Today, we remember our slain comrade, Maurice Rupert Bishop, who was born May 29, 1944.
Bishop led an overthrow of 400 years of British imperialist rule of the island country of Grenada and served as prime minister from 1979 until he was murdered in a 1983 CIA-led plot to destroy both Grenada’s Black Revolution and the Internationalist direction of Bishop and his party, the New Jewel Movement (NJM).
Born on the island of Aruba to Grenadian parents, Bishop’s family returned to Grenada, where he received his primary and secondary education.
During his school years, Bishop exhibited the characteristics of a leader, exceeding in his educational requirements while also holding presidential offices in the student government, debating society and historical society. He also served as editor of his school magazine, The Student Voice.
After graduating, Bishop organized students from the debate team and historical society in Grenada until he moved to Great Britain in 1963 to study law at Holburn College of Law. There, too, he involved himself in community work by establishing a law clinic in the West Indian community of Notting Hill.
Based from London, Bishop traveled to European countries that espoused socialist ideologies. Well read in the theories of Marx, Lenin, Mao, and others, he is said to have been most influenced by The Arusha Declaration and Ujaama: Essays on Socialism (both by Julius K. Nyerere).
But it was the Black Power Movement that inspired and motivated Bishop, just as it had risen up black revolutionaries all over the world. The anti-colonialist struggle in Vietnam and the struggle for black power being waged by the Kenya Land Freedom Army, under the leadership of Dedan Kimathi, especially resonated with him.
Upon his return to the Caribbean in 1970, Bishop leant himself to the “black power” uprising then happening on the island of Trinidad. Inspired by the Black Power Movement, he organized support remotely from Grenada.
During this time, the islands of the Caribbean (including Trinidad, but also Cuba, Jamaica and Guyana) also were in a struggle to regain control of their economics and politics, which were dominated at the time by Great Britain, France, the United States and Spain.
In Grenada, Bishop organized a consortium of activists from neighboring islands who were against the British-led government of Grenada, then headed by Eric Gairy.
Black Nationalism for Grenada was at the forefront of Bishop’s mind because without Black Nationalism, in a country that that had a black majority, the people would remain colonized.
In a speech given at the African Liberation Day conference, Bishop compared the situation of Africans in the Caribbean to the plight of Africans in Africa:
“The same enemy called imperialism for Grenada is the same enemy for Africa, the same banks that try to exploit us in the Caribbean are the same banks that are exploiting our sisters and brothers in Africa, the same big oil companies that are exploiting us in the Caribbean are the same big oil companies that are exploiting our sisters and brothers in Africa.”
Armed with this understanding, Bishop and his childhood comrade Bernard Coard formed the NJM. The NJM challenged the Gairy regime, labeling it undemocratic.
In 1971, Gairy’s government made an amendment to the “Public Order Act ” of 1951 which stated that the distribution of written material which was threatening, abusive or insulting, or any citizen who used, in any public place or at any public meeting or proceeding, words which were threatening, abusive or insulting was punishable by jail time and heavy fines. The violators of this act, which included NJM’s publication the Jewel, were brutalized, jailed and intimidated.
The educational system, under Gairy, was poor and gave more power to those who spoke the “queen’s english” than to the peasantry who spoke patois and creole.
Under these circumstances, Bishop and NJM were effective in organizing support to overthrow the Gairy regime, which had been in control for 12 years.
On March 13, 1979, while Gairy was away at a UFO meeting, members of the NJM staged a bloodless coup that seized control of the military bases and media outlets, and detained members of Gairy’s cabinet.
The constitution composed under the leadership of the British and Gairy had been suspended. The People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) was established.
Under Bishop’s leadership, many organizations bloomed and took on many of the concerns that Gairy had overlooked. Organizations that dealt with women’s concerns (The National Women’s Organization), education (Center for Popular Education), health care, youth affairs (National Youth Organization) and more now saw their concerns being addressed.
Fidel Castro also lent his support and helped Bishop and the Grenadian people construct a new international airport that ended Grenada’s isolation from the rest of the progressive world. Cubans worked side by side with Africans in Grenada to build this airport.
However, because of the United States’ hostile relationship with Cuba, CIA propaganda surfaced, which accused Grenada of setting up a military base poised to launch an attack on the U.S. This pretext, along with that of “rescuing students”, laid the groundwork for the 1983 U.S. invasion of the island, which ushered into power a U.S. puppet regime.
Nevertheless, a phone call from a comrade was made to African People's Socialist Party Chairman Omali Yeshitela in the middle of the night of October 25, 1983. This comrade, calling from Barbados, where the U.S. military invasion was launched, was a member of an African Socialist International affiliate organization.
Also during these series of events, prior to the invasion, an African Peoples's Socialist Party representative was in discussions with the New Jewel Movement for purpose of it hosting the founding Congress of the African Socialist International in Grenada.
The call informed Chairman Omali that U.S. marines were invading the island and were running roughshod all over, except at the new international airport, where they met strong resistance from armed Cuban construction workers..
Upon receiving this information, the African People’s Socialist Party was the first to take action. They organized demonstrations and other actions to inform the world of the U.S. military action against the people of Grenada and to expose the Reagan regime’s lies and misinformation concerning the reasons for U.S. troop presence.
Bishop and the Grenadian revolution are important because, for the first time in the trans-colonial African Caribbean and the second time in the history of the Caribbean, a predominately African island country wrested control from its colonial/neocolonial masters and dared to define their own destiny based upon their own needs, not the imperialist agenda.
Bishop died for what he believed: that Grenadines and all African people have the right to use our resources in order to benefit us. This is a dangerous concept, one that Bishop was aware of when he paraphrased a ”secret” State Department document in a presentation delivered at Hunter College in 1983:
The Grenada Revolution is in one sense even worse than the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions because people of Grenada and leadership of Grenada speaks English and therefore can communicate directly to the people of the United States… [they] are predominately black, [in fact] 95% of predominately African origin our country then we can have a dangerous appeal to 30 million black people in the United States.
Indeed, the U.S. government was right to be concerned.
Bishop’s body was never found. Some believe it was buried and then removed to the U.S. by U.S. forces.
To this day, the extent of the CIA’s, and U.S. government’s involvement in the assassination of Bishop and the overthrow of the Grenadian government are still hidden from public view, despite Barack Obama’s claim of transparency.
The international airport, formerly known as Point Salines, was completed in 1984, and in May 2009 was renamed Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA).