Ian St Bernard on the Grenada Tragedy

From Everybody’s Magazine, February [2007], Vol. 31, No. 1

The Grenada 13

Today's young generation in the Anglophone Caribbean, including Grenadians, barely know of the tragic events that unfolded in Grenada in October 1983, when
the nation's prime minister, some members of cabinet and countless Grenadians lost their lives in a political massacre enabling the U.S. to invade or rescue Grenada.

Twenty four years later, even the generation that remembers the brutal events in Grenada believes that what happened is now forgot¬ten and is mere historical data. Several persons were found guilty and sentenced to die for the execution of the prime minister and many in his inner circle; their sentences were later commuted to life in prison.

The Grenada 17, as the prisoners are popularly called, have apologized and asked for forgiveness. Four have been released.

The remaining 13 have appealed to the Privy Council and the Council plans to give its decision in February.

What happened in Grenada in October 1983 and the trial of the 17 a few years later remain very complex and almost forgotten, and as a result, over the years, someone in academia has occasion¬ally reminded the public of 1983 by focusing on the 17, specifically Bernard Coard, who is primarily blamed for the fall of the People's Revolutionary Government and the after¬math.

In the Feb/March 2006 issue, EVERYBODY'S published a letter from a British based professor, Gus John, saying the 17, especially Bernard Coard, have not told the world the truth about their role in the massacre.

EVERYBODY'S August 2006 issue carried a rebuttal from Alan Scott of the Committee for Human Rights in Grenada/UK branch ("CHRG/UK").

In this issue, Ian St. Bernard, a senior member of the People's Revolutionary Government and the ruling party in Grenada in 1983, who was also imprisoned for the 1983 assassinations but was found not guilty, responds to Professor Gus John.

The Editor,

1. In your February/March (2006) issue, you carried an 'Open Letter' from Professor Gus John entitled 'West Indian-Britons Debate Over Bernard Coard'. In your August issue, you carried a partial reply to that open letter from Mr. Alan Scott of the Committee for Human Rights in Grenada/UK branch ("CHRG/UK"). The CHRG/UK, however, focused exclusively on the issue of the comprehensive denial of a fair trial to Bernard Coard and the other members of the Grenada Seventeen. In this, Alan Scott gave many examples of the irregular conduct of the trial, and he quoted, inter alia, from the official findings of an Amnesty International investigation into the trial. However, one of the main thrusts, if not indeed the main one, of Professor Gus John’s open letter was the repeated assertion that Coard had ‘the responsibility to tell the world what his role was in the demise of Maurice Bishop, his comrades and the Grenada Revolution.’ [Page338]

2. Indeed, I count at least twelve (12) passages in Professor John's open letter where he either explicitly or implicitly demands that Coard explain where he was and what he was doing, during the period leading up to the October 1983 events in Grenada. For example, he asserts that:

'Bernard Coard has some questions to answer that have to do with the reason for his incarceration in Richmond Hill Prison... he owes it to the millions of people across the world who endured the horror of the house arrest of Maurice Bishop and the subsequent massacre of virtually the entire People's Revolutionary Government loyal to Bishop and an untold number of Grenadian citizens, to tell them what his involvement was in all that.' [Page 35]

3. By asserting that Bernard Coard has 'questions to answer...', the unmistakable conclusion is that he has thus far failed to do so, even after twenty three years. Indeed, there is a passage which speaks of 'Coard's involvement in, and silence about, his role in the political events of autumn 1983' [page 36; emphasis added]. Here, Professor John is expressing the alleged view of the principal recipient of his letter, and implicitly agreeing with it. It is to this issue - the issue as to Coard's alleged silence about the catastrophic October 1983 events - that I wish to address your readers. There must, indeed, be many millions of people around the world who not only do not know what actually happened in Grenada in 1983, but who, equally, have no idea as to whether Coard has ever provided his account of what transpired.

