It was shocking! It was gripping! This unassuming Grenadian-born teacher stole the show at the Dominica Boosters sponsored panel discussion at Goodwill Parish Hall this past Tuesday. We live in a time when our airways are jammed with trash-talk about taking away peoples’ guns and an imminent sequel to May 29. That is precisely why Dominica Boosters launched a series of outreach programs aimed at improving national dialogue. All we knew was that historically, Dame Eugenia Charles’ bold action saved Grenada. Now we get an intimate look at the dramatic events from one person’s perspective and the twists & turns of our interwoven lives:
I was born Sylvia Joseph in the late sixties and grew up in the seventies and eighties. Much of that period was dominated by the reign of the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) of Eric Gairy and his opposition, the New Jewel Movement (NJM) led by Maurice Bishop. Eric Gairy was a past trade unionist that fought for the rights of estate workers and later used his charisma to enter into politics. As a child, I always heard my parents and older brother talking politics and this made me very aware of what was going on in the political arena. My parents were opposed to Gairy because they believed that he was a corrupt dictator and so supported the struggle for justice of the NJM.
During the Gairy era there was a high rate of illiteracy in the country and so the followers of Gairy would say things like: ‘Uncle Gairy make me know money.” Whenever Gairy had meetings his supporters would turn out in large numbers and would sing choruses like: “God bless Uncle Gairy.” “We will never let our leader fall, for we love him the best of all!” He himself would use vocabulary way above their heads and they would applaud him. It is said the he went to a rural community and told the people there, ‘75% of you are illiterate.’ They had no clue what illiterate meant. Gairy made himself into a god. He would say to the opposition, ’He who opposes me, opposes God.’
There was the Mongoose Gang, the Defense Force (called Green Beast) and Secret Police, Gairy’s own henchmen who harassed, intimidated and brutalized opposition members and supporters. They carried out these acts of violence on the instruction of Gairy himself and or others in his hierarchy. Some of these acts included, shootings, imprisonment with severe beatings resulting in broken bones and head injuries. Long before the CIA was condemned for water-boarding, Gairy’s private army mastered the art of flushing peoples’ heads in toilets as a means of getting information.
I remember a Sunday in November when my parents had to attend a LIONS CLUB function and had to meet other members at a particular spot to travel together. They had to go seek refuge because the police and other elements of Gairy’s special security forces had raided an NJM executive meeting causing them to run for rescue at a prominent businessman’s home. The police held the area under siege and demanded that the businessman put the NJM members out, when the members left the premises and surrendered to the police they were severely brutalized, before being thrown in the back of a police jeep and thrown in jail to rot.
Once there was supposed to be a political meeting of the NJM, planned long in advance and because Gairy saw that this meeting would expose him and the popularity of the NJM was growing, he banned all activities around the island on that Sunday even church activities!
Other things like sexual exploitation of women, squandermania, neglect of the country, mysterious disappearance of persons and associations with the likes of Augusto Pinochet of Chile and Forbes Burnham of Guyana caused Grenadians to lose confidence in Gairy’s leadership. I think his undoing came when he published a list of Catholic priests to be deported because he claimed that they preached against his government. It was shortly after that that his government was overthrown by the NJM.
The Revolution burst upon the people of Grenada on March 13, 1979. I was just getting ready to write the Common Entrance Exam to enter secondary school. The revo came with its socialist ideology of free secondary education, mass rallies with long speeches (for which free transport was provided), free milk and butter oil, literacy program, military maneuvers, slogans, youth groups, women’s organizations, army and militia.
It was a new era, the government established diplomatic relations with countries like Cuba, the USSR, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Tanzania among others. Grenadians travelled to these countries for various types of training and people from these countries visited Grenada as well. There were Cubans in every sector of the Grenadian society – doctors, dentists, engineers and teachers). In fact, the large Cuban community in Grenada swelled further with building of the international airport. It was the first time that Grenada had so many trained professionals available to them. Many Grenadian students went off to Cuba and other socialist countries be trained in various fields.
During the revolution, if you spoke against the government, you were considered a counter-revolutionary, a CIA agent and subversive among others. You would be closely monitored and could be arrested and detained without trial for years. That was what it was like to be ‘put under heavy manners.’ This happened persons like Allister Hughes, a well-known journalist, members of the past government and anyone else who openly opposed the socialist ideology.
