Phyllis Coard, the lone woman of the Grenada 17, was released from Richmond Hill Prison on Saturday, March 18 2000. Ms Coard was released to seek treatment for colon cancer, ostensibly for a six month period. However, she will leave the country and her return will be, should it happen, voluntary.
The Grenada 17 are the 16 men (and Ms Coard ) still held in a prison built in the late 1690's for their role in the Grenada government from 1979-1983. Formally, 14 these people were accused of murder, 3 of manslaughter. The 14 were convicted and sentenced to death. Those accused of manslaughter were sentenced to indeterminate periods. In 1993, the executions were stayed, after a world-wide outcry. However, the stay did not happen until the gallows had been built in the courtyard of the prison and the children of the prisoners introduced to the prospective hangman.
The last prisoners of the cold war are black. They have now served 17 years in jail. According to the Commissioner of Prisons in Grenada, who I interviewed extensively in 1996, each prisoner was tortured by guards, every day, until 1993.
The story behind their conviction is complex and controversial, even within the left. Careful reviews of the evidence indicate that the 14 people charged with murder are innocent of the charge altogether, and the 3 charged with manslaughter, soldiers, have already served nearly double the usual world sentence for the crime. I have interviewed the top political and intellectual leadership in Grenada. Their confidential consensus is that the Grenada 17 are innocent, but that it is an unpopular cause to urge their release. The editor of the sole reputable paper in the country, the Grenada Voice, himself jailed for nearly two years in the same prison by the revolutionary government, has spoken forcefully on the behalf of the prisoners' release.
The prisoners are charged with the murder of Maurice Bishop and others during the period that Grenada's New Jewel Movement (NJM) leadership dissolved under tremendous pressure from the U.S. Bishop, whose leadership of the NJM party was in question due to his own dissolute behavior, led a march of a mob of citizens on a key Grenadian military fort, seizing weapons and shutting off phone communications. An Armed Personnel Carrier (apc) was sent to restore order, to retake the fort. Drawing fire from the civilians under Bishop's lead, the troops on the APC returned fire, and later killed Bishop, his companion Jacqueline Creft, and others.
Following Bishop's death, the U.S. invaded Grenada, under the pretense of restoring order, saving students at the medical school, and saving the western hemisphere from a Soviet/Cuban airbase. None of the pretexts were true. Nor were promises of jobs, education, and health care programs ever kept. However, during the invasion, the U.S. psychological operations teams swept up tons of documents from Grenada, materials ranging from the entire personal libraries of the NJM leaders to all of the NJM central committee records, and every scrap of paper from the homes of all of those involved with the People's Revolutionary Government. In addition, for example, all of the records of the prisons and forts in the country were removed.
These thefts allowed the US to avoid being confronted with exculpatory evidence during the bogus trials that were held for the Grenada 17. The trials have been denounced as kangaroo Courts from sources like Amnesty International and most recently the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States. The judges were hand-picked and paid by the US State Department and the prosecution. The jury was chosen from a pool of people who were shouting "guilty!" at the defendants. The person who chose the jury was picked by the US.
The continued incarceration of the Grenada 17 is an affront to all those who have a sense of justice. A good outline of the events on the day of the collapse of the NJM government is on my www page at: http://www.pipeline.com/~rgibson/grendaventour.htm