The Grenada Truth and Reconciliation Commission has submitted its report which recommends that the Grenada 17 be allowed a retrial.
For those of you who are too young to remember, the Grenada 17 are those persons accused of conspiring to murder/murdering Maurice Bishop (the populist and much loved Prime Minister of Grenada ) and at least 20 other people in 1983.
Bishop’s murder was swiftly followed by a U.S. invasion fronted by then-Prime-Minister-of-Jamaica Edward Seaga and then-Prime-Minster-of-Dominica Eugenia Charles.
Some sort of order and parliamentary democracy was restored and the new Government tried the 17 accused, locked them up and to all intents and purposes, threw away the key. The sole woman, and Jamaican, among the accused, Phyllis Coard (nee Evans ) was released on compassionate grounds in March 2000. She was suffering from cancer.
For many of us Jamaicans the most memorable moments of the whole bloody fiasco were (1) General Hudson Austin telling the citizens of Grenada that the island was under curfew and they should not leave their homes (2) Grenadians chanting “ You never give Bishop a chance; so we won’t give you a chance”…
The latter sentiment reflected not just the feelings of most Grenadians, but the feelings of most people in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Bernard Coard was Deputy Prime Minister and he (and the others) were implicated in Maurice Bishop’s murder. They participated in the deposing and imprisonment of Bishop, and when the Grenadian “massive” showed what they thought of that by freeing Bishop from prison, he was assassinated.
One of the particularly unforgivable things that happened in the days between the murder of Maurice Bishop and the U.S. invasion was the destruction/disposal of the bodies. In those pre DNA days, the body of Maurice Bishop was never identified and the report of the pathologist even now makes very upsetting reading.
What happened to the Grenada 17 after their trial was, for years, the sole concern of the families of the accused, and of Amnesty International.
Is it possible that a retrial will enable Grenada (and the Commonwealth Caribbean) to move on from the events of 1983 ?
I don’t think so. Why not ?
1. Way too many agendas
– The prisoners have been eating crow for 23 years. They want out, and think this may be their last opportunity. Coard et al seem to think that what is at stake is their guilt or innocence….. Gentlemen, the moment you allowed Maurice Bishop to be thrown in prison, it was all over for you – killing him just made sure it was all over for you in a week instead of two weeks…….
– There are lots of U.S. activists and academics who want to make sure that history (or their version of it ) condemns the U.S. invasion, no matter how warmly it was welcomed by Grenadians at the time….
-The present Government of Grenada cannot contemplate a retrial that might let the 17 get out of jail free. It would then be the responsibility of the present Government to determine who was responsible for the killings and to find the bodies. The Government does NOT want to go there….
2. Not nearly enough truth to go round
At this point it is not clear that anyone, with the possible exception of Amnesty International and historians, is at all interested in what really happened.
But, on the other hand, there would appear to be quite a considerable number of people (not least the U.S. and Grenadian governments and the 17 prisoners) who have a strong interest in ensuring that what really happened never comes out.….
3. Being forgiven requires being sorry
Are Bernard Coard, Hudson Austin et al prepared for this century ?
Are they prepared for a world where people are more likely to believe that Coard ordered Bishop to be imprisoned and/or killed because he, Coard, was/is a petty, jealous man than because he thought Bishop was betraying some revolutionary ideal or ideology ?
Are they prepared for a world where the United States reigns supreme and the Soviet Union is strictly history?
Are the prisoners prepared to “tell the truth” in exchange for being allowed to go into exile ? Or are they still in their time warp and look forward to the impossible – being exonerated ?
Are the Grenada 17 sorry for what happened to those who died at Fort Rupert in 1983, or are they just sorry for what happened to themselves afterward ?
The Government of Grenada is a bad position. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in 2001, and it is only reporting now in 2006, when all CARICOM governments are busy preparing for Cricket World Cup.
To me it looks like the Government of Grenada has a few not very nice options:-
1. Take a deep breath, pardon the Grenada 17 and put them all on the first plane to Cuba.
2. Do a Lee Kuan Yew and put the prisoners in an open prison where their families, journalists and tourists can visit and they have some freedom of movement. (Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore, kept a political prisoner on full display in a theme park on the island of Sentosa. )
3. Don’t allow a retrial, but allow the prisoners to go to the Privy Council to appeal their original sentences. That’s what the Privy Council is for, and we can rest assured that the Privy Council will let them all go free – they have after all served more time in prison (23 years) than the average common-or-garden murderer serves in Caribbean prisons……
I would recommend the pardon and first flight to Havana. Does anyone really want Bernard Coard wandering around St. George’s still trying to explain why he was right ?…..
Related post on the Privy Council
[posted with ecto]