by Brian JM Joseph
“What Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement (NJM) did in Grenada was the most ground-breaking effort since Haiti in 1804 and Cuba in 1959.” Maurice Bishop, Grenada’s Revolutionary Prime Minister under the New Jewel Movement, made many strides in the short-lived ‘79-’83 revolution.
Comrade Bishop received a scholarship to Roman Catholic Presentation Brothers College in 1957; he then won the Principal’s Gold Medal for outstanding academic and overall ability. Bishop earned a law degree from the London School of Economics in 1966 after reading at the Holborn College of Law and the Gray’s Inn, 1 of the 4 Inns of Court that admitted students who wished to become barristers. Bishop was a voracious reader who studied the works of Marx, Engels, Stalin, Lenin, Mao Tse Tung and CLR James. Bishop considered Mwalimu Julius Nyerere one of his primary influences and studied the Arusha Declaration and the Ujamaa Essays on Socialism.
On 13 March 1979, in an almost bloodless coup, a young attorney named Maurice Bishop seized power with the backing of the New Jewel Movement. He raised the revolutionary consciousness level to a height it has never been before here in Grenada. Before coming to power, Comrade Bishop had a lengthy track record of frontline service that included co-founding the Grenada Assembly of Youth after Truth, the National Action Front, Forum, West Indian Students’ Society, Standing Conference of West Indian Organisation, Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, Grenada-Cuba Friendship Association and the Trinidadian National Joint Action Committee. His ability to mobilise the people was exceptional. He was the Almighty Saviour of this beautiful country of ours, and he paved the way for many; even those who didn’t embrace his ideology back then are now following in his footsteps. We lost Bishop to US imperialism and Reagan’s itchy trigger finger, but his memories will always live on in the hearts and minds of the revolutionaries especially those who are still championing his cause today.
Under Bishop’s leadership, while most Caribbean nations suffered terribly from the worldwide recession, Grenada achieved a 9% cumulative growth rate. Unemployment dropped from 49% to 14%. The government diversified agriculture, developed cooperatives and created an agri-industrial base that led to a reduction of the percentage of food and total imports from more than 40% to 28% at a time when market prices for agricultural products were collapsing worldwide.
The literacy rate, already at a respectable 85%, grew to about 98%, comparable to or higher than most industrialised countries. A free health care and secondary education system were established, the number of secondary schools tripled, and scores of Grenadians received scholarships for studies abroad. There were ambitious programmes in the development of the fishing industry, handicrafts, housing, tourism, the expansion of roads and transport systems and the upgrading of public utilities.
Maurice was a great visionary leader that loved his country, and he had her best interest at heart. He was our Grenadian hero, despite the overthrow of the (GULP) Grenada United Labor Party Administration which was led by the then deposed Prime Minister Sir Eric Matthew Gairy. Sir Eric’s was benevolent-dictator at the height of his political career; he later became a tyrant like his close friend Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte. Ugarte was a Chilean general, politician and the military ruler of Chile between 1973 and 1990; he remained the Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army until 1998. Sir Eric’s reign ended in a coup d’état, by definition, ‘a sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government and it was done by the guns rather than ballots.’ Receiving independence in 1974, the island was ruled initially by the despotic and eccentric Prime Minister Sir Eric Gairy, whose murderous secret police known as the Mongoose Squad, and his passion for flying saucers, the occult and extra-terrestrial communication had brought him notoriety throughout the hemisphere.
In a 1980 roundtable discussion with The New Internationalist Magazine, the following are excerpts from that interview. Bishop said “we inherited a situation of absolutely no planning. It was anarchy. In the 1918 budget, there was $15 for an economist for the whole year. When we pressed in parliament we were told that was a token provision in the event they found an economist. There was no planning. Gairy believed he was a mystic.”
On the issue of Aid, he spoke what was on his mind. He said and I quote: “Non-alignment for us is the right to build our own system and the right to have relations with all countries that we deem desirable – which essentially means all countries bar South Africa. The one condition on aid is there must be no strings attached which we find unacceptable. If one group says to us ‘you must balance your budget’ and that’s also our goal, well then, there’s no problem. If some lending agency says ‘you must cut social spending and put people out of jobs,’ well that’s not part of our objective and we would not accept that kind of aid.”
