by Anne Hickling-Hudson, Noreen Scott, Jacqueline McKenzie, Dennis Bartholomew, and Jean Tate. Endorsed by Dr Steve Cushion & Alan Scott
Some hostile online comments followed our article ‘Countering Misreporting about Phyllis Coard on the Occasion of her Death on September 6th, 2020’ in NOW Grenada (10 November 2020).
Most of the comments hide behind anonymity. We acknowledge the attempt at debate by one reader who uses his name. He seeks to condemn our article as a ‘brazen attempt to exculpate Phyllis Evans Coard for her part in the murder of Maurice Bishop’. In the spirit of debate, and given our desire to correct disinformation, we respond in this article to this person’s views.
We are not going to use his name. We are going to call him ‘Mr D’. The D stands for ‘disinformation’, for the views of Mr D stem from the disinformation about the Grenada tragedy spread from October 1983 by the Reagan government of the USA when it invaded the tiny island. Many people believed the US government’s cynical and self-serving lies on which this disinformation was based. Some still hang onto the false narrative, 37 years later. We want to ask them to rethink their understanding of the Grenada tragedy. It’s time.
Rectifying misinformation about individuals in the Grenada Tragedy.
Mr D says that our article ‘Countering Misrerporting’ is not only ‘brazen’, it is also ‘revisionist’. But he does not answer the question posed to readers by one of the authors of our article: ‘Are any of the facts in the above article incorrect?’ Instead, Mr D continues the tradition of implying baseless allegations against Phyllis Coard, without any attempt to consider the facts of the case. Our article was certainly ‘revisionist’ in that it aimed (i) to revise and (ii) to rectify the misreporting and the false stories about Phyllis Coard.
Mr D writes that he knows some members of the Evans family, and that: ‘I have absolutely no sympathy for her, her husband or her family’. We are perplexed as to why ‘her family’ (3 little children who had to grow up without their parents, a sister in Australia, and a few relatives in Jamaica) attracts this absence of sympathy.
A deeper puzzle is that it seems that Mr D could not care less that Phyllis and her husband (and by extension 12 other human beings) were convicted with death sentences in the following circumstances:
- on the basis of false evidence.
- on the basis of a trial condemned internationally as a travesty of justice, conducted by an unconstitutional court and hired prosecutors paid for by the US government.
- on the basis of an illegally constituted jury, some of whose members shouted abuse about the prisoners before they were even tried.
It is only such a trial that would have sentenced 14 people to death and 3 to life imprisonment on the sole, uncorroborated and demonstrably false evidence of one man, Cletus St Paul.
The convictions and the death sentences
Our article “Countering Misreporting” set out the above facts about the trial. We based them on information we obtained from several internationally respected investigative reports, which we named. Let us further quote directly some sections of the Amnesty International report setting out the falsity of the ‘evidence’ which the court in Grenada cynically utilised to condemn 14 people to death:
“Cletus St Paul was the former chief bodyguard of Prime Minister Bishop. He was arrested on the orders of the Central Committee, on 12 October 1983 and incarcerated from that date until 19 October. During questioning in preparation for and during the trial, St Paul reportedly gave 5 conflicting statements: 3 to the police, one at the preliminary inquiry, and one at trial.”
“The prosecution’s case rested heavily on the questionable testimony of one witness, Cletus St Paul. The trial judge made this clear when he instructed the jury on the importance of St Paul’s testimony and stated that without his evidence there could have been no convictions.”
“The issue of the conflicting statements of St Paul were scheduled to be examined by the Court of Appeal. The President of the Court, Justice Haynes, had stated that he intended to call St Paul to appear before the Court to answer questions about his testimony. However, Justice Haynes died before the hearing took place.”
Mr D is one of those who, more than 3 decades after the US invasion of Grenada, continue to perpetuate hostile and adverse comments endorsing the convictions and the death sentences visited on Phyllis Coard and the 13 others among the ‘Grenada 17’. In all conscience, such persons must engage with the Amnesty International material and the other sources that we cited. If they choose to maintain a hostile narrative, they need to cite alternative research to underpin their views.
