by Marise La Grenade-Lashley
There has been a slew of articles in the press and social media on Cuba and Grenada in recent weeks. These articles seem designed to condemn Maurice Bishop, Fidel Castro, and the Cuban Revolution.
The fact that these articles and social media commentary are coming on the heels of the 19 October 2023 ceremony at the National Stadium leads me to wonder whether a concerted disinformation campaign is underway to portray Grenada’s Maurice Bishop and Cuba’s Fidel Castro in a very negative light.
In previous years, 19 October memorial activities have been quite muted, with a small crowd gathering at Fort Rupert to pay tribute to the 19 October martyrs. This year’s activities were thrust into the public spotlight, providing many Grenadians with hitherto unknown information.
It has always seemed to me that the modus operandi of the members of the Coard faction has been to seek, unsuccessfully, to discredit anyone who criticises them or exposes their role in the collapse of the Grenada revolution.
The reprint of Chaulkie Ventour’s letter penned some 35 years ago, struck me as both enlightening and frightening. Enlightening in the sense that it reflected an unsettling lack of remorse for his involvement in the events of 19 October, and frightening in the sense that this lack of remorse could, quite plausibly, lead him and his like-minded friends to commit the same acts again if given the opportunity.
Ventour’s article is a puerile attempt to cast blame on Cuba for the collapse of the Grenada revolution. Ventour states that “after 5 years of US propaganda, and even after a 9-month Kangaroo Show Trial which pronounced me and the “Grenada 17” guilty of murder, the majority of Grenadian people are still confused: They do not understand why October 1983 occurred in Grenada.”
Really? Ventour’s comment about the majority of Grenadians being confused about the driving force behind 19 October reflects a certain level of arrogance and, at the same time, insults the intelligence of the Grenadian people. In October 1983, Grenadians understood all too well that the events of 19 October were prompted by a small clique of blindly ambitious ultra-leftists (Coardites) who were seeking to impose themselves on Grenadians against their will.
In the days preceding 19 October, that same clique silenced Bishop by putting him under house arrest and then fanned out across the country, going to government offices, businesses, small shops, the unfinished airport and just about anywhere to try to sell to the people the impractical idea of joint leadership. To do so, they accused Bishop of not wanting to share power with Bernard Coard and of engaging in “one-manism,” a description that simply did not square with the man Grenadians knew and loved. Furthermore, there was always the gnawing perception by some during the Grenada revolution that Coard would one day try to unseat Bishop. The joint leadership proposal only served to reinforce this perception.
The efforts of the Coard faction to discredit Bishop, therefore, backfired as the people refused to buy what the members of this faction were selling and instead became increasingly outraged over Bishop’s arrest. They wanted to hear from Bishop himself.
Castro realised that placing Bishop under house arrest could lead to bloodshed. On Saturday, 15 October 1983, he sent a message to the Central Committee (basically the Coard faction) stating Cuba’s principle of refraining from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries while at the same time expressing concern over the political situation in Grenada. He expressed his hope that the difficulties facing the party “could be overcome with the greatest of wisdom, serenity, loyalty to principles and generosity.”
Castro’s advice would be pointedly ignored by the Coard clique.
Vincent Noel was a longstanding member of the NJM, a trade union leader, and a member of the People’s Revolutionary Government who was killed at the Fort on 19 October. On 17 October 1983, he wrote a letter to the Central Committee in which he expressed horror over the spectacle he witnessed when a meeting of the entire party was held on 13 October 1983 at Butler House, ostensibly to resolve the joint leadership crisis. Describing the meeting in his letter, a stunned Noel stated, “Given the serious nature of what we were there to discuss, one would have thought that the discussions and decisions would have taken place in a calm and sober way.” Instead, Vincent witnessed what he described as “a horrendous display of militarism, hatred, and emotional vilification.” This hatred and vilification were targeted at Maurice Bishop. Seeing the behaviour of persons aligned with Coard in the days preceding 19 October, Vincent’s letter also stated, in a tone heavy with gloom and foreboding, “…By our own collective responsibility, we have begun to cannibalise ourselves … And while we brutally destroy ourselves, the corbeau of imperialism and reaction anxiously make preparation to pounce.”
Vincent Noel was correct. The revolution was committing suicide.
Castro did have a very close relationship with Bishop. However, Cuba was not responsible for the collapse of the revolution. The Grenada Revolution collapsed because the Grenadian people did not want joint leadership, stated this loudly and clearly by the thousands on 19 October, and the Coard faction refused to bow to the wishes of the people, opting instead to open fire on them and slaughter the leaders of the revolution.
