Christopher Columbus stumbled on 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 organisations 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 visitedLondon 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 organisations 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 an 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, and supporter of the principle of Democratic Centralism as opposed to Bishop’s leadership style that was close to Fidel Castro’s charismatic style of leadership moved to take over control of the country.
Coard was considered as the most influential of the revolutionary leaders and had developed a cadre of supporters including army chiefs, Lieutenant-Colonels Liam James and Ewart Layne and Major Leon “Bogo” Cornwall.
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. Reports indicate that they were hiding in a house in the Mt. Parnassus area that was owned by a brother of former Police Chief, Vincent Roberts.
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.