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Many lessons to be learned from Grenada 1983

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11.SEP.09

Another twist in the drama surrounding the events of October 1983 in neighbouring Grenada occurred last weekend with the freeing of the remaining 13 prisoners found guilty of the murder of Grenada’s popular Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, and a number of his colleagues.{{more}}

Bishop and his followers died in a hail of bullets as his People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG), which had governed Grenada after a bloodless uprising in 1979, imploded as differences between the Bishop faction and another, led by his Deputy, Bernard Coard, erupted in a bloody confrontation.

Despite the passage of 26 long years, Grenada 1983 still stirs lasting memories and triggers deep emotions. A lot of water may have passed under that bridge which led to the massacre at Fort Rupert on October 19, 1983, but the mere mention of Bernard Coard still gives rise to much controversy and debate. Many questions surrounding the tragic happenings in St George’s are left unanswered, and though time has helped to heal many wounds there are still some which ache.

Over the years, the media, internationally and regionally, have had so much to say that it becomes difficult to separate speculation, rumour and opinion, from fact and truth. What is the truth about the mayhem which led to chaos, death, invasion and re-conquest in Grenada? Even one generation on from the events, there is no consensus save to say that, fairly or not, “Coard and company” are to blame. This may be a simplistic conclusion, but whatever one’s perspective, the names of those 17 persons incarcerated for the death of Bishop and his backers, are sure to go down in history —- for the wrong reasons.

As Mr Coard admitted on his release, there is no doubt that grave mistakes, fatal errors, were made with tragic consequences. Mass killings and war became the unwelcome legacy of Grenada and the nationalist experiment, which was then just beginning to attract the attention of many, ended in a mini holocaust. But its effects were felt far beyond the shores of Grenada, for by 1983, the Grenada Revolution was on its way to becoming a Caribbean statement of sovereignty, of the right of a people to choose its own path of development.

That path, to be sure, was strewn with many pebbles of intolerance, lack of consideration for the legal and human rights of others, for instance, but by and large, Grenada’s PRG was giving the region’s people some hope. Its collapse, especially the bloody manner in which it did so, had much wider implications for the rest of Caribbean society. The progressive and nationalist tendencies then taking root in the region were dramatically curtailed as the conservative Reagan administration, fuelled by the massacres of October 1983 in Grenada, imposed ideological and cultural, as well as economic, hegemony throughout the region.

From being a region trying to map its own path to development, the Caribbean became to be seen as a region which had to be “saved” from communism. The political advances of the 1970s vanished overnight as right-wing conservatism, took centre-stage. It is not just the death of Bishop and his colleagues, or the collapse of the Revolution, for which those responsible for the killings of October 1983 must account and atone. The rollback of evolving Caribbean political thought and practice was also a direct result of foolhardy adventurism.

There is much to be learnt from the lessons of October 1983 in Grenada. But those lessons cannot be absorbed without frank discussion of the events, their root causes and the truth of what actually took place. Thus far, this has been nigh impossible to achieve but if reconciliation is bring preached, the search for objectivity is essential to the process.

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