Reflections and apologies by Bernard Coard and colleagues

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(First printed February 08,1997 in GrenadianVoice)

A letter addressed to all ex-detainees of the PRG

From: Some former leaders of the NJM

Dear fellow Grenadians,

This letter was written over a period of several weeks; a product of many months of contemplation and thirteen years of reflection. It was written prior to the October 02 interview at the Richmond Hill Prison. However, we felt it fitting to make a few changes and additions to the original draft bearing in mind the interview and subsequent developments.

As you may well imagine, we have had to ponder long and hard over the contents of this letter. We are fully conscious of the fact that in writing we may be approaching a veritable minefield of emotions. In the final analysis, we have come to the conclusion that we should speak from the heart. This is not to say that there are no differences of opinion and of degrees of emphasis among us on this and that. That is only natural thus, even more we do not expect you to agree with us in all we say and believe. But be assured we speak with conviction.

Although addressed to the ex-detainees we felt the need to address certain matters which, though going beyond the detainee question are more than tangentially related to you. We crave your indulgence in this regard.

We recognise and apologise for your suffering

Over the last several years we have become acutely conscious of the suffering you political detainees experienced during the four and a half years of the Revolution. We have heard some of you complain that to this day many people do not recognise your suffering; pretend that you never suffered during the Revolution; that the Revolution did no wrong; or that you only got what you deserved. We can well understand the agony such expressions and perceptions caused you even today.

One of the reasons that we are moved to write this letter is because we feel that we have the moral duty to recognise the fact that you suffered unjustly during the Revolution. We fully appreciate and recognise the hardships and sufferings you experienced on account of the denial of your freedom over varying periods of up to four and a half years, the separation from your families; the suffering inflicted on family members and relatives on account of your plight and the break-up of your families in some cases; the psychological damage to your children and spouses; the loss of property; loss of earnings; psychological pressure arising from the uncertainty as to the length of detention; and the psychological and physical hardships and deprivations generally attendant to prison life.

We believe and recognise that those of us who were leaders during the years of the Revolution were, as part of the leadership, collectively responsible for your suffering and must fully accept such responsibility. Thus, we feel that the least we can do is to express our profound regrets and embarrassment and offer you our sincere and unreserved apologies as a minimal form of atonement. The truth is that we have wanted to do this several years now. But as you would appreciate, saying sorry does not come easily in our West Indian culture. Still some of us who were earmarked for execution in July 1991 made efforts to record our regrets and apologies during what we believed to be our last hours. In that way we obtained the comfort of knowing that we had, even though as a last testament, taken steps to discharge our moral responsibility.

Your support in our darkest hours

It is now over 13 years since we have been behind bars and as you may well know and imagine it has not been easy for us. However, these years have not only been a litany of woes, they have also amounted to a period of growth: emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. None of us has been untouched by this process for growth. We believe that we can honestly say that we are now much more mature and much wiser than 13 years ago. This maturity and wisdom have come about on account of the deep reflection and introspection we have been able to do. Reflection on our individual lives; on decisions and choices we made in the past; on our country; on the 1979-83 revolutionary process; and on the events of October 1983.

We have discovered through reflection and also through contact with some of you, that adversity and suffering can bring the very best out of many of us. We have been not only amazed but touched and humbled by the fact that many of you who have real cause to hate us, having suffered during the years of the reign of the Revolution, are the ones who are prepared to forgive and indeed empathise with us.

