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Bernard Coard condemns the Revolution in hindsight

Again, it’s October and the focus is on the Revolution. This week our editorial will be made up mostly from an article we carried in 1996 where former Deputy Prime Minister in the People’s Revolutionary Government, Bernard Coard revealed some shocking words that the seeds of destruction of the Revolution and in the events of October 19, 1983 were in the Revolution itself. Talking to four journalists in the classroom of the prison where he gave lessons to inmates, he admitted “I feel that the very manner in which the New Jewel Movement (NJM), of which we were a part, took power and the fact that we were operating during the height of the Cold War, produced two of the critical dimensions that would, in a sense, lead almost inevitably to October 19, 1983. I am saying all of this in hindsight, all of this from reflection and not from any claim of knowing this in advance.”

He was, while speaking, surrounded by most of his former revolutionary colleagues who had been convicted for killing Maurice Bishop and other members of the PRG and the PRA. His wife Phyllis (now deceased) declined the invitation to be present and Bernard said that she was in a very depressed emotional state. By special request on the invitation of Claude Graham of Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation in Barbados, the interview was arranged by editor of The Grenadian Voice, the late Leslie Pierre who also invited the CCN group in Trinidad which was represented by Trinidad Express editor Lennox Grant and the Grenada Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) represented by journalist Hamlet Mark.

Pierre began the interview by inviting the group to have a look at October 19 and what led to it and to say what their hopes and expectations were at this stage. He also asked them what they were prepared to do if and when they were freed from prison. Recapping what led to the decision by the NJM to take power by armed struggle, Coard used the mantra that the country had found itself in a situation of dictatorship under Sir Eric Gairy in which the peaceful transformation of power by general elections was blocked.

His exact words in an article printed in this newspaper in 1996 as he examined the political situation in the world were “When one is forced to take power by armed struggle that in itself sets up a train, a particular series of events.” Coard added that while it may have been possible to overcome that, one must add the fact that the world was divided into two camps – the pro Soviet Union and the pro America. He said that in the same way that in the Mc Carthy era, the American Central Intelligence Agency was looking for communists under the bed, so they too were looking for counter-revolutionaries under the bed; and anyone who criticized or disagreed with what was being done, was genuinely seen – and it was wrong – as being linked to working for or being manipulated by the CIA.

For the edification of the young people, we have decided to use his direct quotes this week in our editorial. “This was the psychology under which we operated. This was bad, very dangerous and it led to a number of human rights abuses which were bad, and which we acknowledged were wrong. No pretense of seeing it at the time. In hindsight, it was wrong and we acknowledge this openly. We did a great injustice to a number of people in terms of detaining them. I am saying it’s that climate that laid the foundation for this kind of thing on both sides. And when there were cases in which the CIA was genuinely active, this justified other cases.” The only other members of the group who made significant contributions were former Lt Col Ewart Layne who sent the three armored cars to Fort George; former Major Leon Cornwall who was also ambassador to Cuba and Callistus Bernard who allegedly commanded the firing squad on October 19 to assassinate Maurice Bishop and others.

Even while according to a recording which was played a couple of times on VOG FM, that the soldiers who did the shooting at the fort and others were emulated afterwards, in what seemed to be a big celebration, Layne said that it was a very emotional thing for him to speak about that fateful day. He took responsibility for the shootings saying that the soldiers were under his command and so he sent them to the fort to secure the army headquarters and to get the civillians who had accompanied Bishop there, to leave the fort. He also joined Coard in saying that they were morally responsible for all that had gone on throughout the Revolution and how it ended; because as members of the NJM they helped to create the atmosphere in which such things could happen and which they deeply regret. Callistus admitted that the shootings were mostly spur of the moment actions in the heat of the moment as members of one faction faced the other.

All the men declared then, that if they were freed from prison, they would all leave Grenada quickly.

However, some are still with us even though it was alleged that those who were jailed for the events of 1983 would be freed and get political asylum in South Africa. We agree that the Revolution introduced some great ideas for the economy, but it may do Grenada well if those people would hold forums for the youth, letting them know what the Revolution was all about. It may even do their children good to really understand how their parents got involved in it. Experience is certainly a good teacher!


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