22 April 1956 – 15 January 2020: A true Grenadian patriot and gentle revolutionary, unjustly incarcerated for 25 years.
15 January 2021 marks the first anniversary of Colville (Kamau) McBarnette’s unexpected departure from our world.
McBarnette a true Grenadian patriot, teacher, renowned writer and father, was unjustly incarcerated at HM Richmond Hill Prison for 25 years after the USA led an unlawful invasion of the island, on 25 October 1983. This was followed by a US funded show trial that was riddled with irregularities. Astonishingly, the written judgement of the Court of Appeal justifying the convictions in the face of these irregularities, has still to be published.
To highlight the unjust incarceration please examine below, the timeline of McBarnette’s movements as well as the summary of his indicative statement. McBarnette made it clear that he was innocent of the charges brought against him and that Cletus St Paul’s evidence about seeing him at Fort Frederick on October 1983, in a huddle prior to the departure of soldiers to Fort Rupert was false and he maintained his innocence.
Having followed the irregularities of the trial, which Amnesty International and other legal experts described as ‘Fatally Flawed’, we appeal to all progressive Grenadian leaders – those who really care about Black Lives, History and Natural Justice to hold an Independent Inquiry into the events leading up to and on 19 October, with a view of exonerating all those who were unjustly incarcerated.
Summary of Colville McBarnette’s defence put to court of trial
- On the morning of 19 October 1983, I went to Mt Wheldale where the official residences of both Bishop and Coard were located. The night before, a meeting between Bishop and a delegation of the CC aimed at settling the issues in dispute, adjourned on a positive note and was to conclude that morning. I went there in anticipation of news of a positive conclusion.
- It was while there and before the meeting could have resumed, that a large, agitated crowd arrived, chanting “No Bishop, No Revolution.” The crowd eventually smashed the gate into Bishop’s residence. Bishop left with the crowd.
- Shortly thereafter, I discovered that the radio station had suddenly gone off the air. As manager, in the circumstances, I was alarmed and that became my principal concern and preoccupation. While some of the CC members who were present at Coard’s residence headed for Fort Frederick at the urging of security personnel present on the compound, I sped away in the direction of the radio station 3 miles to the south, in Morne Rouge, St George’s.
- I discovered at the radio station that most of the workers had been sent home. I was informed that the radio station had been taken off the air as a precautionary measure due to information that an attempt to take over the station could be made. When I got to the radio station, the Chief Engineer, Mr Dalton Lashley, was not among the few persons I met there. Mr Lashley was summoned to the radio station at my request and soon I had the station back on air.
- It was while I was at the radio station that I, along with others who were present, heard the sound of distant gunfire and what sounded like an explosion.
- I soon learnt that the firing came from Fort Rupert, the army headquarters, but it was when I went to Fort Frederick, shortly thereafter, that I became aware of the tragedy which had occurred.
- On 22 November 1983 I was detained by US and Caribbean forces, beaten and tortured, forced to sign a statement saying that I was at a Central Committee meeting on the morning of 19 October where the Central Committee, meeting in a room at the top level of Fort Frederick, took a unanimous decision to kill Maurice Bishop and others. I was:
- Stripped of my shirt
- Placed on a chair and handcuffed behind my back
- Repeatedly beaten with fists to my stomach and head
- Slapped repeatedly on both ears
- Hands were occasionally placed on my mouth to muffle my screams, [but there was at least one Grenadian who was at the CID at the time and heard my screams]
- My handkerchief was used to clean down a table
- A very cold liquid was poured on me
- I was told that the beatings would continue until I told them that the CC met and took the decision to kill Maurice Bishop etc.
- Threats were made to kill me
- Threats were made to terrorise my mother and father, wife and children.
- Doctor Gopaul examined me twenty-four hours later and found, inter alia, “tenderness in certain regions of the body.”
- I made it clear that I am innocent of the charges and that Cletus St Paul’s evidence about seeing me at Fort Frederick on October 1983, in a huddle prior to the departure of soldiers to Fort Rupert was false. I maintain my innocence.
The above is a true summary of the defence I put before the court of trial.