We will forever remember that in the very difficult days of July- August 1991, when frantic moves were afoot to execute some of us, people like Mr Leslie Pierre and Mr Lloyd Noel were very vocal against the impending hangings. Their effort, we are convinced, played a decisive role in overpowering the “hanging party” inside and outside the Government, and in facilitating the courageous actions of Sir Nicholas Brathwaite, Joan Purcell and others. We are also aware of the public positions in opposition to the hanging taken by Mr Maurice Patterson and Mr Errol Maitland. During that period and in the years since we experienced the humanity of Commissioner of Prisons, Mr Winston Courtney, a man who we regard as a remarkable Grenadian. We have also heard Mr Winston Whyte publicly pronounce his willingness to forgive and reconcile. We have been surprised and touched by the public statement of Mr Clem Langdon calling for forgiveness and amnesty in relation to us. Mr Teddy Victor has been a regular visitor of ours, bringing words of encouragement and support and we have been deeply touched by his attitude. We have also come in contact with Mr Raymond De Souza and Mr Osbert James. We have been touched by their empathy. And we have come across Mr Kennedy Budhlall, Ras Nang Nang, Reginald Phillips, Kade Layne and many more, and their lack of bitterness has impressed us. On a number of occasions Mr Jerry Romain has accompanied Bishop Sydney Charles on New Year’s day to fellowship with prisoners including us.

Our common bond

This remarkable attitude of forgiveness and empathy has served as a great example and guide to us and has enabled us to better respond to and put in perspective the wrongs which we ourselves have suffered over the 13 years of incarceration.

We are also conscious that prison has bonded us in many other ways. We have been living for the last 13 years in the same cells which you occupied. Some of the graffiti inscribed by some of you are still with us. We share many of the utensils and other facilities you shared. We shared Fr Leavy as spiritual guide. We have been both inspired by his humanity, optimism, honesty, understanding and wisdom. We shared the book ‘Man’s search for Meaning’ written by psychiatrist Dr Frankel about his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, with tips on how he coped. Teddy sent us that book in 1991. He told us that it was widely read in the detainee’s community and that it proved a source of great strength. For many of us it was a virtual lifeline, providing strength, courage and hope in the face of immense odds. Also, Teddy always said whenever he visits the prison to fellowship, that being within the prison walls is a special experience. Lloyd also spoke of that same special feeling. In fact, both of them have said to those visiting with them, that only those who have experienced the walls from the inside could truly understand the feeling. The truth is that those walls reflect a spiritual bond between us. They breathe your spirit everyday and they will breathe ours together with yours for the next 100 years. Through all our reflection we have come to see you as individuals with names, with families and relatives and even idiosyncrasies, instead of as “Counters”, “Destabilisers”, etc. It was Martin Luther King Jr who in modern times most eloquently emphasised the predominant importance of character. We have truly come to appreciate that ultimately, it matters little the political label or outlook a person may carry at a particular time. What matters most is the content of the character of the individual.

And so, we have had to seek answers; to ask ourselves why? Why did we take the course of imprisoning you during the days of the Revolution? We think there were reasons though not excuses.

The context of your unjust treatment

A: The manner of taking power

In the first place, the fact that we were forced to take power by unconstitutional means shaped many of our actions and decisions in the first six months of the Revolution. We believed in and were guided by the view expressed in the preamble to the 1997 American Declaration of Independence that when a people are left with no alternative it is their God-given and inalienable right to forcibly remove their oppressors. It was this right which, in our view, was exercised by the NJM and Grenadian masses in 1979. Still, we venture to say that, with great maturity, we recognise that it is always a misfortune for a country when its people are left with no alternative but to resort to force to change their government. Such a course of action is bound to result in dislocation; in hardships for many people including some innocent ones; in the suspension of the constitutional rights; in arrest; injury and loss of life. And such situations are pregnant with the possibility for abuse. The responsibility falls on those who have assumed power in the name of the people to display the wisdom and exercise the necessary restraint to minimise the dislocation and abuse. We did not always measure up to this challenge.

B: The Cold War

Secondly and more importantly, we believe that the existence of the Cold War at the time distorted the politics of our country at it did that of many others. This was the background against which the Revolution unfolded.

