Christopher Columbus discovered Grenada in 1498. For the next two centuries the Caribs resisted all attempts by Europeans to settle on the island. Eventually all the Caribs were killed and the French took over the island. However, for the next hundred years the French struggled to stop the island being taken by its rival European powers. In 1783 the French was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles and the island became part of the British Empire.

Grenada did not benefit from colonial rule and by the middle of the 20th century most of the 100,000 population lived in poverty. The most important political figure during this period was Eric Gairy, who had created the left of centre political party, the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) in 1950. Gairy held the posts of Chief Minister in the Federation of the West Indies (1957-1962) and became prime minister of Grenada in 1967. During this period, the main opposition to the GULP came from the Grenada National Party (GNP).

In 1969 Maurice Bishop returned to Grenada after studying law in England. Soon afterwards he 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).

After his election victory in 1972 Gairy 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.

Some people in Grenada 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, the father of Maurice Bishop, the leader of the New Jewel Movement, 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.

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. 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, Maurice 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 several others, including Unison Whiteman (Foreign Minister), Jacqueline Creft (Minister of Education and Women's Affairs), Norris Bain (Minister of Housing) and Fitzroy Bain (President of the Agricultural and General Workers Union) 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. Twenty-four civilians were killed in the invasion, including 21 patients in a psychiatric hospital accidentally bombed by US planes.

The invasion of Grenada was deemed by the United Nations General Assembly to be an unlawful aggression and intervention into the affairs of a sovereign state. A similar resolution was discussed in the UN Security Council and although receiving widespread support it was ultimately vetoed by the USA.

Bernard Coard, along with Phyllis Coard, Selwyn Strachan, John Ventour, Liam James and Keith Roberts, were arrested on 31st October 1983. The leaders of the coup were put on trial in August 1986. Along with 13 others, Board was sentenced to death. This sentence was commuted to life-imprisonment in 1991.

Primary Sources

(1) United States State Department reported on the activities of Eric Gairy in 1978.

The formation of the infamous Mongoose Gang in 1970 - an illegal act since Gairy had no legal authority to establish law enforcement agencies outside the provision of the law of the state - unleashed a series of unspeakable atrocities against the Grenada citizenry, constitution a veritable reign of terror.

(2) Eric Gairy, speech (February 1972)

Take warning, my dear people, and remember that we, as human beings, can fool one another, but we cannot fool God. In Carriacou today, there are a number of organization that are being operated under the guise of social, cultural or even charitable intentions, but you know as well as I do, that their motives are very sinister and contrary to what the organizers profess them to be. You know too, that certain persons have been going around by night and day, telling lies, preaching hate, and like wolves in sheep clothing have been deceiving the poor people and robbing them of their much needed pennies, under false pretences. Beware, my dear people, and again remember that they are only fooling themselves, because we believe that there is a just God whom they cannot fool.

Obviously, this terrible drought situation is a consequence of the sinful way of life which prevails in Carriacou and Petit Martinique today. This sinful way of hate, of violence, of ungratefulness and of untruth is not the Way of God, but of men who represent the devil and his followers, and consequently are responsible for summoning the wrath of God upon us all."

(3) 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.

(4) Eric Gairy, speech (7th February 1974)

We are now completely free, liberated, independent. In spite of a wicked, malicious, obstructive, destructive minority of noise-making self-publicists, God has heard our prayers. God has been merciful. God has triumphed.

(5) 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.

(6) 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.

(7) 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.

(8) The Grenada 17, Amnesty International (October, 2003)

In 1983 the United States of America (USA) led an invasion of Grenada which removed from power the government of the island. In 1986, fourteen former members of the Government of Grenada and three soldiers were convicted for the 19 October 1983 execution-style murders of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and several others... Fourteen of those convicted were sentenced to death by hanging while the other three were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment.

Those imprisoned have subsequently come to be known as the Grenada 17. The Grenada 17 are Bernard Coard, Phyllis Coard, Hudson Austin, Ewart Layne, Selwyn Strachan, Liam James, Leon Cornwall, Dave Bartholomew, John Ventour, Colville McBarnette, Christopher Stroude, Lester Redhead, Calistus Bernard, Cecil Prime, Andy Mitchell, Vincent Joseph, and Cosmos Richardson. The Grenada 17 have maintained their innocence with respect to the charges brought against them.

