The Grenada Revolution Online

What Was the Internal Power Struggle Within the Grenadian Government?

St. George's Street Slogan
Photo, The Resource Center

Total Eclipse of the Heart*

American visitor:

Why did Grenadians, who are friendly, courteous,
gentle, fun loving and proud people, end up
jailing and shooting each other?

Unidentified Grenadian:

I don't know. We ask ourselves that question all the time.

The quotation above comes from an introductory page of Frederic L. Pryor's book “Revolutionary Grenada

1983 was the Year of Political and Academic Education.

We can never know for sure what is the truth of what happened to bring the tragedies of October, 1983. What we can do is acknowledge that the story of the internal power struggle is complicated. We can say that the revolutionary process in Grenada came to a bloody end, leaving the country with open wounds and scars.

The Latin American Bureau authors in their book Grenada, Whose Freedom? note that

“ . . . until theories of conspiratorial activity are given substantive proof one must accept the tangible evidence that the revolution fell apart largely because of the problems that existed within it.”

The dynamic of the revolutionary process is best flavored through reading minutes from Central Committee meetings.

Richard Hart, Grenada's Attorney-General in 1982 to the time of Grenada's national crisis, noted this:

"There were, in fact, no substantial differences of opinion within the NJM as to the policies to be pursued by the PRG. Suggestions in the media to the effect that there was within the party an ultra-left group favouring some kind of instant socialism, or that some were opposed to the establishment or maintenance of normal relations with other states (including the USA), or that there were those who were opposed to the formal institutionalisation of the Revolution and the holding of elections under a new constitution are entirely unfounded."

As a bare-bones summary this is what happened:

Maurice Bishop, as Prime Minister, began to be criticized for his under-performance and lack of administrative leadership in relation to the crisis of multiple problems facing the country, including the deteriorating state of the economy. The period of criticism and conflict between Maurice Bishop and his supporters, and Bernard Coard and those of what is called the ‘Coard faction’ went back as far as the early 1970s, according to some accounts. No report of strife within the Party was printed in the official People's Revolutionary Government (PRG) newspaper, "The Free West Indian."

Another interesting point is that the Central Committee was a collective body with consensus or near consensus decision-making. There is a concept that the needs of the collective soon supercede those of its members.

The ‘Coard faction’ proposed that ‘joint leadership’ be shared between Bishop and Coard. They felt the marriage of the strengths of the two men would be beneficial for the country. Reasoning for joint leadership was spelt out in a 12-page hand-out titled Why Meeting?. Document indicators point to it being written 26 August 1983, and distributed to the General Membership of Full Members for the meeting of 25 September, 1983. The ‘joint leadership’ decision was unanimous. The decision was, according to some, a formalization of the responsibilities previously borne by Bishop and Coard. The consensus decision by this collective became the overriding factor which many concluded took precedence over Bishop's decision change.

Bishop had other ideas. The duties and responsibilities would leave, according to Bishop's final feeling on the matter, Maurice Bishop only a show piece, a front, a ceremonial functionary without real power. Bishop said needed time to think about how joint leadership would work itself out day-to-day.

When Bishop refused to accept the idea of ‘joint leadership’ as workable, and rumors and alleged threats seemed to throw the situation into a "psychiatric state," the Prime Minister was placed under house arrest. The house arrest occurred the late evening of 12 October 1983 decided by . . . and here things get unverifiable for the researcher, in that the minutes of the multiple meetings which occurred on this day are not neatly typed.

The PRA met, the Central Committee met, the Political Bureau met throughout the day. There are handwritten notes dated 12 October 1983, but these notes, in the sequence photocopied by the US government, included people who were part of the General Membership of the NJM. One set of notes was handwritten by Bishop and another was executed by a handwriting most likely to be Leon Cornwall's.

The document, assumed written by Cornwall, is a handwritten and lengthy document, issued by the United States Information Agency as part of the four-volume set of initial 'exploitation' of information, as the US authorities put it. These volumes were issued to selected people and organizations. They preceded the more widely recognized Big Blue Book of Grenada Documents.

Some of those who belonged to the NJM/PRG/PRA organizations of 1983 are part of government of today. The evolution of the character and behavior of the individuals at any of these frantic meetings cannot necessarily be attributed to their character and behavior today because of the variability of maturation with the passage of 24 years.

Guidelines from the Central Committee to all Party Members, [Thursday evening, 13 October 1983]

Bishop's Mt. Wheldale Home
Official Residence of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop at Mt. Wheldale
2002, photo by Ann Elizabeth Wilder

There were frantic efforts to resolve the situation. Mediators Michael Als and Rupert Roopnarine were called in. Michael Als' press statement Crisis in the NJM gives an overview of the situation.