I: Achievements of the Revolution and its consequences

No one can seriously deny the enormous social and economic achievements recorded by the Revolution in just four and a half years -The House Repair; Low Income Housing; community Centres and Medical Clinics construction programmes; the Primary Health Care; free milk;  School Books and uniforms; free Secondary and (through massive scholarship awards) university, NISTEP and CPE programmes; establishing NCB, GBC, NIS, MNIB, GRC, NTS, Agro Industries: fruit and vegetable, coffee and fish processing; the Eastern Main Road (phase one), farm and feeder roads, Sandino; stone crushing and asphalt mixing plants facilities; electricity expansion in Grenada and Carriacou and the electrification of Petite Martinique; Maternity leave and trade union recognition and other social legislation are all examples.

Indeed by 1982, the PRG was engaged in 164 construction projects simultaneously. All these programmes greatly contributed to the massive reduction in unemployment. This does not include the scores of other micro-projects undertaken by the people voluntarily at a community level. Grenada has never seen anything like this before or since. The building of the international airport was simply the Jewel in the Crown.

All these achievements and successes caused our people to glow with pride, dignity and a sense of purpose as the Revolution captured their imagination and that of large sections of the Caribbean people. At the same time the triumph of the Revolution instilled and reinforced in us as leaders, that sense of purpose and mission we carried with us when we risked our lives March 13, 1979.

II: The US attitude and our response

At the same time however, there was the US. It was an indisputable fact that the Government of the US for ideological reasons wanted to overthrow the Grenada Revolution from its inception. Grenada was seen by the US Government as a mere piece of the Cold War chess board. The US government obviously had its great power concerns and fears. And admittedly the leadership of the Revolution was immature and unrealistic in our reaction to the attitude of the US government.

But as young revolutionaries on a mission of transforming our country, a mission supported by the overwhelming majority of the Grenadian people, were not prepared to allow any foreign power to dictate to us in any way, to hold us back.

We perceived that US would attempt to organise internal resistance backed up by external threats to achieve the objective of overthrowing the Revolution. And for this view we had the Iranian (1953), Guatemalan (1954), Guyanese (1964), Chilean (1973) and Jamaican (1976 and 1980) precedents. In this context we were morbidly afraid of internal opposition; seeing the hand and mind of the US government and its agencies in and behind every manifestation of internal dissent. This state of mind which quickly spread to virtually the entire population, resulted in an atmosphere of permanent combat alarm or state of emergency; in a siege mentality. This siege mentality was led by provocations taking violent forms by some political detainees such as the Queen’s Park bombing of June 19, 1980. In this siege atmosphere the civil and human rights of those who opposed or even disagreed with us, sadly, counted for little. We just did not have the maturity and wisdom at the time to recognise that many who dissented did not do so because they were stooges of the US government, CIA agents or unpatriotic Grenadians; but because of their concerns about the non-existence of checks and balances; and because they felt, correctly so, that as citizens, they had a right to freedom of expression and to participate in the political process.

We just did not have it at the time to recognise that if the Revolution were to succeed in the medium and long-term, if it were to retain its liberating and spiritual power, then we had to find a way to combine revolution with democracy; to combine the undoubted social and economic gains with political democracy. Not sham political democracy, but genuine political democracy entailing respect for the civil rights and liberties of the citizens and free elections in a genuinely free atmosphere. There was no way the Revolution could have truly and ultimately established its right to reign to reign as of right.

No other way it could have evolved from being a fleeting experiment into a permanent feature of the Grenadian political and constitutional landscape, particularly given the limitations of size, resource and the external threat. But to have successfully combined revolution with political democracy in the years of the Cold War would have required a level of maturity and wisdom that was beyond us at the time. Arguably no country has successfully achieved this combination in the 20th century.

The siege atmosphere and the October 1983 events

Though you were undoubted victims of the siege atmosphere and siege mentality we have referred to, ultimately, we the revolutionaries and all Grenadians were victims.

The truth is that the October 1983 events which finally led to the downfall of the Revolution, cannot be divorced from the siege atmosphere which developed and existed over most of the four and a half years. Sadly, many, in their eagerness to find heroes and villains, saints and devils, to lay blame and point fingers, thirteen years later have not yet come to appreciate that.

