Monday, February 23, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 13

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983. Sickness and signs
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film
The Revo Blog. Part 8 - Sept - Oct 1983. Rumours
The Revo Blog. Part 9 - Oct 1983. The Last Days of the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 10 - 19th October 1983. Coup
The Revo Blog. Part 11 - 20th October 1983. Curfew. Day 1
The Revo Blog. Part 12 - early morning 21st October. Breaking curfew

21st-23rd October. Curfew continues.

The euphoria that follows surviving the breaking of curfew is short lived when we hear the news that a total blockade of Grenada means we should expect chronic shortages. But at least our own shelves have been restocked for the time.

1.00 pm - Radio Free Grenada broadcasts a statement by the Revolutionary Military Council saying there is absolute peace and calm in the country, that all foreign citizens (including Americans) are safe and unharmed and that diplomats have been issued with passes to check on their nationals.

Consequently, they assure listeners, there is no excuse for an invasion.


The BBC World Service has a report of Maurice being led into the fort with his hands above his head. It seems that in spite of the best attempts of the RMC to cover up the reality of what happened on the 19th, the truth is leaking out.

The news about diplomats visiting nationals is meaningless for us: we never bothered to register our presence with any UK authorities on the island, so they're not going to come looking for us.

This lack of visibility is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, slipping under the official radar feels comforting ... on the other ...

I had been right about one thing though. Curfew is indeed lifted briefly in order to allow people to restock their provisions. Since we've already handled that angle, L and I go for a walk up to Mt Parnassus instead. We visit FB, a friend of L's who I've never met before. He's a really laid back guy with a fixed smile who spends the time we're there lovingly fondling his new stereo equipment. We all get really high and FB makes us some superb soursop juice, which seems to take hours to create.

On one level, it feels like a normal social call. L and I try to relax, but we're jittery and constantly ask the time, scared that we might get distracted into staying too long and breaking curfew accidentally.

On our way home, we pick guava, cici bush, Santa Maria and blackstage. As we walk along the road, an army jeep draws up beside us and the driver asks us a few terse questions before driving off.

We arrive home without further incident and it's the strangest sensation. We've twitched and sweated against the restrictions of curfew for two days, yet while we were out for the brief official break, we were jumpy and anxious to get back to the relative safety of our yard. Then, as soon as we're back, we fret, wanting to go out again. Especially as the pressure we're all under, freaked and forced into such close company with one another, means that tensions in the house simmer below the surface at all times, breaking out into frequent arguments that I have to try to mediate.

And all this is against a backdrop of radio broadcasts that fill us with rage and despair.

1.50pm - another RMC statement on RFG. They seem to be scurrying round now, desperate to justify their version of events, yet presumably so remote from what most people are thinking and feeling that they don't realise that with every word, they increase the distance between them and just about everyone else listening.

They reiterate their claim that the army made every effort to avoid bloodshed on the 19th.

Maurice, they say, ordered people to raid the canteen. (!) Soldiers were abused and threatened and women were stripped, beaten and humiliated. Secret documents with plans for the defense of the country were destroyed and read by civilians. Maurice organised the armoury to be broken into and distributed weapons. He intended to kill all the officers at the fort.

As a result of allowing civilians into a military installation, four soldiers and many civilians died. 'Many persons have lost their lives.' The responsibility for this loss of life is entirely Maurice Bishop's. The army had wished to take the leadership alive but were unable to do so when they were fired on. The version of events depicted on other radio stations is all lies.

It's mindbending. We just can't wrap our heads round the implication that they presumably think they will be able to force people to accept this fictional version of what everyone knows to have been a massacre.

'Many persons have lost their lives.'

We're haunted by this sentence. The brief lifting of curfew has allowed more details to spread about the moment the army arrived at the fort, firing as they came up the hill. The initial disbelief turning to panic. The terror. The horror.

Don't forget - the demonstration that had freed Maurice from house arrest had been led by school children, who made up a large part of the numbers at the fort. We hear that in their desperate attempt to escape the carnage, many people leapt over the walls to certain death on the rocks forty feet below.

(NOTE: Apparently, some tourists had been on the beach at the time and filmed the terrible sight described above. I'm told this was shown on UK TV, though I have never seen it.)

With so much life-shattering information to assimilate, we all get together in the house for a group discussion about how to live together during the remaining days of curfew. We need to try to get our priorities right, to establish some kind of rules of our own, in the absence of all normal parameters. The result is a tentative and fragile agreement for increased sensitivity to each other's needs wherever possible.

7.30pm RFG - a new cabinet will be announced in the next few days, according to Hudson Austin. Officials have already been appointed at the Ministries. Austin has met with the Vice Chancellor of the American Medical School at Grand Anse to assure him of the safety of the students.

Lt Col Liam James (joint chair of the RMC) warns of a possible invasion in the next few days. Sanctions have been announced by Jamaica, Trinidad and St Lucia.

RFG announces that seventeen people were killed at the fort - three members of the People's Revolutionary Army, five civilians and nine leaders. Two civilians were killed in cross fire, and three by jumping over the wall. The leaders had been in the operations room, where most of the firing came from. Tribute is paid to the soldiers who died in the course of their duty.


