Grenada: 30 Years Later

Barrington M. Salmon | 10/30/2013, 3 p.m.
Don Rojas didn't know that when he accepted Maurice Bishop's offer to become his press secretary that he'd end up ...
The late Maurice Bishop, prime minister of Grenada, led a coup in 1979 in an attempt to change the social and economic fortunes of the tiny island nation. Nancy Shia

Bishop had a commanding presence. Those who knew him spoke of a handsome, 6’ 3" tall man who was an excellent speaker with an arresting oratorical style.

“He was a very brilliant person, charming and had great people skills, Rojas recalled. “He was a compassionate guy, had a love for the region and people, and was a very charismatic leader and a great orator. He was just a very likeable human being and connected with people across racial, gender and other lines.”

“The revolution enjoyed the majority support of the people in Grenada. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t have come out in such great numbers to free Bishop from house arrest.”

The Bishop government developed close ties with the Soviet Union, with Fidel Castro of Cuba, Michael Manley of Jamaica and Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua. Bishop, like Manley, Ortega and other Caribbean and Latin American leaders found themselves in the middle of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Either you towed the line of U.S. policy or you were assumed to be in the Soviet orbit.

While Manley, Tanzania President Julius Nyerere and dozens of other leaders of developing countries were instrumental in creating the non-aligned movement, they still ended up running afoul of the United States because of their criticism of the capitalist system.

In late October of 1983, Bishop was arrested and put under house arrest by close friend, colleague and Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard. Coard led a hardline faction of the party which seized control of the government and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

“I was very much in danger,” Rojas recalled. “There were military patrols looking for me with instructions to shoot me on sight. Coard and [Army Chief General] Hudson Austin literally shut down the country. It was a reign of terror for six days.”

More than 15,000 people defied the new government to free their leader who had been detained at his home.

“School children, men and women in the thousands marched through St. Georges,” Rojas said. “He [Bishop] was manacled to his bed. They freed him, took him away, took him over to the fort where they thought he’d be safe. ”

“The people had freed him and he was planning to make an address to the nation.”

However, while at the fort, soldiers lined up Bishop, several government ministers and others against a wall and shot them.

“People supported and loved Bishop, they killed him and people were furious and angry and scared. I was there,” said Rojas. “A half-hour before they were killed, Bishop sent me on a mission to go down to the telephone company to tell the world. I made some calls to the Caribbean News Agency and BBC picked it up. That was how the world knew. While I was in the process of making the call, I heard the gunshots. I was a mile away. If I’d been there, I’d have been assassinated.”

Rojas said one theory is that Bishop wasn’t radical enough for Coard and his cohorts. But his explanation is simple.