It is often said that “history is a great teacher”, but even the greatest of teachers need willing students if lessons are to be absorbed, one must be prepared to learn.
In our 40th year of Independence, even as we talk glibly about [email protected], we should spend some time reflecting on our collective experiences over those forty years, not just for some romantic attachment to history, but in order to try and benefit from those experiences and guide our progress in confronting the challenges ahead.
The previous two days, March 13 and March 14, are very significant ones in the history of the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, our sister islands of Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique, and the wider Caribbean as a whole. Forty years ago, there was the earth-shattering experience of the triumph of the Grenada Revolution, opening a whole new chapter in the Caribbean experience.
Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement were continuing the legacy of their own patriot Fedon, who led a slave revolt in Grenada beginning on March 1, 1795 less than two weeks before our National Hero, Paramount Chief Chatoyer, was killed on March 14, 1795, and in whose memory we today commemorate this date as National Heroes’ Day.
So that even in an historical sense, there is some connection between these two dates and I was pleased to note, in reviewing some 1979 issues of a paper that I then edited, FREEDOM, that its front page on March 16th of that year reflected both those events.
“FREEDOM DAY COMES TO GRENADA” was how FREEDOM hailed the Grenada Revolution of March 13, with photos of Maurice Bishop and overthrown dictator Eric Gairy while on the same page the paper announced a YULIMO rally at Sandy Bay in memory of the anniversary of Chatoyer’s death.
The latter is very instructive for too many of us take March 14 for granted. Too many of us were not born then or, have “short memories” and do not recall when it was almost like heresy to speak proudly of Chatoyer, much more to even dream of him becoming our National Hero. Colonialism would have us believe that like the Christmases of those days (white Christmas), all our heroes were white also, and that a supposed “half-naked savage” as Chatoyer was disrespectfully depicted, could never be “our” hero.
It took the efforts of early pioneers like the late ‘Doc’ Kirby and ‘Cims” Martin, the tireless advocacy of another of our revered departed, Eddie Griffith, the National Youth Council of those days and patriotic organisations like the Forum, YULIMO and ARWEE to keep the Chatoyer flag flying. Today we have a national holiday for our National Hero, so perseverance and commitment do bring rewards.
GRENADA REVO’ – Focus on the positive
On March 13, 1979, the New Jewel Movement of Grenada spearheaded the popular overthrow of the despotic Gairy regime there, ‘Mongoose gang’ and all.
It ushered in a new era not just for the people of that tri-island state, but in the Caribbean as a whole. Indeed that year in which saw the rebirth of our nation as an independent state occurred was globally, perhaps one of the most revolutionary in world history.
It was immortalised in song by the one-and-only Mighty Sparrow in his “Rule of the Tyrant”, recalling successful revolutions which brought an end to brutal dictatorships in Iran and Nicaragua, as well as undemocratic governments in Dominica (Patrick John) and Grenada (Eric Gairy), both with some quite strange tendencies.
Unfortunately, history sometimes has to endure being turned on its head and what began as a great experiment in popular democracy in Grenada, a peaceful overthrow of a repressive leader, ended four years later in blood and the shame of foreign invasion of Caribbean sovereignty. Due to the events of October 1983 in Grenada, too many people associate the Grenada Revolution with bloodshed, conflict and in a purely negative light.
The many positive aspects which flowed from March 13, 1979, are left forgotten or ignored. There was the steely determination to rid the country of oppression; the opening of entirely new horizons in education, a very successful National literacy campaign, teaching persons not just to read and write but political and economic literacy; the great cultural awakening; the practice of an independent foreign policy, winning new friends but keeping the old, while helping to strengthen CARICOM’s defence of its sovereignty; the experiments in popular democracy strengthening the rights of workers, farmers, youth and women; and the building of what is today the Maurice Bishop International Airport.
All these, and many more, were products of the Grenada Revolution which also helped to heighten consciousness throughout the region. So, to focus only on the tragic errors of October 1983 is like ignoring the tremendous successes of the great West Indies cricket team of the 70s and eighties because of a loss to a much weaker India in the 1983(that year again) World Cup final. That loss was but a blemish on the wonderful record.
Grenada’s Revolution did not last as long as the West Indies’ cricket dominance, but one can never ignore the positives that came as a result of that fateful day in March 1979.
is a community activist and social