Michael Joseph St. Bernard Sylvester [1935-2006]
The family heritage of Michael Joseph [Ollivierre] St. Bernard Sylvester runs through Carriacou and Petite Martinique, sister islands of Grenada.
Michael Joseph St. Bernard Sylvester is one of twelve children, a son of Dr. Cyril St. Bernard Sylvester and his wife Eva. Dr. Sylvester was the principal of St. David's Primary school.
Dr. Cyril St. Bernard Sylvester died not long after he was elected representative to Parliament from Carriacou/Petite Martinique in the General Elections of 1951. He ran on the ticket of Gairy's Grenada United Labour Party [GULP], following the position held for 14 years by Independent Frederick Bridgewater Paterson.
After Dr. Cyril St. Bernard Sylvester's passing, his wife Eva L. Sylvester, who was originally from Petite Martinique, filled his position until the end of the term in 1954 when F.B. Paterson was returned. F.B. Paterson had defeated three members of the Independent Party; namely Eva L. Sylvester, Herbert A. Blaize and Walter P. McIntosh.
From the union of Cyril St. Bernard Sylvester and his wife Eva came twelve children, including Michael J. Sylvester, the eighth, as Michael Joseph St. Bernard Sylvester came to be called.
Michael Sylvester was born 28 July 1935, in St. Georges. His childhood home base was Carriacou. A sister was Sibyl Sylvester. A younger brother was the late Albert-George Sylvester, formerly of WIBS. Other sisters are Claudia, Dorothea and Irma.
The family links spread wide. One of the main themes reveal how the October 1983 tragedies play out the feeling about Grenada, the island, being a large family at war. Ewart Layne put it succinctly in one of his writings that family ruptures were "played out in countless homes across the island." Layne was referring to the GULP/NJM split in families, but the idea played again in the Bishop/Coard split.
The late Alan La Grenade was the brother of Alimenta Bishop, mother of the executed Maurice Bishop. Alan's wife, the late Sibyl Sylvester La Grenade, was a sister to Michael J. Sylvester, the attorney and anti-Bishop luminary. Cousins abound, and not always in harmony.
As an adult, Michael Sylvester was lanky and tall at 6'4". He was known to be a dresser, even flamboyant in manner. He was also known to be extremely intelligent, highly literate, and an experienced and skillful courtroom attorney.
As a child, emphasis was put on education. He attended Fletcher School and went on to Presentation College, a Roman Catholic secondary school for boys, where he tended toward language studies, especially Latin.
Michael J. Sylvester entered the University of Toronto in 1960 and obtained a B.A. in philosophy. His studies continued and he graduated from the University of Toronto, Law School, 1963 with an LL.B degree.
He remained in Toronto applying his legal skills with the Attorney General's office and the Industrial Development Bank of Ontario.
Returning to Grenada in the mid-1960s, Michael J. Sylvester established a law practice. Sylvester ran for office on the Grenada United Labour Party [GULP] ticket, which was then under the leadership of the late Eric Gairy. Sylvester ran for the Carriacou constituency against Herbert Blaize, Grenada National Party (GNP). He lost in the elections of 1967 to Blaize by a wide margin.
It had been during the 1967 elections that the emergence of Gairy's 'Mongoose Gang' was observed. Note that Gairy's police aides were established before JEWEL or the New Jewel Movement. Gairy swung into full gear by instituting the gun control of the Firearms Act of 1968, affecting even a Justice of the Peace, Johnny Branch. During that same period, Gairy was freely distributing firearms to his 'Mongoose Gang' roughs.
For three years, from 1967-1970, Sylvester served under the Gairy Government as Assistant Deputy Attorney General. He must have come to dealings with some of the more notorious and atrocious and legally disputable of Gairy's practices.
As early as March 1970, reports began to be made to Inspector Luckey Bernard that included Michael Sylvester's name in relation to La Sagesse Estate, the blocking of the La Sagesse Road and of the case against Presalter Bartholomew.
