by Dr. Lawrence A. Joseph
It was with a deep sense of sadness that I learnt of the passing of former Governor-General of Grenada, Sir Paul Scoon. He passed away on Monday 2 September last, aged 78. During the 1960s Sir Paul taught and enabled me to obtain the advanced level Cambridge General Certificate in Education (GCE) in history and geography at the Grenada Boys’ Secondary School (GBSS). Later on I joined him as a teacher at the said school in 1964 where we taught together for a number of years. During those days I got to know Sir Paul very well. Little did I know however, that later on in life this gentleman would virtually save Grenada from the jaws of communism.
After serving as Chief Education Officer and Cabinet Secretary to the Gairy administration for some years, Sir Paul left Grenada in 1973 for London where he took up the post of Deputy Director of the Commonwealth Foundation. I remember visiting him at his home in Kew Gardens whilst I was studying in London. Whilst in London, he was approached by then Prime Minister Eric Gairy to become Governor-General of Grenada, which offer he accepted. He was eventually sworn into that prestigious position at York House, in St. George’s on 4 October 1978 becoming the country’s second Governor General since independence on 7 February 1974. Sir Leo De Gale was the first.
As fate would have it, the ink was hardly dried on his instrument of appointment, when on 13 March 1979, the New Jewel Movement (NJM) led by one Maurice Bishop, then Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, seized power from the constitutionally elected government of Prime Minister Sir Eric Gairy by way of a coup d’etat. Maurice Bishop declared himself to be Prime Minister of a self-styled People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) which then suspended the Grenada Constitution, abandoned Parliament, seized legislative and executive control of the state and passed laws by decree.
Paradoxically, Sir Paul Scoon, was allowed to remain as Governor-General. One could only speculate as to the reasons why the revolutionaries allowed Sir Paul to continue in that position. For one, the agenda of the PRG did not coincide with that of a parliamentary system of government as provided for by section 23 of the Grenada Constitution. Moreover, according to section 57 (2) the Governor-General, representing the Queen, should have executive authority. These provisions were in stark contrast to what the NJM/PRG had in mind for Grenada, as from the beginning they planned to turn Grenada into a one-party Marxist/Leninist state.
Marxism thrives on having a one-party state with the political philosophy of communism. This political system abhors the idea that individuals as ‘petit bourgeoisie’ should engage in having their own businesses with the ‘proletariat’ as their workers. All means of production must be owned by the state, with the ultimate aim of having a classless society. Proponents of communism are generally atheists, as God plays no significant role in their lives. Whether or not this alien system of government was applicable to Grenada leaves a lot to be desired. What can be said though, is that a majority of Grenadians were completely unaware that communism was beginning to take firm footing in the society.
Seemingly, the main reason for the paradox of maintaining the position of Governor-General and to leave Sir Paul in that position was to give some measure of reassurance to the Grenadian people and to the world at large for the time being that everything would be okay. This same reassurance was given by the PRG as clearly explained by then Prime Minister Bishop to his close comrades in the famous Line of March speech. He explained his cunning that he kept certain capitalists and petit bourgeois on the cabinet so that imperialism would not get too excited as they would believe that everything was alright. It was downright deceit on the part of the PRG.
The backdrop to all of this is that the NJM/PRG in their bid to firmly implant communism into the country against the wishes of the majority of Grenadians, committed far more human rights atrocities than those for which Gairy was accused. Nearly three thousand individuals (referred to as “counters”) were imprisoned for a number of years without being charged or tried for any specific offence; properties were seized without the owners being compensated for them; there was absolutely no press or individual freedom and there were substantive claims that many were tortured.
Then came 19 October 1983 when all hell broke loose in Grenada. Just four and a half years after the coup d’etat, an internal conflict amongst the ranks of the NJM/PRG resulted in the summary execution of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, some of his cabinet colleagues and a number of civilians on Fort Rupert (originally and presently called Fort George). A Revolutionary Military Council (RMC) then purportedly took over control of the state declaring a four day “shoot on sight” curfew.
Whilst one General Hudson Austin was the front man for the RMC it is now known that one Bernard Coard was the mastermind behind it. The RMC lasted for a few days until a military intervention by some Caribbean forces assisted by the United States military on 25 October 1983 brought back some measure of respite to the country within a few days. A survey which was conducted by UWI lecturer Patrick Emmanuel in 1984 indicated that a substantial majority of Grenadians supported the intervention.
It is now known that Governor-General Sir Paul Scoon as the only executive authority left in the state in accordance with the Constitution, gave his acquiescence for the intervention to take place in order to save the state from further chaos. From then on the courage, astuteness, professionalism and patriotism of Sir Paul Scoon remained supreme. By invoking section 57 of the Grenada Constitution, Sir Paul declared a state of emergency, acquired executive and legislative control and passed laws by Proclamations.
He soon appointed an Advisory Council headed by one Nicholas Brathwaite, then a retired civil servant. This interim government lasted from 15 November 1983 to the 4 of December 1984. This was one day after general elections in Grenada were held for the first time since the coup d’etat and one Herbert Blaize was appointed as Prime Minister. The New National Party (NNP) won fourteen seats; Gairy’s Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) won one. Since then Grenadians have had six general elections: in 1990; 1995; 1999; 2003; 2008 and 2013.
Sir Paul Scoon was therefore instrumental in preventing communism from taking a firm foothold and flourishing in Grenada; enabled stability to return to the state after the mayhem which occurred on 19 October 1983; substantially reinstated the Constitution and laid the foundation for Grenadians to once again participate in the democratic process. He served Grenada well for fourteen years. All praises go towards Sir Paul Scoon. His exemplary contribution to Grenada has been well documented in his book entitled “Survival for Service”. May his Soul rest in Peace.