Maurice Bishop: ‘In Nobody‘s Backyard’

By Red Ant Editorial

Fidel Castro in 1980 alongside the Prime Minister of Grenada, Maurice Bishop, and the President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega.

On this day, 13 March 1979, the ‘New Jewel Movement’ overthrew the pro-US regime of Eric Gairy in Grenada. This movement, led by Maurice Bishop, was the first armed socialist revolution to take place in a predominantly black country outside of Africa. 

After taking power, the revolutionary government built schools and led a huge literacy campaign. Steps were also taken towards developing the countryside and providing employment opportunities. In the four years of Bishop’s leadership, the unemployment rate dropped from 49% to 14%. During this time, Grenada also developed an internationalist-oriented foreign policy, particularly with socialist Cuba. 

In October 1983, divisions emerged within the New Jewel Movement leading first to Bishop’s arrest and then execution by the Grenadian armed forces. This same year, the small Caribbean nation was invaded by US imperialism, thus ending Grenada’s short-lived revolutionary process.

Below is the transcript of a speech titled ‘In Nobody’s Backyard’ broadcast over Radio Free Grenada on 13 April 1979. We republish it here not only to commemorate the Grenada Revolution, but to highlight the immense challenges a Global South revolution faces in a hostile imperialist world, confronting the legacies of neo-colonial underdevelopment.

Good evening sisters and brothers of free Grenada:

Today, one month after our historic people’s revolution, there is peace, calm, and quiet in our country. Indeed, there has been a tremendous drop in the crime rate since our revolution. Foreign residents in the Levera Bathway are feeling so comfortable and safe nowadays that they have advised the commissioner of police that he could close down the sub police station in that area.

An unusually high number of tourists for an off season period are presently enjoying the beauty of our land and the warmth of our people, and this is so in spite of the fact that we have just had a revolution and that a real and present threat of mercenary invasion is faced by our country. In fact, it is almost impossible to rent a vehicle or to find an empty cottage at this point. Tourists and visitors to our country have all been greatly impressed by the discipline of our troops and the respect that has been shown for the lives and property of local and foreign residents and visitors.

From all over the island the same reports have come to us that the tourists are commenting on the warmth, friendliness, and discipline of our people and the People’s Revolutionary Army. The same comments are being daily made by the hundreds of medical students studying in Grenada.

The annual boat race from Trinidad to Grenada took place as usual last night with a bigger than ever participation. The greatest sense of relief and happiness of our people are obvious to all. In fact is it clear that there is no sense of panic here or hesitation by the tourists who daily continue to stream into Grenada.

For this reason we want the people of Grenada and the Caribbean to realize that if all of a sudden tourists start panicking and leaving the country, or stop coming to our country, then they should note that this came after veiled threats by the United States ambassador with respect to our tourist industry. The ambassador, Mr. Frank Ortiz, on his last visit to Grenada some days ago, went out of his way to emphasize the obvious importance of tourism to our country. He argued that as Grenada imported some $32 million a year in goods but exported only $13 million, we had a massive trade deficit of some $19 million which earnings from the tourist industry could substantially lessen. His point was, and we accept that point, that tourism was and is critical to the survival of our economy.

The ambassador went on to advise us that if we continue to speak about what he called “mercenary invasions by phantom armies” we could lose all our tourists. He also reminded us of the experience which Jamaica had had in this regard a few years ago. As some of you will undoubtedly recall, Jamaica at that time had gone through a period of intense destabilization. Under this process the people of Jamaica were encouraged to lose faith and confidence in themselves, their government and their country, and in the ability of their government to solve the pressing problems facing the country and meeting the expectations of their people.

This was done through damaging news stories being spread in the local, regional, and international media, particularly newspapers, aimed at discrediting the achievements of the Jamaican government. It was also done through violence and sabotage and by wicked and pernicious attempts at wrecking the economy through stopping the flow of tourist visitors, and hence much needed foreign exchange earnings of the country. 

The experience of Jamaica must therefore remind us that the economies of small, poor, Third World countries which depend on tourism can be wrecked by those who have the ability and the desire to wreck them. In his official meetings with Minister of Finance Brother Bernard Coard, and then with me on Tuesday of this week, and in his unofficial discussions with a leading comrade of the People’s Revolutionary Army at Pearls Airport on Wednesday, the ambassador stressed the fact that his government will view with great displeasure the development of any relations between our country and Cuba. The ambassador pointed out that his country was the richest, freest, and most generous country in the world, but as he put it, “We have two sides.”