4. Before I address the issue of Coard's alleged silence, however, I must declare my personal interest in all of this. I was a member of the Central Committee (CC) of the ruling party of the Grenada Revolution. I was detained by the US military during the invasion and occupation of Grenada and charged, along with the Grenada Seventeen. The charges against me were dismissed at the Preliminary Inquiry. [This is because, in the recited, fake testimony of the sole witness against all of the party leaders, this liar forgot to call my name! This is what saved me from five years on Death Row, and twenty-three years of ¬incarceration!] Bernard Coard and other members of the Grenada Seventeen are my friends. I was detained with them for ten months during 1983-84, and have visited them often at the prison ever since. I therefore write as someone based inside of Grenada for the last several decades: during the years of the anti-Gairy struggles, during the Revolution, and for all of the twenty-three years since. Moreover, I was 'an insider' to the most momentous events, which unfolded. I therefore write not from absorbing media reports from overseas, or listening to what others tell me happened, but from first-hand personal knowledge. Because of my personal involvement, however, I will seek at every point in this letter to point your readers towards facts and documents, which they can independently check to ascertain the accuracy of what I write here.

5. As everyone knows but sometimes fails to take into account, Coard has been continuously incarcerated for the past twenty-three years. In practical terms, this has meant that he has not been able to go on speaking tours in North America or Britain (so that, for instance, Professor John - and many, many others - could then attend and hear what he has to say, and question him). Nor, of course, has he been able to do so within the Caribbean, or even inside Grenada. However, within the context of his considerable limitations, Coard has used every opportunity available to him to tell his side of the story - and in great detail - and to answer literally thousands of questions from journalists, academic researchers from countries around the world, secondary school students from all over Grenada, and, to a more limited extent, some members of the Grenadian public.

AT COARD'S "TRIAL" (1986)...

6. Despite the thoroughly rigged nature of the trial (which Amnesty International has fully exposed in a 32¬page report in October of 2003) Coard and other members of the 'Grenada Seventeen insisted on placing on the record and in great detail their side of the story as to all the events leading up to and on the day of October 19th, 1983, and in the days following. Their detailed accounts fill twenty-two (22) volumes of the Court Record (taken down verbatim, as they spoke, by court stenographers). Coard's statement to the court fills three (3) volumes, amounting to several hundred pages.

7. Each described all the meetings (relating to the crisis and tragedy) of the ruling party that they attended, what was discussed, who said what, who proposed what, what decisions were taken, who voted for, against, or abstained, and so on. Each outlined where he was and what he was doing at all material times, and even provided a way that independent investigators could check in order to con¬firm or refute his assertions as to where he was, at what precise times, with whom, and doing what!


8. How was it possible for Coard and the others in the party leadership to refute the charges against them in such detail, and provide ways for their stories to be checked? Because every single meeting of the Political Bureau, the Economic Bureau, the Central Committee, the Organizing Committee, other party committees, and General Meetings of all party members were recorded in minutes taken by full-time party secretaries while each meeting was in progress. The party had a secretariat with several full time secretaries whose duties involved doing this. For example, there were sixteen (16) members of the party executive or Central Committee (CC). So the party secretaries would print twenty (20) copies of the minutes of each week's meeting of the CC (plus do the same, of course, for special or extraordinary meetings of the CC). Each copy would have a number (written large) superimposed on each page of its text. Numbers 1 to 16 would be given to members of the CC (each member would always get the same number). The remaining four copies of the minutes, namely, numbers 17 to 20, would be kept on file at party headquarters.

