Former army strongman, General Hudson Austin has distanced himself from the decision that was taken in October 1983 to destroy the bodies of late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and three Cabinet Ministers following the bloody massacre at Fort Rupert for control of the New Jewel Movement-led Grenada Revolution among moderates and a hardline faction led by ex-deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard.
Austin told THE NEW TODAY that he had called Eric La Qua of La Qua Brothers Funeral Home to remove the bodies of all those persons who were killed when soldiers heeded the call of Lieutenant-Colonel Ewart “Headache” Layne and stormed the fort where Bishop had sought refuge after a huge crowd of supporters freed him from under house arrest at his official residence at Mt. Wheldale.
The Prime Minister had been held in-communicado and not allowed to leave the premises as he was being investigated for the alleged spreading of a rumour that surfaced in the country that Coard and his Jamaican-born wife, the late Phyllis Coard were plotting to kill him.
The ex-army chief said he did not know at the time of the mass killings that only the bodies of those civilians who were killed on the fort had been given to La Qua and not those of Bishop, as well as slain Foreign Minister Unison Whiteman, Education Minister, Jacqueline Creft, Housing Minister Norris Bain, and small businessmen Evelyn “Brat” Bullen, Evelyn Maitland and Keith “Pumphead” Hayling.
The killings came against the backdrop of a move within the Central Committee of the NJM to bring about a power sharing agreement between Coard and Bishop that the Prime Minister reneged on within days of the deal.
Speculation is rife that the killings were ordered by a hardline Marxist cell group within the Grenada Revolution known as the Organisation for Revolutionary Education and Liberation (OREL), led by Coard and included Lieutenant-Colonels Layne and Liam “Owusu” James, Major Leon “Bogo” Cornwall and trade unionist John “Chaulkie” Ventour.
Austin, along with top army officers James and Layne, Majors Ventour, Cornwall, and David “Tan” Bartholomew, along with Captain Lester Redhead, low-ranking soldiers, Andy Mitchell, Vincent Joseph, Cosmos Richardson and ex-Mobilisation Minister Selwyn Strachan were among 17 former government and army officials convicted for the murders on the fort.
The General commented on claims made against him during the Maurice Bishop Murder trial by one Sergeant Fabian Vernon Gabriel who was originally charged with the 1983 murders but eventually turned against the accused and testified for State prosecutors who granted him a pardon.
As part of his testimony, Gabriel said that after the executions, the Army strongman came onto the fort on the same night, lifted the blanket that was covering Bishop’s badly mangled body and uttered words to the effect that “….the f….r should have died long before”.
Austin denied ever making any such statement.
“He (Gabriel) only make that statement after he got his pardon – he didn’t make that statement before. They had nothing on me – the people in the court wanted me – the Yankees wanted me. They had nothing before. If you look at all the statements that Vernon Gabriel make, he never said that before.
Austin also addressed claims made by former Governor General Sir Paul Scoon in his book that the General came to see him after the army massacre and tried to mislead him on the whereabouts of the bodies of Bishop and the others by giving the impression that they would eventually be handed over to family members for a Christian burial.
Sir Paul said that late Commissioner of Prisons and Police, Pat MacLeish had informed him hours after the meeting with General Austin that the bodies were already removed from the fort and destroyed.
Austin said: “…I didn’t even know that (the destruction of the bodies) until I get to the court (for the Murder Trial). I thought they gave the bodies to La Qua. Eric La Qua went up there to take bodies – they didn’t give him Maurice and them bodies, they give him only the other bodies. I thought all the bodies went to La Qua.
“I know Eric La Qua went up there to collect bodies. And the same Gabriel I talked to on the fort that night, when I called he answered the phone, I tell him La Qua will be coming up to collect the peoples’ bodies, give them all the bodies – the same one who talked that nastiness.
During the Murder trial, the cook at the PRA army camp at Calivigny gave evidence that he witnessed soldier Callistus “Iman Abdullah” Bernard, who led the Execution Squad, bring the bodies on the compound, placed them in a trench that was already dug, dumped tyres and board among other things and then set it afire.