Then there was the matter of a supposed letter between Alphonso Andes of Cuba and Michael Sylvester. The letter could have been faked; even Gairy thought so.
At that time, Sylvester lived in Belmont. He was described as 'a very dynamic speaker.'
Gairy, at one point, was copied with information that Sylvester wanted 'Molotov Cocktails' made.
Later in March 1970, "Brother Mike" distributed handbills throughout the Town of St. George. The top sheet appears thusly:
The Happening Is Now
GAIRY Must ANSWER!
- Did You Buy Rock Gardens for thirty-eight thousand Dollars CASH?
- Do you own Two Houses at Belmont for which you paid Sixty thousand CASH?
- Did You Insure Your Country House at Calliste for $52.000.00?
Have You Got Money in New York Banks? How Much? Is It All Yours?
GRENADA YES! GAIRY NO!
The MOVEMENT to Liberate Grenada IS HERE
WATCH IT! WATCH IT!
In April, Sylvester printed two handbills; one calling on Guyanese and Barbadian police recruits to leave and inciting the youths to rise up in defiance against the Government, and the other, a questionnaire seeking information on the last of the properties the premier purchased.
Sylvester was to attend a conference in Aruba for C.L.A.S.C. - [Confederación Latinoamericana de Sindicalistas Cristianos (Latin American Confederation of Christian Trade Unions)], April 1970.
The year 1971 found Michael Sylvester often in the company of Ian Francis. Francis was reported saying that he no longer believes in Bishop as he knows that Bishop wants to overthrow Government to put in something other than democracy. Sylvester wanted a "new democratic government". He and Ian Francis did a house-to-house campaign for their position in Sauteurs and St. George's.
Maurice Bishop and other lawyers defended nurses who demonstrated on 11 November 1970 and went on strike. It was Michael J. Sylvester who stood outside the Ministry of Health and spoke to the crowd just before tear gas was released on the throng. All nurses were acquitted by the end of June 1971.
By May of 1973, attorney/politician Michael Sylvester continued to be noted as a close associate of Ian Francis and Wellington Friday, both regarded as activists by Gairy's investigative Special Branch Department.
Ian Francis, according to a 18 May 1973 Special Branch Report,
. . . was never hostile to the system of Government as he strongly criticized the non-democratic policy of Maurice Bishop in 1971; he then hinted to Security sources that Bishop wanted to overthrow Government, to put in something other than democracy. You might be interested to know that Bishop now controls the New Jewel Movement (NJM).
One could draw the assumption that Michael Sylvester felt the same way.
The day after Bloody Sunday on Monday, the 19 November 1973, Maurice Bishop's father Rupert engaged barrister Michael Sylvester to attempt to obtain bail for Maurice Bishop, Kendrick Radix, Unison Whiteman, Hudson Austin, Selwyn Strachan and Simon Daniel.
According to the Duffus Report:
The late Rupert Bishop, the father of Maurice Bishop, who had been a Justice of the Peace for 15 years when he testified said he also went to the Grenville station on that Sunday, between 7 - 8 p.m. (19:00 - 20:00) with Allan La Grenade [Michael Sylvester's brother-in-law], Dr. [Lloyd] Radix (a dentist) and Mrs. Eileen Radix (the father and mother of Kenrick Radix).
Dr. Radix told Belmar he had come to arrange bail. Belmar said "no bail can be arranged" and that he had orders from above.
They left the station and returned with a barrister, Mr. Michael Sylvester, Mr. Gordon Hutchinson, a Justice of the Peace, and a medical practitioner, Dr. Charles.
According to the Duffus summary -
Inspector Belmar told Mr. Sylvester that he would give him one minute to leave the station or he would put him in the cell with the others.
Thus repulsed, Mr. Sylvester left hurriedly.
