Revolutionary Period 1979-1983
The overthrow of the Gairy regime on March 13, 1979 and the cataclysmic events that followed, engendered a socio-political eruption of volcanic intensity and consequences. Never before, or since, in the life of the Grenadian people was there anything so shattering of the national and political structure of Grenada.
From then to the demise of the Revolution in October 1983, the whole fabric of Grenadian society was to be shredded and to undergo an almost total reweaving.
The 1973 Constitution was suspended, to be replaced by governing provisions of a series of People's Laws; the precursor of things to come being People's Law No. 1 [of 1979] which declared the 1973 Constitution suspended and declared all acts and deeds by or under the authority of the People's Revolutionary Government to have been legally done and not to be called into question in any Court of Law or otherwise.
It is as though by one fell stroke the complete root and tree of the Gairy regime had been eradicated from the Grenadian ground. It was a time of liberation from almost 3 decades of sustained political repression and the culmination of nearly ten years of political struggle by the organising forces of the New Jewel Movement with the assistance of like-minded friends and sympathisers, some local, regional and others international.
But the ensuing period after 1979 was to introduce a complex pattern of good and evil; an uprooting of the old evil order; and its declared substitution by a new dispensation of a People's Democracy. A dispensation that would soon become discernible as a desecration of democracy.
During 1979 and 1980 groups of persons opposed to the Revolutionary regime who held or attempted to hold public meetings, were almost invariably routed by PRG supporters or agents, leaving meetings organised by the NJM and PRG to have a monopoly of freedom of assembly.
It is sadly significant that during the 1979-1983 period the professional associations such as the Law Society and the Medical Practitioners Association were dormant or dumb. Not a sound was heard from the Law Society, for instance, in protest against the arbitrary detentions of two members of the legal profession or against the injustices and violations of human rights and the rule of law committed by the PRG.
It was only in November 1983, when all was safe and secure, that the lawyers broke the spell of silence which had bridled them in the preceding years, by boldly adopting a resolution expressing profound gratitude to President Reagan and Prime Ministers Seaga, Adams, Charles and Compton for the parts they played in the rescue mission to liberate Grenada from four and a half years of communist tyranny. It may be said by some, that the people of Grenada could always depend upon their lawyers to save them from the jaws of grave danger after other saviours have already done so.
There was harassment of trade unions. Churches, while generally allowed freedom of worship, came under continued scrutiny for any evidence which could manifest a threat to the Revolution; and the Church was singled out by the revolutionary ideologues as the most potential source of counter-revolution. A protest by four main denominations (Methodist, Anglican, Adventist and Catholics) against arbitrary detention of political dissidents and the PRG's failure to hold elections, was a mark of militant credit in the Church's favour. Rastafarians, who during the Gairy regime had been harassed, had initially linked themselves to the PRG; but as the revolution grew older the Rastafarians became prime target for similar assaults and harassment.
The Marxist-Leninist ideology which controlled the thinking and stimulated the policies and actions of the PRG ushered into Grenada doctrines of governance based on the dictatorship of the rule of the working people, the full implications of which were adumbrated in the famous "Line of March" speech by Maurice Bishop given to the Party faithful on 13 September, 1982.
Freedom of expression was stifled and the opportunity for expression of the will of the people at fair and free elections denied. Meanwhile, the numbers of detainees without trial were rapidly increasing. The courts and judicial functionaries appeared to have forgotten their legal learning and the system of justice in which they had been nurtured.
Did the Governor-General seem somewhat oblivious to these concerns, including the plight of his people and his country, save and except those which related to his duty to Her Majesty the Queen, who had been pleased to graciously bestow upon him the excellence of his appointed status of being her representative during Her Majesty's pleasure?
It is true to say in fairness and for balance that some good things happened during the Revolutionary period. Youths were given opportunities for education and employment; cooperatives were encouraged and established; agriculture and small industries developed, health care, social development programmes were fostered; an international airport was built. National insurance was introduced for providing a system of social security.
But when all is weighed in the balance, the goodness of the revolutionary gains is found wanting. By June 1982 the cookie was clearly crumbling. Socialist fervour among the initially enthused and indoctrinated began to cool and the revolutionary experiment gradually began to go against the inherent democratic grain of the Grenadian people; the organisation of the revolutionary administration was disintegrating and unemployment was on the increase. Jacqueline Creft, one of the most committed and able revolutionary comrades and among its foremost leaders, resigned from the Party; so too did Bernard Coard, its deputy leader. Communication was breaking down between the home Government and its agents and representatives abroad; and the mills of Party and Government functioning were grinding to a halt or not in rhythm to the beat of the political and the central committee of the ruling party.
By October 1983 ideological and personal conflicts among the leadership had developed; the armed forces of the PRA were demoralised and in disarray; the Party no longer enjoyed the undivided loyalty of the masses; and it seemed that supporters and non-supporters alike were becoming resentful of the increasing presence and interference of the Cubans in Grenada's domestic affairs; and there appeared to be growing evidence or apprehension that the Bernard Coard faction was plotting to remove and overthrow Maurice Bishop; the maximum leader. It saw Bishop as a weak leader, a moderate socialist, who was disposed to play the game with both Cuba and the U.S.A. Moreover, it resented his failure to comply with its request for joint leadership of the Party and Government. Consequently Bishop was placed under house arrest, later freed by some of his supporters whom he led to the Fort Rupert where he and some of his ministerial colleagues were executed.
