Maurice Bishop

Maurice Bishop

Maurice Bishop, the son of Rupert and Alimenta Bishop, was born in Grenada on 29th May 1944. An intelligent pupil, Bishop won a scholarship to the Roman Catholic Presentation Boys College. While at this school he won the gold medal for "outstanding academic and all round ability."

As a young man Bishop developed an interest in politics and in 1962 joined with Bernard Coard to form the Grenada Assembly of Youth After Truth. Twice a month Bishop and Cord led debates on current events in the Central Market Place in Grenada.

In 1963 Bishop went to London where he studied law at London University. While at university Bishop became chairperson of the West Indian Students Society and co-founded a legal aid clinic for the West Indian community in Notting Hill. He was also a member of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD).

Bishop married a nurse, Angela Redhead, in 1966. Bishop continued to do voluntary work with the Legal Aid Clinic in Notting Hill. In 1969 he qualified as a barrister and the following year returned to Grenada. Bishop soon became active in politics and helped form the Movement for Assemblies of the People (MAP) and the Movement for the Advance of Community (MACE). In 1973 these organizations merged with Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education and Liberation (JEWEL) to establish the New Jewel Movement (NJM).

The most important political figure during this period was Eric Gairy, the leader of the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) and prime minister of the country. In 1970 Gairy formed a private army called the Mongoose Gang. On 18th November, 1973, Bishop and two other members of the NJM were badly beaten by this gang. Bishop suffered a broken jaw in the attack and was hospitalized for several weeks.

Gairy began argued that Grenada should be granted its independence from Britain. In May 1973 Gairy visited London where he discussed this issue with Edward Heath and it was agreed that Grenada would become independent in February, 1974. Bishop and other members of New Jewel Movement were worried by this decision. It was feared that Gairy would install himself as a dictator after independence. A Committee of 22 was established by the trade unions, civic organizations and the church. On 1st January 1974 the group called a national strike.

On 21st January 1974 the Committee of 22 held a protest march. During the demonstration the marchers were attacked by the police. Several people were injured and Rupert Bishop, Maurice Bishop's father, was killed.

Eric Gairy and his Grenada United Labour Party won the elections held on 7th November, 1976. However, opposition leaders complained that all election officials were members of GULP and that they had tampered with the voting papers. As a result of these elections Bishop became leader of the opposition.

In 1977 Gairy began receiving advice from General Augusto Pinochet of Chile on how to deal with civil unrest. His police and military also received "counter insurgency" training from the Pinochet regime. Bishop and the New Jewel Movement retaliated by developing links with Fidel Castro and his Marxist government in Cuba.

Gairy's state of mind also raised concerns. In October 1977 Gairy addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. During his speech he urged the UN to establish an Agency for Psychic Research into Unidentified Flying Objects and the Bermuda Triangle. He also called for 1978 to be established as "The Year of the UFO".

In 1979 a rumour began circulating that Gairy planned to use his "Mongoose Gang" to assassinate leaders of the New Jewel Movement while he was out of the country. On 13th March 1979, Bishop and the NJM took over the nation's radio station. With the support of the people the NJM was able to take control of the rest of the country.

Influenced by the ideas of Marxists such as Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Daniel Ortega, Bishop began establishing Workers' Councils in Grenada. He received aid from the Soviet Union and Cuba and with this money constructed a aircraft runway to improve tourism.

Bishop attempted to develop a good relationship with the United States and allowed private enterprise to continue on the island. Bernard Coard, the Minister of Finance, disagreed with this policy. He also disliked Bishop's ideas on grassroots democracy. On 19th October, with the support of the army, Coard overthrew the government. Maurice Bishop and most of his ministers were arrested and executed.

President Ronald Reagan, who had been highly critical of Bishop's government, took this opportunity to intervene and sent in the United States Marines. The initial assault on 25th October, 1983, consisted of some 1,200 troops, and they were met by stiff resistance from the Grenadian army. Heavy fighting continued for several days, but as the invasion force grew to more than 7,000, the defenders either surrendered or fled into the mountains.

Bernard Coard and 13 others were sentenced to death but these sentences were commuted to life-imprisonment in 1991. His wife, Phyllis Coard, was also sentenced to life-imprisonment. While in prison Bernard Coard has developed a programme of education for the 300 inmates of Richmond Hill Prison.

Primary Sources

(1) Manifesto of the New Jewel Movement (1973)

The people are being cheated and have been cheated for too long-cheated by both parties, for over twenty years. Nobody is asking what the people want. We suffer low wages and higher cost of living while the politicians get richer, live in bigger houses and drive around in even bigger cars. The government has done nothing to help people build decent houses; most people still have to walk miles to get water to drink after 22 years of politicians.

If we fall sick we catch hell to get quick and cheap medical treatment. Half of us can't find steady work. The place is getting from bad to worse every day - except for the politicians (just look at how they dress and how they move around). The police are being used in politics these days and people are getting more and more blows from them. Government workers who don't toe the Gairy line are getting fired left and right.

The government has no idea how to improve agriculture, how to set up industries, how to improve housing, health, education and general well-being of the people. They have no ideas for helping the people. All they know is how to take the people's money for themselves, while the people scrape and scrunt for a living.

We believe that the main concern of us all is to (1) prevent the daily rise in prices of all our food and clothes and other essentials (it is unbelievable but that the price you can get for a pound of cocoa can't buy a half-pound of fish) and (2) develop a concrete program for raising the standard of housing, living, education, health, food and recreation for all the people

The present situation we face is that we are forced to live in jammed-up, rundown, unpainted houses without toilet and bath, without running water, very poor roads, overcrowded schools where our children can't get a decent education, and without any proper bus service. There is almost no ambulance service in case of illness. We can't afford the cost of food to feed our children properly and this makes it easier for them to catch all kinds of illnesses. There are very few places near home for recreation. All we have is the rum shop to drown our troubles. It's almost impossible to buy clothes or shoes these days. The prices are ridiculous.

(2) Maurice Bishop, speech (March, 1979)

Let me assure the people of Grenada that all democratic freedoms, including freedom of elections, religious and political opinion, will be fully restored to the people. People of Grenada, this revolution is for work, for food, for decent housing and health services, and for a bright future for our children and great grandchildren.

(3) Grenada Revolution Online (2002)

Bishop was 6’ 3" tall, an excellent speaker; a handsome man with recognized charismatic features of personality. He was known to be pragmatic in that he held that the results of an idea are the best criteria by which to judge its merit. He appeared not to be rigid about this for he kept creativity and hope alive in his vision. He was more a realist in terms of figuring how ideas would work out. He was articulate and warm with people.

Bishop's charisma and his democratic sensibilities, though, proved not to be a substitute for wielding authority and leadership. On the distaff side Bishop was criticized for being wandering, wavering and waffling. The charge that he was 'vacillating' repeatedly occurs.

(4) Kendrick Radix, a member of the NJM government, was interviewed about Bernard Coard in 1984.

In 1978, there was some dissatisfaction with his (Coard's) performance because he introduced a new style of leadership into the party leadership. Politely, it could be called lobbying, but more accurately I would call it a type of subversion, canvassing, infighting. Instead of collective consideration and amendment of various proposals, he would arrive with an already worked out package, and through force of personality, convince the others to accept it. This fundamentally conflicted with collective functioning, and was not received well. An attempt was made to remove him, but the move was stalled with the personal intercession of Bishop.