Saturday, November 10, 2012

The “Rescue Mission”

Graffiti on “The Wall” at Fort George

In 1974 Grenada gained independence from the United Kingdom.  Sir Eric Gairy led this effort and subsequently claimed victory in a general election in 1976.  Most international observers and Maurice Bishop, the leader of the opposition party, did not accept the election results as legitimate.  Bishop waited until 1979 when Gairy was out of the country and launched an armed revolution that overthrew the government.

Bay used by mercenaries entering the country

Aside from Grenada’s internal political turmoil, the Soviet Union and Cuban were attempting to establish a communist foothold in the United State’s backyard.  Maurice Bishop as leader of the New JEWEL (Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education, and Liberation) Movement was willing to accept aid from the Soviet Union, but was not seen as Marxist-Leninist enough by some.

Formerly the site of a Cuban garrison

Suspicions about Bishop were exacerbated when he made a side trip to the United States.  On October 13, 1983, a party faction led by the then Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard seized power and Bishop was placed under house arrest.

Fort George

This led to mass protests and work stoppages by the people of Grenada.  Protesters freed Bishop and marched with him up the hill to Fort George, the military command center.  They were met and dispersed by Cuban and Grenadian troops loyal to the new government.  Many Grenadian civilians were killed.

“The Wall”

On October 19, 1983 Maurice Bishop and seven others including government ministers were lined up on the interior courtyard wall of Fort George and executed by firing squad.   Following Bishop’s execution a military government under Hudson Austin was formed.  Austin’s first decree was a four day total curfew under which anyone who left their home without authorization would be subject to summary execution.


Six days later the United States invaded.  In three weeks, the US Army’s Rapid Deployment Force (1st, 2nd Ranger Battalions and 82nd Airborne Division Paratroopers), Marines, Army Delta Forces and Navy SEALS (7,600 troops) along with members of the Caribbean Peace Forces (CPF) defeated Grenadian and Cuban resistance.

Old Soviet Union aircraft at Pearl’s Airfield

U.S. Forces suffered 19 casualties and 116 wounded; Cuban forces sustained 25 killed, 59 wounded and 638 combatants captured.  Grenadian forces casualties were 45 killed and 358 wounded; at least 24 civilians were killed, several of whom were killed in the accidental bombing of a Grenadian mental hospital.  The movie Heartbreak Ridge, starring Clint Eastwood ends with Hollywood’s version of the invasion.

Brother Bill standing on the ruins of the Santa Marie Hotel

Above Port Louis is the site where the first hotel in Grenada stood, the Santa Maria.  Faulty intelligence indicated that the military coup leaders were planning their resistance to the invasion from the hotel so an airstrike was ordered.  In 2004, Hurricane Ivan finished off the old hotel.  Many scenes from the movie Island In The Sun starring Harry Belafonte were filmed in the Santa Maria Hotel.

October 25 is a national holiday in Grenada, called Thanksgiving Day, to commemorate the invasion.

The captured Cuban solders and Soviet “construction engineers” were detained and later deported.  Grenadians were simply told to go home to their families.  In a telephone interview on October 26, 1983, medical students told Nighlines’s Ted Koppel how grateful they were for the invasion, which they stated probably saved their lives.  International reaction to the invasion was not as positive, but the criticism was dismissed by President Reagan who said, "it didn't upset my breakfast at all."

Clement Baptiste

Democratic elections were held in December of 1984 and Grenada has enjoyed 28 years of peaceful leadership transfers.  In 2009, the airport under construction that President Reagan had pointed to as proof of "Soviet-Cuban militarization" of Caribbean, was renamed Maurice Bishop International Airport. 

On the morning of October 13, 1983, Clement Baptiste reported to work as a military chauffeur for one of the ministers.  He was told by a Grenadian military officer that there had been a coup and the minister he drove was now under house arrest.  At that point Clement made a strategic error and resigned.  He believes the only reason he was not executed was that he and the officer grew up in the same village.

For a great tour of Grenada, contact:
C B Historical Tours

Thanks Clement!

No comments:

Post a Comment