By Earl Bousquet
Thirty-eight years ago, an earth-shattering event happened on a very small island in the Eastern Caribbean that was heard and felt worldwide.
The first of its kind in Caribbean waters since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959, the Grenada Revolution of March 13, 1979, created waves across the wider Caribbean and the Americas. US President Jimmy Carter and the CIA scrambled to find maps of the Caribbean. Same in Cuba, which had diplomatic ties with only four English-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations. And CARICOM’s leaders were gathered quickly in Barbados to decide how to respond.
Earl Bousquet is Editor-at-Large of The Diplomatic Courier and author of the regional newspaper column entitled Chronicles of a Chronic Caribbean Chronicler
Led by Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement (NJM), the very peaceful People’s Revolution was effected by a handful of young men on the133 square-mile three-island state of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique -- and was immediately supported by the majority of its 100,000 citizens.
But after only four-and-a-half years of intense destabilization by the USA, coupled with continuous pressure on the revolutionary political leadership and compounded by a series of costly mistakes by the young revolutionaries, it took an invasion of 20,000 US troops – supported by two aircraft carrier groups -- six full days and nights (starting October 25, 1983) to bring the already badly-wounded Revolution to a violent and bloody end.
It was the first time the USA had intervened militarily in the English-speaking Caribbean, resulting in global condemnation: British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called it an act of unprovoked aggression; Queen Elizabeth II (as Head of the Commonwealth of former British colonies to which Grenada belongs) also publicly condemned it; and at the United Nations 109 nations loudly opposed it.
What the American guns and boots buried in Grenada was a living process that had positively turned around tens of thousands of lives. Washington had serious problems with the ideological direction and growing popularity of the process under Bishop and the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG). It was also worried about Cuban and Soviet military support for the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA).
But in revolutionary Grenada, social and economic processes was a daily reality: employment was created, educational opportunities expanded, social services improved, state-sponsored healthcare was free, the aged were assisted daily, homes of the poor were repaired by volunteers on weekends, illiteracy was eradicated, women and youth got special attention, students got more say at school, unions were more recognized at the workplace – and while the state took command of the economy, the private sector was free to carry on with business as usual.
Genuine participatory democracy had replaced electoral diktat and young and old were directly involved in a revolutionary process that was unfolding before their eyes.
A bold new political experiment had borne real results overnight, yielding lifelong lessons with more successes than failures. The charismatic Bishop was likened to Cuba’s Fidel Castro, even to Nelson Mandela. Revolutionaries from around the Caribbean -- and the world -- flocked to Grenada to offer solidarity.
Grenadians cared less about the PRG’s ideology than the positive results of its policies. They firmly chanted the Revolution’s slogan Forward Ever, Backward Never! They piled into the streets in their thousands to try to save Bishop after he was placed under ‘house arrest’ on October 17, 1983 -- and they remained locked away in fear after the Revolutionary Military Council (RMC) announced his death two days later.
Bishop’s execution (alongside other PRG leaders) worked entirely against those behind the fatal palace coup and their actions opened the way for the deadly invasion to be falsely disguised as a ‘rescue mission’.
The art of revolution painted a colourful landscape across the Grenada canvas between 1979 and 1983. However, 33 years later, the Revolution’s achievements and its global significance are either being slowly forgotten, quickly becoming subjects of fading memory -- and/or victims of selective amnesia.
March 13, 2017, passed by as just another day in Grenada. No anniversary events were advertised -- only a black-and-white ‘flashback’ photo of PRG troops on a St George’s street in a leading local newspaper.
Instead, the St Georges University School of Medicine (which became Washington’s fig leaf for the invasion in the name of ‘rescuing’ US citizens attending school there) honoured Sir Eric Gairy: the fallen dictator whose much-feared Mongoose Gang had killed Bishop’s father and once publicly beat the young NJM leader to near death.
Much has been said and written about the Revolution in the 33 years since its earthly demise. Most has been in the realm of apportioning blame and responsibility for all that went wrong. But there have also been some efforts to tell untold truths about what led to it, how it was executed, who did what, what went right – and what went terribly wrong.
With its 40th anniversary approaching, most of those who built the Revolution and participated in both its continuity and destruction are still alive. Those jailed for the deaths of Bishop and others have been released -- and over three decades later his family is still praying the US will release his remains. Other families that lost loved ones during the terrible October 1983 events are also still without closure.
The loud silence this year seems to suggest that the Grenada revolutionaries alive today may have quietly resigned to accept the maxim that ‘Silence is Golden’, opting instead not to remember the good and bad old days. Or they may simply be overwhelmed, grappling with the new daily rigours of going through the same old revolving doors of uncertainty that preceded the Revolution and returned the day Bishop died.
But whatever the reasons for today’s deafening silence, the immense historical relevance of the Grenada Revolution remains -- and simply cannot be erased from the minds of those who made, sustained and lived through it and continue to document its lessons for posterity.