The cook told the court that days later he took U.S and Caribbean soldiers to the same trench, they removed the remains, placed them in disposal bags and took them away.
The Americans later said that they could not positively identify the remains, and sent them back to Otway-Bailey funeral home for disposal.
According to Austin, shortly after the army massacre on the fort, he visited Sir Paul and requested that he set up a Commission of Inquiry into what had transpired on the fort.
“I asked him if he could use Sir Shridath Ramphal, the Commonwealth Secretary-General to set up an Inquiry like the Duffus Commission Inquiry to find out exactly what happened on the fort.
“Paul Scoon agreed with me on everything and you know what Paul Scoon do behind my back, he invited the Yankees to invade – that is what Paul Scoon do behind my back”.
According to General Austin, he also did mention to Coard the need “to have an inquiry into what happened on the fort”.
Asked what was Coard’s position on the issue, Austin said: “He agreed with me but when I went and see Paul Scoon and discussed the Inquiry behind my back he send Cornwall to tell Paul Scoon they ain’t going ahead with that anymore and I only know that when I leave the prison.
General Austin disclosed that he also informed Sir Paul in the meeting that the revolutionary leaders who were in charge of the country following the death of Bishop wanted to set up a Civilian government to run the country.
“I didn’t want to be no Prime Minister or them kind of thing. I tell him that I only want to keep the country intact until a Civilian government is formed.
“Bernard Coard send Cornwall to see Paul Scoon and reversed everything I tell Paul Scoon and he changed his mind about having a Commission of Inquiry.
Austin also denied claims made by medical doctor Jenson Otway who was living in Mt. Airy, St Paul’s that after the executions on the fort, the army chief came to get him to sign fake death certificates showing that Bishop and the other slain revolutionary leaders were killed in fighting with the army and were not executed.
“Why would I want to do that? Why would I have to do anything with death certificates? No sir – he lie. That is a total lie. Jenson Otway will say anything because me and Jenson Otway used to go down good and after a time he start going on with a whole lot of shit and I kind of blank him,” he said.
The top PRA Commander alluded to a vendetta against him by the medical doctor who died several years ago.
“Jenson Otway did something – I went to Jensen Otway, I tell him I wasn’t feeling well, I was having some pain because you know I got my back damaged – I went in the sea and I got my back damaged.
“I told Jenson Otway that I (was) having this constant pain in my back and Jensen Otway give me three special tablets kind of looking bluish and he tell me if the pain take me severe take one of this. I come home one night and I find my wife in severe pain and I give my wife one of the tablets for pain – I nearly killed my wife.
“I go to the same Jenson Otway the night and take him and bring him here (in the house at Mardi Gras). I tell him that I give my wife one of the tablets that you give me for pain and she seems to be having more pain.
“He give her morphine and then the ambulance came and take her to the hospital and you know what the doctor in the hospital says – she was poisoned. So it was me he wanted to kill.
According to Austin, Otway later told the police that the General poisoned his wife because “I asked him for poison to go and poison stray dogs in Carriacou.”
“What I have to do with Carriacou and stray dogs? If I have to get certificates for things like that, it’s not Jensen Otway to issue that – you have to get a Pathologist because these people were executed. So what I will go to Jenson for? Jensen Otway was a trap – the man wanted to kill me.
Asked if he knew who took the decision to destroy the bodies of Bishop and the other executed revolutionary leaders, Austin said: “Nobody will tell me that. I asked all them that was on the fort, all of them ducking. All the men who were inside the prison with me, everyone ducked that.”
Coard and Layne have written books on the Grenada Revolution but did not address the destruction of the bodies of the charismatic Bishop, and the other leaders including Whiteman who once served as the Joint Co-ordinating Secretary of NJM alongside the Prime Minister.
On the setting up of the Revolutionary Military Council (RMC) to replace Bishop’s PRG regime after the execution, the ex-army strongman admitted that he had a part to play in identifying the members.
He said that he met with Coard and informed him that there must be some kind of order and control in the country because there will be chaos and the deputy Prime Minister indicated that he (Austin) is now the one who should lead the country in the circumstances.