When Inspector Innocent Belmar testified to the Chairman of the Commission, the conversation, according to the Duffus Report, went, in part, like this:
A. I saw one legal practitioner at the station.
Q. Did you speak to him?
A. I did, sir.
Q. What sort of conversation you had with him?
A. The conversation was one which tended to create more confusion.
Q. What was it? This is a conclusion you are giving.
A. Mr. Michael Sylvester came and he told me that he must see Bishop and them tonight, and if he don't see them tonight is war tonight. I told him that if this is the way he same to see prisoners I am afraid I would not allow him to see them.'
The Duffus Report also relates:
About 10:30 a.m. [Monday, 19 November 1973] the men [Bishop et al] got dressed and, in handcuffs, were taken by land rover to the Grenville Magistrate's Court.
The lawyers at the court were Messrs. Ben Jones, Jerome Forde, Lloyd Noel, Wilberforce Nyack, and Michael Sylvester.
During the Duffus investigation, Attorney Michael Sylvester represented the following who appear before the Commission: Eric Randal Campbell, Joseph Grainger, Albert Rennie, Gabriel Harford, Harold St. Louis, Magdeline St. Louis and James Kenrick Milne.
A fire occurred Wednesday, 6 February 1974 at 23:00 hours, right before Independence. The property was a two-story wooden building owned by attorney Michael Sylvester. Under construction, the building was located on a hill overlooking the Holiday Inn Hotel where the Gairy Government was holding an Independence celebration party. It blazed high and the building burned to the ground.
Gairy laid it on thick for Michael Sylvester by seeming to arrange an amendment to the Jury Act. According to part of a speech Fascism—A Caribbean Reality? by Maurice Bishop to the Oilfields Workers Union on 17 October 1975;
And what they have done by this law is to disallow jurors from sitting in any civil cases. That might look simple enough, it might look harmless enough. It is very far from that. What this jury law is designed to do is to make sure that in libel cases no jury sits.
The background is that Gairy has a world record in the bringing of libel cases. Up to 1972, Gairy had brought no fewer than eight libel cases. And he has had about five brought against him. He is a man who likes the court.
What this particular law is designed to do is to ensure that in libel cases there will be no jury sitting to determine the facts and come to a conclusion. You are going to have to deal with a judge alone who will have to be judge of law and facts.
This law, in fact, seems to have been timed to prevent a jury from hearing a libel case, adjourned last week, which Gairy had taken against Michael Sylvester, a lawyer and former opposition politician. That gives you an idea of what I mean when I say this law is not nearly as harmless as it might appear.
Barrister Sylvester had presented evidence to the Duffus Commission during its inquiry period. After the Commission's work was complete in February 1975, the commissioners reportedly invited Michael J. Sylvester to be the man in charge of the Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.
Those Commissioners were Sir Henry Duffus, H. Aubrey Fraser, and Archbishop Samuel Carter. Employed also at the UWI Cave Hill campus in Barbados, Sylvester was Chairman of the Law Library Committee aiding the enhancement of the law library collection.
Michael J. Sylvester's name showed up on Gairy's Enemies List, printed in the 25 March 1979 issue of the "Torchlight."
During the first years of the People's Revolutionary Government, Sylvester was a Professor of Law at Pace University in Manhattan and White Plains, New York and lived in the Bronx. He entertained the idea, in an undated letter to "Bro. Bish", of "building a new country" and wrote "I would like to assist in some capacity, however small."
From a Manhattan law firm Sylvester proposed in writing to Maurice Bishop there be a Grenada Development Corporation in New York City; a kind of economic mission promoting spices, exotic foods and liquors. The October 1979 letter on the law firm stationery stated Sylvester as being "associated" with the firm. 'Mico' retained Chambers on Church Street in Grenada in 1980. Among his clients were De La Grenade Industries, Spice Island Inn Ltd. with other legal concerns of Peter Ottley, all aforesaid matters discussed with Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.
In late 1981, Sylvester organized the Grenada Movement for Freedom and Democracy [GMFD] in Freeport, New York. His associates included George Hebert, Kevin Kattke and Sal Imburgio. Things got interesting.
