October 19 shouldn’t be “diluted’’ with independence commemoration

The content originally appeared on: The Barnacle News
Arley Gill

St George’s: A former Grenada Minister of Culture has joined a chorus of Grenadians – many of them well-known and ardent supporters of the current government – in expressing public disagreement at a decision to launch the country’s 50th anniversary of independence on October 19, one of the most tragic and infamous days in modern Grenadian history.

“I don’t know how long this was deliberated and how much thought went into the decision. But, October 19 should be wholly, and should always be a day, to honour those Grenadians whom we lost in 1983,’’ said lawyer Arley Gill, who was appointed a senator in 2008 by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration of then Prime Minister Tillman Thomas and served as Culture Minister.

In 1983, disagreement within the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) and the New Jewel Movement culminated with the house arrest of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.

Bishop and other cabinet ministers, as well as several civilians, were killed by soldiers on October 19, after he was freed from house arrest by supporters and taken to Fort George – then called Fort Rupert.

The PRG came to power in 1979 following the overthrow of the government of Prime Minister Eric Gairy, who led Grenada into independence from Britain on February 7, 1974.

Lawyer Dickon Mitchell, the current NDC leader and prime minister, says for the first time since the events of 1983, October 19 will be observed as a public holiday throughout Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

It will also be the day of the formal launch of activities leading up to next year’s 50th Grenada independence anniversary.

The October 19 independence commemorative launch date “is no accident,’’ said Prime Minister Mitchell.

“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 October 19 a national holiday; and, the intent is to make that a permanent holiday,” Mitchell told reporters at a news conference.

 “I am using the word commemorate because I think too often people assume a public holiday means a festive or celebratory event,’’ he explained. “our perspective of marking October 19 as a public holiday is, in fact, for us to recognise the sombre nature, the tragic nature, of what happened, and for us to reflect upon it and understand why it happened.”

According to the prime minister, it’s important to mark October 19 “in a sombre manner, in a reflective manner and, perhaps, even in an emotional manner’’.

Despite Prime Minister Mitchell’s explanation, many like Gill maintain it’s a bad idea to have a commemorative independence anniversary launch on October 19.

“I cannot understand the logic, neither the historical or philosophical link, between the two. Indeed, our 50th independence celebrations should be in a different mood; a different mindset is required for October 19 which the prime minister himself has called for,’’ Gill noted.

“The October 19 holiday is long overdue and the government ought to be applauded for that. However, October 19 should not be diluted by combining it with any other activity. If we are to be sombre and reflective on October 19, it should be completely in tribute and in honour to all those who lost their lives on that fateful day in 1983.’’

Gill argued that activities for the 50th independence anniversary “should have been launched some time ago, and could be launched on any day. Why October 19?’’