Countdown to the Coup, 10-13th March, 1979
Saturday 10th March, 1979
Maurice Bishop, Bernard Coard, Kenrick Radix, Unison Whiteman and Hudson Austin, plus others, met together at the Caribbean Human Rights Council office in St. George's to consider 'strategy for the impending elections'.
Words of interruption came from a female New Jewel Movement [NJM] member shouting that the homes of Bishop and Coard were being searched. The NJM party board meeting immediately broke up at 3.00 p.m.
The search orders for arms and ammunition were issued under instruction and direction of Senators Derek Knight and George Donovan. The order included arrests.
The orders had the full "acquiescence and connivance" of Edwin Heyliger and Henry Bullen. Knight, Donovan, Bullen and Heyliger had met for the first time earlier in the day with A.S.P. Raymond DeSouza, A.S.P. Cosmos Raymond and Supt. Adonis Francis. A second meeting took place the evening of Saturday 10th March because the homes of Bernard Coard and Unison Whiteman had not been searched.
At the Saturday evening meeting in attendance was Commissioner of Police Osbert James, Supt. Adonis Francis, A.S.P. Raymond De Souza, A.S.P. Cosmos Raymond, Inspector Godfrey Augustine, Senator Derek Knight, Senator George Donovan, Lt. Colonel Winston Masanto and Capt. Michael Campbell. Edwin Heyliger and Henry Bullen were not present though both had been in agreement with the instructions and directives of Knight and Donovan.
According to the late Victor Husbands, Special Investigator:
. . . at that second meeting Derek Knight and George Donovan again played similar roles to that of the earlier meeting. Evidence is again led to show that, in a more desperate plight, Derek Knight was again repairing to several law books to convince the Police Officers that it was legal to search the homes of person in their absence and that it was lawful for them to force their way into such homes and also to arrest such persons whether anything is found or not. And again, George Donovan was there aiding and abetting Knights in this blatant subversion and profligation of the law."
Over 150 police officers were involved in the searches of the homes of six NJM leaders. The plan was to search for arms and ammunition with arrests whether or not weapons were found.
The Police and Military Force officers searched the home of Maurice Bishop, causing his wife Angela high alarm. Bishop was not at home. Liam James was at Bishop's home and immediately arrested by A.S.P. Cosmos Raymond. James was detained for 48 hours without being questioned or charged.
The homes of Kenrick Radix and Hudson Austin were searched though Radix and Austin were not at home.
Sgt. James No. 244 arrested Vincent Noel without charge. The police found no arms or ammunition. Vincent Noel was held at the CID headquarters in St. George's for 48 hours. He was released Monday 12th March 1979 in the afternoon.
At this point, on the Saturday afternoon, the leaders decided to go underground. The leadership included Maurice Bishop, Unison Whiteman, Bernard Coard, George Louison, Hudson Austin and Vincent Noel. Selwyn Strachan and Kenrick Radix were out of the country. Those from the meeting took their cars and parked them in unusual places. From then on the leadership used unmarked cars for transportation using license tags not traceable to them. It is said the men moved about three times per day, from house to house. Not known is whether they moved as a group or individually.
Not only were the NJM leaders subject to arrest, they were potentially to be placed in special underground cells at Richmond Hill Prison. The leadership also learned of Premier Eric Gairy's trip on the Monday coming to New York City. The frightening news learned from a Police informant was that while Gairy was gone they would be liquidated.
Maurice Bishop "sent Louison to Cuba to muster prior support" of the ouster of Gairy, according to a Freedom of Information [FOIA] request. One assumes from the wording about the gathering of "prior support", the U.S. Government believed Cuba had been aiding the NJM all along. If a Louison was sent to Cuba, he had to be Einstein Louison, one of a group of underground Grenadian military men known as the "12 Apostles".
Other information reveals that Selwyn Strachan was sent to Cuba to "obtain additional weapons" under the guise of an international students' meeting.
On that Saturday, 10th March 1979, Nick Joseph, then Assistant Editor of the Torchlight, interviewed Winston Masanto, Commander of the Grenada Military Force. The Torchlight issue featuring Masanto and photos of the coup is dated 18 March 1979. Masanto was prophetically quoted on the Saturday before the Tuesday coup:
Don't be surprised if one morning you get up and find that the boys have taken over.
