Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Leaders of 1983 Grenada Coup Released From Prison

Vol. 73/No. 37 September 28, 2009

Leaders of 1983 Grenada coup released from jail


Former Grenadian deputy prime minister Bernard Coard and six other organizers of the 1983 counterrevolutionary coup in Grenada were released from prison there September 5.

The seven were the last of the “Grenadian 17” to be released. They had been jailed for their roles in the assassination of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and five other revolutionary leaders—Fitzroy Bain, Norris Bain, Jacqueline Creft, Vincent Noel, and Unison Whiteman.

Bishop was a leader of the mass movement of the workers and farmers in Grenada and became the foremost leader of the New Jewel Movement (NJM), formed out of the struggle against imperialism and capitalist exploitation in 1973.

The NJM was inspired by the Black Power movement in the United States and anticolonial struggles in Africa. Before long its leading cadre sought to emulate the example of the Cuban Revolution and began to develop a Marxist perspective.

On March 13, 1979, the NJM led by Bishop overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Eric Gairy and ushered in a popular anti-imperialist democratic revolution. The new People’s Revolutionary Government expanded trade union rights, advanced women’s equality, instituted free medical care, established free public education and adult literacy programs, lowered the prices of necessities, and took measures to benefit small farmers and farm workers.

In the early 1970s, Coard, originally from Grenada, was a professor in Jamaica and worked closely with the Organization for Research, Education and Liberation, a student-based organization that was critical of the NJM. In 1976 he returned to Grenada and was brought into the leadership of the NJM as part of a fusion of the two organizations. From the beginning, however, he worked to consolidate a secret faction loyal to himself within party, the military officer corps, and government agencies.

Coard was trained in the political school of Stalinism. In their aims and methods the Coardites shared much in common with the privileged bureaucratic layer led by Joseph Stalin that organized a bloody counterrevolution in the Soviet Union some eight decades ago. Cuban president Fidel Castro correctly likened the Coard faction to the murderous Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot in Cambodia.

Draping themselves in ultraleft demagogy, the Coardites portrayed their efforts to maneuver against Bishop and his supporters as a fight by orthodox “Marxist-Leninists” led by Coard against a “petty-bourgeois” current. The opposite was the case.

In stark contrast to Bishop’s efforts to reach out and involve the broadest layers of the toiling majority in the work to advance the revolution, the Coard clique pressed for a course aimed at strangling the revolutionary energies and growing self-confidence of the Grenadian masses.

In the course of the 1979-83 revolution, the Coardites carried out a number of undemocratic repressive measures opposed by Bishop and others.

In the name of “Leninist standards of discipline,” the Coard faction drove through exclusionary membership policies aimed at keeping the party and its proletarian element as small and weak as possible.

On more than one instance Coard used his position as acting head of state when Bishop was abroad to reverse government policies. On one such occasion beginning in late September 1983, the Coard faction began to organize the coup. Over the course of two weeks, they moved to disarm the popular militia and increased the salaries of the army.

On Oct. 13, 1983, five days after Bishop returned to Grenada, he was placed under house arrest. The Grenadian masses opposed the coup and began to organize. A popular uprising to restore the government shut down the country on October 19. As many as 30,000 people—out of a total population of 110,000—freed Bishop. The people and Bishop then marched to the army headquarters and took it over.

Heavily armed forces opened fire on the demonstrators, killing many, including revolutionary leader Vincent Noel. The army reoccupied the headquarters and murdered Bishop and the other four revolutionary leaders with him.

The coup overthrew the revolutionary government, but had not yet defeated the working class. Working people attempted to reconquer power and organized the largest revolutionary mobilization in Grenadian history. The people’s resistance was met with guns. The coup leaders then instituted a four-day shoot-to-kill curfew on the entire population, imposing hardship and hunger.

“No doctrine, no principle or position held up as revolutionary, and no internal division, justifies atrocious proceedings like the physical elimination of Bishop and the outstanding group of honest and worthy leaders,” declared the Castro the next day. He warned that the coup would embolden Washington to invade Grenada and “subject it once again to neocolonial and imperial domination.”

The U.S. government invaded the country less than one week later. Rapidly taking over the island, Washington set up a puppet regime and arrested Coard and his supporters. The new reactionary U.S.-backed government, tried and convicted Coard and 16 of this supporters. Fourteen were originally sentenced to death, which was overturned in 2007 by an appeals court in London.

The prison abuse, denial of legal rights, and death sentences meted out against the Coard faction were aimed at further intimidating those who would stand up to imperialism. Castro said Washington and its puppet regime had “no right to keep that extremist group in prison or try them, because no invading force has the right to run the courts and enforce the laws.”

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