The Grenada Revolution Online

Eugenia Charles
Photo, Bob Daugherty, AP

EUGENIA CHARLES (1919-2005)

The US presence in our region is not enough. We are not in your backyard, we are your front door, and you should help us to keep it open.

On 18 July 1980, Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica made the above statement to Sally Shelton, the American Ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean, according to the New Chronicle, a Dominica newspaper.

A GRAND DAME PASSES ON

Dame Mary Eugenia Charles, former Prime Minister, died at 86 years old on 6 September 2005, the result of pulmonary embolism. Her death occurred during a period of hospital surgery in neighboring Martinique for a fractured hip, ten days after a fall in her home.

She had retired in 1995 as Prime Minister after 15 years [1980-1995] of continuous popular re-elections, based on service and leadership to that position and to her country.

In 1992, Eugenia Charles was given the title Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE), having been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at Harare, Zimbabwe for her leadership and achievements.

The Heads of the Caribbean Community awarded Dame Charles the Order of the Caribbean Community in February 2003. The OCC is the Caribbean's highest and most prestigious honour shared with, for example, Grenadians Justice Philip Telford Georges and Sir Meredith Alister McIntyre.

Eugenia Charles lived with her father until he died in 1983. She never married, and she once said the reason was because she never met anyone she wanted to marry. Plus she didn't want the government of Dominica doing anything in relation to her funeral.

PERSONAL STANDARDS AND HIGH ACHIEVEMENT

These instances of personal standards resonate through out her interactions with others. Thus, she was best known in the media as the 'Iron Lady of the Caribbean.'

Personally, Eugenia Charles might have preferred the accolades of first female Prime Minister in the Caribbean, a great Caribbean patriot, an adopted Grenadian woman, a key delegate to the 1977 Dominica Independence Talks in London, the first Dominica woman law practitioner, a crusader for Dominican produce in international markets, a leader who favored regional unification, a person of morality, an advocate of freedom, a believer in public service over personal gain, and a woman who had a dream of a regional air carrier.

EARLY DAYS

Mary Eugenia Charles was born in a village on Dominica named Pointe Michel located in the south, near the island capital Roseau, on 15 May 1919. She was the grand-daughter of a former slave. Her father led Eugenia by example as the Mayor of Roseau and land-owner; her mother by encouragement of her studies.

IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION

Education was as important to Eugenia Charles at the beginning of her life as near the end. She spread the importance of the value of education to the citizens of her country.

Eugenia Charles was educated in Roman Catholic schools. She was a student at the Convent High School, Dominica, and also the prestigious St. Joseph's Convent High School in St. George's, Grenada, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny. Hilda Bynoe, Jacquelyn Creft, Merle Collins, Dessima Williams, Marsy Ashby and Patsy Hamilton-Louison had affiliation with St. Joseph's.

Following graduation from secondary school, Charles enrolled in a secretarial course. Her learned knowledge of shorthand led her to the courtroom legal recording, and sparked her interest in studying for the practice of law.

In that regard, Charles attended the University College of the University of Toronto, 1942 to 1946. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 1946 with a B.A. in law, and continued studies of law at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). She was accepted to the bar at the Inner Temple in London in 1947.

After Charles retired as Prime Minister, she signed up for courses at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies.

During her time as Prime Minister, Charles enabled the increase of adult literacy, expanded the number of secondary schools in the country, provided an education trust fund, a youth skills training program, and initiated the Dominica State College. After what is termed the invasion of Grenada, Dominica received twelve million dollars for roads, schools, police training and bridge projects from the United States government.

LEGAL PRACTICE AND POLITICS

Following Eugenia Charles' university studies, she opened a law practice in Dominica and Barbados in 1949, specializing in international insurance issues. Charles was also involved in business and investment ventures. She was active with the local bar association in Dominica, serving as President. She was also an Executive member of the Organization of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Association.

In 1968, Charles was drawn into politics in protest of a government sedition bill which she felt was personally aimed towards her letter-writing campaign to the local press. She co-founded the Dominica Freedom Party and was elected an assembly-woman. Thus began her legislative career in 1970 on to the leader of the opposition in the House of Assembly in 1975.

