Grenada’s most important historical figure, Maurice Bishop, would have been 74 years old today. The revolutionary leader of the island now beloved for its tranquillity and spice-filled forests was only 39 years old when he and his pregnant mistress were executed by machine-gunned firing squad on Oct. 19, 1983.
Bishop was active in politics from a very young age. Born in Venezuela to Grenadian parents, he was an especially active and involved student, saying of his secondary education, “Here I had much interest in politics, history and sociology”.
In 1970, Bishop returned to Grenada after he completed law school in the UK. He defended civil organizations and founded the Movement for Assemblies of the People (MAP), a political organization taking inspiration from Nyerere’s work. He was immediately targeted. On November 18, 1973, called Bloody Sunday in the country, Bishop and members of his team were captured, arrested, and beaten by the government security forces.
On January 21, 1974, a day which is also known as Bloody Monday in the country, Bishop’s father, Rupert Bishop, was shot in a mass demonstration against the then president, Sir Eric Matthew Gairy, the country’s first prime minister after Grenada had declared its independence from Britain that same year.
MAP, which had then merged with the Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education, and Liberation (JEWEL) to form the New Jewel Movement (NJM), organized and took power in a bloodless coup on March 13, 1979, while Gairy was out of the country addressing the United Nations.
After coming to power, Bishop was very efficient. According to the media house, Telesur.net, Bishop’s “government built schools, led a massive literacy campaign, sought to develop the countryside and provide employment to the people. According to a 2013 article by Bill Bigelow, thanks to the efforts of the revolutionary government, in four years the unemployment rate dropped from 49 percent to 14 percent”.
Bishop, who was especially close to and a great admirer of Fidel Castro, believed in the Cuban revolution as an example for the region. He said during a speech in Havana, Cuba in 1980,
“Your revolution, comrades, has also provided the region and the world with a living legend in your great and indomitable leader, Fidel Castro. Fidel has taught us not only how to fight, but also how to work, how to build socialism, and how to lead our country in a spirit of humility, sincerity, commitment and firm revolutionary leadership.”
The Cuban government sent hundreds of advisers to Grenada, helped the country to build an airport to keep it from isolation.
The U.S. fearing Bishop’s closeness to the Cuban government and its socialist agenda sought to undermine this work. Then U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s office claimed that the airport built with the Cubans was a Soviet-led project to establish another foothold in the hemisphere, as part of “Soviet-Cuban militarization” and the airport a “military bastion to export terror.”
Bishop knew this perceived threat, telling the New Internationalist magazine in 1980:
“I think Washington fears that we could set an example for the rest of the region if our revolution succeeds. In the Caribbean region you’re talking about small countries with small populations and limited resources, countries that over the years have been classic examples of neo-capitalist dependencies. Now you have these new governments like Nicaragua and Grenada that are attempting a different experiment.”
In October 1983, internal divisions within the New Jewel Movement led to dramatic capture and assassination of Bishop by a military junta group within the party. His Deputy Prime Minister and childhood friend, Bernard Conrad, led the coup but he was deposed only three days later by General Hudson Austin.
Austin was captured 6 days later when the U.S. invaded the island with 7,600 soldiers, an overwhelming amount of troops for the tiny country which has slightly over 100,000 inhabitants today. The country held elections a year later but many leftist sympathizers were persecuted and ran out of the country.
Bishop is fondly remembered by everyone who knew him and by his country.
In 2004, Don Rojas, press secretary for Prime Minister Bishop, explained the work of the revolutionary government in an interview with Democracy Now! as follows:
“Maurice Bishop was attempting to empower the Grenadian people, a people who had a long history of slavery, followed by British colonialism, followed by independence in 1974 … Maurice Bishop’s vision for Grenada was of a small country standing tall and proud in the Caribbean region and in the world community. He was able to bring his message very successfully of a new way for Grenada and the Caribbean to the world, to the United Nations, to the non-aligned movement, et cetera, and received tremendous acclaim around the world at a time.”
The country’s main airport, Maurice Bishop International Airport, was renamed after the Prime Minister in 2009.
Today in Grenada history: March 13th 1979, Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement lead a bloodless coup ousting PM Eric Gairy. The Revo created many positives for the country but will forever be remembered for the way it crumbled. #grenadarevolution #todayinhistory 🇬🇩
— Grenada News 🇬🇩 (@grenadanews) March 13, 2018
Watch the late Prime Minister speak on CITV below.