9. The US military seized all copies of all minutes, diaries, and other documents of the government (the PRG), the party (NJM) and the army (PRA) from the homes and offices of all involved, and refused to hand over even one copy of these vital documents so that judge and jury could evaluate who was telling the truth as to who said and did what, when, and where, who was and who was not in attendance at certain meetings, and locations, etc. Decisively important, for example, were the movements and specific whereabouts and actions of Coard and each of the others on October 19th, 1983. (Professor John repeatedly asks this in his "Open Letter", for instance.). This is why Coard and the others demanded, throughout the "Trial" that the Duty Officers' diaries for both Fort Rupert (overall army headquarters) and Fort Frederick (Region One Army Headquarters) be handed over by the American Administration to the court. Fort Frederick was the place that Coard and others were taken by their security details after Mt. Weldale (Bishop and Coard's official residences) had been overrun by a huge crowd on the morning of October 19th, 1983. These Duty Officers' diaries record the precise times of arrival and departure (and in what vehicles) of everyone entering and leaving these locations. Their production at the trial would have completely exposed, as a pack of lies, the testimony of the ONLY witness used to incriminate ten (10) of the Grenada Seventeen including Bernard Coard, and gain "guilty" verdicts against them. The combination of the Duty Officers' diaries and the minutes of all meetings, plus interviews with all the security men guarding Coard and others around the clock, would have meant discover¬ing the truth about "where was Coard and what was he doing and saying" on the fateful day. That is why neither the documents nor the testimonies of the many security personnel were sought...

10. However, because the Seventeen were (and are) convinced that these documents will one day get released (or leaked: Washington DC is famous for this, from the Pentagon Papers to Watergate, etc., and some of the Seventeen's documents have begun to emerge...), they felt it important to say their piece on the official record, confident that, one day, what they had to say would be confirmed by contemporaneously kept records.


11. Apart from six days of detailed testimony in open court as outlined above, Coard and some of the other leaders of NJM and the Grenada Revolution were twice interviewed by members of the local and regional media. [On both occasions, the media had successfully lobbied the Prime Minister of Grenada for permission to do so.] On the first occasion, as far back as October 1996, the editors of the Trinidad Guardian, the Grenadian Voice, and senior journalists from Barbados' CBC radio and TV and Grenada GBN radio and TV, showed up at the prison without prior notice to the Seventeen, and questioned them for three and a half hours about the October 1983 events. On that occasion, the Commissioner of Prisons refused permission for the video taping of the interview for use on television, but permitted the audio taping and broadcasting on radio (in Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados) and use, also, in the print media (Trinidad Guardian and Grenadian Voice).

12. As readers will no doubt appreciate, if Coard and the others had wished 'to remain silent', to avoid being questioned about the October 1983 events, they had a ready-made excuse: these journalists showed up without warning, the Seventeen were given no notice, no time to organize their thoughts, or prepare themselves emotion¬ally for discussing an extremely traumatic episode in all their lives. This was in effect "ambush journalism", although this was certainly not the journalists' intention. [They in fact apologized for the failure to notify Coard and company that they were coming - or even to seek their agreement for the interview! They had only sought the Prime Minister’s!]

13. In September of 1999, a team of senior journalists from these same local and regional media came to the prison again, this time with specific authority from the Prime Minister to videotape and broadcast on television (as well as on radio and in the print media, like before) a three-hour interview about the October 1983 events with Coard, Ewart Layne, Leon Cornwall, and Selwyn Strachan. The interview was aired on GBN/TV (and radio) in Grenada over three consecutive days, with phone call-ins from the public expressing their views following each segment. It led to three months (October¬-December 1999) of extremely heated debate, involving all shades of opinion, with people from all walks of life, throughout Grenada.

14. It would be unfair, for example, for anyone to assert that Coard has been 'silent' for the past 23 years, because these TV and Radio and print interviews in Grenada (and carried by some of the Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados media) were not broadcast in Britain! OR because 'millions of people around the world' (including oneself) did not even know about the existence of these interviews! I repeat: Coard has been locked away in a cell in Richmond Hill Prison in Grenada for all of the past 23 years! And, in these circumstances, has been remarkably "unsilent" during this period!


