Maurice Bishop

Maurice Bishop

Revolutionary leader who was the first prime minister of the Caribbean island of Grenada from 1979 to 1983. He was assassinated by opponents.

He was born in Aruba to Grenadian parents who returned to the island when he was six years old. He had the privilege of studying at private high schools and after graduation he won a scholarship, which he used to earn a law degree in London. During his years as a student, he soaked up the ideas of the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and other important black leaders of the time. When he returned to Grenada in 1970, he sponsored discussion groups in which leftist ideas were aired. These efforts translated into a political organization that evolved into the establishment of the New Jewel Movement (NJM). In 1973, the group organized a series of protests against the government of historic leader Eric Gairy, a personal friend of Pinochet who was supported by the United States and Great Britain. The government repressed the protesters and in an attack against them the police killed Bishop’s father. Gairy imprisoned the leaders of the movement.

Despite broad popular support for Bishop and his party, Gairy won the election of 1976, though the NJM always accused him of fraud. On March 13, 1979, the NJM took control of Grenada in a bloodless coup. Bishop became the prime minister of what was now called the People’s Revolutionary Government. With his great political skills, excellent oratory, political wisdom and daring, he began making needed changes in the public health and education systems. Also during his mandate he addressed the needs of rural workers and laborers. Bishop was known for fighting against illiteracy, unemployment and racism, as he himself — a descendent of African slaves — represented 80 percent of the island population.

His government became close to the Cuban revolutionary government, which became its main ally by sending teachers, doctors and technicians to the island. Cuba, the Soviet Union and other countries in the communist bloc also provided important amounts of money. The United States, in turn, reacted with tough economic sanctions that caused dissent among the members of the government.

The events that led to Bishop’s fall are not entirely clear. In October of 1983, when returning from a diplomatic trip, Bishop was arrested by supporters of Vice Prime Minister Bernard Coard, who was more radical. Multitudes took the streets to demand Bishop’s freedom and after a new revolt, they liberated him. The confrontations between the two factions continued until Coard ordered greater repression by his followers. Bishop was captured and executed along with members of the government. There were suspicions of involvement by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), however, in instigating the coup.

The United States took advantage of the state of emergency to invade the island and restore its influence in the region. Eight days later it invaded Grenada with 7,000 soldiers, bombarding the city of St. George’s for three days with planes, helicopters and warships, causing 90 deaths and more than 500 injuries. Coard and his followers were captured and sentenced to death for Bishop’s assassination.

Author: Pablo Samuel Torres
Published: April 13, 2012.

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