“I know what he wanted to do – he wanted me to get things (to) quiet down so he could take over. I was looking at him – that is what he wanted to do because he feel that the people would listen to me.
When asked about the selection of Lieutenant Ashley “Ram” Folkes who soon asked for his name to be withdrawn from the Council as he did not give permission, Austin said he took responsibility for that.
He said: “I say he (Folkes) was a good man to have (on it). I like him – he’s a kind of straight forward fellah. I like Ram – that is why I put him dey, I who put him dey but I didn’t get to talk to him.
The General alluded to the need for peace in Grenada after the executions out of fear that people might pick up arms to fight the bloody coup leaders in the aftermath of the mass killings on the fort especially the liquidation of Bishop.
“I get to realise that the whole country was getting into chaos. So if you didn’t set up something and have something controlling the country a lot of people would get on with a lot of stupidness because when the people know that Maurice dead – fellahs would have picked up weapon. That is what I was thinking about,” he said.
The short-lived Council was put down on October 25, 1983 when U.S and Caribbean troops stormed the island to restore order and to round up the Bishop killers.
Asked if after years of reflection, there is anything that he would have done differently, Austin said: “The truth about it is if I knew that them men had executed the men on the fort, the whole situation would have turned out different. If I knew that instructions were given to execute them men it would have been different. I would have tell that to the nation but what is pissing me off is that they give me a lie and that is pissing me off every day”.
“I don’t get over it easily that I was made to lie to the Grenadian people about what happened. Them men tell me them men die in crossfire. I know that in a bomb that is possible but when I get the truth that them men were lined up and executed and then they tell me that lie to go and tell the people”.
‘You see, I always very conscious of the people of Grenada. The people look at me (now) as a big liar. I wasn’t dey so I couldn’t say well that what they tell me is not the truth. I wasn’t on the fort”.
Austin said that he only knew the truth about the executions when he came out from prison and visited the hospital and ran into a female soldier of the disbanded army who said she witnessed the capture of Bishop and the others who were lined up against a wall on the Top Square of the fort and machine-gunned to death by a Firing Squad led by “Iman Adbullah” who informed them that the orders came from the NJM Central Committee.
According to the General, the executions on the fort have all the footprints of Coard, the former Economic Lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI).
“I am not hiding to say that – that instruction (to execute Bishop) couldn’t come from nobody else. The Central Committee Orders were Bernard Coard Orders to kill them men,” he said.
Asked about the current relationship existing between himself and other members of the so-called Grenada-17 convicted murderers, Austin said: “Me and Ventour does go down good but Cornwall doesn’t come and check me. Neither Layne. Mr., me don’t have no conversation with Layne and them. Them men and them too dam deceitful – Layne and Cornwall and them. I ain’t hiding to say that. That level of deceit is too much”.
“Imagine the Leaders of the Revolution – men who struggled and fight – you line them up against a wall and execute them and saying about Central Committee orders. The same people who you kill are members of the Central Committee too… so they say to kill themselves? When did that Central Committee meet to make that decision? That has to be an OREL decision – Bernard Coard and his boys”.
General Austin endorsed a statement made in September 2020 by former NJM Central Committee member, Major Ian St Bernard that the October 1983 killings on the fort and demise of the Grenada Revolution was caused by a group of ultra-leftists within the bowels of the NJM that seized power in the bloody coup in which Bishop was killed.
Austin said: “That is exactly what happened. That is true – that is how I called it too. That is what happened – instigated by Bernard Coard. All what you see go on there was instigated by Bernard Coard. I ain’t hiding my mouth to say that”.
Austin revealed that Coard’s Marxist-Leninist study group which is being fingered for the coup d’etat against Bishop, was never disbanded as one of the conditions set by NJM leaders to allow the members entry into the party.
He said: “That’s right. No OREL was disbanded, that’s ole talk. OREL remained a clandestine organisation within the Jewel Movement pushed by Bernard Coard – I know that they used to have secret meetings. So this stupid talk about OREL disbanded don’t swallow that”.
