Grenada’s Imaginary Subversives
The specter of Communism swept across the world until the late 1980s, haunting the collective minds of Westerners. Western governments safeguarded their citizens against this threat by stringently guarding their buffer countries. The tiny island nation of Grenada purportedly fell to Communism from 1979-1983, until the U.S. invasion on October 25, 1983 restored the former government.
In 1979, a coup swept through the politically charged streets of Grenada, while the Prime Minister Sir Eric Gairy was out of the country. Gairy led the country to independence from Great Britain four years before. Though he was considered a dictator. The results of his election were contested, and rejected by opposition. He was also considered unstable, for his belief in UFOs.
The government installed during the four-year period from 1979-1983 was called the New Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education, and Liberation, of the New Jewel Movement, headed by a lawyer named Maurice Bishop. They wanted to create a non-aligned, democratic, socialist state. Though, with assistance from Cuba, they quickly built an international airport and a large standing army.
The new government, headed by Bishop, suspended all other political parties and the current constitution. No other constitution was created for the duration of the government’s rule. Governmental positions were open only to those who had avowed their support for Marxist principles.
During these tumultuous four years, many were caught in the crossfire. Leslie Pierre and the now deceased C. Eric Pierre— my uncles—were shareholders of one of the island’s few newspapers, The Grenadian Voice. In 1981, shortly after the publication of its first issue, Prime Minister Bishop denounced the newspaper as being sponsored by imperialism and the CIA. Particularly, “since the paper appeared to have enough capital to distribute thousands of free copies to Grenadian communities overseas.”
In the midnight hours of June 19, 1981, an armed detail of 300 security surrounded the company’s publishing offices. Both Pierre brothers, and the newspaper’s 24 other shareholders were arrested and jailed without trial as political prisoners. They were accused of collaborating with CIA and distributing a puppet government. Their phones were disconnected for an extended duration of time, their automobiles seized, and any newspaper related articles confiscated.
New media laws banned the publication of any new papers or pamphlets of a political nature. Under reforms instituted by this regime, they had to issue a statement that were not revolutionary, and that they meant to conform to the laws of the land. Yet in 1981, Leslie and several other editors were rearrested, and imprisoned for up to two years, on charges that they were plotting to overthrow the government, with the help of the CIA, and spread American imperialism.
Bishop accused the board of 26, which comprised The Grenadian Voice, as a corrupt minority. As “big businessmen or their managers, who continue to exploit and oppress their workers; five are reactionary lawyers… seven of the group owned shares in a counter-revolutionary [group]… several are big landowners, who fight, tooth and nail, against workers’ rights.”
While concerns fostered in the U.S. and other Caribbean Islands over the Grenada’s rapid military expansion and ties to Cuba, turmoil also grew within Grenada. Bishop argued with another high-ranking official of NJM who wanted them to share power as co-rulers; Bishop refused. In 1983 Bishop was then put under house arrest and freed, subsequently recaptured and executed by a firing squad during a bloody palace coup. The resulting chaos, and brief formation of a new government prompted the October 25,1983 U.S. invasion of the tiny island, which at the time had a population of 100,000.
While this U.S. invasion was widely denounced by the U.N. and its member countries as Cold War politics, most Grenadians welcomed the overthrow of the post-coup government, which they viewed as illegitimate. The invasion also lifted a shoot-to-kill curfew imposed after Bishop’s execution.
The Grenadian Voice resumed publication after the collapse of Marxism, and the U.S. invasion of 1983. It continues publishing today, as one of Grenada’s three newspapers. It is also sold in larger U.S. cities and Canada. After the turmoil of 1979-1983, Grenada quickly regained its status as a politically stable and prosperous nation.