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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
Amnesty raises plight of 'Grenada 17'

By Robert Plummer
BBC News Online Americas analyst

Amnesty International has revived memories of a turbulent time in Caribbean politics by questioning the convictions of 17 people said to have carried out killings during Grenada's 1983 coup.

US forces in Grenada in 1983
The US sent in 6,000 marines in the 1983 invasion
The report comes as Grenada prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the US invasion which ended the coup and ousted the Caribbean nation's revolutionary government.

Amnesty's report describes the 17, all but one of whom are still in jail, as "the last of the Cold War prisoners" and says their trial on charges of killing Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and others violated international standards.

Amnesty is urging the current government of Grenada to carry out an independent judicial review of their convictions.

However, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell says any decision will have to await the findings of a truth and reconciliation commission which is investigating the atrocities committed during the 1983 uprising.

The Amnesty report says the trial of the "Grenada 17" was flawed by irregularities in jury selection, lack of legal representation and the allowing of questionable evidence.

It also questioned whether some defendants' confessions may have been obtained using torture, as they alleged.

Crushing 'anarchy'

The Amnesty report and the anniversary of the US invasion have stirred recollections of a controversial chapter in Caribbean history.

Maurice Bishop, who was overthrown as prime minister of Grenada and then murdered during the 1983 coup, had himself come to power by force four years earlier.

He was removed from office by a hardline pro-Moscow faction within his New Jewel Movement, whose forces shot and killed him and several of his ministers during the ensuing unrest.

After Mr Bishop's assassination, the US invaded Grenada on 25 October 1983 - as American officials put it, "to resolve a condition of anarchy caused by a breakdown of government institutions".

Different priorities

Twenty years on, Grenada has political stability under Mr Mitchell, who is serving his second successive term as prime minister, but the wounds inflicted by the US intervention are as deep as ever.

He now has other matters on his mind, such as ensuring re-election for his New National Party.

US marine in Grenada 1983
The US invasion split the Caribbean
At the party's convention on Sunday, Mr Mitchell marked the anniversary of Mr Bishop's death but also called a general election for 27 November.

Two years ago, Mr Mitchell set up a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the events of October 1983.

He says that nothing should be done to pre-empt the commission's report.

Reagan legacy

The intervention by Ronald Reagan's administration in Grenada split the Caribbean, with some states providing multilateral military backing and others bitterly opposing it.

In the Cold War context of the time, many accused the US of being more concerned with stopping communism at any price than with the welfare of Grenada.

At any rate, the US invasion of Grenada sent a clear message to left-wing politicians in the region, such as Jamaica's Michael Manley, who governed as a socialist from 1972 to 1980 but turned to free-market policies when he was re-elected in 1989.

Country profile: Grenada
04 Jul 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Grenada
04 Jul 03  |  Country profiles
Grenada PM wins second term
19 Jan 99  |  Americas

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