Ventour also states, with reference to his fabrication of Cuba’s responsibility for the destruction of the Grenada revolution: “I try to avoid thinking (and speaking) about this for it really hurts.”
Perhaps Ventour should think about the following:
- What really hurts is the senseless slaughter of Bishop and his colleagues at Fort Rupert on 19 October when their Grenada assassins lined them up against a wall and riddled their bodies with bullets to the point where body parts were blown off.
- What really hurts is that these assassins ratcheted up their barbarity by transporting the bodies of those murdered in a truck to Calivigny, dumping the bodies into a muddy pit, throwing wood and tyres on top of the bodies, and setting the pit on fire.
- What really hurts and hurts deeply is that the Coard faction never had the humanity or decency to turn over the bodies to their traumatised families for a dignified burial, despite repeated pleas from them to do so. Had this faction managed to muster a modicum of compassion to immediately hear and respond to the cries of the families for the bodies, there would be no haunting mystery that still lingers in Grenada, some 40 years later, surrounding the whereabouts of the remains of those slain at the Fort on 19 October. In fact, had there been no 19 October, there would have been no 25 October.
- What really hurts is that Bishop was never given a chance to tell the people of Grenada his side of the story. To paraphrase an African proverb, until the lion speaks, only the hunters are heard. The lion will never speak; he was silenced 40 years ago in a hail of bullets. Although the Coard faction described its trial as taking place in a kangaroo court, the fact is that its members had a trial, were imprisoned and later released, and, for the most part, are alive, well, and walking around Grenada today. In the case of Bishop and his 7 colleagues, this faction appointed itself judge, jury, and executioner.
- What really hurts is that on the morning of the invasion, a panicked voice could be heard on the radio stating “Our country is under attack! The gains of the revolution are under attack! The sons and daughters yet unborn are under attack! Grenadians, come forward now!” Having implored Grenadians to put their lives on the line for their country, those responsible for the invasion retreated, like cowards, into their various hiding places (Mt Parnassus, Westerhall, etc.) until they were flushed out from their hideouts by the invading forces.
Instead of attacking Cuba, Ventour should remember that Grenada owes that country a great debt of gratitude. No other Caribbean nation has done and continues to do so much for our island. Our airport was, to a large degree, built with Cuban sweat and blood. During the revolution, many young people received scholarships to pursue studies in Cuba in various fields, among them medicine. Cuban doctors and dentists relocated to Grenada to provide much-needed health care to children and adults. Cuba continues to provide assistance not only to Grenada but also to other Caribbean islands, despite the hardship it currently faces as a result of the United States’ refusal to lift its embargo, the lifting of which Caricom countries now support.
It surpasses belief that after 40 years, Ventour would still attempt to mislead Grenadians about Cuba’s role in the Grenada revolution.
It also surpasses belief that Ventour would claim that Bishop “chose a (path of) Military solution to the crisis which provoked the greatest Tragedy in the history of the Caribbean, and paved the way for the defeat of the Grenada Revolution.”
Whatever human foibles Bishop may have had, a penchant for violence was not among them. He was a man of peace. He held firmly to his belief in peace and unity until the very end of his life.
Wasn’t it the Coard faction that dispatched armoured personnel carriers (APCs) to “retake” the Fort on 19 October? Wasn’t it the Coard faction that lobbed rocket-propelled grenades into the Operations Room at Fort Rupert, killing and wounding several and sending the terrified crowd screaming and fleeing in all directions to escape their terror? Wasn’t it a horrified Bishop who said, “My God, they have turned the guns against the people?” Wasn’t it the Coard faction that lined up Bishop and 7 of his colleagues and executed them in cold blood? Wasn’t it the Coard faction which, after murdering Bishop and others, instated a curfew and threatened that anyone violating it would be shot on sight?
It is breathtakingly disingenuous, even ludicrous, to claim that Bishop chose a military solution to the 19 October crisis.
The Coard faction would do well to remember that facts are stubborn things and that facts cannot be turned on their heads.
Ian St Bernard, considered to be one of the “Grenada 17” although he was never imprisoned, wrote a piece that was published in local newspapers before he passed away in 2022. In it, he stated, “To bring genuine closure to the tragedies of 1983, we must all become “tired of the lies” and added, “I don’t want to die perpetuating lies.”
If more members of the “Grenada 17” would, after 40 years, become tired of the lies, come clean with Grenadians, and accept responsibility for their dastardly deeds, we might finally be able to begin a meaningful process of true reconciliation.