Military coups and other political warfare are generally uncommon in the Eastern Caribbean, but thirty years ago when Bernard Cole and cohorts rebelled against the Maurice Bishop government in October 1983, killing Prime Minister Maurice Bishop by firing squad, the whole Caribbean sat up with panic in their future expectations.
I was just a child back in 1983 but the event still stands out in my mind. One reason it stands out is that Grenada is my neighbouring country, so that uprising was like bad news coming home.
Another reason it stands out is that my mother had come home after spending the night by a friend, telling of the news footage she had seen on television of the American troops landing during their invasion of Grenada on October 25, 1983.
Thirty years ago few Vincentian families had television so anyone who related TV news or any related experiences were esteemed very highly. The phenomenon of viewing and hearing simultaneously was still a delightful hypnosis.
From what I have been able to garner, Mr Bishop had sided with communist philosophies so his government was a good friend of Russia and China. However, even as his country was benefitting from the building of the international airport through communist financial assistance (via Cuba) it seems Maurice Bishop began to sense that looks were deceiving.
He began to have a change of heart and wanted to sever ties with his communist allies. But members of his government such as Bernard Cole and his wife would not entertain any back pedalling on political philosophies.
Effectively, then, Maurice Bishop was thinking of the future welfare of Grenadians rather than any immediate personal gains.
So things came to a head in October 1983. Reports are that Maurice Bishop was overseas when he heard of the planned rebellion against his leadership. He was told not to return to Grenada. One of the main reasons he was in the USA was to beef up support to avert any military upheaval in Grenada.
However, Maurice Bishop was determined to lead from the front and to be on the ground in his country to face whatever crisis was in the pipeline. He flew in unannounced.
He was subsequently arrested as he tried to go about his governing business.
On October 19, 1983, Maurice Bishop and a few members of his cabinet were taken to the colonial fort in the capital city of St Georges.
There he was put in front of a firing squad and shot to death.
His body was taken from the fort but to this day has never been found.
On October 25, 1983, United States President, Ronald Reagan, ordered US military forces to invade Grenada so as to restore democratic rule and governance.
Bernard Cole and his followers were subsequently arrested and prosecuted. They were sent to prison, but given no death penalty.
October 25th is now a public holiday in Grenada to commemorate the invasion for liberation by the US military on the island.
The international airport was renamed in Maurice Bishop’s honour.
You know, five years ago, I was in Grenada. On that particular visit I went to the fort and saw the place where Maurice Bishop last stood alive. It’s an eerie feeling standing in a spot where you know someone as important as a Prime Minister was killed in cold blood.
Some bullet holes and marks are still evident on those fort walls.
In the Caribbean we are washed in so much democratic freedom and civil liberties that we don’t have much connection to civil unrest or death from political struggles. Such things for Caribbean people are really only lived through the movies.
As far as I know, Maurice Bishop has been the only democratically elected leader (Prime Minister) who was killed in office.
And it happened so very near to my home country!
Maurice Bishop and the historical events of October 1983 in Grenada must never be forgotten whether 30 years or 300 years after.