Forty years after the bloody army massacre at Fort Rupert which is now back to its original name of Fort George, the authorities in Grenada have decided to mark the event with a public holiday.
It was on October 19, 1983 that Marxist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was executed on the fort following a bitter power struggle with his deputy Bernard Coard for control of the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution which started with the overthrow of the Eric Gairy-led labour party government by the New Jewel Movement (NJM).
Bishop along with Foreign Minister Unison Whiteman, Education Minister Jacqueline Creft, Housing Minister Norris Bain, businessmen Evelyn “Brat” Bullen, Evelyn Maitland and Keith Hayling were among an estimated 19 persons who were killed on the fort in a struggle involving radicals and hardliners to chart the way forward for the revolutionary process.
Coard, the suspected mastermind of the bloody coup and who is now living in Jamaica, along with top army officers General Hudson Austin, Lieutenant-Colonels Ewart “Headache” Layne, Liam “Owusu” James, Majors Leon “Bogo’ Cornwall and John “Chaulkie” Ventour, as well as ex-Mobilisation Minister Selwyn Strachan were among the Central Committee members of the NJM who were found guilty for the mass murders.
U.S and Caribbean troops landed in Grenada on October 25, 1983 allegedly on the invitation of then Governor General the late Sir Paul Scoon to topple the Revolutionary Military Council (RMC) that was set up after the executions on the fort.
The Maurice Bishop killers were convicted in the high court for their roles in the army massacre and given lengthy prison sentences but were released in 2007 following a re-sentencing hearing ordered by the London-based Privy Council.
The bodies of Bishop and his ministers were taken to the army camp at Calivigny and destroyed in an operation led by Lieutenant Callistus “Iman Abdullah” Bernard.
Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell and his 14-month old National Democratic Congress (NDC) government have now officially declared October 19 a public holiday, commencing this year, as Grenada prepares to mark its 50th Independence Anniversary in 2024.
This decision was first announced in a proclamation made by Culture Minister Ron Redhead during a flag-raising and wreath-laying ceremony at Fort George last October on the 39th anniversary of the army massacre.
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell emphasised the importance of remembering these tragic events as Grenada readies itself to celebrate its 50th year of independence.
“The launch of the 50th Independence celebrations on 19 October is no accident. The 19th of October is a significant, if not tragic date in Grenada’s history, particularly over the last 40 years.”
“The Cabinet will take the decision and give instructions that the necessary legal work is done to declare 19 October a national holiday, and the intent is to make that a permanent holiday,” he told reporters.
This move will result in two holidays in October, the second being October 25, commemorating the U.S-led military action to help restore law and order and the return to democratic rule on the island.
According to Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, the government’s “perspective of marking October 19th as a public holiday is in fact for us to recognise the somber nature, the tragic nature of what happened, and for us to reflect upon it and understand why it happened.”
“It is important for us to mark that occasion in a somber manner, in a reflective manner, and perhaps even in an emotional manner, so we understand when we say, for example, that we are a democratic society that we value democracy, we value freedom of speech… that those things actually mean something because the opposite of it would have been what happened on 19 October in a very tragic manner,” he said.
In addition to solemn reflection the Prime Minister announced that plans are in the making to name at least five (5) national heroes in consultation with the public.
He also shared the vision of Congress to create a National Heroes Park.
“We also anticipate being able to acquire lands that we can dedicate to creating a National Heroes park… we are quite excited about,” he remarked.
The Prime Minister was accompanied at the Press Conference by Dr. Wendy Crawford who was introduced as Head of the 15-member 50th Independence Anniversary Committee.
Dr. Crawford who was involved in the Revolutionary process and considered an ally of the Bernard Coard faction of the NJM in the bloody event, said the planning committee is composed of representatives from the seven (7) parishes within the tri-island state.
With “ten subcommittees,” each focusing on various aspects of the celebration, including “history, heritage, and documentation,” Dr. Crawford is optimistic that Grenada’s Golden Jubilee will be a unifying national event.
A total of 21 national events are scheduled for the pre-independence phase leading up to the anniversary date on February 7, 2024.
Special events from January 28 to February 9, 2024, will be tailored to Grenadians residing in the diaspora, inviting them to participate in the festivities.
Post-independence celebrations, commencing in March 2024 at the parish level, will assign each parish its celebration month and thematic focus.
The jubilee celebrations will span the entire year, culminating in February 2025.
Creative Economy Ambassador Orlando Romain who also spoke at the press conference gave some insight into the diverse range of activities being planned covering sports, festivals, cultural events, academic conferences, and the renaming of streets.
More details about the events can be found on the official Secretariat’s website, “grenadaturns50.gd,” which is set to launch soon.
The full list of activities and a comprehensive schedule will be unveiled at the launch of the Golden Jubilee celebrations on October 19, 2023.
The government has allocated $7.5 million to finance the Golden Jubilee activities.