Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Grenada: We must remember October 1983!

Law and Politics: We must remember October 1983!

By Lloyd Noel

As we celebrate the Month of the Elderly and the Month of the Child, during the month of October, we in the Spice Isles cannot forget the month of October 1983, and how the happenings in that memorable month have affected our lives over the passing years up to date.

Lloyd Noel is a former attorney general of Grenada, prominent attorney at law and political commentatorSome may even be asking whether or not the happenings, and the ups and downs, and the uncertainties now current in this October, bear any resemblance to those of that October in 1983. The uncertainties maybe, but the very dramatic happenings, and the movements from the apparent calm to households under tension, and then the arrival of the rescue mission forces to free up the people under house arrest, as well as those in detention on the Hill and Hope Vale, nothing nowadays can come anywhere close to that state of affairs.

But having gone through that period, as well as the years immediately following – when some of the players now on centre stage were also very much around the middle of the ups and downs – many of those now still undergoing pressure of one sort or another, from the actions and omissions of the powers-that-be are justifiably feeling that not very much has changed in many specific areas, and they are inclined to think that the resemblance is very close in those areas.

For those of us who lived through the periods of the struggle against Gairyism from 1973 to early 1979 – during which period we also gained the achievement of independence from England on the 7th February 1974 – many would still like to boast about, and cherish the memories of the so-called Glorious Revolution of March 13, 1979.

Because from that date the people of our Tri-Island State gained their freedom, from the oppression and atrocities that were unleashed by Gairy, after the New Jewel Movement (NJM) came on the scene in the month of May 1973, under the joint leadership of the late Maurice Bishop and Unison Whiteman.

The NJM was very popular among the young, the middle-aged, and even the older folks, so that when, in November 1973 (the 18th), Gairy’s Mongoose Gang, led by the police under the leadership of the late Innocent Belmar, attacked the “NJM Six” at Bhola’s Junction in Grenville St Andrew and brutally beat Maurice and Unison and Simon Charles, the people of Grenada, as a whole, rose to the occasion in protest, and from the churches, the trade unions, and the employers and their employees, the protest were island-wide, with demonstrations and strikes and civil disobedience all over the place.

And these only came to an end with the murder of Rupert Bishop, Maurice Bishop’s father, on the 21st January 1974, on the Carenage in St George’s in Otway house.

The Governor General, Sir Leo De Gale, consented to the request for a Commission of Enquiry, into the Bhola’s junction brutality, and later agreed to add the Rupert Bishop brutal killing as part of the terms of reference.

The Jamaican retired Chief Justice, Sir Herbert Duffus, the renowned Caribbean and international lawyer the late Aubrey Fraser, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Jamaica, Rev. Samuel Carter, were the commissioners.

Grenada was on centre stage for months, and witness after witness came before the commissioners to give evidence of incidents that took place from the date of independence to the murder of Rupert Bishop.

The Duffus Enquiry report condemned the atrocities and mismanagement of the system and in particular the behaviour of Belmar as a senior police officer, and he was dismissed from the force. He later contested a seat for Gairy’s GULP in the 1976 elections, and he was elected as MP for the Birchgrove area.

He was later shot in the Bamboo Bar in the same Birchgrove area, but the persons charged for the shooting were all three acquitted by the court.

And then came the first armed revolution in the English-speaking Caribbean in March 1979, when the Gairy government was overthrown and the NJM took power as the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG).

The PRG, with real assistance from Cuba, and later the Soviet Union of Russia, was concerned with putting together a socialist system in the Eastern Caribbean; and all the bright guys in the wider Caribbean area that saw socialism as the way to go were flocking to Grenada to share their ideas and give support.

And although Jamaica, under the leadership of the avowed socialist, Michael Manley, at the time was toying with the principles for a socialist state, it was the NJM in Grenada that attracted worldwide attention, as its Marxist communist ideals were brought into operation, which allowed no opposition and no dissent.

And those of us who dared to say anything that even sounded like a different point of view to that of the supreme leaders in control, it was up Mahogany Row at Richmond Hill Prison, or Hope vale Rasta Camp, for us all as detainees. Over 3,000 in total spent time at those centres, and when the US and Caribbean forces came to Grenadians rescue, there were still about 150 of us who were released on the 25th and 26th October 1983 – after Bishop and some of his top bureau members were killed on Fort Rupert, along with dozens more on the 19th October.

As one looks back at those times and happenings, even after all those twenty-eight years since they ended, it still revives old memories, both good and bad, of how the whole process came on stream, and how we traveled island-wide to share the worthy intentions with others.

A whole lot of people listened and accepted the ideas, and were staunch followers for many years; and that was why the deceptive changes were so very difficult to tolerate and remain quiet.

Nothing in our political calendar, since those years from 1973 to 1983, comes anywhere nearly as bad and disturbing as the happenings in that decade – and I dare say I seriously doubt, that anything even resembling those days could ever recur.

The lessons from those happenings have lived on, to put us always on guard not to allow any so-called maximum leader to gain or take on too much control of the nation’s affairs.

Regardless of the level of support or popularity he/she acquires, the right and the focused intention to oppose any action, or omission, that appears dictatorial must always be available to one and all.

I would doubt very much that we in these isles could ever again have the cause to take the action that was taken in March 1979, that led to the massacre of October 1983, but the only way to make sure it can never happen again is to be always ready and on guard to ensure that what is right remains right – and always oppose what is wrong, regardless of where or from whom the wrongdoing is coming.

October 18, 2011