To challenge disinformation, authentic records must be obtained
We would advise such persons to challenge their traditionally held hostility by studying the facts of the case. They could start by utilising ‘Freedom of Information’ regulations to obtain some of the documents hidden for decades by the US and UK governments. That is what we have done – we obtained long-hidden documents in order to study the case.
In addition to these documents, we have numerous court records and sworn affidavits that illustrate the disgraceful extent of torture and abuse that the invading soldiers and police officers perpetrated on the people they imprisoned in Grenada in 1983. Mr D seems happy with the US invasion. Does he support its torture, abuse and demonisation of Caribbean prisoners? Does he support the horrific treatment meted out to these prisoners during many of their long years of incarceration?
Mr D writes of his shock that our article ‘Countering Misreporting About Phyllis Coard’ showed no sympathy to Maurice’s widow and fatherless children.
Our article of 10 November was not about the entire story of the Grenada tragedy. It was solely, as the title states, to counter the fresh stream of misreporting and misrepresentation, among some journalists, concerning Phyllis Coard’s ‘conviction’.
This misreporting sought to mark the occasion of Phyllis’ recent death from illness.
For our part, it is entirely ethical to counter, revise and rectify the false implications and untrue statements marking the death of Phyllis Coard. In this quest, it is incumbent on us to base our writing on authentic investigative documents.
Investigating tragedy and catastrophe
Let us therefore say something now about the unbearable tragedy and trauma for the entire Caribbean when Maurice Bishop and seven other political leaders were killed at Fort Rupert, after events unexpectedly unfolded on 19 October 1983.
As a result of the horrific events that day, some 20 people tragically lost their lives and 40 to 50 were injured at Fort Rupert (which has since been renamed with the old colonial name of ‘Fort George’).
To compare, as a result of the unlawful US-led invasion starting on 25 October 1983, far more people than this were killed and injured. We might never know the exact figures, for the US government and parts of the media worked to hide and/or obfuscate the events of the invasion (see Chomsky, 1989). Readers can study some research investigating this matter at the website ‘Memorial List: Grenada Revolution Online’, and in Mike Massing’s article on Grenada in the ‘Index of Censorship’.
Conservatively, it can be estimated that at least 79 were killed, including: 19 Grenadian military personnel, 17 Grenadian civilians (who were patients in the mental hospital accidentally bombed by US military), 24 Cubans, 19 Americans. About 533 persons are estimated to have been injured, and about 638 captured by the invaders.
The figures of casualty, before and after the invasion, are likely to be higher than this. They speak to the tragic loss and injury of loved ones suffered by countless people, including US and Caribbean servicemen, as well as those falsely imprisoned. Some were so seriously injured they have had to endure life-changing incapacities and scars.
In short, the trauma is deep and lasting for many to this day. There can be no one who fails to feel sympathy and compassion for Maurice’s widow, his children who were left fatherless, and the traumatised families of all those killed – at the fort, and as a result of the US invasion.
Mr D comments, “I am very proud of my late cousin, Barbados Prime Minister Tom Adams, who led the effort to put an end to the bloody goings-on in Grenada.”
Yet sadly, it is evident that the ‘bloody goings-on’ were far worse AFTER the US invasion of this independent Commonwealth nation.
We will not here go into the complex events of why some Caribbean governments supported and others opposed the US invasion of Grenada. One carefully researched discussion of this is by Professor Patsy Lewis in the article ‘Revisiting the Grenada Invasion’ (Social and Economic Studies, 48: 3, 1999). Suffice it to say here that the invasion was condemned by the United Nations, in General Assembly Resolution 38/7, as a flagrant violation of international law. 108 member nations voted to support the resolution, and 9 nations voted against it.
Unanswered Questions: ‘Senseless Loss of Life”
Many unanswered questions remain about the catastrophe that occurred in Grenada. Mr D’s comment on his cousin Tom Adams, Prime Minister of Barbados in 1983, leads us to this section of our article.
A major question is why the initiative of an independent inquiry, agreed on by Grenadian leaders after the tragedy, did not take place. Documents obtained from UK archives, through Freedom of Information protocol, reveal that the Governor-General of Grenada, Sir Paul Scoon, had been informed soon after the unexpected tragedy of 19 October 1983, about how it had unfolded. We draw on the analysis of these documents by Alan Scott (2020).