By the fourth year of the revolution there was talk of infighting in the leadership. It all came to a head when the Central Committee of the Peoples Revolutionary clamped Maurice Bishop under house arrest. This did not go down well with the people of Grenada because they loved Maurice Bishop more than they feared Bernard Coard. On October 18, 1983 a demonstration led by secondary school students shut down the town of Grenville and prevented operations at the then Pearls Airport. Emboldened, a follow-up demonstration was planned for the next day to free the Maurice Bishop.
My father seemed to have a premonition. I was dressed and ready for demonstration on October 19, when he ordered me to go to pay a bill at the bank for him. Disappointed, I started walking down the road, but my father changed his mind. Sensing I might eventually end up in the demonstration anyway, he called me back saying that he would go instead. He wanted me to stay and close down our furniture store.
I understood euphoria reigned as the demonstrators accomplished their goal that day. Maurice and other freed members of his then cabinet headed to Fort George to speak to the world.
Then pandemonium broke loose! The order was given to shoot and re-arrest Maurice. When he saw them shooting at the unarmed civilians, Maurice reportedly lamented, “My God they have turned the guns against the masses.” People jumped off the forty-foot wall of the fort to escape. Others jumped on them resulting in serious injury and death. Some people were taken to the nearby hospital, some remained in hiding for fear of being killed. Even in the hospital, the soldiers came looking for certain persons who they thought might be patients there. There were cases where some patients had to be hidden in cupboards!
My friend Gemma Belmar with whom I was marching with the day before, did attend that fateful follow-up demonstration. She was shot in the head (she was marked). I went to see her at the hospital. Her head was bound up; eyes were open, but she could neither speak nor move. I can never forget the unimaginable pall of grief that blanketed our school when the principal announced in assembly that Gemma was no more.
The period between October 19 and 25 was a very agonizing one for me because I was worried about my older brother who I thought might have been shot and lying somewhere dying or dead. I also feared for some of my teachers who were detained for demonstration against the government. Many others perished. The bodies of Maurice Bishop and his cabinet members were never handed over to their families for Christian burial and closure. I even thought they would come for me because I had demonstrated on Oct 18. I had reason to believe that because a dusk to dawn curfew was imposed, “anyone caught violating the curfew would be shot on sight” famous words of General Hudson Austin. This made it easy to keep people in place so they could come arrest them. But thank God for the Intervention.
The events of October 19, 1983 will be forever etched in my memory; it has made me, like many other Grenadians more politically aware and wary of the socialist models of government. As an adult and a mother, tears of healing come every anniversary of October 19 as I reflect on how my father unknowingly saved my life.
Today Grenada is a different country with a stable government genuinely striving to serve the real needs of the people. Personally, it seems like I am repaying a debt to Dominica in more ways than one. Two Dominican nuns, (both deceased), taught me at Convent in Grenada: Sister Sylvia Toulon of Anse De Mai and Roosie Douglas sister, Sister Pat. Then of course, is the remarkable life of Dame Eugenia Charles chronicled in Gabriel Christian’s ‘Mamo.’ https://www.amazon.com/Mamo-Life-Times-Eugenia-Charles/dp/1450709737 He details how she completed high school at my alma mater where she is since much beloved as an ‘honourary Grenadian.’ God works in mysterious ways indeed! Who would have known that I would marry a Dominican and be teaching Nature Isle today?
Dr. Sam Christian is surgeon who runs the Urgent Care on 137 Bath Road. He is a syndicated columnist focusing on development and health-related topics. Dr. Christian can be reached at whatsapped at 767 265-0886 or logging on to his website http://urgentcareda.weebly.com/
Disclaimer: The comments on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of DominicaNewsOnline.com/Duravision Inc. All comments are approved by DominicaNewsOnline.com before they are posted. We never censor based on political or ideological points of view, but we do try to maintain a sensible balance between free speech and responsible moderating.
We will delete comments that:
See our full comment/user policy/agreement.
Typical Labour blind loyalist hypocrisy. Gairy was an intellectual but he was hopeless PM and harrassed those who dare talk bad of him. Skerrit like Gairy ran their islands as if its their perdonal ofoperty and skso bought loyalty of the poor Nd struggling people. Shame on Skerrit…shame on Skeerit. Gairy is gone…he thought he owned the Grenada with his dirty mongoose grang. The same of Skerrit..he to will gi and rejected like an old rotten egg. Time will tell.
