Former Army Commander, General Hudson Austin has broken his silence for the first time in 39 years to be interviewed by a local journalist on his role in the making of the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution and its subsequent demise in October 1983 when Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and several close Cabinet colleagues were executed on Fort Rupert.
In the interview which lasted just over 3-hours, General Austin lashed out at former Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard and Lieutenant-Colonel Ewart “Headache” Layne for telling him lies in the turbulent days in the power struggle within the then ruling New Jewel Movement (NJM) on October 19, 1983 which led to the brutal massacre on the fort.
The Bishop/Coard controversy was sparked by the explosive issue of Joint Leadership within NJM that triggered the crisis within the party.
The ex-army commander along with Coard, former Mobilisation Minister Selwyn Strachan, Ex-Ambassador to Cuba, Major Leon “Bogo” Cornwall, Lieutenant-Colonels Layne and Liam “Owusu” James, and trade unionist John “Chaulkie” Ventour were among 17 former government and army officers who received lengthy prison sentences for the murder of Bishop, Foreign Minister Unison Whiteman, Education Minister Jacqueline Creft, Housing Minister Norris Bain and others on the fort.
Austin blamed Coard in particular for the demise of the revolution since he was too hungry for power to become Prime Minister of the country and had a deep jealousy of the intellect of the charismatic Bishop and his popularity with the female sex.
The General of the now disbanded People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA) made the startling disclosure that Coard who wrote a book and accused Bishop of being “a womaniser” had made several overtures himself of a sexual nature to some of the same women who were involved with the executed Grenadian leader.
“Bernard Coard wanted to get rid of Maurice anyway and I will tell the world that. Bernard Coard envy Maurice down the line,” he told THE NEW TODAY.
“Lemme tell you something – every one of them little woman that Maurice used to deal with Bernard tackled them – even Jackie (Creft). He send a letter to Jackie he wanted to have an affair with her – that is why he wanted to mash up (Maurice) – everything to undermine Maurice.
Creft, the executed Minister of Education was the mother of one of Bishop’s children.
Austin also related an incident involving Coard and a female Guyanese who worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was known to have an intimate relationship with the late Grenada Prime Minister.
“(Name withheld) had a party one night and invited Bernard Coard and Maurice and all of them and you know what he (Coard) do – he hide himself in (name of female withheld) room and when everybody gone, he tried to hold the girl and have sex with her.
“…Every woman that Maurice had, he (Coard) tackled them – everyone. That was part of the rift between them – a lot of people don’t know that.
The ex-Army General maintained his position that he was not part of any meeting involving the NJM Central Committee to execute Bishop after a large gathering stormed his home at Mt Wheldale on October 19, 1983 where he was held under house arrest and then taken to Fort Rupert where he was recaptured and then killed.
Several members of the Central Committee had assembled at Coard’s home which is located close to where Bishop was staying and quickly left the area for Fort Frederick when the crowd moved into Mt. Wheldale.
Austin said: “I went to Fort Frederick and then I went home because remember I wasn’t well – I was on sick leave, Mr. Layne was in control. I went back to Fort Frederick after lunch and Layne came to me and he say they had to send people to take back the fort – and you know he is a Commander for the area.
“Later on in the evening I ask them where Bernard is. They say Bernard up in the fort – I was in the bottom. So I went up there to see him and ah say what really happening here now – what really going on? He tell me he ain’t know yet, he ain’t get a report yet – them fellahs went to take back the fort, people fire on them and all kinds of thing and he ain’t get a report yet.
According to Austin, he left the fort once again to visit Bishop’s mother, Alimenta who lived about 500 metres away from Fort Frederick.
The General said he went back to the fort and it was at this stage Coard told him that many people got killed on the fort and that Bishop, Whiteman and Creft got killed in a crossfire shoot out with the army.
“I say well how that happen – he say well them people storm the fort. When it coming to night, I say we have to tell the people of Grenada what go on and that is when the bitch (Coard) write the lie and give me. When I get to know that I read a lie to the nation if I wasn’t a good sane person I would have committed suicide that I go and tell that big lie to the nation that Maurice and them get killed in crossfire.
“You know when I really learnt the truth about that – when I come from prison. I didn’t get the truth about what happened on the fort until I come from prison.