We understood that to mean that the other side he was referring to was the side which stamped freedom and democracy when the American government felt that their interests were being threatened. “People are panicky and I will have to report that fact to my government,” he advised us. However, the only evidence of panic given by the ambassador was the incident which took place last Monday when the People’s Revolutionary Army, as a result of not having been warned beforehand, shot at a plane which flew very low, more than once over Camp Butler. He calls that panic. The people of Grenada call it alertness.

At the end of our discussion on Tuesday, the ambassador handed me a typed statement of his instructions from his government, to be given to us. The relevant section of that statement reads, and I quote: “Although my government recognizes your concerns over allegations of a possible counter coup, it also believes that it would not be in Grenada’s best interest to seek assistance from a country such as Cuba to forestall such an attack. We would view with displeasure any tendency on the part of Grenada to develop closer ties with Cuba.” It is well established internationally that all independent countries have a full, free, and unhampered right to conduct their own internal affairs. We do not therefore recognize any right of the United States of America to instruct us on who we may develop relations with and who we may not.

From day one of the revolution we have always striven to have and develop the closest and friendliest relations with the United States, as well as with Canada, Britain, and all our Caribbean neighbours English, French, Dutch, and Spanish speaking, and we intend to continue to strive for these relations. But no one must misunderstand our friendliness as an excuse for rudeness and meddling in our affairs, and no one, no matter how mighty and powerful they are, will be permitted to dictate to the government and people of Grenada who we can have friendly relations with and what kind of relations we must have with other countries.

We haven’t gone through twenty eight years of fighting Gairyism, and especially the last six years of terror, to gain our freedom, only to throw it away and become a slave or lackey to any other country, no matter how big and powerful. Every day we fought Gairy we put our lives on the line. On the day of the revolution we started out with almost no arms, and in so doing we again put our lives on the line. We have demonstrated beyond any doubt that we were prepared to die to win our freedom. We are even more prepared to die to maintain that freedom now that we have tasted it.

We feel that people of Grenada have the right to know precisely what steps we have taken in our attempts to establish relations at various levels with the United States, and the response which we have so far received. From the second day of our revolution, during our first meeting with American government representatives in Grenada, we were at pains to emphasize the deplorable and ravished state in which the Gairy dictatorship had left our economy and our country. We pointed out then that massive assistance, technical and financial, would be required in order to begin the process of rebuilding the economy.

The American consul general told us that he was not surprised to hear this and assured us that he would encourage his government to give us the necessary assistance, particularly as he had been so impressed by the bloodless character and the self-evident humanity of our prompt assurances in the first hours of the revolution that the safety, lives, and property of American and other foreign residents were guaranteed. Indeed, he freely admitted that his American residents had all reported to him that they were happy and comfortable and felt secure. However, one month later, no such aid has arrived.

It is true that the ambassador did point out, and correctly so, that his government generally grants aid on a multilateral basis through the Caribbean Development Bank. It is also true that he said his government would prefer to maintain that approach rather than help directly, despite his admission that red tape and bureaucracy could cause delays of up to one year in receiving such multilateral aid.
It is also true that he advised us that his government is monitoring Gairy’s movements and that it is against United States law for Gairy to recruit mercenaries in the United States of America. This we appreciate.

However, we must point out that the fact is that in place of the massive economic aid and assistance that seemed forthcoming, the only aid which the American ambassador has been able to guarantee that he could get to Grenada in a reasonably short time would be U.S.$5,000 for each of a few small projects. Sisters and brothers, what can a few $5,000 do?

Our hospitals are without medicines, sheets, pillowcases, and proper equipment. Our schools are falling down. Most of our rural villages are in urgent need of water, electricity, health clinics, and decent housing. Half of the people in our country who are able to and would like to work are unable to find jobs. Four out of every five women are forced to stay at home or scrunt for a meagre existence. $5,000 cannot build a house or a health clinic. We feel forced to ask whether the paltry sum of a few $5,000 is all that the wealthiest country in the world can offer to a poor but proud people who are fighting for democracy, dignity, and self-respect based on real and independent economic development. 