According to Masanto, seven additional 'barrels of grease' had arrived in Grenada during the previous three weeks. Masanto was talking about guns entering Grenada from the United States packed in barrels supposedly filled with grease.
Commander Masanto also said this to the Torchlight interviewer:
One morning you might just get up to find that places are burnt, some dead; and when you look out you would probably see Cuban troops landing in Grenada.
Chances are you might very well be talking Cuban before you could think of leaving the country.
Sunday 11th March, 1979
Coard's house and Unison Whiteman's home were not searched that Saturday, but the next day, Sunday, March 11, 1979, Whiteman's home was searched in his absence. Coard's home was unlawfully entered by force. No occupants were in the home. Nothing was found. The two search parties were headed by Sgt. Fitzroy Bedeau and Supt. Adonis Francis.
In an address to a NJM Party meeting on 13 September 1982, Maurice Bishop said the decision to seize Grenada by force was taken by the NJM on Sunday, 11 March 1979.
Fourteen (14) public NJM meetings had been previously scheduled throughout the island on that Sunday to "protest Gairy's brutality and mobilise the people". Twelve of these meetings were held as scheduled.
The Sunday afternoon Ewart Layne met in secret with Bishop, Coard and Whiteman. Bishop told Layne to confer with Austin, Basil Gahagan and Leon Cornwall.
Layne met with Bishop, Coard and Whiteman a third time that day when the 'Two D' plan was discussed. The plan was a "deception and diversion" one - to spread out the Gairy forces. A different assault group was to hit each police station and government installations outside St. George's in addition to the direct attack on the True Blue barracks.
Monday 12th March, 1979
On Monday 12th March, Bishop instructed Layne to tell Radix to leave that evening for Barbados. Radix would be attending a conference with a US lawyer who was defending Chester Humphrey and James Wardally on U.S. gun-running charges.
That Monday afternoon, Eric Gairy left the Grenada for New York City. Gairy landed, as everyone else did at the time, for a afternoon stopover at Grantley Adams International Airport in Bridgetown, Barbados. There he met with American Ambassador Frank Ortiz and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms about the illegal arms shipments from the United States to Grenada.
That evening, U.S. Treasury agents, accompanied by a US Embassy Barbados political officer, arrived in Grenada. Where they went upon arrival is unknown.
Gairy continued his trip to New York City to meet with United Nations officials about the Conference on the International Year of the Child.
The final vote on the attempt to seize power was taken on the afternoon of Monday, 12th March 1979. The time to commence the action was set at 4 a.m. on 13th March 1979.
Those voting were Maurice Bishop, Bernard Coard, Hudson Austin and Unison Whiteman. Voting against was Bishop and Whiteman; voting for was Coard and Austin. George Louison's vote broke the deadlock. George Louison voted for seizure. It was at this point that Maurice Bishop is said to have commented:
Well, Comrades, you have work to do.
The voting in the paragraph above has been refuted by Bishop supporters, who want to empathize that the move to seize the government was Bishop's decision.
Nonetheless, National Liberation Army [NLA] members and NJM Party comrades were contacting each other, gathering weapons, getting out the word. Cadres had been previously trained in Grenada under the leadership of Hudson Austin. Many had a background of Cadet training; a few others had the "benefit of somewhat more advanced training", according to Bishop, who would not reveal the location of such advanced training. Rumor is that some Grenadians were trained in Guyana in guerilla warfare by Cuban soldiers. Island-wide all involved were mobilising and doing it under necessary secrecy.
On Monday evening, the night before the coup, a Soviet cruise ship, Taras Shevchenko, berthed at St. George's and remained in harbor all of Wednesday, 13th March, 1979.
Near midnight on Monday 12th March 1979, Bishop, Coard, Austin, Whiteman and Louison
[met with] about forty young members of the NJM at a chicken farm near Grand Anse Beach outside St. George's in order to plan a nocturnal assault on Gairy's army of about 230 men, who were in their barracks in the valley of True Blue.
Tuesday 13th March 1979
At 4:15 a.m., the 35-minute attack began on the Grenada Defense Force Headquarters at True Blue.