Outside of that environment the political differences which emerged within the NJM would not have ended in a violent confrontation and such terrible tragedy. At the very worst such differences would have resulted in a split in the NJM in the same way the NNP split when PM Blaize broke off and formed the TNP after losing the leadership of the NNP to Dr Mitchell. It is part of the normal democratic process for parties all over the world to occasionally decide by vote of its membership or delegates to change its leaders or its leadership structure. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in splits. However, in a democratic and normal environment, these differences never spill over into violent confrontations. It is just not conceivable that outside the context of the siege atmosphere that Fort Rupert (Fort George) would have been overrun and seized by the civilian crowd on October 19, 1983. After all in 1973-74, for example, the Grenadian masses spearheaded by the NJM, marched in the streets day after day, for months in an effort to bring down the Gairy; yet not even a small out district Police Station was ever entered upon. The more we reflect on it, the more we realise that on that fateful day, some of us were destined to die. If things had unfolded differently and the armed crowd at Fort Rupert had gained the upper-hand, there is no doubt in our minds that some or all of us now in prison would have been killed. We are not saying that Maurice would have ordered that. That would have happened despite and in spite of him. Things had just gone too far out of hand.

We apologise to the entire Grenadian people

But this belief in no way mitigates the pain and grief we feel as we reflect on those tragic events. We are clear in our minds that those of us who were leaders and survived have to accept full political and moral responsibility for the deaths of Maurice and all those who died on October 19, 1983. As part of the collective leadership of the Revolution we were responsible for creating the atmosphere in which the crisis unfolded and climaxed. Thus we have to bear the blame. Those soldiers who were actually involved in the tragic events, not to mention those who have been framed, were all victims. Their misfortune was that they were the ones on the spot. (And some of those framed were not even really on spot). The leaders of the Revolution were the ones really at fault. We were the ones who created the political and psychological climate and framework outside of which there could and would have been no October tragedy. It was our decisions and choices, strategy and tactics over four and a half years, which created the siege atmosphere. And it was this atmosphere which provided the fertile ground upon which political differences giving rise to a political problem and crisis could so quickly and catastrophically degenerate into a military situation, placing the country on the brink of civil war. In the particular case of Bernard Coard as he has already stated publicly, he is of the view that as one of the two leaders of the Revolution around whom the leadership dispute was centred over and beyond the responsibilities he bears as a member of the collective leadership, ultimate and full personal responsibility for the October tragedy lies on his shoulders. This is a heavy burden which Bernard has stated that he has borne for the last 13 years and will bear for the rest of his life.

We know that the demise of the Revolution has dashed many dreams. Thus we understand the frustration and anger of the Grenadian people arising out of these dashed expectations and feeling of betrayal on account of the tragedy and defeat of the Revolution. While we believe that all the leaders of the Revolution were collectively at fault and contributed to its demise, we fully appreciate and accept that those who survived must bear the cross. This is why we have borne for the past 13 years while imprisoned, and shall always bear, the enormous burden of feeling responsible, morally responsible, for all the events which took place in October 1983.And it is also on this basis that we most profoundly apologise, to all the victims and sufferers and their families, to the families and all those who died and to the entire Grenadian people, including members of the NJM itself, the members of the PRA, militia, youth, women, farmers and workers’ organisations (all who believed in us and relied on us to positively transform Grenada economically and socially).