According to Ben Bradlee, Jr. in his book about Oliver North called Guts and Glory:
Then, in late 1981, Hebert introduced Kattke to Michael Sylvester, the former assistant attorney general of Grenada. Sylvester had left his homeland just before Maurice Bishop came to power in 1979 and was a leader of a group of several thousand Grenadian exiles who had come to the United States to flee communism and settled mostly in New York City.
Now, with a few other exiles, Sylvester was trying to mount a coup against Bishop, so Hebert asked Kattke if he would take Sylvester down to Washington, introduce him around to some powers that be, and see if they couldn't generate a little interest in the anti-Bishop cause.
To give Sylvester more legitimacy, Kattke helped create a group called the Grenadian Movement for Freedom and Democracy, with Sylvester as its leader. One of the people Kattke and Sylvester met with on that trip was Constantine Menges, then still the CIA's national intelligence officer for Latin America [after September 1981]. Menges had lunch with the two men and basically just listened, filing the information away for future use.
The strange story of Hebert, Kattke and Imburgio is detailed in an investigative article by Nita M. Renfrew and Peter Blauner in the December 7, 1987 issue of "New York" magazine. The report is titled "Ollie's Army: How a Macy's Engineer and His Pals Became Rogue American Agents."
This web site account sticks with Michael J. Sylvester's connection with amateur investigators Hebert, Kattke and Imburgio—and their link with Oliver North in Washington, DC. The story of the sleuths investigative work is worth a read.
In late 1981, a lawyer in the Long Island shore town of Freeport where Kattke and Hebert were neighbors linked Michael Sylvester up with them.
Information from the "New York Magazine" article reveals that with a few other Grenadian exiles, Sylvester was trying to organize a coup against Bishop.
The Grenadians asked Hebert if he could introduce them in Washington officials and help them raise an army. Hebert went to Kattke.
Kattke had heard Clem Langdon's story. He offered Sylvester the use of his trawler tied to the dock behind his house. Evidently racism raised its ugly head and neighbors complained about a black man living on the boat. Sal Imburgio, the local building inspector, paid a visit, saw a positive political connection with Sylvester and joined the group.
Hebert, Kattke, Imburgio and Sylvester, having founded the Grenada Movement for Freedom and Democracy [GDFM] moved on to lobby in Washington, DC, including a restaurant meeting with the late Constantine Menges, a National Intelligence Office, CIA.
According to the article, another name form Grenada's history enters:
Back in New York, Kattke and the others got their first real break. They were introduced to Grenada's acting police commissioner, Luckey Bernard, who was seeing doctors in the United States. The Bishop regime had stripped the police of authority, and out of rage and humiliation, Bernard began passing Kattke information, including maps of Cuban troop movements and photos of the 9,000-foot runway that the Cubans were helping to build.
By the time of Reagan's speeches in March 1983, Kattke and his cohorts moved into action. But that is another interesting story . . . and one waiting to be investigated further and developed.
Kattke supposedly paid Sylvester $10 per page to write position papers with Imburgio. It is unclear whether a paper titled Perspectives of a New Communist State was written under that arrangement. The latest reference within the text is April 1982 and it can be assumed the paper was complete after that date.
Michael Sylvester was interviewed by "Washington Times" in the latter months of 1982. The contents of the interview were published, and then quoted by the Jamaican "Gleaner" and the "Free West Indian."
Sylvester's core information was Grenada received 10 Soviet fighter planes in crates in 1982. From 1982 until presently no evidence of Soviet fighter planes on Grenadian soil has been reported.
Sylvester went on to say in the 1982 interview that the Grenada economy was in shambles. With the passage of time, no definitive report has been produced.
An arrangement was made with the British West Indian World to have an article by Michael Sylvester on the front page of the 24 December 1982 issue. There was a reply to what Sylvester wrote in the document "Responses to Michael Sylvester's threat to the W.I.World of 24th December By Supporters of the Government in The U.K." The lengthy response included the observance that Eric Gairy, a former friend of Michael Sylvester, nabbed Sylvester as "the greatest rogue I had every come across."