Gairy thought he had it all..he was kicked out by the people xyecto corruption…no development and increased in poverty. Just like Gairy incompetent Skertit and his blind supporters will go. We now need decent government. Not ugly corrupt failed Prime Minusters and politcal clowns.
A decent..trustworthy..no nonsense leader is in the waiting to return Dominica to decency and giod governance.
Shame on you Skertit…good bye cirrupt Labour government
Welcome Hon. Linton..trustworthy..decent….welcome Team UWP.
“During the Gairy era there was a high rate of illiteracy in the country and so the followers of Gairy would say things like: ‘Uncle Gairy make me know money.” Whenever Gairy had meetings his supporters would turn out in large numbers and would sing choruses like: “God bless Uncle Gairy.” “We will never let our leader fall, for we love him the best of all!” He himself would use vocabulary way above their heads and they would applaud him. It is said the he went to a rural community and told the people there, ‘75% of you are illiterate.’ They had no clue what illiterate meant. Gairy made himself into a god. He would say to the opposition, ’He who opposes me, opposes God.’
SO VERY FAMILIAR!!!!!!!!
Thanks for the article. I enjoyed reading it and it brought back memories. I like the first photo. It appears that Bishop put a smile on the face of the Iron Lady.
There are similarities and lessons to be learned from the Grenada story. We as a people must check the history of our various islands, we must educate ourselves and stop pulling down each other. I long to see and hear more of this type of discussion in Dominica. Let us work together to educate each other…..Cheers Dominica Boosters, keep up the good work!!
This article was very well written! You truly got a sense of what transpired at the time. I thank God that Grenada was able to overcome and pray that Dominica never experiences such pain.
No comparison between Gairy Labour Party and Dominica Labour Party. We have no leadership struggle. Everybody know who the El Supreme and chief comrade is.
Dominica bursting with press freedom. Anyone can say whatever nonsense they want, but if El Supremo say something back, they vex. Lennox Linton is no Maurice Bishop. Bishop had at least 2 degrees. Tell me one person that was tortured or jailed in the way the lady say? Things nice in Dominica I telling you. El Supremo still young. We stable for 15 years and if thats the best allu can come up with, we’ll be stable for another 50 years!
Ignorance is not bliss.
Hon. Lennox Linton is a highly qualified intellectual surpass the level (or lack of Skerrit).
Linton has achieved alot in intellectual and other than other education he us like many of us am intellectual…..engaged in investigate journalist…broadcaster who worked in tbe Caribbean. Uou think Skerrit can match this?? Absolutely no!
The Labourites from top to bottom are scared of Hon. Linton and his wrll qualified and dedicated Members of UWP team.
Very funny, dream on people.
Dr. Christian, I am confused by your pronouncements in the first paragraph of this article. You seem to have arrived at some pretty heavy conclusions without providing your readers with the basis or the necessary arguments for such dramatic conclusions.
It would be good if you would elaborate in some subsequent article because I think you are a reasonable man. This is no so reflected in the first first paragraph of your article.
Dr Hill I guess you didn’t see the part about improving the national dialogue
I suggest HARD COPIES be made of this article and distributed to the people at a every economical fee!!!!Not everyone with a computer will see this piece!!!!
Dr. Sam, thanks for your passion for improving national dialogue.
Comparing Dominica now to Grenada then, is like comparing apples to oranges. On one hand we do have press freedoms though the government dominates both the state and private media. We do have manipulation of the courts though not as completely as under Gairy’s United Labour Party. Apart from the bombing of GON Emanuel’s house and excessive use of force in Salisbury, Dominica has no political prisoners or reports of brutality.
Having said that, the trends toward rampant corruption and increasing abuse of power is becoming more frightenly evident. This article made me think. I hope others do as well. This article may well the most ‘Grenada’ needed to do to save Dominica…
Saved Greenada? We were being used as guinepigs to fullfill Ronalds personal agenda. Just like the alied forces in the gulf war and nato in lybia. It is a shame. As mamo what did she do with the money that was supoosed to be paid to the pllice officers who participated. Some officers still paro. Bishop would have shaped greenada i to skmething awesome but the americans dkd not want that..