15. As further evidence of this, we have the Open Letter to ex-detainees of the Grenada Revolution and to the people of Grenada, which Coard and some of the other NJM leaders wrote in the Summer and Autumn of 1996 and sent to the media. It was published on the front page and several inside pages of the Grenadian Voice on February 8, 1997. It was captioned "Reflections and Apologies..." It was also read out on Grenada's leading radio station by one of its leading radio journalists, and later distributed as a booklet and even posted on the internet. I strongly recommend that readers get a copy of this, as Coard and the other co-signatories to this document deal self critically with both the 41/2 years of the revolutionary process as a whole, and with the October 1983 tragedy, and apologize to the Grenadian people for their role in both the negative aspects of the Revolution (e.g.: political detainees) and the catastrophe of October 1983. [The other side in that tragic crisis has never admitted to making any mistakes. George Louison and Kenrick Radix (Cabinet ministers and CC members) did not, during the two decades that they lived following October 1983; nor have others in their trend to this day. Fortunately for history, there are sufficient documents which will expose their role - and lies - when they are eventually released by the US government.]

16. I also strongly recommend the following three (3) booklets, which provide useful and very concrete information about Coard's role and specific activities during the crisis and tragedy of October 1983, as well as that of other NJM leaders:

(i) October 1983: Whose Struggle For Power? written by a team of Grenada and US-based NJM party and non¬party individuals, with over 200 references to relevant documents (documents available to some researchers in Washington DC, but denied to the Grenada 17 during their trial!);

(ii) October 1983: The Missing Link, by John "Chalky" Ventour (one of the Grenada 17);

(iii) A Travesty Of Justice: How 10 NJM Leaders Were Convicted By One Lie, by Ewart Layne (one of the Grenada 17).

17. Finally, in terms of material on Coard's role in the events of October 1983, I recommend that readers get hold of copies of relevant articles in academic journals by Professor Robert Pastor*.* Professor Pastor was, for the first 22 months of the Grenada Revolution, that is, during the last 2 years of the Carter Administration, the head of the Western Hemisphere Division of the National Security Council (NSC), of the United States. Grenada was part of his "watch", therefore. He would have had, naturally, THE highest security clearance, with access to all documents and secret intelligence reports. Moreover, during the Reagan years (specifically, sometime in 1982 or early 1983), he visited Grenada and met with Bishop and Coard separately and together, for a total of more than fifteen hours (he writes about these talks as well). He has also had access to the thousands upon thousands of pages of documents belonging to the PRG, NJM, and PRA seized by the US military during the invasion and occupation of Grenada and still located in Washington DC. Professor Pastor was (and is) hostile to the Grenada Revolution, and no friend of Coard and the Grenada 17. What he has to say regarding his assessment of Coard's role in the events of October 1983 should therefore interest your readers, maybe even Professor John too.


18. Apart from all of the above, Coard has given inter¬views with several dozen academics from Caribbean, US, Canadian, and UK universities over the years. For example, one US professor (Michigan State University) spent six months in Grenada, during which he interviewed Coard and the other members of the Grenada 17 on several occasions, for a total of over 100 hours. Another professor (Columbia University) conducted 21 hours of interviews with Coard. The hundreds of questions centered on the Grenada revolution, and specifically, the events of October 1983. These academics then went away and checked the various (voluminous) documents drawn to their attention, and which they could only get access to in the US itself. Additionally, over a period of close to 15 years, several dozen groups of fourth and fifth form (grades 10 and 11) students from several of Grenada's secondary schools have visited the Richmond Hill Prison and thrown hundreds of questions at Coard about the October 1983 events. Coard has consistently made him¬self available to be questioned by all these students, leading academics, journalists, and other members of the public. This Is How 'Silent' Coard Has Been Over The Last 23 Years! Indeed, in recent times, the Government of Grenada has ordered a halt to all further interviews!

Yours sincerely,
Ian St. Bernard
Former NJM Central Committee Member