His thoughts on Democracy and Elections are the following: “We don’t believe that a parliamentary system is the most relevant in our situation. After all, we took power outside the ballot-box and we are trying to build our Revolution on the basis of a new form of democracy: grassroots and democratic, creating mechanisms and institutions which really have relevance to the people, If we succeed it will bring in question this whole parliamentary approach to democracy which we regard as having failed in the region. We believe that elections could be important, but for us, the question is one of timing. We don’t regard it now as a priority. We would much rather see elections come when the economy is more stable when the Revolution is more consolidated. When more people have in fact had benefits brought to them. When more people are literate and able to understand what the meaning of a vote really is and what role they should have in building a genuine participatory democracy.”
What also connects Bishop and President Mugabe is not only British colonialism, or the fact their ascensions to political power are only one year apart, but also their close ties to Cuba and that the ReaganAadministration was obsessed with claiming both governments as Cold War casualties.
In his epic speech titled “New Tourism,” Bishop highlighted the following areas Old Tourism, Imposition of Cultural Values, Tourist Plant as Enclave, Racism and Black Self-Image, to name a few. He considered old tourism as a problem largely because of its colonialist and imperialist connotation.
Bishop noted that just like sugar, bauxite, bananas and oil, the Caribbean tourist plant was owned and controlled by multinational corporations like Hilton and Holiday Inn. He also pointed out that throughout the Caribbean the foreign hotels had sturdy buildings with water, sewage and electricity while the local villages and dwellings were just the opposite.
Bishop praised Cuba for the following skilled manpower not available in the country, vital equipment such as bulldozers, SME technical expertise and cement and steel. Maurice had raised $19 million from Algeria, Libya, Syria, and Iraq towards the airport the Reagan Administration called an airstrip for Soviet aircraft. This was as bogus as the claim that Libya bombed a disco in Berlin, West Germany, which was the justification to bomb Libya on 15 April 1986. He also stated there as a correlation between Reagan planning regime change in Grenada and cutting off wheat to Nicaragua and food aid to Mozambique.
Bishop survived blockades from the United States Government. When the Reagan Administration assumed office, American hostility increased. Economic assistance through the World Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank was blocked, aid from the International Monetary Fund was restricted, and participation in the Caribbean Basin Initiative was not even considered. Reports from The Washington Post indicated that since 1981 the CIA had engaged in efforts to destabilise the Grenadian government politically and economically. In August 1981, US armed forces staged a mock invasion of Grenada on the island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico. As in the real invasion that would come later, paratroopers secured key points on the Grenada-sized island, followed by a marine amphibious assault with air and naval support, totalling almost 10,000 troops.
There was also an assassination attempt on his life. A bomb was planted at the foot of the steps of the pavilion of the Queen’s Park. It was planted in such a way that it was directly below the point where the leadership of the country was sitting down. It was timed to go off at 3 o’clock and at 3 o’clock, it did go off. The fragments which were collected by our security forces indicate that the clock was connected to sticks of dynamite, and also indicate that it was done in a very sophisticated way.
Bishop’s life was claimed at the tender age of 39 just like Dr King and Malcolm. A few more African giants we lost in their thirties, Steve Biko (31), Frantz Fanon (36), Thomas Sankara (37) and Alexander Pushkin (37). Many Grenadians living at home and abroad, African leader Robert Mugabe and others paid homage to the former prime minister of Grenada, Maurice Bishop, who was assassinated on 19 October 1983.
The US invasion of Grenada was the first major US military operation since the end of the Vietnam War. Indeed, it may have in part been a test of the so-called “Vietnam syndrome,” the purported “affliction” that made it difficult for the American public to support US military intervention without just cause.
Those who only choose to deal with this problem on the surface have arrived at the bogus conclusion that our history is hidden, yet our former colonisers and enslavers dangle the truth in libraries and bookstores daring us to seek it.