Eugenia Charles was part of the London delegation for Independence talks in 1977. Dominica gained full independence on November 3, 1978, led by Patrick Roland John of the Dominica Labour Party who was Prime Minister from July 1975-June 1979.

EUGENIA CHARLES TAKES OFFICE

In 1979 controversial measures introduced by John's government led to John's resignation as well as members of his government. An interim government was installed with Oliver Seraphine as Prime Minister. His Dominica Labour Party lost to a majority victory by the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) 21 July 1980 led by Eugenia Charles. Charles described herself as "liberal, democratic and anti-communist." It is alleged that Charles received financial aid from the CIA to defeat Seraphine in those elections.

OVERTHROW PLOT

By 17 March 1981, Charles unveiled a plot to overthrow the government and its Dominican Freedom Party (DFP) by an armed mercenary group.

The plot was an invasion attempt, called 'Operation Red Dog.' It involved Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi groups, American and Canadian mercenaries, and underworld elements from the United States. According to Canadian researcher Matthew A. Lauder,

[A] group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis planned to travel from New Orleans to Dominica on a chartered boat, land on the island at night using rubber boats, [according to a contract found on the boat] meet up with former Prime Minister [Patrick] John and his guerrilla force of disgruntled army veterans and Rastafarian rebels, and then lay waste to the police force and political leaders and install a junta government.

. . . the primary purpose of the invasion was not to establish a base of operations for white supremacists (although this was a secondary concern), but rather to set-up a series of lucrative businesses, including cocaine manufacturing plants, casinos, hotels, brothels, and a gunrunning operation, and to exploit the country's labor and natural resources for the benefit of the mercenaries and the financial backers.

A detailed report, primarily by Matt Lauder, is available at Mercenary Activities - Dominica

Patrick John, a former Prime Minister, and senior officers of the Defence force were arrested with the assistance of the Barbadian Defence Force (BDF). Of the more than 20 arrested, and later tried and convicted, were Army Commander Major Fred Newton, three Army officers, and two civilians, one of which was Dennis Joseph, a former manager of the Dominican broadcasting service. Included in that count were people from Canada and the United States. Laws to enhance security, a Prevention of Terrorism Act and a State Security Act, were put in place.

THE OECS

The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) was established 18 June 1981. Maurice Bishop, Prime Minister of Grenada, addressed the opening in St. Kitts. Each Prime Minister - Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines - were chairpersons in rotation according to the signed Treaty of Basseterre.

SECOND THREAT TO GOVERNMENT

Patrick John's forces from the then disbanded Dominica Defence Force struck Dominica a second time on 19 December 1981 by trying to get prisoner John out of the Roseau jail. The Dominica Police Force interrupted the attempt and arrested those involved; nevertheless Patrick John was tried and acquitted. Following this second attempt, later that month, Charles proposed a defense system by way of joint training for regional security personnel. It was not until 1985 that Patrick John was convicted of the original plot of 17 March 1981.

ECONOMIC INTERESTS

Banking and economic integration was not far from PM Charles' mind. She represented one of seven countries (St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Dominica, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis and Antigua-Barbuda jointly with Grenada) who signed the agreement on 5 July 1983 to establish the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) which replaced the Eastern Caribbean Currency Authority established in March 1965. The ECCB issues Eastern Caribbean (EC) currency.

RELATIONS WITH GRENADA

In terms of Dominica's relations and interaction with the People's Revolutionary Government, according to columnist Reggie Dumas, Eugenia Charles had tried to encourage Maurice Bishop to hold elections and continued to "sit with him in Caricom Councils."

Ronald Reagan and Eugenia Charles
Photo, Bob Daugherty, AP

In the Briefing Room of the White House at 9:07 a.m., Eugenia Charles was in the international spotlight as she stood next to President Ronald Reagan on 25 October 1983 while Reagan made the announcement that -

early this morning, forces from six Caribbean democracies and the United States began a landing or landings on the island of Grenada in the Eastern Caribbean.

Prime Minister Eugenia Charles, following President Reagan's announcement, made the following statement:

I think we were all very horrified at the events which took place recently in Grenada. We, as part of the Organization of East Caribbean States, realizing that we are, of course, one region - we belong to each other, are kith and kin, we all have members of our state living in Grenada - we're very concerned that this event should take place again.

