Craggy in stature, wiry in physique, and deadpan in his humor, Alister Hughes doggedly got the facts of a story. WHO, WHAT, WHERE and WHEN - the standard 4Ws of journalism - entails checking. Doing the legwork on a story was Hughes' calling card.
Alister Hughes, New Horizons 1973
Freelance Grenadian journalist Alister Hughes had his spate of troubles with the People's Revolutionary Government Security forces, most noted here are between 1981 and 1982. Focus on this time period does not negate the other problems, at other times, he had with the PRG.
In relation to the closing down of the attempt at a second issue of the "Grenadian Voice", the examples:
Hughes' telephone line was disconnected from 19 June 1981 and reconnected on 13 April 1982.
Hughes' automobile was seized on 19 June 1981 and was returned 5 May 1982.
Hughes and his wife Cynthia were under 24-hour-a-day surveillance; followed everywhere they went from 19 June 1981 until August 1981.
Visitors to the Hughes home, for a period, were searched entering and/or leaving.
Alister Hughes was not the only person connected with the publication of the Grenadian Voice who was subject to similar travails, though he was not held in detention until 1983.The private newsletter, the Grenada Newsletter, available by subscription, that he and his wife printed, distributed and mailed by hand was not shut down. Nonetheless, examples of the small ways one person could rile the Government, reveal the atmosphere of the time.
Hughes covered his tracks, so to speak, when on 2 July 1981 he received a response from Miles Fitzpatrick of the Attorney General's Office concerning the status of the "Grenada Newsletter" in relation to the a legal effect from People's Law No. 18 of 1981. The letter to Hughes reads in part:
. . . on the facts outlined in your letter the Grenada Newsletter would have been 'continuously in existence since the 29th of October 1979' as defined in the above law, as the date of actual publication of the supplement would have been 4th March, 1981.
Your continued publication of the Newsletter would therefore not be in contravention of the Newspaper (Publications) law 1981
Hughes turned right around and on 13 July 1981, after numerous unsuccessful attempts to contact Hudson Austin by telephone, sent him a letter at Butler House. In part, Hughes wrote 'Hudson' this:
I am taking the liberty of bringing this matter to your attention in order to avoid any misunderstanding with the Security Forces or any other forces appointed to ensure the enforcement of this law.
A significant example of Hughes' thoroughness is the Grenada Newsletter week ending 29 May 1982 which is volume 10, no. 8. On pages 15 -17, the section is titled "GAIRY'S 'FACTS' ANALYSED".
Here Hughes discusses the ships in the harbor on 13 March 1979, the alleged Cuban commandos, how many people were killed at True Blue barracks - among other items long disputed in ole talk. The information is consistent with other corroborating information, although no one but Hughes checked with Lloyds Agents. Excellence marks this kind of commonsense checking.
Quoting from that 29 May 1982 issue of the Grenada Newsletter:
"With reference to the events of March 13th 1979 when the revolution took place, Mr. Gairy states [in 'News of the World' of 31 December 1981] . . .
'Waiting inconspicuously in the outer harbour of St. George's was a Cuban ship laden with ammunition for use if the 'seizure' or 'hijack' went well; . . . . . the bulk of the ammunition was landed later that day.'
St. George's outer harbour is an open roadstead. There are seldom more than two or three ships anchored there at a time and it is impossible for any ship to be 'waiting inconspicuously' there.
According to records of Lloyds Agents at Grenada, 4 ships were at St. Georges on March 13th 1979.
Of these, three were tourist liners, the 'Statendam', 'Angelina Lauro' and Ivan Franco', registered respectively at Curacao, Italy and the USSR. The fourth ship was the 'Geestcrest', a United Kingdom registered banana boat.
The three tourist liners arrived on March 13th and left the same day; the 'Geestcrest' arrived on March 12th and left on March 13th.
Prior to that date, the last ship of Cuban registry to report at Grenada was the 'Vietnam Heroco (sic)'. She arrived at the island on 28th September 1978 with a cargo of cement.
Following March 13th 1979, the next ship of Cuban registry to report was the 'Martanzas (sic)'. She arrived from Cuba with a cargo of arms and ammunition on April 14th.
How Alister Hughes avoided a shutdown of the Grenada Newsletter he published with Cynthia Hughes is because the newsletter was by subscription only, not sold at newsstands. Their mimeographed paper was a quiet and consistent reportage of the events during the regimes of Prime Ministers Gairy and Bishop. This is not to say there were not incidents, and these are chronicled by Hughes in his writing.