Moral responsibility versus criminal liability

However while we accept full moral and political responsibility, criminal liability is something completely different. Some people have genuine difficulty understanding the difference between moral responsibility for something and criminal liability is something completely different. Some people have genuine difficulty understanding the difference between moral responsibility for something and criminal liability for it. Let us look, not at a parallel situation but at an analogy; let us suppose that we as parents neglect our children, show no love; in some cases physically and psychologically abuse them and even throw them out on the streets. When our children turn to a life of crime, we cannot be accused of either committing the crime, we cannot be accused of either committing the crimes or ordering our children to commit them. Although unwittingly, we created the climate, the context, the environment, the conditions for such crimes to be committed. We are therefore responsible in the most profound of senses; we are morally responsible for the committal of those crimes by our children. It would however be an obscenity for prosecutors to manufacture evidence in order to claim that we committed the crimes or ordered our children to commit those crimes and in that way convict us for them; so as to have an excuse for imposing the sanctions of the criminal law, be it imprisonment or death by hanging.

There was no conspiracy to kill anyone

In the specific case of the October 1983 events, criminal liability would entail that the Central Committee conspired or otherwise agreed that Maurice et al must be killed; and that those who actually pulled the triggers were acting as agents of the Central Committee in so doing.

The fact that the NJM CC may have (a) Unwittingly sparked the political crisis by the joint leadership proposal and then (b) mishandled it, resulting in things getting out of hand, to the point of erupting into a military situation, is not sufficient to ground criminal liability. The criminal law and criminal liability requires more. In the specific case it requires the existence of a criminal conspiracy to kill. We categorically deny that there was any such conspiracy. The events on Fort Rupert were not planned. Things developed spontaneously because the situation got out of hand.

That’s why there is no evidence to prove conspiracy

But there is an additional point here. We deny that there was any conspiracy and that is the truth. Others, including the prosecutors in our case, say there was a conspiracy, and on that basis we are criminally liable. They are clearly entitled to their opinions. However to move from (a) the stage of being entitled to a political opinion to (b) the stage of justification of the application of the sanctions of the criminal law-death or imprisonment – it is not sufficient that those with a contrary view simply insist. They must prove. We asser that to this day there is not one shred of credible evidence to show that as leaders we conspired to kill anyone or that the Central Committee of the NJM ordered the killing of anyone. Not one shred! This, despite the fact that there was a court process lasting seven years and costing tens of millions of dollars. The reason for this omission is very simple. There is no evidence of any conspiracy because there was no conspiracy.

What then of the recent so-called secret tape? If this tape provided any evidence of a conspiracy to kill anyone there is absolutely no way its purveyors, our sworn enemies would have kept it secret for 13 years.Many people are also understandably suspicious of the tape with its audibility gaps and abrupt ending. These defects raise obvious questions of tampering as to the true context of the event which in fact was an activity on Sunday evening of October 23, 35 hours before US troops landed, preparing the troops to meet the impending invasion as well as inducting new members into the party; and not an emulation ceremony.

However, even if one were to accept its contents at face value, the tape bears testimony to the fact that after weeks of political struggle, the situation degenerated into a military one. Hence the reason why the soldiers could be heard paying homage to and invoking the spirits of their comrades who died in the “battle at Fort Rupert” and Selwyn Strachan could be heard thanking the soldiers for saving the Revolution. That is how we honestly perceived the situation at the time in October 1983 when battle lines had been so clearly drawn.

We have not received a fair hearing

Yet despite the lack of evidence, we were sentenced to death and we have been denied our liberties for all of 13 years. It is well established under the law and constitution of Grenada, which the state is under an obligation to provide everyone facing criminal charges with a fair hearing. It is also well established under the law and constitution of Grenada that the state is under an obligation to provide everyone facing criminal charges a fair hearing. It is also well established under the law that it is for the state to prove its charges beyond reasonable doubt. There are well established and indeed sacrosanct procedures with regard to admissibility of evidence, etc, for providing guilt.

But to this day we have not been provided with even the semblance, not to mention the substance, of a fair hearing. Instead we were condemned and convicted long before we were tried in court. Convicted and condemned by the press; by way of the most vicious propaganda campaign ever unleashed in the English speaking Caribbean.