It is true that we have managed to live with the regime since March '79. And we felt quite clearly and we had good reason to believe that the Bishop regime was seeing it our way and was on the way to have elections. And we think this is the reason why himself and his Cabinet were destroyed, because he realized that the pressure we put on him to have elections was worthwhile, was right, and he'd begun to see that the democratic institutions must be put in place in any of these small countries.

It is even more important in a small island state, poor island state, to have the democratic institutions. And this we have had for a long time, and we've continued it and we wish to continue it. Grenada was an aberration in this respect. But that these men, who had for all these years accepted the Bishop regime should then, for their own reasons - and I think the power hungry reasons - decide to destroy the person whom they had accepted as their leader for so long, made us realize that this sort of assassination must not be allowed to continue in our country. It means that our people there are not safe. It means that Grenadians had never been given the chance to choose for themselves the country that they want. And, therefore, it is necessary for us to see to it that they have the opportunity to do so.

To do this, we have to isolate the persons who have committed the acts that they did last week, in killing off most of the Cabinet. And we have to ensure that, in fact, an interim government of persons of, not political greed, but persons who are good administrators and who are Grenadians who can run the country for a few months for the pure purpose of putting the country back on the democratic status, so that elections can take place as soon as possible. This is what you want to do so that Grenadians can choose for themselves the government they want and do not have, every few years have governments imposed on them by persons who will otherwise . . . [statement interrupted by a member of the press].

TIMELINE

Confusion abounds about who did what and when. For purposes of this biographical sketch we shall follow on a narrow timeline of PM Eugenia Charles' locations.

17 October 1983, Monday

US Secretary of State George P. Shultz states in his book "Turmoil and Triumph" that
An oral request had come in from Mrs. Charles on October 17 for help from the United States . . .

18 October 1983, Tuesday

On behalf of President Reagan, then Secretary of State George Shultz asked Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica for a formal evaluation of the situation by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). At that time, PM Charles was in rotation as Chairperson of OECS.

19 October 1983, Wednesday

Tragically, Maurice Bishop, four members of his Cabinet and three businessmen were lined up against a wall at Fort Rupert on 19 October 1983 and shot to death.

20 October 1983, Thursday

PM Eugenia Charles was in Washington, DC.

21 October 1983, Friday

PM Eugenia Charles flew from Washington, DC to Bridgetown, Barbados for an emergency session of the assembly of OECS members under her direction.

The OECS held a special emergency meeting at the Dover Convention Centre, a few miles south of Bridgetown, Barbados. OECS members were Antigua, Dominica, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, St. Kitts-Nevis and Montserrat. Grenada, a member of OECS, was not invited to participate on the reasoning that it had no legal government. Consensus was required for all decisions.

Before the meeting, special envoy Charles Gillespie and Ambassador Milan David Bish, in Barbados, met with representatives of OECS. There is controversy whether Gillespie and Bish actually attended the OECS meeting held after lunch. There are indications the U.S. let the members of the OECS know that if a formal request was made, the U.S. would be more likely to participate in military action.

According to Langhorne Motley, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, when it came to a decision whether or not the OECS should ask for American assistance in a full-scale invasion of Grenada,

Charles (Dominica), Adams (Barbados) and Compton (St. Lucia) drove the whole thing. They were way ahead of the U.S.

Eugenia Charles and Tom Adams are attributed as the key people who obtained "unanimous OECS support for military intervention." The assembly also agreed, among other sanctions not itemized here, to call publicly for economic sanctions against Grenada and agreed to cut off all official air and sea links, including those of the only airline that serviced Grenada [LIAT].

Towards evening, the OECS meeting morphed into an Eastern Caribbean Defence Force meeting with Tom Adams of Barbados taking part. This was followed, according to Tom Adams,

by a meeting of their [OECS] governing Authority, and unanimously agreed to invoke Article 8 of their Treaty of Association and to seek the assistance of friendly countries to stabilise the situation and to establish a peacekeeping force.

Then the members voted to ask the United States, Jamaica and Barbados to act with them to enter on Grenadian soil under the aegis of a multinational peacekeeping body.

