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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 17:10 GMT
Grenada struggles with its past
By Ron Bhola
In Grenada

US forces in Grenada in 1983
At the time most Grenadians welcomed the US invasion

Twenty years ago the United States and seven Caribbean countries invaded the state of Grenada.

The action followed a week of turmoil which began with the assassination of the Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, by members of his own party.

And the traumatic events still resonate in the tiny Caribbean nation.

Tourists who make the uphill walk to the fort of St George find a quiet place where they can enjoy the panoramic views over the picturesque Grenadian capital, St George's.

Shocking violence

In 1983 the fort, then known as Fort Rupert, was the scene of the brutal last act in the violent power struggle between the charismatic Maurice Bishop and his deputy, Bernard Coard.

The Americans made matters worse, bringing their ideas and policies here... Grenadians should have been left to sort out their differences
Marsha Nicholson
Grenadian student
Mr Bishop had himself gained power with the barrel of a gun when, in 1979, his New Jewel Movement overthrew the dictatorial Prime Minister, Sir Eric Gairy, in a popular uprising.

Four years later, on 19 October 1983, Grenadian soldiers stormed the fort and opened fire on demonstrators who had just freed Mr Bishop from house arrest.

Soon after, they lined him up against a wall with several of his supporters and shot them dead.

The violence shocked the English-speaking Caribbean.

Six days later, having endured an almost continuous curfew, Grenadians woke up to the sound of American helicopter gunships flying overhead.

Regrets

Despite international criticism of the invasion, most Grenadians welcomed the 6,000 US marines who swarmed the state of just 100,000 people as an opportunity to rid themselves of the hardline Marxist-Leninists who had killed Maurice Bishop.

Regionally, the action signalled the end of socialist movements.

Twenty years later, many younger Grenadians with no memory of the era now regret that local people were not given the chance to solve their own problems.

"The Americans made matters worse, bringing their ideas and policies here," history student at the T A Marryshow Community College, Marsha Nicholson, said.

"If another country had invaded America the American public would not have considered it fair.

"Grenadians should have been left to sort out their differences. I guess we would have learned from our mistakes."

Insensitivity claim

Since the invasion, Grenada has progressed economically but the pumped-up expectations of thousands of jobs and manufacturing investment never materialised.

Keith Mitchell
Mitchell's party has dominated Grenadian politics
As the country's fifth post-invasion election looms, the events of 1983 continue to have an impact on the political mood of the country.

Current Prime Minister Keith Mitchell is seeking an unprecedented third consecutive term in office.

Since his first election win in 1995, his New National Party has dominated Grenadian politics and overseen heavy government spending on infrastructure, helping to sustain a small construction boom.

But when he chose the anniversary of the killing of his predecessor to hold a political rally to announce the new election date, Mr Mitchell came under criticism for insensitivity.

He defended his decision.

"We never intended to hurt anyone or show disrespect to that particular day," he said.

"I think the people who were worried about it are the ones who do not want people to remember 19 October. We should forgive and reconcile but not forget."

Stumbling block

But among those critics were the very vocal friends and the family of Maurice Bishop and the other Grenadians whose deaths led to the American invasion.

Peter Bain's father, Norris, was a senior government minister when he died alongside Maurice Bishop at Fort Rupert.

"After the invasion, Caribbean peacekeepers showed us a ring that we identified as that of my father," he said.

"It was broken as a result of the heat, we understand that the bodies were burned."

The fact the bodies were never returned to the relatives remains a stumbling block for healing between Grenadians.

There is a lingering suspicion that America knows what happened to the remains, something denied by Washington.

Pain lingers

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up two years ago to look into the events of October 1983.

But its report has been delayed and is not likely to be presented until after the election on 27 November.

Meanwhile, 16 revolutionaries found guilty of the murder of Maurice Bishop and his supporters remain in Richmond Hill Prison serving life sentences.

Lawyers representing them have had some success in their campaign for their release, citing procedural irregularities in the treatment of their clients and what they say is the excessive length of their sentences.

Next month the court of appeal is due to sit in Grenada and permission will be sought to take the process to the Privy Court in London, the country's final court of appeal.

It seems reconciliation is still some way off for Grenada.




SEE ALSO:
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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