Many Grenadians were alarmed by what was termed 'Bishop's house arrest.' They demonstrated and marched to Bishop's house to release him on 19 October, 1983. He was freed by a very large crowd with some reports at 4-5,000 people. Many supporters were waiting for a speech from Maurice Bishop in Market Square. For an uncertain reason, Bishop and a large group went to Fort Rupert, the headquarters of the People's Revolutionary Army. Some say Bishop led the transport the Fort in order to reach the Hospital on the far side. Others point to Bishop as making a fatal error by taking the entourage to a central People's Revolutionary Army installtion. Still others have a CIA operative urging Bishop to go to the Fort and take control.

Fort Rupert Ops Center Balcony
Photo of the Fort Rupert Operations Center, 19 October 1983
with Bishop and others on the top balcony.

The soldiers at Fort Rupert were persuaded to disarm. Later, weapons were handed out from the armory to Bishop's supporters, according to reports.

Even later, a PRA assault unit in three BTR-60 armored personnel carriers headed on to Fort Rupert from Fort Frederick. An unidentified person, either from the assault unit on Fort Rupert or from the mass of demonstrators on Fort Rupert fired the first gunshot. There is controversy over who fired first. Many civilians died, either by bullet or by trying to get off Fort Rupert.

In the melee, people sought to escape from Fort Rupert by jumping off from its heights. Because of the elevated placement of Fort Rupert, citizens all over St. George's stood on their balconies and viewed bodies falling to the ground. The photo below captures some of the horror.

19 October 1983, Fort Rupert
Photo by Wayne Carter

Whatever opinion you have about what caused the internal power struggle within the Government of Grenada, here was a situation of the deepest national tragedy. The hard consequences of that conflict resulted in the deaths of the following eight people who were lined up facing a courtyard wall in Fort Rupert on 19 October 1983, in the following order, according to a report, from left to right:

  1. Keith ‘Pumphead’ Hayling from the Marketing & National Import Board
  2. Evelyn ‘Brat’ Bullen, a pro-Bishop business supporter
  3. Foreign Minister Unison Whiteman
  4. Prime Minister Maurice Bishop
  5. Minister of Education Jacqueline Creft
  6. Cecil Evelyn "Matie" Maitland of Maitland's Garage
  7. Minister of Housing Norris Bain
  8. President of the Agricultural and General Workers Union Fitzroy Bain

The eight, according to most accounts, stood facing the wall for nearly three-quarters of an hour.

Execution Wall at Fort Rupert
2002, photo by Ann Elizabeth Wilder

According to Adkin in Urgent Fury:

“A minute or so after 2:00 p.m., [Lester] Redhead and Abdullah strode out of the tunnel onto the top square. Bishop, Creft, Whiteman, Norris and Fitzroy Bain, Bullen, Hayling, and Maitland still faced the dirty, white, 4-meter-high west wall. Slightly to the left over their heads, some faded lettering read, “THE PRA THE PEOPLE IN UNIFORM,” and farther right were the words, “TOWARDS A HIGHER DISCIPLINE IN THE PRA.” In front of the group stood a dilapidated basketball post with a net.”

The High Court Verdicts were given on Thursday, 4 December 1986

Guilty of Murder of Bishop and seven others with a sentence of death:

  1. Hudson Austin
  2. Dave Bartholomew
  3. Callistus Bernard
  4. Bernard Coard
  5. Phyllis Coard
  6. Leon Cornwall
  7. Liam James
  8. Ewart Layne
  9. Colville McBarnette
  10. Cecil Prime
  11. Lester Redhead
  12. Selwyn Strachan
  13. Christopher Stroude
  14. John Ventour

Guilty of Manslaughter of Bishop and seven others with a sentence of 45 years each in prison:

  1. Vincent Joseph
  2. Cosmos Richardson

Guilty of Manslaughter of Bishop and seven others with a sentence of 30 years each in prison:

  1. Andy Mitchell

Not Guilty and freed:

  1. Raeburn Nelson

The Grenada Mercy Committee moved to change the death sentences to imprisonment. Seventeen people were incarcerated, including one woman, Phyllis Coard. Those on the Hill [at Richmond Hill Prisons overlooking the Carenage and Ft. Rupert] term themselves political prisoners, the Grenada 17.

The story or stories of what happened and why the October 1983 tragedy happened are more complex than this simple outline of facts presented here. Read, listen and learn.

"As in private life one differentiates between what a man thinks and says of himself and what he really is and does, so in historical struggles one must distinguish still more the phrases and fancies of parties from their real organism and their real interests, their conception of themselves, from their reality."

Karl Marx from "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte," 1852

*The song "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was popularized [#1 on the Billboard chart] by Bonnie Tyler in 1983; music and lyrics by Jim Steinman. Appreciation to the late Maurice Paterson for interviewing Edwin Frank who was to have been playing this song on Radio Free Grenada around the time news of the executions was given over the air.

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