Thursday, June 21, 2007

'Grenada 13' - Give us free!

My most vivid recollection of the assassination of Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and several members of his Cabinet, and the subsequent invasian by US troops, was seeing a helicopter land at the Enmore field next to the QEH, bringing in wounded persons from Grenada. At the time, I was a first-form student at St. Michael's and was more transfixed by the sight of the helicopter than listening to the news out of Grenada.

At that young age the full impact of the bloody coup didn't resonate with me as much as it shoud have, but over the years I've come to recognise the magnitude of that fateful day. The thought that the members of a party, in this case the New Jewel Movement, could line up their Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet against a wall and shoot them down was inconceivable. Whatever their reasons. To this day Bishop's body has never been found and rumours abound about what happened to his remains.

The political drama that unfolded after the executions - CARICOM Heads hurriedly meeting and US troops invading Grenada - was a sorry chapter in that country's history. When the dust settled, Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, his wife Phyllis, commander of the Grenadian Armed Forces, Hudson Austin and several other politicians and soldiers were sentenced to life in prison for at least 11 murders.

It's impossible to talk about the "intervention" without mentioning that 1983 was the height of the Cold War between the US, its allies and the Soviet Union. Bishop was a socialist and the US feared that Grenada would become a jump-off point for any Soviet activity in the region. Many innocent Grenadians were killed in the military action and the trial of Coard and company was widely described by Amnesty Interanational and other organisations as a 'kangaroo court'.

And now we come to the present. The infamous 'Grenada 17' are now down to 13. Phyllis Coard was released in 2000 on grounds of ill health and former soldiers Andy Mitchell, Cosmos Richardson and Vincent Joseph were released after serving 20 years. The remaining prisoners are 24 years older, some are sick and they all want out of prison. Hudson Austin is currently in hospital in Grenada and Bernard Coard urgently requires surgery to prevent him from going blind. Their legal representatives say they are no longer threats to society; they have been "spiritually transformed" in prison and have assisted in the rehabilitation of several other prisoners.

Although only God can be their judge, a panel of their peers found them guilty. The events of 1983 held Grenada up to international ridicule, and nearly devastated its chances of socio-economic survival. I'm sure the 'Grenada 13' regret their part in that sad episode, but like every other prisoner on the planet, you do the crime, you have to do the time. Should they be released? I feel not, but I'll still ask God to have mercy on them all.


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