Tribute to Kamau McBarnette
Delivered by John “Chalky” Ventour on behalf of his Grenada 17 Comrades
29 January 2020
Today, with heavy hearts we pay tribute to our dear comrade, brother and friend Kamau McBarnette. He was progressive, a revolutionary and a patriot. He was hardworking, history-making, humorous, humble, honourable. These 5 H’s capture his character, his ESSENCE….
We have known Kamau all our lives: as children, in school, church, in the 1970s anti-Gairy struggles, during the Revolution, in prison and freedom. His was a life dedicated to, and sacrificing for others, a product of being a part of a close-knit family that had strong Christian values.
Kamau had a quiet and calm disposition which belied the inner strength that he possessed, a strength that was needed when his life was severely challenged. Kamau was a student activist in GBSS, a founding member of Grenada’s Union of Secondary Schools, and someone who played an important role in the formation of the Students Organisation for Caribbean Regional Unity. After Kamau graduated from the GBSS in 1975, he immediately undertook to facilitate evening classes for O’level Commerce students and also held weekly individual classes with non-GBSS students. All of these he did free of cost. Kamau was passionate about the steelpan and a diehard Angel Harps member, Captain and Manager. One of the biggest set of arguments among us in prison was over pan: Harps vs Commancheroes vs Dimensions.
Growing up in the 1970s, with the rise of the National Liberation Movements and Black Power Movement that swept the Caribbean, North America and the world, Kamau became deeply involved. In 1975, while still a teacher, he joined the New Jewel Movement (NJM). As one of the party’s political activists he participated in various community projects. He was close to the people, doing his main political work during the Gairy years in the Carenage, Tyrrel Street, Green Street and Lucas Street areas; selling the party’s newspaper, and stopping to chat with everyone about unfolding events.
Kamau was the executive officer of the Grenada Human Rights Council in 1977 and after visiting Cuba in 1978 for the World Festival of Youth & Students he guy played a critical role in founding of the Grenada-Cuba Friendship Society.
Whether it was painting the streets while dodging police, demonstrating, going house to house, mobilising people, or writing for the New Jewel Newspaper (the paper with the largest circulation at the time), Kamau sacrificed his time, his youth and talents to the cause of the people and the NJM. On the morning of the March 13th 1979 Revolution, for which Kamau worked hard to realise, he was out on the streets patrolling. Within days he became the coordinator of NJM’s National Secretariat.
In November 1979 when the Central Committee (CC) of the NJM was formed, Kamau was elected a member, due to his hard work during the anti-Gairy struggles. He remained a member of the CC throughout the period of the Grenada Revolution. In 1980 he was appointed the national chairman of the Grenada Festival Committee, responsible for the organisation of activities to mark the first anniversary of the Revolution. In April of that year, Kamau participated in a one-month training in management and programme production, with WBAI Radio in New York. On his return he was appointed manager of Radio Free Grenada (RFG) and at times during the period 1980 and 1983, he served as the manager of Television Free Grenada, and also the Manager/Editor of Free West Indian, of which he was previously a columnist.
Kamau was subsequently made the Deputy Secretary for Information, assisting in policy formulation and implementation and with additional overall responsibility for the Government Information Service (GIS), Television Free Grenada (TFG) and the Free West Indian Newspaper (FWI). Kamau was a successful manager being able to provide the balance between the members of staff who worked before the revolution and the revolutionaries.
In 1981 he was appointed Secretary for Information, a Deputy Minister. For the whole period of the Revolution, Kamau worked tirelessly and selflessly for the process that had brought so much material gains and national pride. And then came the political crisis and subsequent tragedy of October 1983 and his imprisonment.
Kamau was emotionally shattered by the events and continued to feel deep sorrow and regret for what occurred for the rest of his life. For the next 25 years, Kamau languished in prison only because he was a member of the NJM Central Committee. As part of the leadership of the party, NJM, he acknowledged shared moral responsibility for the tragic events of 19 October 1983, but strenuously denied any criminal involvement in the death of Maurice Bishop or any other.
This he maintained to his dying day.