Let us contrast this with the immediate response of our Caribbean brothers. We will take two examples: Guyana and Jamaica, countries thousands of times poorer than the United States of America; countries indeed, like ourselves, which are poor, over exploited, and struggling to develop.

These two countries have given us technical assistance and cheaper goods and are actively considering our request for arms and military training. This assistance has included a shipment of rice which arrived two days ago, a six man team of economic and other experts from Guyana presently in our country, and the imminent arrival of Mr. Roy Jones, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Jamaica and Professor George Eaton, a leading authority on public service structures.

And, notwithstanding these concrete and much appreciated acts of assistance and solidarity, they have never once attempted to instruct us to the manner in which we should conduct our own internal affairs or as to which countries we should choose to develop relations with.

The American ambassador is taking very lightly what we genuinely believe to be a real danger facing our country. Contrary to what anyone else may think we know that the dictator Gairy is organizing mercenaries to attack Grenada in order to restore him to his throne. We know the man Gairy. Nobody knows him better than we, the people of Grenada, and we recognize the meaning and implications of the evidence which has come before us.

We say that when Frank Mabry, Jr. and Mustaphos Hammarabi, Gairy’s underworld friends, write to him indicating how much and what kind of arms are available, and when Gairy says on radio broadcasts and in newspaper interviews that he will never give up and that he intends to return to Grenada as prime minister, that he can only mean that he will use force in order to achieve these ends.

And because our revolution is a popular one supported by the vast majority of our population and because many of our patriots are armed, force here can only mean getting another country to intervene on his behalf or hiring mercenaries to do his dirty work for him. And this in turn could only mean the mass killing of thousands of innocent Grenadians, regardless of which political party they support. 

It is in these circumstances, and because we have an undoubted right to defend our people, our sovereignty, and our freedom, that we called on the Americans, Canadians, British, our fellow countries in the Caribbean Community [CARICOM], like Guyana and Jamaica, Venezuela, and Cuba to assist us with arms. And we reject entirely the argument of the American ambassador that we would only be entitled to call upon the Cubans to come to our assistance after mercenaries have landed and commenced the attack.

Quite frankly, and with the greatest respect, a more ridiculous argument can hardly be imagined. It is like asking a man to wait until his house is burning down before he leaves to buy a fire extinguisher. No, we intend if possible to provide ourselves with the fire extinguisher before the fire starts! And if the government of Cuba is willing to offer us assistance, we would be more than happy to receive it. 

Sisters and brothers, what we led was an independent process. Our revolution was definitely a popular revolution, not a coup d’etat, and was and is in no way a minority movement. We intend to continue along an independent and nonaligned path. We have stayed in the Commonwealth, we have stayed in the Organization of American States and in CARICOM; despite pressures we have stayed in the Eastern Caribbean Common Market and in the expanded West Indies Associated States Organization. We have applied to join the Nonaligned Movement. We will be applying to join the International Labor Organization the ILO.

We are a small country, we are a poor country, with a population of largely African descent, we are a part of the exploited Third World, and we definitely have a stake in seeking the creation of a new international economic order which would assist in ensuring economic justice for the oppressed and exploited peoples of the world, and in ensuring that the resources of the sea are used for the benefit of all the people of the world and not for a tiny minority of profiteers. 

Our aim, therefore, is to join all organizations and work with all countries that will help us to become more independent and more in control of our own resources. In this regard, nobody who understands present day realities can seriously challenge our right to develop working relations with a variety of countries. 

Grenada is a sovereign and independent country, although a tiny speck on the world map, and we expect all countries to strictly respect our independence just as we will respect theirs. No country has the right to tell us what to do or how to run our country or who to be friendly with. We certainly would not attempt to tell any other country what to do. 

We are not in anybody’s backyard, and we are definitely not for sale. Anybody who thinks they can bully us or threaten us clearly has no understanding, idea, or clue as to what material we are made of. They clearly have no idea of the tremendous struggles which our people have fought over the past seven years. Though small and poor, we are proud and determined. We would sooner give up our lives before we compromise, sell out, or betray our sovereignty, our independence, our integrity, our manhood, and the right of our people to national self-determination and social progress.

Long live the revolution!

Long live free Grenada!

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