Maurice Bishop: My Undying Admiration

Whatever Bishop's flaws and faults, I really don't think he deserved what he got. He is the Caribbean's Patrice Lummuba... at least, in my mind the similarities are glaring.

maurice-bishop-grenadaJorge Heine wrote a piece about “The Demise of Maurice Bishop” for the Gleaner, and as I read, my gut twisted a little more over everything that happened in Grenada in late 1983.

I was a tad uneasy that they released Coard. I understate. I didn’t like it. As I watched/read news about his release, one thought repeated over and over: “Why?”

I don’t claim to know ALL, all, all, all the details about what happened in Grenada in Oct. 1983. I was a very little girl then, nine and a half. Old enough to begin thinking my own ideas about things–my mother up until that point made every effort to encourage me in this–but still innocent in my views of the world.

I can’t tell you I really knew who Maurice Bishop was before that either. At that time, I was Sea Child, living on a reef, covered in dried salt as much as not. That was my life then. I was cementing my life as a mermaid-waterchild.

As the story broke on the news, I sat on the floor with my mother, in the waning light, the Sea beyond our door singing, coconut trees rustling, sand and all else framed by the door, a picture perfect Caribbean sunset, while horrors unfolded on the screen. A few of my mother’s old revolutionary deep-thinker friends, got in their cars and came to our house to watch what was going on in Grenada on the news to talk and share their anxiety.

Forever the memory of people falling off of buildings has stuck in my mind. It’s the enduring image I have of the horrors in Grenada. A woman or man dressed in white, falling off the side of the prison. Executed political prisoners. The general panic and mayhem… I didn’t understand everything at the time, but I remember the knot in my stomach, and Auntie Sabrina, one hand holding her head, tears pouring down her face which was twisted with real agony, and her words… stuck in my mind forever: “What are they doing to our Brothers and Sisters in Grenada?”

My mother sat there with her friends and they argued and shouted at the TV through their tears, and I sat there understanding something was really wrong. On the floor of our house in Fitts Village, and for the first time in my life, something in the wide world outside my childish microcosm of home, school and beach, got inside my Spirit and moved me. I was afraid and not sure why, and I asked a lot of questions that the grown ups answered as admirably and completely as they could… through tears. Soooo many tears.

For my mother and her friends, the people being executed were part of their history as upstarts here in the Caribbean. I wasn’t so innocent I realised more than people were dying. Some kind of ideology that informed a generation of Black Power and advocates of social change in the Caribbean was dying with Bishop and his people.

After he was murdered, during those anxious news watching and discussion going on with my mother and her friends, Bishop became larger than life for me, bigger than big, a real MAN and betrayed. We grieved in my house for him and it has stayed with me all my life.

I continued to read and read as I grew older, whatever I could on Grenada and that time in it’s history and others. Having now been to Grenada three times in the last year and half, I can tell you the interest now goes beyond the anthropological or historical, or the personal sense of connection I had to what happened to Bishop and how it shaped my worldview–I am genuinely in love with the place.

So reading in particular the piece I’ve quoted and linked to at the bottom of this page, only amps up my distaste for Coard. When I read that they were releasing him… I felt my proverbial tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. This article helped to loosen it.

So soft we are on some, and so hard on others. Mercy for Coard now that he is old and ‘done so much time’. What about Bishop? I still wonder about the lack of mercy for him then and still! Reading the passage below, the BETRAYAL is what disturbs me more than the actual murder. And quite frankly, it would appear it did the same Bishop, and maybe this is why he didn’t fight back.

Whatever Bishop’s flaws and faults, I really don’t think he deserved what he got. He is the Caribbean’s Patrice Lummuba… at least, in my mind the similarities are glaring.

However much time Coard did in prison, in my opinion he should have lived out his years in there. Saying he is old and harmless now is largely bullshit. He still has a brain and a mouth, and if he stays quiet in public, I am sure his mouth is running somewhere in private. What I hear in my mind, feel in my Spirit is, men like Coard don’t give up, they just take a break.

I just can’t relegate Bishop merely to the annals of history. His death touched my nine-year-old self too deeply, and the last paragraph in this piece only illustrates further why he has my undying admiration.

Fatalist streak

There is some evidence that Maurice Bishop had a fatalist streak in him. When people told him not to smoke so much, he would reply, “That is not what I am going to die from”, and he cried upon saying goodbye to his children on their return to Canada in August 1983, perhaps a premonition that he would not see them again.

But the ultimate explanation to his behaviour in the last few weeks of his life lies elsewhere. As his uncle Allan La Grenade put it to me, he was a man “fiercely loyal to his friends and political associates, putting them even above his family”. The bonds developed in the nine years of the anti-Gairy struggle between Bishop and his collaborators were deep, as was the loyalty Bishop believed existed between himself and Bernard Coard. In fact, he repeatedly dismissed the warnings by his family about Coard’s designs.

When it finally dawned on him what was going on, “When these people turned on him, it destroyed part of his inner self. He was destroyed by the volte face that took place”, was how Radix put it to me. His sister, Anne, doubted that he would have been able to go on, had he not been executed, given the psychological wounds he had already suffered.

via Jamaica Gleaner News – The demise of Maurice Bishop – In Focus – Sunday | October 4, 2009.

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