CARIBBEAN countries joined with others across the world on Sunday to mark the 37th anniversary of the collapse of a socialist experiment which had been undertaken in neighbouring Grenada four and half years earlier, on March 13, 1979.
This was the date on which a political grouping known as the New Jewel Movement, (NJM) ousted a sitting Prime Minister and took control of the country.
With a population less than 100,000 persons at the time, a popular young attorney named Maurice Bishop and a strident young economist named Bernard Coard set themselves up as join leaders of this movement which pushed the population into the embrace of socialist and communist development.
Close friends of the movement at the time included the then Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega who had taken power in Nicaragua.
From the beginning, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, then under the leadership of the late Dr Eric Williams, had been less than enthusiastic over those developments.
Moving ahead with a decidedly socialist, “people’s” agenda, the NJM administration faced enormous internal pressures over an agreement for what had been termed “joint leadership,” between Bishop and Coard. At the same time, it faced increasing pressure from other leaders in the regional integration movement to “regularise” its status by the calling of elections. On top of that, the construction of a new international airport, with significant assistance from other countries in the Communist Bloc, including Cuba and the Soviet Union, attracted significant opposition and negative imaging from others, principally among them the US government, under then president Ronald Reagan.
It was at the Caricom Heads of Government Conference in Port of Spain in July 1983, under the chairmanship of then-prime minister George Chambers, and under pressure from such leaders as Barbados’ Tom Adams and Jamaica’s Edward Seaga, Bishop announced a decision to hold elections, after the preparation of a suitable new constitution. He announced a decision to appoint two Trinidad and Tobago attorneys, Allan Alexander and Frank Solomon, to undertake that particular assignment. People in the “Spice Island” were also being prepped for celebrations to mark the fifth anniversary of the so-called “Revo” in March 1984. But the pace of those developments was being undermined by increasing internal strife at the top on the issue of “joint leadership.” This led to a river of no return, with the placing of the prime minister under house arrest in September 1983. Those actions led to a massacre in which he and several others of his ardent supporters were lined up and shot at a fort overlooking the capital city, after he was freed from captivity.
This was October 19. Six days later, on the urgings of several Caricom leaders, Seaga, Adams and Dominica’s Eugenia Charles prominent among them, the US led an invasion into Grenada on October 25. Ms Charles was at president Reagan’s side at the White House the morning when the invasion was announced. She said it was a decision taken in the interest of the welfare of those she described as Caribbean “kith and kin.” The Government in Trinidad and Tobago did not support this action either, along with several other Caricom members, including Guyana.
Thirty seven years later, this signal event in modern Caribbean history, remains a subject for continuing study and analysis, with this country’s role and function in it warranting pride of place. This is especially so given the deeply close historical ties between the people of both countries.