A few weeks ago, a short news item in one of the daily newspapers reported the death of Phyllis Coard in Jamaica. I read it, looked an accompanying photograph of her with her husband, Bernard, and I experienced the awakening deep inside me of something that had remained buried for a very long time. Maybe it was revulsion, not hatred, contempt, certainly not sympathy.
You see, the Coards were the architects of the 1983 mass-murders of the frontline leaders of the Grenada Revolution that had toppled the dictator Eric Gairy in March 1979, which had ushered in a new era not just in the Spice Isle, but in the region. They killed a whole revolution and, by extension, they slaughtered the hopes and aspirations of generations of idealists.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I hardly had time to digest Phyllis’s death (she had been ailing for years) when my friend Robert Mayers forwarded to me a YouTube link to a video that featured the affable, charismatic Maurice Bishop addressing a packed hall of cheering West Indians in New York back in 1981. And, with my interest in that important chapter in our history rekindled, I became aware of a book published last month, titled The Assassination of Maurice Bishop, authored by a writer/lawyer from Belize named Godfrey Smith.
I bought the Kindle version of the book and literally devoured it in 48 hours. By the time I had finished reading it on Friday night (I am writing this on Saturday morning), I could hardly sleep. Smith did fantastic work researching the Grenada Revolution through the eyes of participants, onlookers, dissenters, butchers, survivors and more. For me, though, as a friend of Maurice, I could not wait to read if Smith had captured details of the collapse of “the Revo”, and, more importantly, how Bishop and his close comrades died. In fact, the question that remained unanswered (at least for me) whenever I thought of Maurice or Jacqui Creft or Unison Whiteman, was how and where did Coard’s savages dispose of their remains?
This last question has haunted friends of those who were killed in the counter-coup on October 19, 1983, ever since the gory events climaxed in a bloodbath of horrendous proportions. All I’ll say is that Smith delivers. Read the book. How well I remember that night. A few of us, friends of Maurice and the revolution, had gathered at Allan Alexander’s house for the fourth consecutive day, using all our efforts to resolve the crisis in Grenada to save lives and the revolution. Others present, I think, were George Weekes, David Abdulah and Lennox Pierre. We managed to speak with only one member of the People’s Revolutionary Government, Selwyn Strachan, and he, a key player in the events we would later learn, dismissed our concerns.
Around 10 p.m., it was reported on Radio Free Grenada that among those who had been killed earlier were Bishop, Creft and Whiteman. We were shocked. This was exactly what we were trying to prevent. We had failed. Clearly some form of Marxist madness had taken control of the minds of Coard and his clique. There was nothing further we could do. The revolution had imploded. Now, it was only a matter of hours before the Americans invaded Grenada and snuffed out the lives of whoever remained in charge and ended the revolution.
I returned home and broke the news to my wife, Rosina. She broke down and cried, as I imagine was the case with thousands of people in other parts of the Caribbean, even those who did not know Maurice as well as we did, or who could call him a friend.
Fidel Castro would say, on hearing the news (according to author Smith), “It is impossible to imagine anyone more noble, modest and unselfish than Bishop.” The Cuban leader, who had rendered much assistance to building the Grenada airport, blasted Coard and his clique as “extremists drunk on political theory”, likened them to Cambodia’s Pol Pot, concluding they had destroyed the revolution.
Like clockwork, within days US President Ronald Reagan had acquired the fig-leaf cover of some Caribbean countries inviting the US to stabilise the region. Some 7,000 US troops backed by air and naval support invaded the island, killed scores of Grenadians, many of them innocent, and ended a dream that had turned into a nightmare.
Personally, I switched off something in my brain that connected me to Maurice and others, who were now a memory. I never visited Grenada afterwards. I watched Coard, his wife Phyllis, Selwyn and the other butchers face the court on multiple murder charges. They were found guilty and sentenced to death—later commuted to life imprisonment. Years later, they were freed from prison.
Surely, though, their consciences must remain chained to the memory of a better Grenada, a better Caribbean, that they butchered before it got past its infancy.