It is reported that following the meeting, Eugenia Charles herself informed Charles Gillespie of the intervention decision; Tom Adams notified Ambassador Bish. The message was transmitted to the Washington White House. Gillespie was instructed by Washington to tell Caribbean leaders that the U.S. wanted the request in writing.

Also on that Friday, PM Eugenia Charles later reported the OECS received a secret message from Sir Paul Scoon, Governor-General of Grenada, inviting Caribbean nations to intervene and restore order in Grenada after Bishop's death. It is speculated the request was made either through John Kelly, member of the staff of the British High Commission, Barbados and resident British diplomat in Grenada, or Deacon Huggins of Grenada, or Bishop Charles of Grenada.

22 October 1983, Saturday

Officials from the American Embassy in Barbados had cabled PM Charles' request for military assistance from OECS members to help deal with the threat in Grenada to the Washington White House and word was transferred to the Presidential party in Augusta, Georgia.

23 October 1983, Sunday

Francis (Frank) J. McNeil former ambassador to Costa Rica and President Reagan's Special Envoy had flown to Barbados for a 4-hour, late evening meeting with Eugenia Charles and other Eastern Caribbean leaders. He had carried with him a draft formal OECS request for assistance from the United States.

Major General George B. Crist, USMC, Vice Director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accompanied McNeil. Crist, wanting to be available for contingency planning, was to be advisor for Caribbean Peacekeeping Troop.

That Sunday evening McNeil, Crist, Milan Bish, US Ambassador to Grenada resident in Barbados, and Charles Anthony (Tony) Gillespie, Executive Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs and Special Envoy to Grenada from the US., [even termed special Ambassador to Grenada on Grenada], met with Tom Adams, Prime Minister of Barbados; Edward Seaga, Prime Minister of Jamaica, and Eugenia Charles, Prime Minister of Dominica in the Barbados cabinet room.

It is reported that the Americans could not reveal that a Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) team was already winging its way to Grenada or even confirm that Urgent Fury was on, as McNeil's mission was to assess the situation on the spot.

The meeting, reports state, devoted most of its time to finalizing the draft of letters requesting assistance for an operation that had already started. This included the official OECS request letter and the back-dated letter from Sir Paul Scoon, Governor-General of Grenada, requesting help.

This was the same day of the Marine bombing in Beirut.

23-24 October 1983, Sunday to Monday

At 2:00 a.m. in the pre-dawn Monday morning Frank McNeil and Charles Gillespie had notified Washington by secured phone from Barbados that five member states, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Montserrat, and Dominica, were prepared to send troops. In addition, a similar commitment was made by the larger islands of Jamaica and Barbados.

The letter to the U.S. requesting help from 'friendly countries', dated 23 October 1983 is from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). It was delivered in its original to Washington 25 October 1983, relayed at 2 a.m. on 23 October 1983.

Following is the text of the Oct. 23 letter from the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States to the United States requesting military intervention in Grenada, as made public today by the State Department:

(1)

The authority of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States met at Bridgetown, Barbados on Friday, 21 October 1983, to consider and evaluate the situation in Grenada arising out of the overthrow of the Government led by Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and the subsequent killings of the Prime Minister together with some of his colleagues and a number of other citizens.

(2)

The authority is aware that the overthrow of the Bishop Administration took place with the knowledge and connivance of forces unfriendly to the O.E.C.S. leading to the establishment of the present military regime.

(3)

The meeting took note of the current anarchic conditions, the serious violations of human rights and bloodshed that has occurred, and the consequent unprecedented threat to the peace and security of the region created by the vacuum of authority in Grenada.

(4)

The authority was deeply concerned that military forces and supplies are likely to be shortly introduced to consolidate the position of the regime and that the country can be used as a staging post for acts of aggression against its members.

(5)

The authority further noticed that the capability of the Grenada armed forces is already at a level of sophistication and size far beyond the internal needs of that country. Furthermore the member states of the O.E.C.S. have no means of defense against such forces.

(6)

The member Governments of the organization hold the strong view that such a situation would further undermine political, social, and economic stability and would have extremely dangerous consequences for the preservation of peace and security in the O.E.C.S. subregion as a whole.

(7)

The authority noted that the present regime in Grenada has demonstrated by its brutality and ruthlessness that it will stop at nothing to achieve its ends and to secure its power.