History has a way of repeating itself through whatever forces that exist,i don’t know.But Skerritt is the embodiment,and reincarnation of Eric Gary in Dominica today.These tin pot dictators get their heads so swollen with self aggrandizement,that they get carried away and don’t know when or how to stop.Their myopic world view is pathetic.Skerritt now has Dominica’s passports to sell,he no longer needs the private sector,does not need peasant farmers,doesn’t need the USA,.He also has China and mismanaged Venezuela.Roosevelt,learn from recent history,even if you don’t want to go too far back in time.Humility is the dough relevance.Just ask Patrick John before he passes on
I like this article
Is there a similarity in this Grenada story as compared to what’s going on in Dominica? To me I can see the same thing creeping in here in our country, or is it here already? Who is going to rescue us when that happens? Already you are disarming your opponents and leaving them naked, are you preparing for something bigger? What goes around comes around my friends. Sadam Housan was pulled out of a hole. Remember the altar is not a place where clean people go but a place where we as sinners can go and leave all our junk and god cleans it up for us. So.all of you in top positions who think you are perfect this is for you. What goes around comes around
Served two tours in Grenada , and can still recall the smell of burning flesh when we got to the fort. Heard some horrible stories when we spoke to the civilians.
Thought-provoking and profound! Thank you.
That woman is blest! Who is she? She sounds very progressive. I want to shake her hand
This is a great article, very well written from the perspective of a Grenadian. I was also very young at that time and remember my uncle who was part of the Dominica Police force who was also our new defense force after our own coup being deployed to Grenada as part of a Caribbean contingent. Other countries may have written their won versions of what took place by trying to describe the war as brief unknowingly they are not aware that Grenadians and Dominicans fought injustice for many years.
I would like to say that there are bad leaders in both democratically elected governments as well as communist governments and that every country has elements of communism and democracy you need both.
The issue is not generally the system itself but the people who abuse the system for their own gain. i’m also very confident in Dominica’s government for what they have accomplished in the last 20 years. Yes there are things people nit pick about but generally nit picker are not doers.
Thanks much Dr Sam for sharing such a moving story of Grenada of both Gairy and Bishop. Both men made contributions, but they also made terrible mistakes in departing from rule of law and justice. May we learn.
I had bought my ticket to go to Grenada to see Castro, he was going to open the new Cuban built airport, when the news that Bishop had been killed I did not go work that day, but stayed home and cried my eyes out. I was mad at Eugenia because I believed that Grenadians should and could handle their own business. The difference for us here in Dominica is that we have a democratically elected government, like it or not the DLP is the choice of the majority and until such time we have to respect the will of the people. What the Grenadian Revolution taught us is that life after a coup is no bon ta…be careful what you wish for….
This is 2016 and things have changed, we no longer have the “communist boogie” bandied about to scare the masses. We can keep calling all those who do not share our views ignorant, stupid etc, but we seem to forget these are the same people whose votes matter. We have to change that model.
Eugenia saved a blood shed in Grenada, Bishop was killed assassinated by his own comrades, somebody had to save the country from this inside loose people who betrayed Bishop and Grenada.
Today Grenada has surpassed Dominica and their elections and democracy is thriving. Ou meme pa koupan saw ou ka palais la.
Dominica is run by a corrupt Labour party who has stole and schemed the Electorial process to gain power. It was not on their merit that they won the election. It was devious, cunnning, went against the law and therefore the Dominica Labour Party is a serious Mongoose gang worse that Grenada`s Gairy, Gairy thought he would rule and live forever. He ran away in exile to Uncle Sam, the same may happen to Skerrit, his family lives there. Only Time will Tell. These Despot leaders are never happy, always looking through the review mirror, they know their ugly past is running after them. Shame on you sir.
The atrocities which took place in Grenada under Gairy are the same,or a little worse here on island under Skerrit…Go to the opposition and call them traitors,even when they are burying their loved ones,his handlers sent the police to honourable Lintons home to search, knowing fully well that he was innocent,we hear about the use of DEADLY FORCE by the police commissioner,we have no functional institutions,the voting process is highly corrupted,constituencies won by the opposition are totally ignored and the people are insulted,no accountability or transparency re passport sales.The police chief exists just in name,but has numerous handlers,licensed guns are taken from non supporters,poor supporters are given handouts instead of jobs,at their meetings there are supporters who make the journey and are rewarded SPECIFICALLY TO CLAP AT INSULTS HURLED AT OPPOSITION MEMBERS,and the list continues…!
This is how Gary started and things got uglier and out of hand.
These are the information that Dominicans today especially the young people, should scrutinize and see the similarities of what led to the Grenada revolution and compare the modus operandi of our so loved prime minister today. It might just be to little to late.
I’m watching and listening