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The split in the top brass of the PRA in October 1983

File photo of PRA Soldiers marching along Green Bridge onto Queen’s Park during the days of the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution

Forty years after U.S and Caribbean troops landed in Grenada to put down a military junta that had seized power in a bloody coup in which Marxist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was executed, a former soldier of the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA) has broken his silence to testify that there was a split in the ranks of the soldiers on the approach in combating the foreign troops.

The soldier who spoke to THE NEW TODAY said the disagreements became even more pronounced when the top brass of the Grenadian army including Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Ewart “Headache” Layne and respected Lieutenant Crispin “Bugman” Hypolite were picked up and held in custody at the Richmond Hill prison.

“I know that there was always disagreements – both on the military side and both on the political side,” he said. He spoke of Hypolite informing him on his release that there was always “heated conversations” among the imprisoned top brass of the PRA while being held in a section of the prison known as “Jones Town” regarding the approach taken to solve the political crisis that resulted in the death of Bishop on October 19, 1983 and the fighting against the Americans in particular.

He said the top brass of the army was divided but took the position that it was “strategically prudent” to project a united front and not send a message to the “foreign invaders” about what was happening among them.

“Some felt that the approach taken on October 19 should not have been taken – there should have been more reconciliatory – try to patch up differences rather than this maximum approach that resulted in this catastrophic event,” he said.

This is an obvious reference to the stance taken by the hardline faction within the Grenada Revolution who were linked to a cell group known as the Organisation for Revolutionary Education and Liberation (OREL) who pushed for Joint Leadership between their ideological leader, ex-deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard and Bishop.

When Bishop reneged on the agreement that was worked out at a meeting of the powerful Central Committee of his New Jewel Movement (NJM), he was placed under House Arrest and accused of spreading a rumour that swept through the island that Coard and his Jamaican wife, the late Phyllis Coard were plotting to kill him.

A massive crowd of pro-Bishop supporters swooped into his official residence at Mt Wheldale and freed him but just over one hour later the Prime Minister was recaptured on Fort Rupert, lined up against a wall and gunned down by a firing squad under the Command of Lieutenant Callistus “Iman Abdullah” Bernard.

According to the former PRA soldier, the top brass of the army who were held at the Richmond Hill prison often engaged in arguments among themselves on the approach that should have been taken to combat the Americans.

He said that after the U.S would have taken over the airport that was being built by the Cubans at Point Salines, it was agreed that the fall back plan was for the Grenadian soldiers to retreat and go into the forested areas like Grand Etang and engage in a guerrilla war against the foreign troops. He said this did not happen and the PRA suffered heavy casualties due to the ill-conceived idea of a top OREL commander to engage in conventional warfare against the much superior army of the United States.

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The PRA engaged in warfare at a disadvantage as the army Chief of Staff Major Einstein Louison who had greater knowledge of the defense plans for the island was not involved in any of the fighting as he was placed under house arrest like Bishop by the Coard clique that moved against the late Prime Minister.

According to the former soldier, the PRA tried to engage in a counter attack against the foreign troops but lost several of their men in what he referred to as “this foolish counter attack” involving several BTR’s in a plan to take on the U.S Airborne troops that landed and took over the airport at Point Salines.

He said he was told by “Bugman” that there was very heated debate in Jones Town among the more military-minded ones in the army and the other leaders of the Grenada Revolution who were linked to OREL that they should not have engaged in the counter attack.

He also said that the PRA lost a lot of soldiers who were ordered to come down from Gouyave in St John to reinforce the colleagues who were engaged in combat at Beausejour in St George North-west with the Americans.

He quoted “Bug Man” as saying that the plan was not to have the soldiers come down on that coastal road but to go and take encampment in Fedon’s Camp and other wooded areas and then launch guerilla attacks on the “foreign invaders.”

He alleged that a top army officer who was linked to OREL wanted to engage in a more conventional fight against the Americans. “They could not have fought a conventional fight because they didn’t have the manpower and the support of the population,” he said.

According to the ex-PRA member, the view held by “Bugman” and other trained soldiers was that if they had retreated into the forest and launched a sort of a subversive attack against the Americans that could have resulted in “the more progressive elements in the population eventually becoming supportive of their efforts.” 

He said the position that was being advanced is that incrementally over the months they would have been able to garner support from the population and launch “a full-fledged guerilla campaign against the Americans.” 

He recalled that the invasion of Grenada was leading up to the second term in office of U.S President Ronald Reagan and if they had launched a successful guerilla campaign resulting in casualty on the American side that might force Washington to withdraw the troops and pose a major public relations disaster for him. However, the ex-soldier accused the top military commander who was a major figure in OREL of being “bent on a conventional war which he couldn’t win.” 

Several members of the Bernard Coard Group that were linked to OREL were convicted in a high court trial for the murder of Bishop, Foreign Minister Unison Whiteman, Education Minister Jacqueline Creft, Housing Minister Norris Bain and businessmen Evelyn “Brat” Bullen, Keith “Pumphead” Hayling and Evelyn Maitland and received lengthy prison sentences. 

Coard, the mastermind of the coup against Bishop, is now living in exile in Jamaica.

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