Among the first laws proclaimed by the People's Revolutionary Government after their coming to power in March 1979, were People's Law No. 8 of 1979; and People's Law No. 17 of 1979 proclaimed by Prime Minister Bishop on March 28, 1979 and April 12, 1979 respectively. These laws provided for the establishment of a Preventive Detention Tribunal to review cases of any person detained, who
. . . has taken or has threatened to take or is reasonably suspected to take action of such nature or on such a scale as is likely to endanger the public safety or public order or to subvert or otherwise sabotage the People's Revolutionary Government or to deprive the community or any substantial portion thereof of supplies of services essential to life . . .
On April 18, 1979; by People's Law No. 23 of 1979, a three member Detention Tribunal was appointed comprising Adolf Bierzynski, a Polish doctor living and practising in Grenada, Bryce Woodroffe, a businessman and uncle of the wife of Winston Whyte, one of the prominent detainees, and Alice McIntyre, former wife of the eminent Caribbean economist and diplomat.
Under the facade of this false legality, it is estimated that approximately 3000 persons were arbitrarily detained and held without trial for the whole or a part of the four and a half years of the PRG's regime. These could be categorised broadly as businessmen and professional persons; trade unionists; journalists; prominent Gairy supporters; Rastafarians; all other persons who were known or suspected of being opposed to the policies and ideology of the PRG.
It is significant to notice that the Detention Tribunal met infrequently; that the Tribunal recommended the release of some 22 detainees but such recommendations were rejected; that the recommendations of the Tribunal were only advisory and not mandatory,; that public hearings of the Tribunal were prohibited by People's Law No. 21 of 1979; and that after December 1980, the 'tribunal ceased to hear any cases'.
The years of the Revolution were to provide an identifiably new phenomenon in the life of the Grenadian people - the organised and systematic rounding up of dissidents and suspects, and securing their detention in camps and centres specially built or adapted for that purpose, as well as providing for their arbitrary detention in the Richmond Hill prison where persons convicted of tried offences in the Courts were regularly incarcerated.
The Commission was able to hear some of these former detainees in evidence, to hold discussions with others and to examine documents relating to the detention phenomenon. These three different kinds of opportunity to obtain information allowed the Commission to gain reasonably good insight into the detention process and situation of the period.
Without disregard for the many others who played commendable parts during the same period, it has to be said that the detainees, as an identifiable grouping, must rank high in the esteem of right-thinking persons, and deserve not just special mention, but honourable mention. They need to be collectively reckoned among the heroes of their generation: for the wrongs and injuries done to them; for the oppressive punishments they sustained with fortitude to the point of release and survival; and for the quality of that remarkable residue of spirit and character which still remains in some of them to let them want to forgive those who robbed them of their dignity and freedom and of the enjoyment of a precious portion of their life and liberty.
The Detainees and their Violators: Forgiveness and Reconciliation
It has to be particularly noted that one detainee who testified before the Commission, and who could be considered as expressing a representative view of some of the identifiable group of 3112 detainees, was moved to say of "the 17",
He felt that they, "the 17", should have their day in the Privy Council:
I just want to deal with the whole question of reconciliation and my position as regards the court. I have here a letter from Ewart Layne and I am one who like to see them out of prison.
I for one would be satisfied and after that we can say how the Government can use its discretion if it wants to pardon or not but until we allow them the facility that all other Grenadians enjoy in appealing their case to the Privy Council, we cannot say that justice was done.
The letter [see apologies at the "Grenada 17" web site] from Ewart Layne to which he referred, seems to coincide with a statement to the media attributed to Ewart Layne, one of "the l7", issued in September 1999, as a publication in the Grenadian Voice newspaper of February 8, 1997 captioned "Reflections and Apologies to all Detainees of the PRG from some former leader[s} of the NJM" and another document named "Apologies to the families of the victims of the October 1983 crisis and to the Grenadian People", issued in 1999 and signed by Bernard Coard, on behalf of the imprisoned former NJM and PRG leaders known as the "Grenada 17".
In one form or another, in the same or similar words, all these three documents purporting to come from "the 17" accepted responsibility for what happened on October 19, 1983: recognised the unjust suffering caused to the political detainees during the 4 1/2 years of the Revolution and to their families and expressed regrets and apologies to them "as a minimal form of atonement." Another ex-detainee, a prominent and respected publisher, told two members of the Commission who interviewed him that he was prepared to be reconciled with those who were responsible for detaining him and felt that the reconciliation process would be helped if "the 17" were allowed to have recourse to a rehearing of their trial or an appeal to the Privy Council.
If free flow of these streams of mutual feeling between "the 17" and the detainees were fostered and sustained and allowed to embrace their families and the families of other victims of the Revolution, then there could be much hope for a productive outcome of the process of healing and reconciliation which the work of this Commission is intended to encourage.