For 25 years Kamau’s life was in turmoil, fighting for his life against forces that were bent on killing him. Fighting for a free and fair trial, and against a Kangaroo trial which had been set up for him. Even though he wanted to live he was prepared to die rather than lie to live. Kamau was sentenced to death and had to live on death row for 4 1/2 years without any sheet, blanket, underwear, and with the light burning 24/7. Living through torture and threats and violence. Left locked in his cell by officers who fled, for each of the 5 fires that ravaged the prison. Starved for 9 days.
I remember the early days when they were rushing us to get to court so that we could get a ‘speedy’ trial. Kamau was not one to rush. That morning when the foreign soldiers came for him he was still in his underwear and in their haste they handcuffed Kamau just as he was and escorted him to the prison gate lodge. Kamau quietly followed them. Horrified, the local prison officers stopped them. Kamau was allowed to go back and complete his dress.
In March of 2005, he suffered 2 broken hands in a freak accident, had to be hospitalised for more than 2 months and underwent surgery on 2 occasions. He did not regain the full use of his right hand until 2007. Through it all he never knew if he would ever be free again.
In a period when we were totally isolated and ostracised, it was the renewal of his religious faith and the solid support of his family and close friends that kept him sane as he took the journey one day at a time. Kamau was devoted to his children and his family. He used any opportunity he found to maintain contact with them. That love and devotion was mutual. They visited him often, and he encouraged, advised, and inspired them to achieve all that they were capable of. Their achievements filled him with joy.
But there were light moments too.
You know how Grenadians like to give nicknames. Kamau’s in prison was “Pretty Boy.” He got the name while playing a game of Dominoes. He had such a lovely hand that he kept smiling and exclaiming, “Ah pretty, boy! That’s a pretty boy!”; the name stuck. Pretty Boy possessed a huge wit… One day, after the commutation of our sentences and our lives had been saved, a few of us were optimistically discussing how long we might be further imprisoned when Kamau butted in “Let me raise all yuh mood and morale, eh…all yuh better prepare to break Mandela’s record.”
That was no laughing matter. We came close to equalling Mandela’s 27 years, 6 months and 1 week in prison.
Once we were released from solitary confinement Kamau began teaching inmates to read and write in the Prison’s Education Programme. He counselled inmates and attended weekly church services. He also successfully organised and ran the prison’s basketball competition for inmates and for almost 3 years single-handedly prepared the weekly visit-passes for the families and friends of the inmates. Despite his contribution to the rehabilitation programme he found time for his own intellectual and spiritual development, studying and writing. Kamau participated in the arts and crafts exhibition, showing off his originality, creativity and some skills, producing craftwork, using items which are normally discarded.
The events of October 1983, and the extremely harsh conditions of his subsequent imprisonment, had left him profoundly traumatised. And though his health was severely affected he seldom complained or whined or blamed anyone. Indeed, it was those terrible situations, and having to live through so many harrowing experiences, that contributed to Kamau growing as a person, becoming even more God centred, relying more on the goodness and grace of God.
With His help, Kamau was able to purge himself of the bitterness and anger that had taken hold of him. His focus on helping others also gave him the strength to focus less on his own almost hopeless situation. Service to humanity had been the driving force in Kamau’s life. It was never for material or personal gain.
The desire to see poor people’s lives bettered was what drove him to become involved in the students’ struggles in the early 1970s, the anti- Gairy struggles and in building the Grenada Revolution. He did it all not because he was looking for anything for himself, but because he wanted to give all of himself for a cause he believed in and was prepared to die for. Kamau’s love of people and music; the leadership he showed politically, and culturally; his role in the cultural and musical life of the Carenage and surrounding areas, will never be forgotten.
Today, as we say farewell to our dear brother, our comrade and dear friend, we remember his sacrifice, his multifaceted contribution to our beloved country, his pain, his sorrows, his fears, his joys, because they are ours too.
Kamau can indeed say like Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Goodbye, Pretty-Boy! Wherever you are in the distant Universe, like a star looking down on us, with your gentle, winsome smile ~ probably saying, “Chalky, it’s great up here, come and join me”. Sorry, Pretty Boy, I ent ready yet! May you Rest In Peace! May God bless us all. Whatever, wherever, you will always be with us!!
Committee of Human Rights in Grenada, UK
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