Austin claimed that even while the so-called Grenada 17 convicted murderers including Coard and Layne were in prison alongside him, they kept denying even to the lawyers retained to defend them on the murder charges that an order was given to execute Prime Minister Bishop and the others.
“I asked Layne what is the truth about what happened on the fort, you know what he tell me – one day when we leave prison we go discuss that – that is what he tell me”, said the army chief.
General Austin revealed that he got the truth after he came out from prison and visited the St. George’s General Hospital to seek medical attention for a prostate and nose problem and ran into a female soldier in the disbanded army.
“She told me what really happened on the fort – that is how I get to know. She told me that they captured Maurice and them on the bottom, they bring them up on the top and they lined them up. She told me she saw that and Abdullah (Callistus Bernard) read out a statement that this is Central Committee orders that they should be executed.
“Where the hell Central Committee get powers to execute people – where they tried them? Who else could have given that order (but Coard?)
According to Austin, Coard had always wanted to get rid of Bishop and that all of those events that transpired leading up to the killings on the fort would have been ordered by the ex-Deputy Prime Minister.
He said: “Layne wouldn’t do that on his own. Layne wouldn’t execute people on his own without discussing that with Bernard. I am more thinking that Bernard that make them do that – he get a good opportunity to get rid of Maurice and Whiteman and most of the people he ain’t like around.”
“Maurice was too generous, he give Coard too much leeway in the party till after a time Coard feel he could do things without consulting Maurice,” he added.
Austin said that he picked up information after it had happened that it was Lieutenant-Colonel Layne and Major Cornwall with instigation from Coard who took the decision to put Bishop under house arrest amidst a rumour that had surfaced in the country that the ex-deputy Prime Minister and his Jamaican-born wife, the late Phyllis Coard were planning to kill the Prime Minister.
He said they advanced the rumour as the reason that both Bishop and Coard should be confined to their homes but the fact of the matter is that the latter was allowed “to go all over the place” while the Prime Minister could not leave his home at Mt. Wheldale.
The former army boss disclosed that there was a great deal of distrust between Coard and himself even when they were inmates in prison, to the point where the ex-Deputy Prime Minister allegedly gave instructions to the others not to discuss a number of things with him including certain aspects of the murder trial.
He said he understood that Coard was fearful that if the General knew too much that he might decide to turn on them and become a witness for the Prosecution in the trial.
Austin said that while in prison, he asked them about the order to destroy the bodies at Camp Calivigny and not hand them over to family members for the customary Christian burial but all of them “ducked” the issue.
The ex-army boss recalled that within days of the triumph of the March 13, 1979 Grenada Revolution, Coard was the first person in the NJM hierarchy to seek to make changes to its leadership structure in which both Bishop and Whiteman held the positions of Joint Co-ordinating Secretaries of the party.
Austin said the meeting took place in Coard’s private home and the ex-deputy Prime Minister pointed out that “we can’t go to the world with two leaders” and from thereon Bishop was acknowledged as the Leader of the Party and Revolution.
He stated that in retrospect, Bishop made a mistake by not declaring that Whiteman would now become his deputy.
“The mistake Maurice made was to make Bernard his deputy – Maurice way make him that. All this time now he (Coard) had his plan,” he said.
Austin indicated that the issue of the person to serve as Deputy Prime Minister was the prerogative of Prime Minister Bishop and he did not hold discussions with party officials on the decision as to the person who should be second in command of the government.
“That man (Coard) do everything he could do in his power to undermine Maurice. I talked to Maurice when he made Bernard Coard deputy. I say Maurice, you’re wrong, Unison Whiteman went through all the struggle with you, all the struggle with us – where was Bernard Coard? I can’t remember seeing Bernard Coard in a demonstration in Grenada.
Coard had spent most of his time outside of Grenada serving as a Lecturer with the University of the West Indies (UWI).
According to Austin, a few years later when he reminded Coard about the change in his position now on Joint Leadership in NJM which led to the October 1983 crisis, the ex-Deputy Prime Minister told him: “…Things changing all over the world and we have to make change to suit the world.”
The General described the “Joint Leadership” issue that led to the bloody split within the NJM ranks as nothing but “a total conspiracy” by Coard and his clique within the party to take control of the revolutionary process from under Bishop’s guidance.
He said the issue was not on the agenda of the Central Committee meeting in early October 1983 when he left the country for a visit to North Korea to attend the 35th anniversary of the founding of the communist state.