In meetings on 22 October, it was agreed between the Governor-General and the army leaders in the emergency ‘revolutionary military council’ (RMC) that there should be an independent Commission of Inquiry into what had happened, and that the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations would be approached to assist with this. It was agreed that a civilian government would be established within a maximum of 14 days. The Governor-General indicated that he was extremely concerned about the threat of an invasion, since he found it unnecessary and feared it would lead to senseless loss of life. He promised to contact all Heads of State in the region to point out that the situation was under control, that the RMC was willing to receive representatives from their Governments to observe the situation, and that the RMC was going to actively seek discussions with the Americans about the situation on the island.
The Governor-General and the army leaders also talked about the issue of funerals for Maurice Bishop and others who had tragically died at the fort, with the Governor promising to contact Roman Catholic Bishop Charles and Anglican Archdeacon Huggins for them to handle private burials.
On 25 October, a few days after these meetings, the Americans invaded Grenada. The Governor-General signed a letter, dated 24 October, requesting help from Barbados’ Prime Minister JMG ‘Tom’ Adams, and ‘expressing his desire to see a peacekeeping force established in Grenada’ (A Scott, 2020).
Evidence suggests that this request, ostensibly from Sir Paul Scoon to Prime Minister Tom Adams, was backdated. The request was in a prepared letter that was taken to the Governor-General, Sir Paul, by a Barbados representative on 25 October. The letter did not mention the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States), of which Grenada was a member. “The appeal for assistance to the United States came from the OECS. However, there is no evidence of the Governor General appealing to that organisation” (A Scott, 2020). Barbados is not an OECS member-state nor is Jamaica. Yet both governments played an important role in endorsing and assisting the US invasion of Grenada.
Had an independent inquiry taken place as suggested, it is likely that the historical facts of what actually happened would have been established, and any further ‘senseless loss of life’ would have been averted.
The lack of an independent inquiry, one which would have been supported by the Commonwealth of Nations, means that important questions were not explored. 37 years later, the nation is still divided from the damaging rumours, as well as much false and misleading pre-trial propaganda. The events of the catastrophe left many families and individuals, including those who were falsely convicted, traumatised by suffering that included personal injury, torture and loss.
In relation to the tragedy at the fort, questions should be asked as to why there has never been an inquiry into how soldiers lost their lives on the fort before PM Bishop and his colleagues were killed. When the ‘Grenada 17’ appealed against their death sentences, and the Court of Appeal rejected their appeal, it must be asked why this judgement has been to this day hidden away from public scrutiny – although there is evidence that it was written. Another question is: why, after the US invasion, was there an immediate release of prisoners who had been found guilty of planting a bomb in Queens Park, Grenada, on 19 June 1980? The planting of the bomb was clearly a terrorist act aimed at killing many of the leaders of the People’s Revolutionary Government, who were attending a cultural event at the park. Instead, it killed 3 innocent children, and scores of others were injured.
The Bigger Picture
A bigger picture of the context of the Grenada tragedy is suggested by Dennis Bartholomew in his comment drawing attention to the role of the USA: “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” (Bartholomew 2020).
The catastrophic events that ended the Grenada Revolution have had a lasting impact on the nation, with ongoing trauma experienced by many. The real shame is that historical truths of what really happened have been distorted and hidden for political reasons.
Bartholomew, D (2020) ‘Open Letter to the People of Grenada’. In Now Grenada, 18 August 2020
Chomsky, N. (1989) Necessary Illusions. Thought Control in Democratic Societies. Appendix 1.
Lewis, P. ‘Revisiting The Grenada Invasion: The OECS’ Role, and its Impact on Regional and International Politics’, Social and Economic Studies, Vol. 48 No. 3, September 1999, pp. 85 – 120 (36 pages). Published by: Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies
Massing, M. (no date) ‘Grenada: We Will Never Know’. From ‘Index on Censorship,’ page 2/84
Memorial List. From website: The Grenada Revolution Online. ‘Who died on Grenadian soil between 13 March 1979 and 7 November 1983?’
Scott, A. (2020 ) ‘Was The Grenada Invasion Legal? October 19th to 25th 1983’. Published for the Committee for Human Rights in Grenada by Caribbean Labour Solidarity 2020 as a Special Issue of ‘Cutlass’, ISSN 2055-7035.