Amnesty International classifies the Grenada 17 as political prisoners and as such called for them to be granted a prompt, fair and impartial trial. The organization has monitored their incarceration and legal processing since it has been practicably possible to do so. Observers were sent to pre-trial hearings and the trial itself. An Amnesty International delegation also carried out an inspection of the prison in which the 17 were incarcerated. Numerous representations outlining Amnesty International's concerns around the treatment of the 17 have been made to the Grenadian authorities over the interceding years.

Amnesty International does not take a position on the actual guilt or innocence of the Grenada 17. However, Amnesty International remains concerned over several violations of internationally recognised human rights law and standards in this case, and in particular those related to the right to a fair trial.

The case of the Grenada 17 must be seen in the broader geo-political context of the Cold War and its impact upon the Caribbean and the Americas. In the early 1980s the US administration feared the advance of communism and the growth of the influence of the Soviet Union in the region. This led it to take action against various countries. For example, the US government sponsored armed opposition to the government of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua which came to power following the 1979 revolution. The Sandinista era had begun soon after the Grenada Revolution.

On 13 March 1979, the New Jewel Movement (NJM), a political party of the left, overthrew the Grenada United Labour Party government led by Eric Gairy. The NJM forcibly removed the Gairy government from power on 13 March 1979 whilst Gairy was visiting the USA. The resulting NJM government, which included non-members of the NJM, became known as the Peoples' Revolutionary Government (PRG) and their policies and programmes became known as the Grenada Revolution.

The new government implemented economic and social reform in areas including health care, education, housing, and women's and children's rights. International funding agencies observed a marked improvement in the economy.(3) Amnesty International raised concerns around alleged violations of human rights that occurred under the NJM government, including detention without trial of over 100 people, including journalists. In 1981, an Amnesty International delegation visited Grenada to discuss the organization's concerns with the authorities.

(9) Lester Redhead, statement in court (October, 1986)

I say that statement was taken under torture. I admit that the signature at the bottom of the statement is mine. I only signed the statement after being tortured for several hours by Barbadian police officer Sgt. Ashford Jones and Courcey Holder...On or about 29 October 1983 I was captured by US invasion forces and taken to a prisoner of war camp at Port Saline. There I was subject to physiological torture. I was placed in a box 8 x 8 (feet) with a little door I had to lie down to crawl into. On first night that box was beaten for the entire night... A forklift actually lifted that box off the ground with me inside. I was only given one meal per day...

On 11th November 1983 I was taken by Sgt. Ashford Jones and Courcey Holder among others. I was immediately handcuffed to a chair and left there for about 30 minutes with a Bajan police officer pointing a .38 pistol at my head. I told him (Sgt. Jones who had entered the room) I would only do so (make a statement) in the presence of my lawyers. Having said that Courcey Holder immediately started to beat me in the head...

After this Sgt. Jones started reading from what I assumed was a statement in front of him asking me if I know anything about this. I told him to my knowledge I don't know anything about what he is speaking about. Having said that Courcey Holder started to beat me in the chest and stomach telling me to say that I know what Sgt. Jones was reading. This pattern continued for several hours...

After they completed writing that so called statement Sgt. Jones asked me to read the statement. I told him that as far as I was concerned I did not give any statement. I refused to do so. Again they started beating me. When I could not take the blows anymore I had to give in and sign the statement. I was then taken back to Point Saline and put back in the box.

(10) Julian Borger, The Guardian (23rd October, 2003)

All 17 were found guilty, and 14 were sentenced to death for their role in the murder of Bishop and the nine other victims of the coup. According to official documents obtained by Amnesty International, a US diplomat met the chief prosecutor while their appeals were being considered.

The appeals were turned down, but the death penalties were later commuted. All 17 are still incarcerated, although one of them, Mr Coard's wife Phyllis, has been permitted to seek medical treatment outside her jail.

"As far as I'm concerned they did not have a fair trial," said Leslie Pierre, the publisher and editor of the Grenadian Voice, who has campaigned for the prisoners' release. "They were railroaded by the Caribbean prime ministers who were being coerced by the US."

Mr Pierre, who had been imprisoned by the revolutionary government and was freed by American troops, said the court in which the Grenada 17 were tried was unconstitutional, and the defendants were not allowed to see evidence which they could have used to point out discrepancies in the prosecution's case.