He indicated that trade unionist Vincent Noel who was among those killed on the fort by the army was the person selected by the party to attend the event but Coard was able to persuade Bishop to send the army chief instead.
“Maurice thought it was right to send a military person. The point is Bernard had his plans for when I (was) out – all that time he (is) making plans because when I leave here to go to Korea there was no talk about Joint Leadership. The minute time I gone to Korea all of that come up. So the whole Joint Leadership plot was behind my back.
According to Austin, during his absence from the island, Lieutenant-Colonel Layne, a staunch ally of the Coard faction was put to act for him in charge of the army.
“Layne is deputy so he (Coard) has him where he wants him. When he persuaded Maurice to send me out he knows what he wanted to do… so that is the time he will launch his bid for Joint Leadership. So that is when he made his Joint Leadership bid because he will have command of the army with Layne commanding the army. So that is where he get his foothold.
Austin said by the time he came back into the country, the discussion in the Central Committee on Joint Leadership had ended and it was only to be voted upon by members.
He said he abstained on the vote on the grounds that he was not part of the earlier discussions.
“I told them plain that I did not hear what this is all about, I am abstaining – I am not voting for that. I abstained because I did not hear the discussions,” he added.
When told that there was widespread belief in the country at the time that he took an opportunistic position to throw in his lot with Coard in order to survive politically because the balance of forces had shifted significantly within the NJM in Coard’s favour in both the party and the army, Austin said: “No way – they hide everything from me. They didn’t even invite me to meetings.
“Let me tell you something – from the time this Joint Leadership come up Bernard Coard was made Chairman of the Central Committee, Maurice was Chairman of the Political Bureau and I have never been invited to a Central Committee meeting. When you hear they (were) running about and talking about Central Committee decision, it is Bernard Coard’s decision.
“They called meetings of the army behind my back and tell the men in the army don’t tell me what take place in the meeting – (they) tell the men don’t tell H.A nothing about this meeting.
“He (Coard) call a meeting in his house while Maurice under house arrest midnight with he and his boys – they ain’t invite me to no meeting. But next morning when I went by Maurice, Maurice tell me that they were shouting out there last night, “Long Live the Revolution and they going on by Bernard. So I say (to Bishop) I don’t know about that and he (Bishop) say – they didn’t invite you”.
In his expose on Coard, the General touched on an issue, which happened a few years before the NJM staged the coup d’etat on the Gairy regime.
He said: “Bernard Coard tried something early in the game that made me suspect him. We had military groups around the country and he Bernard behind my back send (Major Basil) Gahagan to tell the fellahs in St Paul’s that I am no longer in charge – he Gahagan is in charge of the military.
“So then I start suspecting him – I ain’t trust him. Uni was the one in charge and Maurice – not him (Coard) but he wants to control everything. I noticed that early, early in the game and I start watching him. I told Selwyn Strachan about it. I check Uni and I say, what happened – you fire me? I told him Gahagan came and told the boys in St Paul’s that he’s in charge of the troops now, so tell me what I did, what you fire me for?
“Uni say I don’t know anything about that. I didn’t send anybody to tell you anything. He say, well is Bernard that do that.
According to Austin, two of the other top brass in the NJM-created National Liberation Army (NLA) – Gahagan and Layne, along with Major John “Chaulkie” Ventour were all aligned to Coard who was determined to do anything to get “his boys to be in charge of everything”.
Austin charged that at one point Coard went behind his back and told Bishop who later informed him that the ex-deputy Prime Minister Coard suggested that it was better to put the Army Chief to work in the Police Force.
“He (Coard) didn’t want me in the army, he wanted to control the army – he wanted to control the army from Day One but with HA there, HA was the (obstacle). So he tried to do everything to get me out of the army because he knows with me there he can’t shit around.”
Austin revealed that anytime Bishop left the island and Coard acted as Prime Minister he often interfered with the operations of the army.
“He moved (Major) Einstein (Louison) as Chief of Staff and put Layne. When Maurice came back I said Maurice you see that move by Bernard, reverse it one time because that is a move he’s making to see what you will do so he will know what to do next time – so since then he playing games.”
According to the ex-army chief, Bishop did reverse the decision and reinstated Louison to his position of Chief of Staff in the PRA.
General Austin was also asked to explain the circumstances in which four days before the executions on the fort that he read a speech on the then Radio Free Grenada (RFG), allegedly coming from the NJM Central Committee accusing Bishop of trying to renege on the Joint Leadership decision and engaging in one-man rule within the party.