“He (Coard) was using the Revolution to kill the Revolution because he pushing his OREL boys in every top position you can find – that is what he was doing, on the Central Committee, on the Political Bureau, the Workers Movement, the Militia, everywhere – all around he was pushing them.
Austin was also asked to comment on the widespread belief that he had an opportunity to speak up during the trial and that he did not do so out of possible fear that the Coard group might have had something holding over his head.
“No – that is not the point. The point is that I didn’t know – everything happened secretly behind my back and people wouldn’t believe that. For instance who would believe that behind the Commander in the army back you give soldiers orders to execute people in the headquarters where the Commander has his office and he ain’t know? Who will believe that? That’s hard for people to believe”.
In looking back at the tragic events 38 years ago, Austin said that the problem which faced the Revolution and brought about its demise was one of dishonesty.
He said: “Bernard Coard sowed seeds of dishonesty in the Revolution – that is what killed the Revolution. He came into the Revolution he meet a Revolution going, he come into it, he was welcomed into it and he did everything he could do to undermine it because of political greed – greed for power”.
“I ain’t hiding that from the world – am telling the world that. What killed the Grenada Revolution was the greed for power by Bernard Coard – that is what killed it, not lack of leadership on Maurice’s part.
According to the General, there was also another side of Coard which many persons did not know and it related to his jealousy of Bishop’s charm with women.
“He (Coard) wanted Joint Leadership with his (Bishop) girls too. He is responsible for all that happened because of his greed for power. He is a nastiness – I don’t want to have nothing to do with him – nothing from here to hell, I don’t want to have nothing to do with Bernard Coard”.
“All the years of struggle I had to put up with then I must go down in history as somebody who murdered people – I murdered one of the persons who was my best friend, Maurice from since boyhood”.
“I knew long that he (Coard) wanted to be Prime Minister – that was his main aim, with all the juggling that he was doing – move Uni (Whiteman), move this, move this one.
Austin also recalled a conversation at the home of former PRG Tourism Minister Lyden Ramdhanny during the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution in which Coard was there along with Bishop and indicated that if U.S Imperialism came into Grenada it was coming for he (the Deputy Prime Minister) and not the Prime Minister.
“So he (Coard) put himself in a status – so you see how he thinks about himself as Lord, God of all I survey – he’s a nastiness, I don’t want to have nothing to do with him, I don’t want to have nothing to do with Bernard Coard.
Asked about his own engagement with other Caribbean leaders after the army massacre in Grenada, Austin said he had received calls from the then Vincentian Prime Minister Milton Cato, the late President Forbes Burnham of Guyana and the leader in St Lucia, Sir John Compton.
He said these leaders wanted to set up a meeting with him but it did not materialise.
In addition, he said that the Prime Ministers of the bigger territories like Barbados (Tom Adams), Jamaica (Edward Seaga) and Trinidad (George Chambers) announced publicly that they did not want to have anything to do with the new military rulers in Grenada.
General Austin admitted that it was the late President Burnham who tipped him off to prepare for the military intervention of Grenada by U.S troops.
He also said that Burnham did not trust Coard.
“He (Burnham) told me that before (the massacre on the fort). I guess some of the Guyanese (working in Grenada) knew Bernard (and briefed Burnham on their distrust of the Number Two Man in the Grenada Revolution.
According to Austin, another individual from Trinidad who visited Grenada and stayed at his private home at Mardi Gras held similar views about Coard and his wife.
“When the guy came here and he stayed in my house and he say, ah see you all have some people in politics here in Grenada – he say you see Bernard and his wife don’t trust them two people. He say any organisastion that them two can’t control they mash it up.
Coard who is now living in Jamaica where his late wife was born did not respond to any of the charges made against him by General Austin.
When presented with a copy of the first article from the interview done by THE NEW TODAY with the former Army Commander, the ex-Deputy Prime Minister told the emissary that he did not understand why he was still being attacked 38 years after the bloody events in Grenada.
Coard has never taken responsibility for the mass murders on Fort Rupert on October 19, 1983 but conceded to “moral responsibility” for the bloody mayhem on the island.