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Grenada transforming its identity and legacy at Golden Jubilee – Part 1

Governor-General, Her Excellency Dame Dr. Cécile La Grenade, delivered the 2023 Throne Speech for Grenada’s Second Session of its Eleventh Parliament on 26 September 2023, with the theme “Forward into 50: Reflecting on our Past, Solidifying our Future.”

Most certainly, this Theme has been adopted as a hype and guide for the celebration of Grenada’s Golden Jubilee on 7 February 2024 and having been derived from the theme for the 49th Independence Celebration, which was “The Journey to 50: Reflecting on the Past, Planning for the Future”.

On this matter, the Speech refers to the establishment of a National Organising Committee for the 50th Anniversary celebrations to be launched on 19 October 2023, “with a yearlong commemorative celebration of events, projects, programmatic and policy initiatives … designed to have positive legacy impacts on future generations of Grenadians”.

Amongst the policy initiatives are the declaring of 19th October as a national public holiday, the naming and celebration of national heroes, and the introduction and teaching of Grenadian history in schools.

Unfortunately, the manner and message about those initiatives evokes memories, with the feelings of repetition, of the ‘darkness, ignorance, arrogance and controversies’ which has typified the ushering-in of Independence.

The Organising Committee headed by Dr. Wendy Crawford-Daniel, has been seeking to highlight the rationales, and to stimulate widespread participation, for the host of designs and decisions and determinations about the Golden Jubilee, by appearing on Government’s press briefings and on prime media programmes.

The unsettled reactions in the different quarters of society to the schedules of the Committee, especially in terms of the date, locality, format and activities for the commencement of the celebrations, generate many misgivings and send a blow to the Government’s strategy to capitalise on political consensus.

A fitting circulated commentary on the uneasiness which abounded, dubbed “19 October Shouldn’t Be “diluted” With Independence Commemoration“, recounts the position of former Culture Minister Attorney Arley Gill.

Whilst asserting, “The October 19 holiday is long overdue and the Government ought to be applauded for that”, Gill also holds, “October 19 should not be diluted by combining it with any other activity”, and particularly acknowledges that he cannot understand “the logic, neither the historical or philosophical link” between the Independence celebration and the 19 October commemoration, as may be deliberated by the interest groups and officials of the Government.

Political consensus is essential for national prosperity and security. For Grenada to enjoy this coveted state however, it ought to meet certain ‘heavy and sensitive’ criteria with specific reference to its turbulent decade from 1973 to 1983; the main political players being the New Jewel Movement (NJM), Grenada United Labour Party (GULP), Grenada National Party (GNP), People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) and the Revolutionary Military Council (RMC).

A key aspect of contention in the national power play at its early stage involved the proposal and route for Independence, and this scenario continues with lasting consequences and diverse verdicts.

Considering the apparent existence of pertinent deep-rooted issues and many grieving families, the process towards political consensus must feature ‘national healing with truth and reconciliation’.

This Healing and Unity should have already been achieved or reasonably advanced after being on the verge of 50 years Sovereignty; and thus, it should not be now about celebrations boosted by rhetoric full of ‘excuses and hypocrisies and superficialities’.

An outstanding mystery is about the remains of the victims of the tragedy on 19 0ctober 1983 of which the American-led forces may also be accountable for, due to their rescue and overpowering intervention on 25 October.

Further to the differences in the substance and mood for the celebrations of 7 February and 19 October, there exists political polarity and conflict about the philosophy and setting of the events on those dates.

Prominent executive member of the ‘once political party’ Maurice Bishop Patriotic Movement and of the Maurice Bishop and October 19th 1983 Martyrs Foundation which conducts annual ecumenical service on that day, in memory of the many individuals who were slayed by soldiers of the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA), Dr. Terrence Marryshow, has been an ardent advocate over the past decades for 19 October not to be a working day or a day as usual, and for having full disclosures and meaningful closures surrounding the brutality.

Dr. Marryshow expressed “joy and jubilation” towards the announcement of the date as a “permanent holiday”, by his explanatory background writing on the ‘cause and controversy’ for this unheard-of event in the English-speaking Caribbean countries, “Finally, October 19th Gets Proper Recognition”, in the 29 September 2023 e-paper of the Grenada Informer.

He however placed on record his “firm objection to anything festive being undertaken on that day, but to give that day the proper recognition that it deserves and going forward (‘it’) should be referred to as “Heroes and Martyrs Day””.