Austin said: “Let me tell you what happened there – I really thought it was a statement from the Central Committee, I didn’t know that it was something that Bernard Coard alone write. Bernard Coard write that for himself – that was not a Central Committee decision.
“Bernard write that on his own – no Central Committee thing. I say how come the Committee come up with all this decision and I wasn’t dey. Ah say all you want me read it and I read it for the people.
According to Austin, the norm within the party since the March 13 Revolution was that anything relating to the party, it always fell on him to bring it to the Grenadian people.
The General said that it was only the next day when he made a visit to Bishop at his home where he was kept under arrest that he realised that the Prime Minister did not have anything to do with the statement that was put out to the public.
“Maurice say, so you call me a dictator last night and I say no –Central Committee. I thought you were in the meeting because Maurice could attend Central Committee meetings even though he is not Chairman. Maurice said he doesn’t know anything about that (speech) – I was in no meeting, nobody tell me about Central Committee meeting.
Austin denied that he had joined with anyone in personally accusing Bishop of promoting “one-manism” within the NJM since, “I (was) only reading what the Central Committee say.”
The General insisted that it was then that he realised that he was used by The Coard Gang because it was the ex-Deputy Prime Minister who had called him and gave the speech to read out to the nation.
The ex-army chief identified Coard as the one who was the author of the national address that he (Austin) delivered to inform Grenadians about the death of Bishop and the other ministers.
In the address, Austin threatened to “shoot-on-sight” anyone who violated a 24-hour 5-day curfew that the coup leaders had imposed after the bloody executions on the fort in which Bishop and his close colleagues were executed.
The General also sought to debunk claims made by some pro-Coard supporters that the former Deputy Prime Minister was the one who cast the decisive vote among the NJM top leaders to proceed with the March 13, 1979 attack on Gairy’s army barracks at True Blue since Bishop and a few others were unsure of the capability of NJM’s armed forces to get the job done.
Austin said: “That’s total bullshit. Let me tell you something – I was in hiding because Gairy and them were looking for me. I was hiding up but they (the NJM Leadership) knew where I was. They sent to call me – I disguised (as) there was a police station just down the road dey (near to Gravel road leaving into La Borie in St Paul’s) and I had to pass the police. They sent a rented car for me. I sat down in the back of the car reading a newspaper and I went to the meeting.
“So this thing it was deadlocked and it was Bernard Coard (who made the crucial intervention) – he always pushing himself. That is not true. The thing about it is in truth they wanted to know if we are ready to do that job and so they had to call me. What the hell Bernard Coard knows about military? He always pushing himself – he and his satellites.
“I am telling you that is not true. Maurice might have been vacillating as to whether it was the right time so they had to call me. He (Bernard) wouldn’t want to call me as he never liked my head because I was so attached to Maurice and his every aim was to undermine Maurice.
Austin identified the executed Foreign Affairs Minister Whiteman as the person on the NJM Political Bureau serving as the point man between the party’s hierarchy and the NLA.
He said that Whiteman would from time-to-time visit to observe the training that was taking place by the armed wing of the party and that neither Bishop nor Coard ever came into the areas where the NLA troops were engaged in heavy military training.
“Unison Whiteman could be a very secretive person. That is why I think Uni agree that we were ready. What Bernard – he does make people believe he is a big boy but was no big boy in this thing (the military operation to overthrow Gairy). He doesn’t know anything about military.
Austin said that Coard was not part of the early days of struggle by the NJM and the beatings suffered by Bishop and others at the hands of Gairy’s thugs and that he only got to know him sometime around 1976.
The ex-army Commander made mention of a letter which Bishop had showed him one day when he went to visit him while under house arrest.
In the letter which was written by Coard, he told Bishop who was also in England studying law that when he (Coard) returned to Grenada he would be getting involved in politics to become the Prime Minister of Grenada and wanted to make Bishop his deputy.
Austin said as it turned out Bishop became the leader of NJM and Prime Minister of the country but Coard was not satisfied and set about to take over from him as leader of the country.
The late Kenrick Radix, a close ally of Bishop had also alluded to this Coard letter at a political meeting of the now defunct Maurice Bishop Patriotic Movement (MBPM) in the St. George’s Market Square about one year after the executions on the fort.