Hughes also was not caught up in the various roundups of 'detainees'. He diligently kept count and listed their names in the Grenada Newsletter, but was never imprisoned until 19 October 1983 at 11:45 p.m. when he was arrested without reason, but with a warrant, by two-three armed men of the Security Forces of the New Jewel Movement. Most likely, Alister Hughes' part in tape-recording Bishop at Mt. Wheldale, and also taping the Ft. Rupert events from Market Square was not acceptable to the people who formed the Revolutionary Military Council.
Surely the account of Hughes' escape from Richmond Hill Prison the evening of October 26 will appear in his posthumous and potentially forthcoming book. It seems the guards had left during the day. The prisoners were in the courtyard. Correspondent Bernard Diederich had made his way up the Hill to check on Hughes who was with Leslie Pierre, Winston Whyte and Lloyd Noel. Prisoners helped their fellow inmates out of their cells and down the hill. Diederich notified the U.S. military.
Testimony by Alister Hughes was given before the U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Foreign Affairs, "Grenada: Implications for U.S. Policy in the Eastern Caribbean", Hearings before the Subcommittee, November 16, 1983. It was around this period Alister Hughes coined the word 'intervasion'; trying to bridge the gap between rescue mission and intervention.
Cynthia Copland Hughes died in December of 1989. She had been co-editor and publisher of The Grenada Newsletter, alongside her husband Alister. Alister, two daughters and a son, survived her.
Near the end of the life of Alister Hughes, when his Media Workers Association of Grenada [MGWA] friends and second wife Margaret Murphy, whom he married in 1997, celebrated his 86th birthday on 21 January 2005, he remained as tenacious with his life as he was with his journalism. Word is Hughes suffered three strokes. Still bouncing back, he would not take to the bed for long - often with morning swims in Grand Anse, evening shots of 'fortification', and work on his last two books.
On 28 February 2005, Alister Hughes died. The family decided to have his body cremated, but not before his friends, regional journalists and governmental officials gathered for a service of departure to honor him.
The People's Revolutionary Government of Grenada celebrated emulation. Too bad they could not have lauded Alister Hughes who is one of the strongest examples of a top-notch Caribbean journalist and Grenadian national. Hughes' legacy lives on with the help of a nephew who is wrapping up the last steps towards publishing Hughes' two books.
One is a book on Grenadian dialect, a subject of continuing interest of Hughes that may have emerged because his grandmother was the "daughter of a French aristocrat and a freed slave," according to a T&T Express editorial writer. The second book is a history of Grenada, 1950-2000, covering the vital years of the governments of Eric Matthew Gairy and Maurice Rupert Bishop.
Alister Hughes wrote profusely for other publications. In August 1977, the important 25-page publication "Violations of Human Rights in Grenada" was issued with its 20-pages of accompanying notes. Besides "The Grenada Newsletter/Caribbean Monthly Bulletin", Hughes wrote for regional newspapers, for "Caribbean Quarterly", "Black Scholar", "The Greeting Tourist Guide", " Discover Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique", "Caribbean Life and Times", among others.
Look for a simple, but concise booklet published recently as part of the Great Grenadians Series, issued by the Belmont Estate Heritage Foundation, ©2004. There are many endearing photographs, poetry by Hughes, and a biography by Paula Lewis. The booklet is available at the Grenada National Museum, and most likely you can discover how to purchase it by going to the Belmont Estate web site.
Most of Hughes' reporting can best been seen today in old issues of Grenada Newsletter, a publication issued by Alister Hughes and his deceased wife Cynthia for 21 years, from 1973-1994. Alister and Cynthia sent Issues of the Grenada Newsletter to the Caribbean Monthly Newsletter. A detailed history of the Grenada Newsletter is found at Gillian Glean Walker's Tribute to Alister & Cynthia Hughes, and the Grenada Newsletter. Latest word is all the old issues of the Grenada Newsletter will soon be available online.
For a tribute to Alister Hughes that puts the man within the context of Caribbean history,link to an excellent piece written by Caldwell Taylor at Remembering Alister Hughes.
An editorial for the Trinidad & Tobago Express refers to Hughes' association with the then Managing Director of the Express, Ken Gordon.The editorial link is broken, but it referred to Hughes' near brush with death on Bloody Monday from the Mongoose Gang. See Bloody Monday as well as the incident and tape transcription from the Duffus Report at Paragraph 186 - Mr. Alister Hughes and a transcript of his tape recording of the incidents on January 21, 1974. Also check out Table of Contents where you can search on 'Alister Hughes'.
All can read all available issues published by Alister and Cynthia Hughes - the Grenada Newsletter.