Former Commander of the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA), General Hudson Austin has commented in public for the first time in 40 years on the controversial manner in which soldiers shot and killed one of the persons who helped to create the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution.
“To this day I have no truth about it,” said the General in an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY in which he dropped hints about the truthfulness of the report given by the Security Forces on the incident.
Strachan Phillip who lived at Mt. Airy in St. Paul’s was gunned down within hours of a deadly bomb blast at a rally held in Queen’s Park which was being addressed by then Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and other top leaders of the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG).
The bomb was planted in a section underneath the platform from which Bishop and other revolutionary leaders were addressing a mass gathering.
The incident took place against the backdrop of a rift between the PRG and some elements in the society especially the Budhlall Brothers in Tivoli who were initially supportive of the Grenada Revolution but were then branded as counter-revolutionaries.
General Austin described Phillip as “my very good friend” in an interview with THE NEW TODAY in which he said he did not get a truthful report from members of the Security Forces on the killing.
“I am the man who brought Strachan Phillip into the Revolutionary process,” he added.
The former army strongman said that after the bomb blast, the intelligence report was that Phillip was spotted in the area the night before the incident along with the Budhlall brothers who were considered as outlaws plotting the deadly act which was intended to wipe out the PRG leadership.
According to Austin what he knows is that the controversial former Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard held a meeting with some persons and decided that Phillip should be locked up.
He said a contingent from the army including Major Leon “Bogo’ Cornwall were dispatched to Phillip’s home at Mt. Airy.
“Nobody told me nothing about this. As far as I understand they were supposed to go and arrest the man but what they say is that another guy who was supposed to go on the operation with them and didn’t go called Strachan Phillip and tell him they (are) coming for him”.
“When the soldiers reached there they say Strachan Phillip opened fire on them. The people in the neighbourhood told me that too – as soon as the Land Rover stopped by his gap he scatter bullet at them and that is how the whole thing take place”.
The General stated that this incident involving Phillip “should have been handled differently” given the historic role he played in helping to storm the Grenada Defense Force (GDF) along with members of the National Liberation Army (NLA), the military wing of Bishop’s New Jewel Movement (NJM) to overthrow the Eric Gairy government and start the Grenada Revolution.
Austin told THE NEW TODAY: “As a man who took part in the revolution, (he) should have been called in and talked to, not just send soldiers for him. If you send soldiers with the instructions to get the man and the man open bullets on you, you know what’s going to happen, so that is the scene with Strachan Phillip”.
“That is regrettable though because Strachan Phillip was very loyal to me, as anything I asked Strachan Phillip to do he got it done,” he said.
According to General Austin, the friendship between Phillip and himself started off with the two visiting each other land holdings to engage in cultivating agricultural crops.
“We used to work garden together – go and help one another clean up land,” he remarked.
The ex-army Commander disclosed that Phillip ran into problems on the very first day of the making of the Revolution on March 13, 1979 after the overthrow of the Gairy regime.
He said that the late NLA member was among the troops who helped take over police headquarters on Fort George as revolutionary soldiers swept across Grenada to consolidate their grip on the island.
The General said: “Strachan Phillip was up there – kind of in-charge with some of the men. From that morning I get away with Strachan Phillip. Strachan Phillip didn’t want to be a revolutionary, he wanted to be a bandit. Strachan Phillip wanted to take some of the men and go and break a bank – Barclays bank to be precise.”
“When I did get to know the truth, one of the guys came and tell me look what Strachan Phillip wanted to do. I will not call his name but one of the guys came and say H.A, Strachan Phillip want us to go and break a bank. I tell them none of that nonsense. I say we can’t be doing that kind of thing and call ourselves revolutionaries – that is banditry”.
The former army boss also related another incident involving the disgraced NLA member who moved into a small hotel known as Evening Palace, owned by the ousted Gairy and seized by the revolutionary leaders and proceeded to remove all the drinks stored inside the building.
“One of the guys come and tell me, H.A you know Strachan Phillip take a Land Rover and he go in Evening Palace and he take away almost all the people drink they have there and bring it up in his house. I couldn’t hide these things (about Phillip) from Maurice (Bishop). I told Maurice what it was all about,” he said.
The General told THE NEW TODAY that Bishop made the fatal mistake of briefing Coard on the issue and that was virtually the end of Phillip.
He hinted that Coard might have used the incident of the Bomb blast to get Major Cornwall and other soldiers to physically eliminate Phillip.
“Bernard Coard wouldn’t want a man like Strachan Phillip around because he can’t bulldoze Strachan Phillip. Strachan Phillip is not an easy fellah to deal with,” he said.
General Austin was also asked to comment on reports that the NJM knew moments after the bomb blast who the perpetrators were as they used the same kind of technology in making the explosive devise as the revolutionary leaders had brought in a foreign expert to teach key supporters on how to make bombs as part of the struggle to overthrow the Gairy government.
“The truth about it is I don’t know about anybody brought in to teach how to make bombs. I ain’t saying that it ain’t happen because I was left out from so many things that nothing doesn’t surprise me now that they do behind my back. Don’t be surprised if Maurice didn’t know. Don’t be surprised. I am not saying no to it (bomb making classes) because from what I experience from October 19 (1983) and what I experience in the jail, I ain’t saying no to nothing. Nothing ain’t surprising me that happened. Things used to happen and Maurice ain’t know,” he said.
This is a clear reference to a public pronouncement made by the General that he was given a false report by the army that Bishop and three Cabinet ministers were killed in crossfire in the bitter power struggle with Coard for control of the NJM-led revolutionary process in the Spice Isle.
Austin who was convicted along with Coard and fifteen others for the murders said it was only after he came out from prison that a female soldier told him that the Prime Minister and his colleagues were lined up against a wall and executed by a firing squad headed by Lieutenant Callistus “Iman Abdullah” Bernard.