Once the damage had been done, after the population had been saturated with prejudice against us, making it impossible to find a jury to take an objective view of the facts there, followed a trial. One replete with errors of natural justice, law and constitution as even some of you have pointed out. Then came the appeal process which normally should have corrected the errors of the trial. But this process was subverted by the payment of over EC$3 million to the justices of the appeal as borne out by the answer to a question in the Senate by Mr Derek Knight, QC. That sum carried the unmistakable stench of a bribe. No wonder that to this day more than five years after the Court of Appeal upheld the decisions of the court of trial, despite repeated requests from our counsel, the judges have not yet delivered a written judgement stating their reasons for upholding the convictions. They know that they just did a job on us and that a written judgement cannot stand up to scrutiny.

And finally, to complete the ‘legal plot’ against us, there have been various maneuvers including the passage of a law aimed at debarring us from having our case re-opened, to be fairly determined, so as to obtain justice according to law.

We thank those of you who have called for our freedom. And yet such has been the success of the propaganda campaign against that some people speak as though it is a mortal sin to mention the idea of freeing the 17 political prisoners. Sadly even some who shouted “Revolution” together with us have been cowed and appear to be afflicted by this perception. Amidst all this we cannot fail to note the public positions taken by Lloyd Noel, Leslie Pierre and Clem Langdon. We are thankful to them for this.

They have advocated that the 17 be freed on grounds of good behavior, humanitarian considerations and national reconciliation. We also thank the many of you who have made private appeals for our freedom to those in authority.

We firmly believe that even outside of these grounds as numerated by Messers Leslie Pierre et al, we are legally entitled to have the convictions against us set aside and be freed conditionally. Moreover we are unshakably convinced that this position of ours will be vindicated in a court of law someday. You know what it is to have hope and faith, to maintain a positive outlook even in the face of apparent insurmountable odds. So you will understand us when we say that we are certain that if given a fair opportunity the day will come when we will be free again to reunite with our families and loved ones, to pick up the pieces and get on with our lives. Most of us want to do so outside of Grenada so that we can have some emotional space to continue and complete the long process of healing.

And while we will always be prepared to assist our country in whatever way possible (eg by mobilizing investors, tourists and aid for our country) we have ruled ourselves out of any future involvement in politics for all time. When leaders have so disastrously failed as we did, then, if the acceptance of responsibility is to mean anything, the very least they must do is to terminate their involvement in politics and lay to rest any political ambitions they may have. Menachem Begin, the former Prime Minister of Israel, set this high example of political morality after he disastrously led his country into invading Lebanon in 1982.

Your spirit of forgiveness has inspired us to do likewise

In the meantime we continue to carry our cross; to suffer. But we do so with dignity and with a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation which your willingness to forgive has played no small part in nurturing. As such, though we are disappointed and sad we bear no bitterness; not towards any of the witnesses who gave false testimony against us; nor the prosecutors who assisted them; nor the Barbadian Police who tortured us; nor the judges who did not live up to their oaths in dealing with our case; nor towards anyone else who wronged us in anyway over the last 13 years.

We hope that this letter and the sentiments expressed will be accepted in the spirit in which they are conveyed. We are not aware of the cynicism of some of our people and the blind hatred of others. We are cognizant of the fact that such persons are likely to denounce this letter as not being genuine but simply as a “stroke”. We know that such denunciations are most likely to come from the very people who have been asserting over and over again, as if it makes it true, that we have shown no remorse. Still if this was a stroke it would have been more appropriate, one would think, during the years we faced death.

And in any case as we have said above, it is our intention to vigorously pursue our matter before the court because we are convinced that we will not only be freed but also that our names will be cleared of the criminal convictions. Thus we have had to dig deep and summon the courage to face up to the probable decision of our detractors, so as to discharge our moral obligation to acknowledge the wrongs done to you and to let you know how your attitude has helped us.

Finally, we sincerely hope that this initiative on our part will lead to some form of meaningful contact and communication between us, which can contribute something towards the healing of the wounds inflicted on the soul and psyche of our nation over the past 25 years.

May God bless you all.

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