At a Press Briefing on 19 September 2023 with Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, the Organising Committee promised that the launch will be a “spectacle …. several installations planned” for which no person would want to miss.

The Launch will be used to officially unveil the 2024 Independence logo, theme and song, together with the full list of events for the remaining Independence period ending February 2025.

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell elaborates on the Independence matter by stressing that the launch of the 50th Independence celebrations on the 19th of October is “no accident”, as we need to remember and reflect on the tragic events which took place and to ensure that we learn the sober lessons so that this tragedy is not repeated in the history of Grenada.

He also indicates that it is the Government’s intent to “embark upon, with public support and consultation, the naming of our first national heroes as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations.

“We certainly will have names proposed and we will invite feedback from the public. We are hoping that we can name a minimum of three and perhaps no more than five national heroes, because obviously being recognised as a national hero is the highest award honor that any nation could bestow upon its citizens”.

Land would be acquired, delegated to creating a national heroes park.

Shouldn’t it be considered ‘disjointed or ill-prepared and/or ridiculous’ on the part of the Government, if no one is named on 19 October 2023 as a national hero; especially with the pronouncement by Minister Ron Redhead on 19 October 2022, “Special consideration will be given to developing our national heroes’ framework to designate a day entitled “Maurice Bishop Day”, among others.”

Whilst there is the need for serious qualifications and processes and public discourses going forward in bestowing heroism on a citizen, there is no serious ‘setback and hesitation and pondering’ about issuing a first set of awards on the inauguration of Grenada’s National Heroes Day.

Based on national profiles and sentiments fostered, five potential awardees could easily be identified who have shaped Grenada’s political, evolving and artistic paths during pre-and post-Independence; and of course, those individuals have had global reach and reputation in securing credits and mileage for Grenada.

That is; according to certain historic records there are Julien Fédon who fought against the French and British planters and has been an influence for revolutionary leaders, Theophilus Albert Marryshow who is considered as the Father of the West Indies Federation, Eric Matthew Gairy who was designated as the Father of Independence, Maurice Rupert Bishop who first led a revolution and was first Prime Minister to be assassinated in the English-speaking Caribbean, and Meredith Alister McIntyre who has been regarded a venerable Caribbean integrationist.

The utterances and postures of the Organising Committee thus far, are not impressive and meaningful to a conscious and progressive Grenadian.

Not only does the ‘mantra’ of the Committee seems not to be in correspondence with the substance of the theme for the Government’s 2024 administrative and legislative expectations, but it also has the potential of bringing much ‘awkwardness and bitterness’ to some stalwart contributors to the political and social landscapes of Grenada.

Moreover, whilst the ‘spirit and context’ of the apparent mantra needs interpretation, there are concerns as to whose agenda is being pursued.

In its Editorial “Where Is Uncle Gairy In The Launch Of Independence Celebrations?”, the 29 September 2023 e-paper of the Grenadian Voice claims, “The NJM stands as the most powerful opposition (‘that’) Government has ever seen in Grenada and in a subtle way they still seem to be controlling the narrative in telling stories of the past”.

It can be furthermore argued that both leading parties of post October 1983, the New National Party (NNP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) have active remnants of the NJM. The NJM has been a Marxist-Leninist “left-wing” party which overthrew the GULP on 13 March 1979 and formed the PRG which governed until 19 October 1983.

The reverberating message of the Organising Committee surrounds the ‘rightful or reasonable’ idea that Independence means “we have earned, or gained, or acquired the right to tell our stories. We have acquired the right to design and present our country in our own image and likeness. In other words, it’s (‘about’) self-determination”.

Most forcefully or emphatically; the Message is about the ‘confusing and maybe conniving’ dimension thus, “We are at a point here now (’of the 50th Independence anniversary’) where we are ready to tell our stories. We’re ready to rewrite and define our history. We’re ready to embrace our heritage, our culture, our people and our lives … now the work has started to tell our own stories, to define ourselves as Grenadians and to develop our own national identity, free from external influence or definition”.

The point must be made though that, with this disposition and drive to review and to transform or refocus Grenada’s history, identity and legacy, then it is imperative to “Teach The Children The Truth” as the musical production of the said expression by Bob Marley and the Wailers warns.

Anyhow, should someone be chastised for concluding that the intention of the Government to merge or twin the observances of 19 October and 7 February is an evidence towards releasing the Mantra?

JK Roberts