in chaos and there was no food to eat. Others regretted the tragic chain of events, and pointed to the achievements of the Bishop regime during the few years he was in power.

In particular, everyone credited Maurice Bishop with the construction of the international airport at Point Salines (now named after him), which was officially opened just a year after his death. It was a huge step forward for the island. The Cuban Government reportedly provided about half of the funding for the airport to be built, plus much of the labor and equipment. Someone else told me that the Cubans had done much for Grenada at the time of Bishop’s revolutionary government. Everyone seemed to have their opinion about the Bishop era and its aftermath, and every opinion was different.

FILE - In this May 1, 1980 file photo, then Grenada's Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, center, is flanked by Cuba's leader Fidel Castro, right, and Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega in Havana, Cuba. A haunting Cold War mystery is getting a fresh look on the Caribbean island of Grenada, where the body of the Marxist prime minister is still missing nearly 30 years after he was executed during a bloody coup that sparked a U.S. invasion. (AP Photo/File)
FILE – In this May 1, 1980 file photo, then Grenada’s Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, center, is flanked by Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro, right, and Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega in Havana, Cuba. A haunting Cold War mystery is getting a fresh look on the Caribbean island of Grenada, where the body of the Marxist prime minister is still missing nearly 30 years after he was executed during a bloody coup that sparked a U.S. invasion. (AP Photo/File)

This airport, which Bishop called “of extreme importance to our revolutionary process,” replaced Pearls Airport, which was in Grenville – inconveniently situated over twenty miles away from the capital. We stopped at Pearls, only for a few minutes (how I hate guided tours). Of course, it is overgrown, and completely deserted apart from a few goats. I would have loved to explore some more; and tried to imagine what the place was like at night – imagining runway lights lighting up, ghostly planes taking off and landing, flying to Cuba and back with supplies.

I did see another haunted place though – what was once a mental institution, which had been mistakenly bombed by U.S. forces. It stands in ruins close to Fort Frederick, high above St. George’s. From the fort there are sweeping views of the town’s red roofs below, the harbor, and the wide blue horizon. On the other side are the quiet green hills and the outskirts of the town. Just below the fort to one side, we looked down at the mental home, where our guide told us at least thirty people died. It is not something that you will find much information about, normally.

But everyone has stories to tell. There are many stories. That is history, isn’t it.

Related articles:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/08/maurice-bishop-murder-grenada_n_1580944.html Maurice Bishop murder: Grenada seeks remains of slain Marxist Prime Minister: Huffington Post

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/october/20/newsid_3720000/3720608.stm BBC On This Day

One of the many beautiful views of St. George's from Fort Frederick (My photo)
One of the many beautiful views from Fort Frederick – part of the waterfront of St. George’s. (My photo)

 

 

 

 

 

Another abandoned plane at the old Pearls Airport, near Grenville. (My photo)
An abandoned plane at the old Pearls Airport, near Grenville. (My photo)
The ruined mental home near Fort Frederick. U.S. forces bombed it in 1983. (My photo)
The ruined mental home near Fort Frederick. U.S. forces bombed it in 1983. (My photo)
An abandoned Soviet plane at what was once Pearls Airport. (My photo)
An abandoned Soviet plane at what was once Pearls Airport. (My photo)

8 thoughts on “Thirty Years Ago Today…in Grenada

  1. Thanks for keeping memories and history alive, we still have SO MUCH to learn from what REALLY happened in Grenada, because still today, there’s much that hasnt been told. And we have ‘not told’ so much about what happened in Tivoli 3 years ago. We still need to work on honesty, truth, and trust.
    I went with Sistren Theatre Collective on tour in Grenada in 1981, invited by the Bishop Govt to do popular theatre for community development in many corners of the island. It was insightful, impressive, we caught many ‘peoples consultations’ as they discussed the national budget.

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    1. Yes, Hilary. There are SO many stories, and every one different. We have NOT TOLD almost everything about Tivoli – tip of the iceberg. Which reminds me, what is happening with the Commission of Enquiry? Wow, that must have been a fascinating visit to Grenada. A very intense, brief period in the island’s history. And trust…Trust is the most important thing of all, after such traumatic experiences. Where can we build it from?

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    1. Thirty years sounds like a long time, but actually when I went there it seemed like it was only yesterday. People still wanted to talk about it… All the best Lloyd and thanks for your comments…

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    1. I wonder. It seemed such a complex and turbulent period. Having grown up in England during the Cold War era, I feel that there was nothing “black and white” about that period, as it is sometimes made out to be. All kinds of forces at play. And on a small island like Grenada, it must have been…intense, to say the least.

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    2. Hi, Herman. Currently doing research on Urgent Fury for university & seeking out someone I could possibly conduct a short interview through email with who has a first hand account of Grenada before and after the invasion. If you’re interested, please contact me corcoran_hannah@yahoo.com

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