The People's Revolutionary Government (PRG) was a group of young men and women who held political power Grenada from 13 March 1979 until the demise of the revolutionary government in October 1983.
Background of the times
The latter part of the 1970s was a particularly active time for JEWEL members. The confrontations with Gairy forces became sharper and pointed towards personalities on both sides.
The music of the time reflected a stance of joyous, active individualism. Bob Marley & the Wailers "Catch A Fire" put the group on the international scene during the 70s when reggae spread wild and fast. Jamaican politics was often found in lyrics. Disco was big in 1978 and dance clubs in Grenada were packed. Abba's "Dancing Queen" and Donna Summer's "Bad Girl" were a couple of the hit disco singles and, by 1979, the always heard "Y.M.C.A" by the Village People settled in the baseline of many a soul. Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers To Cross," Burning Spear and the Mighty Diamonds sang about "Marcus Garvey," Third World's "96 [degrees] in the Shade," Sparrow's "I'm A Slave," Peter Tosh's "Bush Doctor" were issued amid an association of 'dreads' and Rastas. In the US, Sugarhill Gang released the first rap record, "Rapper's Delight."
The JEWEL read the signs and its members were ready to take a decision that would change the course of Grenadian history.
Coup planning period
The idea for a governmental takeover began in the early 1970s, as the Special Branch Office of the Royal Grenada Police Force was made aware in reference to Maurice Bishop's ideas. As things shaped up, there were various military planning sessions. The Gairy forces were watched and assessed. One plan of November-December 1978 even outlined stages of attack. Another detailed plan for the coup was ditched on 9 February 1979. It was at this meeting that the split by Strachan Phillip occurred, according to Paterson. It was also at this meeting that Bernard Coard advised against any go-ahead because the NJM forces had no personal radio communication equipment and they weren't ready.
On 2 February 1979 Jim Wardally and Chester Humphrey were arrested in the US for gun-running. According to newspaper sources, the guns were shipped in three barrels marked 'grease' and had been delivered to the home of Unison Whiteman in September . Gairy had been in on the investigation by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) and instructed his forces to go on intensive searches. Unison Whiteman's mother's house was searched four times and the garden was dug up where a dead donkey had recently been buried. Because of the increased search events of the Gairy forces, JEWEL felt it needed to act.
According to assertions, and revealed by Maurice Bishop in interviews, JEWEL learned through its contacts in the [Gairy] security forces that top JEWEL leaders were to be arrested. JEWEL leaders went into hiding on 10 March 1979, some members changing lodging every night.
Nick Joseph, then Assistant Editor of the Torchlight, authored an article, in the 18 March 1979 issue interview with Winston Masanto, Commander of the Grenada Military Force. On Saturday, March 10, Masanto had said,
Don't be surprised if one morning you get up
and find that the boys have taken over.
By the time the late Lt. Colonel's statement was published, he was in detention at Richmond Hill Prison for a seven month stretch.
On Monday afternoon, 12 March 1979, according to a US-Grenada Relations report,
" . . . an ATF agent and an agent of U.S. Customs arrived in Bridgetown to consult with the Ambassador before proceeding to Grenada to launch their investigation. The Ambassador introduced them to Prime Minister Gairy who was transiting Barbados on his way to New York."
Vincent Noel had been put in jail before Gairy's departure on 12 March, according to Schoenhals.
The final 'go' decision
A final decision, according to reports, was made on the afternoon of 12 March during a JEWEL Central Committee meeting with Bishop and Whiteman voting against the attack, and Coard and Austin for the procedure. The tally makes for a firm story, but it is not confirmed. The narrative goes that George Louison voted to go ahead with the attack and his vote broke the tie. Selwyn Strachan was in Cuba, reportedly looking for technical assistance; Vincent Noel in jail. According to US-Grenada Relations report Treasury agents from BATF, accompanied by the Embassy political officer, arrived in Grenada on the evening of March 12th.
JEWEL decided to commence with the action.
13 March 1979
In the early morning of 13 March 1979, the attack on True Blue barracks began. Maurice Bishop made a broadcast to the nation on Radio Free Grenada at 10:30 a.m. in his "A Bright New Dawn" speech.
Hindsight - Conflicting Accounts
At this point - in hindsight - conflicting accounts are all over the place. Because tactical information has not been revealed nor interviews given about the operation, its pure secrecy, even after all these years, invites rumour and story-telling.
Where did they get the weapons? Some report the very few weapons the force had were given out by members of Gairy's security forces to the JEWEL and there were the arms smuggled into the country from the US. Hearsay information finds strong links to the Forbes Burnham government of Guyana. The initial True Blue group had a couple of trucks.