(8)

Under the authority of Article 8 of the treaty establishing the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, the authority proposes therefore to take action for collective defense and preservation of peace and security against external aggression by requesting assistance from friendly countries to provide transport, logistics support and additional military personnel to assist the efforts of the O.E.C.S to stabilize this most grave situation within the Eastern Caribbean.

(9)

The authority of the O.E.C.S. wishes to establish a peacekeeping force with the assistance of friendly neighboring states to restore on Grenada conditions of tranquility and order so as to prevent further loss of life and abuses of human fights pending the restoration of constitutional government.

24 October 1983, Monday

In the morning, Charles returned to Dominica [from Barbados]. Her travels were not over. She said -

I knew that the Americans had sent a special representative to Barbados, and that the plane he came on would return to Washington later on Monday. So I phoned the U.S. embassy on Barbados and asked if I could get a ride on that plane to Washington-I had to get permission for the plane to land in Guadeloupe because it was too large to land in Dominica-and that afternoon I was picked up and flown to Washington [arriving at 2 a.m. on 25 October, accompanied by McNeil].

Early in the afternoon of 24 October 1983, President Reagan had given to preliminary order for the contingency plans by U.S. forces to begin, and by 6 p.m. the final order was given. Eugenia Charles and other West Indian leaders received the news that evening.

25 October 1983, Tuesday

On Tuesday in a predawn arrival, 25 October 1983, U.S. state officials had flown in Eugenia Charles and Frank McNeil to the Washington White House with the formal, signed OECS eight-point written request for intervention.

In those predawn hours 'Operation Urgent Fury' began.

At 7:30 a.m. President Ronald Reagan, Secretary of State George Shultz, Robert C. [Bud] McFarlane, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; National Security Adviser, member of the Special Situations Group, with Reagan in Augusta, and Constantine C. Menges, Special Assistant to President Reagan, National Security Council officer; member of Crisis Preplanning Group, member of Latin American Restricted Interagency Group met at the White House with Prime Minister Charles for about a half hour over juice and coffee.

The President asked Prime Minister Charles to join him for a press briefing later that morning. She agreed. Menges had taken Charles to the White House dining room, before the announcement to the press, where he explained that the American news media would be hostile, negative and difficult. He assisted her in working out answers to meet the skepticism.

At 9:07 a.m. the President appeared in the press room to announce the invasion. Prime Minister Charles spoke the words printed above. There was a short press briefing with the both of them. That afternoon, Eugenia Charles met with the congressional Black Caucus. The following day, Dame Charles spoke at the United Nations in New York City.

AN INSULTING REMARK

According to an article from the online news.telegraph from the UK, when British Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, Denis Healey, accused Eugenia Charles of having been virtually kidnapped by the Americans, she turned the tables on her accuser by retorting that he would never have dared to make such an insulting remark about the Prime Minister of Canada:

It's only because we're small and black that he's prepared to say that.

CHALLENGES AHEAD FOR DOMINICA

Eugenia Charles forged on with her life, her political career and the challenges facing Dominica. In the 1985 election resulting in Eugenia Charles' second 5-year term, the Dominican government was alleged to have received a $100,000 donation made by the CIA following Dominica's collaboration in the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. Prime Minister Charles became minister of defense, foreign affairs, finance, and economic affairs.

In August 1986, Air Force commander Frederick Newton was sentenced to death by hanging for his participation in a plot to topple the conservative government in 1981. Former Prime Minister Patrick John and Michael Reid, captain of the Defense Forces, were found guilty of similar charges, and of involvement in a minor Ku Klux Klan conspiracy. They were sentenced to 12 years in prison. After the 28 May 1990 parliamentary election establishing the third term of Eugenia Charles, the day after the election, Prime Minister Charles pardoned Patrick John and Michael Reid. She also resisted casinos, duty shops, night clubs and drugs on Dominica.

SUMMARY

The following words have described the late Dame Mary Eugenia Charles:

Outspoken, critical, blunt, sharp-tongued, firm, decisive, honorable, formidable, principled, pragmatic, non-nonsense, reform-minded, anti-corruption, tough liner, steely determination, strong-willed, quick on the retort, forthright, not devious, headmistress and auntie.

Perhaps we can describe her as

The Grand Dame of the Caribbean


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