by Dennis Bartholomew
In response to a recent letter that I had published in The New Today, I was invited by the editor of the paper to write again giving more information on what happened on Fort Frederick and Fort Rupert, as then named, on 19 October 1983.
I accepted the invitation, and what is set out below is my detailed response. Sadly, it seems that the truth hurts and the letter has not been published, so instead, I am sending it as an open letter to the people of Grenada. However, in doing so, I need to expand on why I offered Cletus St Paul the opportunity finally tell the truth.
Several social commentators have conflated a number of events of October 1983 with the issues I have raised in my original letter to my friend Cletus. Matters such as the events leading to the crisis in the New Jewel Movement (NJM), the US invasion, etc., are not what I am addressing. My letter centres on the trial of the Grenada 17 (G17), including the surviving members of the NJM’s leadership and that only.
The court record shows that the sole evidence used to convict the members of the NJM Central Committee was that of Cletus St Paul. In his summing up, the trial judge made it clear that without this evidence there could be no conviction.
In summary, the key evidence that he gave was this. In the late morning of 19 October 1983, a crowd released Maurice Bishop from his house arrest. Bernard Coard and the other members of the Central Committee fled to Fort Frederick. There, they held a meeting and ordered troops to go to Fort Rupert, capture and liquidate Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop.
No other person witnessed this meeting and it transpired that at the time the Central Committee members arrived at Fort Frederick Cletus St Paul was miles away. He was in fact under arrest in Calivigny, at Camp Fedon, for admitting his part in spreading the false rumour that Phyllis and Bernard Coard were plotting to kill Maurice Bishop. Camp Fedon was then a Peoples Revolutionary Army (PRA) base.
When he did arrive at Fort Frederick, he was in the company of Errol George, one of the members of the security personnel attached to the leadership of the government. George testified at the preliminary hearing that he saw no such meeting and indeed, from where they were sitting it would have been impossible to see it. All visitors to Fort Frederick were entered into a log with the time of arrival. It would, therefore, have been simple to show who was on the Fort and what time they arrived. This log was taken by the Americans after the invasion and they declined to return it for the trial. Your readers may question why the document was not returned if it supported the evidence of St Paul. Although he was listed as a prosecution witness, Errol George was not called by the prosecution to give evidence and the defence was denied the opportunity to call him.
The report on the trial produced by the world-renowned human rights NGO, Amnesty International, indicated that the original President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Haynes, expressed considerable concerns about the evidence of St Paul and intended to call him to the court to be questioned. As when he requested his police statements the contradictions between them and his trial evidence were so great, he could hardly believe that they were from the same person. Sadly, Justice Hayes died before the hearing where St Paul was to be questioned, and when the defence lawyers requested copies of the statements the next morning, the Appeal Court refused the application for St Paul’s prior statements to be examined, having accepted an assurance from the prosecution, apparently given out of court, that there were no contradictions.
With regard to what occurred on Fort Rupert, I and colleagues have spent considerable time researching this and now have a number of affidavits from soldiers who were present on the day in question. The actual events unfolded as follows.
When Maurice Bishop was released from his house arrest by the crowd, he did not go to the Market Square as expected, but instead went to Fort Rupert, which was the People’s Revolutionary Army headquarters. As the crowd approached, the senior officer on the fort ordered the troops not to fire on the crowd, who then entered the fort. The soldiers were then ordered to put down their weapons and the senior officer was ordered to open the armoury from which weapons were distributed to civilians by those with Bishop. Civilians with military training were asked to come forward to be armed. Plans to seize the main armoury and other PRA camps were announced. A number of PRA soldiers have stated that a female soldier was stripped of her uniform and left in her underwear in front of Maurice and other leaders who made no attempt to stop this.
When the crowd first arrived at the fort, telecommunications were still in place and there was a call to Fort Frederick explaining that weapons were being distributed to the demonstrators. However, persons were sent to the telephone exchange with a list of numbers to disconnect and at the same time the army’s communications system was jammed, so there was no effective communication system in place; in particular, there was no communication possible between the two forts.
On receiving the information that arms were being given to members of the crowd on Fort Rupert, it was decided that the fort had to be recaptured, not least because explosives were stored in the tunnels and that one stray cigarette could have destroyed the whole area. Cadet Officer, Conrad Mayers, was therefore ordered to retake the army headquarters with an armed unit comprised of 3 armoured vehicles. Their orders were to enter firing into the air to create shock and disorientation; quickly secure the high ground and to then chase the crowd out of the fort. If they came under fire, they could return it, but this was very much the last resort. It is clear that the soldiers did not expect to be fired on as they were sitting on top of the vehicles rather than inside and some were casually waving at the public on the way to the fort.
As the units arrived at Fort Rupert and just as they were about to take the hill leading to the Bottom Square of the fort, they were ambushed by armed civilians firing from the fort. A soldier in the first armoured car, Warrant Officer Mason, was shot multiple times in the chest and died instantly. The PRA soldiers are adamant that firing started from the fort and have indicated that the first shots were fired by an Asian looking man. The units returned fire but this was targeted at the Operation Room from where they had been fired on, not on the crowd. There was an exchange of gunfire and explosions and people panicked and bolted in every direction.
In the chaos, it was difficult for the soldiers in the second armoured car to manoeuvre their way to the Bottom Square a few yards away. When they reached the Bottom Square, they discovered that both Cadet Officer Mayers and Private Martin Simon had been shot, the former in the lower abdomen and the latter with 4 bullets in the lower chest.
Having secured the fort, the soldiers placed Bishop and the others under arrest. By all accounts, the soldiers were clearly enraged by the ambush and when the news came that Mayers had died from his wounds all discipline broke down and the unit’s commander admits that he “lost it”. He ordered a firing squad to be assembled and Maurice Bishop and the others were executed. He has made it clear publicly that he was under no prior instruction to execute Bishop as alleged by St Paul and he had no communication with anyone at Fort Frederick once Fort Rupert had been secured. He was bitterly angry over what he saw as a betrayal of the Revolution by Bishop and the reported death of one of his closest friends had pushed him over the edge.
I appreciate that this is not the version of events that the people of Grenada have been fed over many years or are happy with, but as one Grenadian said to Bernard Coard when he was launching his first book in the UK, “I have hated you for years, and now I see that I was sold a Yankee lie.” The revolutionary period was not perfect, but there were significant gains for the people of Grenada brought about by their own endeavours. The US has systematically sought to discredit everything brought about by the Revolution and the people who organised it, including the ordinary Grenadians who sacrificed so much to achieve these gains. The false evidence of Cletus St Paul was designed to destroy the reputation of the leaders of the Revolution, like that which befell the leaders of the Fédon Revolution, thus ensuring that the noble experiment of self-determination would not be tried again.
The facts of what happened on Fort Rupert on the afternoon of 19 October 1983 are known to numerous Grenadians, a large number of whom are alive and can be asked for their recollections. Likewise, there would have been many on fort Frederick who could provide factual testimony as to what happened. The US-created narrative rests upon one man, Cletus St Paul.
I must confess that I am a little late to this part of Grenada’s history. An article was published in the New York Times in August 1991 that makes the same point about Cletus’ role that I do now. Were Cletus to correct his evidence, there would be no case against the Central Committee who were convicted of the murder of Maurice Bishop.
Come on Cletus. Do not let your false witness cascade through the ages, now is the time to tell the truth.