Fort George as the Historic Site of the October 1983 Massacre

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"Grenada - Fort George", by "roger4336" (Flickr)

The following project was sent to the Government of Grenada on January 3rd, 2011.

The massacre of members of the Grenada Government and citizenry on Fort Rupert on 19 October 1983 and especially the fact that those who lost their lives have never been identified and given to their loved ones for burial represent Grenada’s perennial unfinished business.

It is fortuitous and a mark of the resilience and peace-loving character of the Grenadian people that despite that horrendous event, without historical precedent in the history of our country and the Caribbean region, and regardless of the fact those who know what was done with the bodies of those who perished have sealed their lips from that fateful day to the present, many who were implicated in those atrocities are able to reintegrate themselves in Grenadian society without reprisals and civil unrest. That fact alone needs to be both acknowledged and celebrated.

For whatever reasons, and only the naïve would have failed to guess what those reasons might be, successive governments in Grenada since October 1983, beginning with the Interim Administration, have sought to downplay the massive contribution the People’s Revolution and the People’s Revolutionary Government made to political life and to raising the political consciousness of the people of Grenada, and facilitating their active engagement in the governance of the nation’s affairs between March 1979 and October 1983. This is evidenced by the virtual obliteration not just of the iconography but, crucially, of the systems of social organisation that facilitated active citizenship and which many communities across the country kept alive and functioning despite the clear signs of the Revolution imploding.

Those who took over the governance of Grenada following the tragic events of October 1983 helped to bury the Revolution following its terminal implosion on Fort Rupert. No distinction appeared to be made between the internecine struggles of the political leadership of the country and the efforts of the masses of the people to build a new social order and make a reality of their vision for a brighter, better and more equitable future for themselves and generations yet unborn. It is as if the entire polity, too, had massacred that vision and those hopes and aspirations on 19 October 1983.

In my book Time to Tell – the Grenada Massacre and After which I launched at the first Literary Festival and Book Fair in St George’s in October 2010, I noted that the Grenada Revolution was not an event like a Westminster-style general election but that it was a ‘process’:

‘….a process that the people owned and guarded jealously. It provided them opportunities for the exercise of democratic citizenship and active engagement with the affairs of government. They were not just passively waiting to be done unto, if not done for, once they had cast their votes’…

I do not know and I suspect that no one really knows just how much the consciousness of the Grenadian people and their ownership of what the Revolution stood for and meant for them and their communities have contributed to the manner in which they have endured the pain, the loss, the dashed hopes and the uncertainties that have lingered and festered in the Grenadian polity since October 19, 1983. What is certain, however, is that no individual family and commensurately no nation ever stops agonising about the loss of loved ones and citizens whose bodies are never recovered and taken through that ‘rite of passage’ that is universal and as such common to all societies, ‘developed’ or not. Irrespective of whether or not those loved ones are lost at sea, perish on a battlefield in enemy territory or in a cataclysmic act of terror such as the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, people agonise interminably about not having their dead to bury, not being able to bring closure to their loss and their grieving. Succeeding generations come to learn that their forebears never came home and were never heard of again. At least, in the case of the Twin Towers atrocities, families knew that their loved ones’ remains were enmeshed with tons of ash and rubble.

The Grenada people are no different and are possessed of no less acute human instincts.

Therefore, irrespective of whether or not Ronald Reagan and the US State Department, governments in the Caribbean region or in Grenada itself since 1983 harboured and continue to have fears of a possible resurgence of revolutionary fervour if the Grenadian people were told where the bodies of their loved ones were taken on 19 October 1983 and what was done with them, and were minded to establish shrines and monuments for the Martyrs of October 19, the Grenada Government itself must have regard to that basic need of its people to bring closure to that unfinished business.

It is for this reason that I am inviting the Ministry of Culture and the Government of Grenada to give the most serious consideration to the following proposals and, better yet, to implement them.

I propose:

a) That Fort George be constituted a national ‘Centre for Peace and Reconciliation’ and that the Headquarters of the Grenada Police Force be relocated from that Fort at the earliest opportunity;

b) That the courtyard in which Maurice Bishop, members of his government and others were executed on 19 October 1983 be made into a ‘Peace Garden’ with appropriate landscaping and horticulture and with a free standing monument to replace the minimalist plaque that is mounted on the wall in that courtyard;

c) That the building at the far end of that courtyard which is currently used by the Grenada Police Force be renovated to form part of the Peace Garden to display profiles (with images if available) of all those who are known to have been killed in that courtyard and a chronology of the events that led to the masses of people assembling on the Fort and to the massacre;

d) That the Peace Garden and the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation be open to people of all faiths and none and to all nationalities; that, as such, there should be no religious icons in the Peace Garden or anywhere else in the Centre;

e) That the plinth of the monument is designed in such a manner as to facilitate the official laying of wreaths to mark the anniversary of the massacre itself or placing of flowers by families, friends and well wishers to mark anniversaries of individuals who perished on the Fort, or at other times during the year

f) That the other buildings on the Fort be renovated in keeping with their historic character as heritage buildings and used for the following purposes:

