50 Years of Independence

The content originally appeared on: The Barnacle News

“Honour and learn from the lessons of the past’’

Lincoln DePradine

By Lincoln DePradine

Grenadians may curse off one another over personal disputes. They – leaders included – often engage in verbal political “planassing’’.

But, when it comes to love of nation – the Tri-island State of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite – Grenadians quickly close ranks to defend their nation’s name against any real or perceived external attacks. And Grenadians, at home and abroad, are unabashed about displaying patriotic pride by fashioning themselves in clothing bearing the red, green and gold national colours, with the nutmeg and stars that are emblems on the state flag.

A sense of heightened pride has been visible ever since the October 2023 official launch of activities commemorating the 50th anniversary of Grenada’s political independence from Britain.

In Grenada, as well as in Diaspora communities where Grenadians and the children of Grenadian parents reside, there have been numerous activities. They have included cultural events, panel discussions and education symposia, and religious services.

Radio and television programs, and social media platforms, have been replete with discussions of Grenada and its current jubilee celebrations.

Topics have included the constitution and the need to change – or not change – one aspect or another, after 50 years of independence.

After a half century of nationhood, many – alive and deceased – clearly contributed immensely to Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique and to nation building. But, who are the worthy recipients, in this jubilee year, to be so designated as National Heroes? The question is being asked.

The road to independence, and the person under whose leadership independence was attained, also have been hotly debated.

Eric Matthew Gairy had dominated Grenada’s politics since 1951. For most of the period, the Herbert Blaize-led Grenada National Party was hardly a match for Mr Gairy’s Grenada United Labour Party (GULP).

Beginning in the 1970s, Mr Gairy faced a more formidable challenge from a rising local radical student movement and from Grenadians who were returning home from university studies abroad. Mr Gairy’s response was neither mild nor kind, in many instances.

He was accused of using police to beat and arrest opponents, who had joined forces as the New Jewel Movement.

Allegations of abuse were also levelled at the so-called “Mongoose Gang’’, diehard supporters of Mr Gairy and the GULP.

The allegations sparked public protests and street marches, and also a national strike that shut down commerce on the island, including closure of the St George’s Port.

One of the marches, on Monday, January 21, 1974, was forcefully broken up on the Carenage by GULP supporters and Rupert Bishop – father of former Prime Minister Maurice Bishop – was shot and killed. It was said to be a policeman’s bullet. January 21 is now referred to as, “Bloody Monday’’.

Grenada was scheduled to move from Associated Statehood to Independence on February 7, 1974. And, the country did so. But, the national strike was still in effect and the new red, green and gold flag of our independent nation was hoisted under makeshift light.

However, for several years since then and following the death of Mr Gairy on August 23, 1997 at age 75, many have shown a willingness to take a fresh look at the former prime minister, who now is affectionately called, “The Father of Independence’’.

Not only are Mr Gairy’s foibles now being highlighted. But, he also is being given credit for programs that helped the poor, working class of Grenada; and, too, for initiatives such as negotiating to have the offshore American Medical School set up in Grenada. The school now is the world-renowned St George’s University, one of the nation’s largest employers and one of the biggest revenue earners.

As part of the jubilee, a government-sponsored billboard of Mr Gairy has been unveiled in St Andrew and his name is often mentioned in speeches on this year’s commemoration of independence, whose theme is, “One Journey, One People, One Future”.

“I would insist we ought to recognize Gairy,’’ Gerry Hopkin, Grenada’s Consul General in Toronto, said at an independence anniversary religious service in the Canadian city.

The February 4 “Interfaith Thanksgiving Service’’ is one of the commemorative events in Ontario put on by the Grenada Independence Planning Committee, the Grenada Association in Toronto and the consulate general.

Other events include the raising of the Grenada flag at Toronto’s city hall. The flag also will be illuminated at Niagara Falls on February 7.

“Showcase Grenada’’, a cultural expo, also has been scheduled by organizers, who have announced that Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell and Andy Williams, Minister of Mobilization, Implementation and Transformation, will be visiting Toronto. They’ll be special guests at an independence gala on Saturday, February 10.

Hopkin, in his address at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, said that “turning 50 as a nation is a big deal’’, and that “independence is about much more than a day’’.

 February 7 “should also be properly seen as a day that marks an important milestone in a process which started long before that day and which continues to this day, and should be continued into the future by each of us as a people’’, Hopkin said.

“Folks, I would insist that we ought to correctly recognize Sir Eric Matthew Gairy as The Father of Independence. We should never forget his passionate advocacy for the rights of underpaid workers, as well as his resolute efforts which successfully resulted in the obtainment of independence from Britain.’’

In the “process of nation building’’ and on the independence journey, credit also should be given to the first Kalinago – the first inhabitants of Grenada – as well to others such as the freedom-fighting enslaved Africans and current and former leaders, including those who have served as prime minister.

Dickon Mitchell, the current prime minister, delivered a video message, urging Grenadians to honour and learn from the lessons of the past.

“We must honour the memories of those who paved the way for our freedom and acknowledge the responsibilities that come with it,’’ Prime Minister Mitchell said.

“As we reflect on our journey, let us remember the forthrightness of Sir Eric Matthew Gairy and the role he played in raising the socio-political consciousness of the Grenadian people, from adult suffrage in 1951, to gaining our independence in 1974. Let us also remember the hard work and progress made by young people during the Grenadian Revolution and the achievements in the social and economic spheres that allowed Grenada to be a dynamic fierce in the 1980s.’’

His government, the prime minister promised, “will continue to work towards a society where every citizen has the opportunity to thrive’’.

“I encourage all of you, wherever you are, to envision the next 50 years as we aspire, build and advance as one people,’’ Prime Minister Mitchell said. “Let us, together, inspire a generation to shape the world in ways that our forefathers could only imagine. Hail Grenada, land of ours. Happy 50th independence.’’

Trinidad-born clergyman, Father Dexter Brereton, delivering the sermon at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, reflected on divisions in Grenada and Caribbean societies fueled by political affiliations and the colours of political parties.

He warned of the dangers of division, using lines from the calypso, “Ism and Scism’’, which was sung by the late Black Stalin.

 “It must be admitted that the problem of loving only those who belong to our tribe and hating those we consider evil, especially if they don’t wear the same jersey as we do, has been a problem that has bedeviled Caribbean politics for generations. When we speak about our beloved nation Grenada – one people, one journey, one future – do we really mean it? Who do we consider part of this one? Brereton asked.

“When we imagine Grenada’s future, do we leave room in our imagination for those who do not agree with us or think as we do?’’

Grenada and Caribbean people cannot afford – either in “financial terms or in terms of their relationships – the “deep and abiding conflicts and turmoil’s’’ over politics and political ideology, “total war’’ and the idea that “we have to eliminate the other side’’, cautioned Brereton.

“We cannot live like that; we have to find other ways to live,’’ he said. “We cannot be obsessed with winning every battle, politically and otherwise.’’

Prime Minister Hon. Dickon MitchellConsul General Gerry Hopkin (left) & Father Dexter Brereton