On 4 June 1983, Michael Sylvester and the GMFD picketed outside the hotel in Washington, DC at an address for Trans Africa, given by Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. Bishop's speech, at the Washington Hilton before an audience of approximately 1500, included plans for a constitutional commission.
Eight days later, on 12 June 1983, Sylvester held an interview on the Voice of America. He spoke about the objectives of the Grenada Movement for Freedom and Democracy [GDFM] and how they did not 'rule out the use of force,' according to Alister Hughes in his Grenada Newsletter. Barrister Sylvester also spoke in that broadcast in an allegedly libelous manner about a Legal Advisor to the PRG's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Accusations and personal names flew fast and furious; so much so the person who felt libeled allegedly sued Sylvester. Hughes wrote up the account, with names, in his Grenada Newsletter. The detailed notice of the situation, some speculate, reveals Hughes' family interactions with Sylvester.
Fast-forwarding to the time of tragedy during October 1983, Sylvester re-emerges, as early as 13 October 1983, with the linkages to Kattke, Menges, and Oliver North. Attempts to influence Charles Modica, chancellor of St. George's Medical within his office in Bay Shore, Long Island resulted in Modica literally throwing Kattke and Hebert out of his office, as a result of his vexation.
The commess in and outside of the Grenada Mission in New York City on 19 October 1983, after the news of the execution of Maurice Bishop, is a story in itself, and awaits the telling by the primary there. Michael Sylvester and James Herry were there.
An attempt to form a Grenada-government-in-exile on 22 October 1983 failed because most of the 100 people who showed up for a rally in Brooklyn felt personally wounded by Bishop's death.
North had a hair-brained idea, according to New York magazine, for a "sky red" in Grenada, consisting of fires set all over the island. The purpose was to distract Grenadian troops and light the way for American planes. The folk in Grenada who were contacted to make these arson and blazing attempts did not follow through. Reader, smiling yet? Some of this is so outrageous to seem untrue!
Casey, it was thought, called Kattke looking for Sylvester's new telephone number in Manhattan at 11 p.m. on 25 October 1983 to arrange to have exiles take over the New York Mission the following morning, 26 October 1983.
Sylvester arrived late having celebrated the invasion on the night before. Kattke got caught breaking and entering. Leave this story to the primary at the mission also.
In Barbados, according to journalist Joachim Mark, on 30 October 1983, Michael Sylvester, Keith Mitchell, Francis Alexis and Reynold Benjamin met to form the Grenada Democratic Movement (GDM). Rumour has it the GDM was formed a couple years previous to the U.S. landing; again, another story ripe for the telling.
Sylvester was back in Grenada by January 1989. He was counsel to his sister, Sibyl La Grenade who died in June 1991.
According to a University of Toronto Law School Alumni Report;
In 1992, Michael left Grenada and moved to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, where he married Juliet Otten Sylvester. They have two children, in addition to his children from previous relationships, Michael [John], Valerie [Ann], Peter [Weisenberg], Lisa [Hopkin], and Sharon [Wade-Paul].
Sylvester was attorney for NNP, the Prime Minister Keith Mitchell and also resumed his private practice with a primary case being the defense of Police Commissioner Fitzroy Bedeau in a libel case. He lived and convalesced in his home in Sauteurs, Grenada.
Michael J. Sylvester died 15 July 2006 in Petersburg, Virginia at one of his homes where he was being attended to for deteriorating health. He was given a state funeral in Grenada 25 July 2006. A Thanksgiving Mass was given at the Roman Catholic Blessed Sacrament Church in Grand Anse.
NOTE: It is important to remember there are and have been multiple people named Michael Sylvester in Grenada and on the sister island Carriacou, plus many Sylvester surnames.
Perspectives of a New Communist State