  1. To create a quiet space, open to the public, which anyone can use as an oasis from the hustle and bustle of St George’s and can sit and reflect in an atmosphere that is conducive to inner reflection and to the calming of the spirit; a space where there will be no religious iconography but where murals or paintings depicting the beauty of nature, and where suitable background music could help induce peace and calm;
  2. To house an archive of the history of Fort George up to the present and of its relationship to Forts Frederick and Matthew and to the defence of St George’s;
  3. To be the main focus of St George’s as a Heritage City;
  4. To house an audio-visual exhibition of St George’s as a Heritage City and identify and provide information on other buildings and places of historic interest in the Capital;
  5. To provide an ongoing public education programme on domestic violence and how to report it and to prevent it;
  6. To provide an ongoing public education programme on the dangers of the early sexualization of young girls, on the sexual exploitation of underage girls and boys and the hidden and overt practices of paedophiles;
  7. To run Restorative Justice Programmes, especially in relation to juvenile crime, offences against the person, burglaries and theft;
  8. To provide training on Restorative Justice for teachers and school principals so that those programmes could be implemented in schools, and for youth workers and anyone engaged in work with young people;
  9. To run a ‘Future Leaders’ programme for young people that is targeted principally at school leavers and the short and long term unemployed;
  10. To provide guidance on the establishment of ‘Councils of Elders’ and to provide support for the development of a Council of Elders in each village, including Terms of Reference, a ‘Modus Operandi’ for each Council and training for eligible elders, such that parents could look to such elders for support in resolving conflict among adults and children alike and the village could have a forum for resolving disputes without having to resort to the police and the Courts;
  11. To run seminars and courses on Peace and Reconciliation, on conflict resolution and peace building, including strategies for resolving conflict without resorting to verbal or physical violence, and on issues to do with the rights and obligations of the citizenry; to showcase best practice in promoting peace and reconciliation in communities;
  12. To provide facilities for dining and light refreshments and for merchandise such as books, brochures, posters, post cards, locally produced pottery and ceramics, etc., that have the theme of St George’s as a Heritage City;

g) That insofar as the Fort provides a panoramic view of the Capital and its environs, telescopes should be mounted on suitable pedestals around the apex of the Fort, with a written or electronic guide in appropriate rain- and sun-proof casing adjacent to the pedestal that indicates to the viewer the key places, objects or buildings to be seen through the particular telescope;

h) That those telescopes be sourced through the Government’s procurement process and that the pedestals be of a metered variety that could facilitate the paying of a fee to use the telescope for a time-limited period.

It is my firm belief that irrespective of whether or not the nation is eventually told what happened to the bodies of those who perished on Fort Rupert on 19 October 1983, the proposed Centre for Peace and Reconciliation will be like a phoenix rising from the ashes of that most horrendous self immolation. It will allow the people of Grenada to own that tragedy and to celebrate the fact that their indomitable spirit was not crushed by it for all time. Moreover, it will signal that the Government and people of Grenada acknowledge that the capacity of individuals and groups to form factions and to commit terrible acts of violence against one another remains; that such acts of violence on a lesser or greater scale are committed daily in homes and communities; that they injure the vulnerable and innocent and render them less capable of living life with dignity and without fear and trauma. Above all, it will send a signal that the nation as a whole has a collective responsibility to build an alternative culture and to generate and embed the values that make us all fit for living in civil society, a society that bears the hallmark of fairness and justice.

The approach to peace and reconciliation proposed herein acknowledges that no matter how numerous or competent at crime detection and prosecution of offenders the Grenada Police Force becomes, the nation, like others, will still bemoan the level and types of crime being committed in Grenada and the fear of crime that is induced in the community. Evidently, neither the police nor the courts can be expected to tackle the crime prevention, detection and punishment issue alone. A Centre for Peace and Reconciliation such as I propose, therefore, is not meant to be a ‘shrine’ to the Martyrs of October 19, 1983, but a bold example of a Government engaging in planned nation-building and of a country owning up to its past tragedies and present orientation and being proactive to ensure that the ‘dry rot’ does not infest the entire house.

Finally and for the avoidance of doubt, let me state the context in which I make this intervention. When I attended the Diaspora Conference in St George’s in August 2010, the Prime Minister and every Government Minister who spoke highlighted their desire to see a greater level of engagement by Grenadians in the Diaspora in the process of helping build Grenada. They all acknowledged that we in the Diaspora have skills and expertise that Grenada needs and that the country is as interested in utilising those as in the financial contribution we make through our remittances, the barrels of goods we send, our trips home and the like.

It is in the spirit of that ‘Call to the Grenadian Diaspora’ that I make this submission as a member of that Diaspora whose skills and expertise are utilised by other countries in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. I trust, therefore, that the Government of Grenada will formally acknowledge this intervention, at the very least, and give these proposals serious consideration.

For reasons which will be obvious, these proposals are being sent simultaneously to the Maurice Bishop and Martyrs foundation and to the Willie Redhead Foundation. It is my wish that the Government will work with both these organisations in considering this submission.

Picture: “Grenada – Fort George“, by “roger4336” (Flickr)

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