The Grenada Revolution is again being remembered this month – even if, yet again, only for all the wrong reasons.
But there’s a new twist this year: a new book offering a long-awaited account on the events of 1983 that led to the death of the world’s liveliest young revolution of its time.
The Grenada Revolution started on March 13, 1979 and lasted four-and-a-half years until October 1983 when a series of events led to the arrest, detention, liberation and subsequent death of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, followed by a military coup and a U.S.-led invasion – all within a week.
In the 34 years since, much has been said and written about what really happened that led to Bishop’s arrest on October 17, his death on October 19 and the U.S. invasion of October 25, 1983.
But while much has been told through articles and books, video features and televised documentaries, the accounts have always varied according to the writer or storyteller’s interpretation of which of the two factions in the ruling New Jewel Movement, NJM, was right or wrong.
Sentimentalism and emotionalism characterized most (if not all) of the early accounts, quite understandable given the gravity of the circumstances and the deep wounds and scars left by the tragic events that saw comrades kill comrades in the name of revolutionary principle.
A telling rebuke of the Coard faction of the NJM and a full apportioning to him of all blame for all the deaths and the end of the revolution was offered in “Forward Never, Backward Ever” – a full-length filmed documentary by famed Trinidadian film producer Bruce Paddington that reverses the revolution’s main slogan to reflect accounts given by mainly relatives of victims and supporters of Bishop.
But while most have been second and third hand, other more clear and accurate accounts have been emerging lately from some of the main players involved after Bishop’s 17 former NJM and PRA comrades jailed for his death were released from their long period of political incarceration.
The first book published by the former political prisoners was by Joseph Ewart Layne, a major in the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA) during the events in 1983.
Titled “We Move Tonight” and published in 2014, it is a story about "The Making of the Grenada Revolution."
But in it Layne does not try to explain what happened in October 1983. Instead, as a youthful participant, Layne offers a detailed view of the thinking and actions that led to the March 13, 1979 attack on the army barracks that started the first successful armed revolution in an English-speaking independent Caribbean nation.
Layne, who wrote the book during his 26-year incarceration, holds a Law degree from London University and is also a graduate of Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad & Tobago after also having started his law studies at the Richmond Hill Prison in Grenada.
But a major player in the end game that sealed the fate of the revolution has now offered a long-awaited account that only he can give.
Bernard Coard, a U.S. and British-trained lawyer, writer and academic, was Deputy Prime Minister and a co-leader of both the PRG and the NJM during the revolution.
And now, for the first time, the man accused of leading the process that led to Bishop’s death and the revolution's demise has – three and a half decades later -- put pen to paper to offer his explanations.
Coard’s book is entitled "The Grenada Revolution – What Really Happened?" and offers what its cover says is “a unique insight into the causes, course and finally the implosion of the Revolution.”
The book says Coard tells “The inside story: honest, self-critical and based on a wealth of credible and independent documentation.”
WATCH: Grenada - What Went Wrong?
It also says he “reveals, in dramatic detail, the factors, forces and personalities which cumulatively led to [the] deepening crisis within the Grenada Revolution and ultimately the wholesale tragedy.”
Horace Levy, a noted Jamaican Sociologist and university lecturer says the book is “A page-turning Who-Done-It. A must read!”
The new book takes the reader through details never seen or heard, including Coard’s accounts of Cuba’s role during the both the political and military crises.
It also describes, in detail, previously unknown scores relating to crucial meetings of the party and army, as well as meetings between himself and Bishop, during the crisis period.
Acclaimed in some quarters as the intellectual author of the NJM’s conversion from a mass-based to a Marxist Leninist party, Coard was justifiably heaped with praise, as the PRG Cabinet Minister for Finance and Economic Development, for his role in the miracles performed to make the revolutionary state sustainably economically and financially viable.
Leaders of neighboring fellow Organization of East Caribbean States, OECS, territories – particularly Windward Islands partners Dominica, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines – were pleased to annually seek and benefit from Coard’s related genius in preparing their national presentations to annual World Bank and International Monetary Fund, IMF, meetings in Washington.
But all that came to nothing after news of Bishop’s placement of arrest on October 17, 1983, allegedly on the personal order of Coard and implemented by his faction of the NJM and the PRA.
Between October 17 and October 25, Coard was clearly the most hated man in Grenada.
His detention – along with others – by the occupying U.S. troops and subsequent conviction to "life" imprisonment in a lengthy Kangaroo trial paid for by the Washington and held outside Grenada’s legal judicial jurisdiction at the time also offered Coard time to think – and rethink.
Nothing in his book will change the minds of those who absolutely refuse to entertain even a discussion about what he could have been thinking during those dark October days back then.
But for those still searching for answers to the many lingering questions about what really happened, Coard’s published account will certainly help better understand where his mind was at while everyone else was pointing at him.
Meanwhile, the lingering bitterness since 1983 has resulted in hardly anything (and nothing officially) being said and done in Grenada to remember Bishop on October 19, while the October 25 invasion, presented as a "rescue mission," is annually celebrated with a national holiday called "Thanksgiving Day" and dedicated to the military intervention.
A private Grenada Revolution Memorial Foundation exists, but there’s no shrine to honor Bishop in Grenada – and despite annual appeals, the Americans are still yet to release his body to the family for a decent Christian funeral.
Early efforts were made to erase the Bishop name from state institutions, with Fort Rupert, the PRA headquarters, now renamed Fort George (its original name).
But the Maurice Bishop International Airport, started by the Cubans and cited back in 1983 by the U.S. as a possible Soviet base, continues to bear the name of the tiny English-speaking Caribbean island’s still revered revolutionary prime minister.