Where did funds come from? JEWEL support groups in the US and Canada helped JEWEL finances. Most everything was volunteered, including time, provisions and transportation.
Where were troops trained; e.g., the People's Liberation Army (PLA)/National Liberation Army (NLA)/People's Revolutionary Army (PRA). Reports put training right on Grenadian soil through the Cadets, with some Cuban leadership and military training in Guyana. The 12 Apostles left Grenada on Sunday, 4 December 1977 for training in Guyana. The group included Hudson Austin, Leon Cornwall, Basil Gahagan, Liam James, Rita B. Joseph, Ewart Layne, Raymond Layne, Einstein Louison and four others. There were always reports of military training in Cuba as this information leaked out from Jamaican forces being trained there.
Nevertheless not many had ever been in combat.
How many participants were there? In the initial attack the number gets reported around from 17 to 50 in the assault team. One squad listing of names for the assault on True Blue Barracks was given by Strachan Phillip.
The operation spread throughout the island. About 15 trucks held NLA/PRA soldiers ready to fight. Reports put the total number of people involved at around 200. Once the word got out of the attack, people went into action. There were those assigned to check parish police stations and those to check on government officials. Others were dropped off at the radio station. Many converged in downtown St. George's.
There were stories that some of the initial team were Cubans and Guyanese. People have searched for the Cuban connection, but no one has been able to produce information other than hearsay.
To this day, people swear Cubans and Russians were in on the takeover. There is a report by Ashby that a Soviet tourist cruise ship was in the harbor to watch over the Cuban military involvement in the takeover. Some swear they personally saw Cubans or knew they were on the island.
On the other hand, Alister Hughes reported in Grenada Newsletter, three years later, that:
St. George's outer harbour is an open roadstead. There are seldom more than two or three ships anchored there at a time and it is impossible for any ship to be 'waiting inconspicuously' there.
According to records of Lloyds Agents at Grenada, 4 ships were at St. Georges on March 13th 1979.
Of these, three were tourist liners, the 'Statendam', 'Angelina Lauro' and Ivan Franco', registered respectively at Curacao, Italy and the USSR. The fourth ship was the 'Geestcrest', a United Kingdom registered banana boat.
The three tourist liners arrived on March 13th and left the same day; the 'Geestcrest' arrived on March 12th and left on March 13th.
Prior to that date, the last ship of Cuban registry to report at Grenada was the 'Vietnam Heroco (sic)'. She arrived at the island on 28th September 1978 with a cargo of cement.
Following March 13th 1979, the next ship of Cuban registry to report was the 'Martanzas (sic)'. She arrived from Cuba with a cargo of arms and ammunition on April 14th.
Of note is that the New York Times reported on the coup on 14 March, on the street situation in Grenada on 15 March, and on the new government on 20 March 1979. The regime change was also reported by the Guardian UK, the Financial Times, the Washington Post, the Miami Herald, and TIME magazine among others. All the while in Grenada, Alister Hughes was sending the word out to regional media as well as publishing his subscription-based Grenada Newsletter, and the Torchlight was publishing.
Hindsight of participants
Years later, from Richmond Hill Prison, Bernard Coard, in a radio/television interview 24 September 1999 on Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN) "took responsibility" about the way the coup was executed:
" . . . the manner of taking power created a militarized context and a militarized culture within which the Revolution functioned."
Selwyn Strachan, who was in Cuba at the time, stated, on the program above, "we took power by unconstitutional means." Strachan noted if they had taken power by electoral means, it does not mean "we would be less revolutionary."
Ewart Layne has written about this period in an unpublished manuscript.
The Type of Government of the New Grenada
When the overthrow activity ceased and the People's Revolutionary Government appeared set in place, in November 1979, Prime Minister Maurice Bishop answered a question by the "Nation's" Harold Hoyte:
Q. What sort of government does Grenada have? Socialist, communist or what?
BISHOP: We have always stressed, underlined and emphasised that we are socialist and manifestly so. What we have also said is that the way in which people should define what we mean by socialism is to look at our manifesto, study our programmes and policies after six and a half years (sic), see what struggles we have defended, see whose interests we have fought for and from that you can tell us what we are.
Requirements for Membership in the NJM during PRG time
"A Bright New Dawn"
Manifesto of the New Jewel Movement
Declaration of the Grenada Revolution
Line of March for the Party - Part One
Line of March for the Party - Part Two
Line of March for the Party - Part Three
The Correct Way Forward
Unpleasant Stories and Underbelly Counters
Programs and Organizations of the
People's Revolutionary Government
Slogans of the CPE
Statement Issued by the PRG Condemning West Indian Cricketers Playing in South Africa 13 January 1983
The Bandeirante Airplane