(NOTE: These figures have always been disputed. At no time have there been any credible official figures given for the number of people who died that day.)

There seems to be a subtle shift in RFG's broadcasts. Though they're still focusing on laying the blame on Maurice, the attention is turning from what happened on the 19th to what could happen in the next few days. By attempting to reassure the outside world that the situation is under control and it's business as usual, they're clearly trying to head off what looks to be inevitable now. Some kind of military intervention.

There's a full moon that night and it shines through the louvre windows onto our bed.


Saturday 22nd October.

I wake at 5.45 to a spliff. Was it only yesterday that I did the same and then broke curfew with a knife in my bag? I can smell rain in the air. The rumbling of distant thunder seems like I imagine gunfire would sound. I imagine I'll soon know if that's accurate or not.

7.00am - radio 610. The Organisation of East Caribbean States (OECS) is considering a military invasion. US warships are on their way. A task force of 2000 marines has been diverted from the Mediterranean to evacuate US citizens if necessary.

9.00am radio 610. Two officials from the US embassy in Barbados are coming to Grenada to check on American citizens here.

12 noon radio 610. Rising tension reported.

12 noon RFG. Major Chris Stroud of the RMC met with the 250 US medical students to reassure them of their safety. The situation is firmly under control. The Ministry of Information denies reports of disorder during the lifting of curfew.

It's safe to say that no one believes anything we're told on the radio now. Instead, the rumour mill has gone into over drive and the information from that source feels more trustworthy, even when it stretches credibility.

We hear that the supermarket on the Carenage was looted by soldiers and also that food has been taken by force from local shops and not paid for.

We hear that P, from Back Street, has gone crazy with the pressure and has been taken to hospital.

We hear that the Calivigny Squad, who made up the troops who carried out the massacre at the fort, numbers 500 soldiers, that they wear black berets and drink cats' blood to make them strong and fearless.

We hear that a Tempe man has a pass for the hospital and he says that it's so packed that people are lying in the corridors without beds.

We hear that there are 800 people in the regular PRA - but wonder how many of them will take orders from the new regime.

We hear there has been a mass roundup of ex PRA and militia. (There are mixed reports about what's happened to Little W, the 13 year old who we knew the soldiers were looking for, and we're really anxious about him.)

We hear there is no longer a military presence at the crossroads. But this fails to reassure us and if anything makes us even more nervy. Presumably all efforts are now going into repelling an invasion rather than subduing the populace.

Then in the late afternoon, Little W himself comes round to tell his own tale.
(NOTE: In spite of the curfew, people are able to cautiously move around the immediate area with relative ease.)

Little W tells us in a shaky voice that he had indeed been picked up and taken in for military service. After a couple of days, they must have sussed he wasn't going to be much help and brought him home. L and P tease him for crying and he denies it. I get angry and say anyone would bawl under the circumstances and he throws me a grateful glance. I can see that L and P are just trying to cover up their own fear by laughing at someone they perceive as weaker.

6.00pm. Oh, the RMC are really working hard now to show they have control. The first policy statement is issued by Chris Stroud and broadcasted on Radio Antilles.

Grenada will pursue an independent, non-aligned foreign policy and continue to have a mixed economy. The RMC calls for peace. The new cabinet will be announced in two weeks. They will focus on economic construction - promoting agriculture and tourism and continuing with the building of the international airport at Pt Salines, in the south west of the island. They hope to continue good relations with other countries. Representatives from the Canadian and UK High Commissions in Barbados have been invited to Grenada. They confirm that they have detained Radix, Louison, Burke and the Trinidadian journalist, Alastair Hughes but give no further details.


7.30pm - RFG. The RMC will not permit harassment or intimidation of any group in Grenada. All social classes and interests must be represented. The first priority is to solve unemployment and ensure there is firm control over employing and dismissing workers. Local and international private investment will be encouraged. Hudson Austin is due to meet the PM of St Vincents tomorrow. Liam James says all Grenadians should be on alert against invasion.

Our brains feel twisted and shredded. Like everyone else, we're still freaked and traumatised by the coup ... the grief and the loss ... the shock of the switch from the belief that you could trust everyone and that everyone was on the same side to the paranoia and distrust that there are no longer any certainties ... the rage at the lies that seek to rewrite history ... the enforced imprisonment of curfew ... the surreal assertion that it's somehow going to be business as usual and there is still life for the Revo without Maurice and after the coup ... and now the near certainty of an invasion.

That night, the vast moon shines again through our louvre windows and L and I wonder why we can hear gunfire from Richmond Hill as we bask in its light.

Excerpt from my diary: Curfew is strange - it somehow makes you feel secure. You're at home. You have food. It's very unlikely anything will harm you. Yesterday when we went out, both L and I felt jumpy and kept asking the time and felt relieved when we got home though of course we then immediately wanted to go out. Days last weeks and yet time passes very quickly. Monday could hold anything ...

Sunday 23rd October. The last day of curfew.

Weird and surreal broadcasts on RFG. They're switching from talking about economics and trade - as though nothing had happened - then repeating the broadcasts from yesterday - then creating the impression that tomorrow will be a 'back to normal' day. Foreigners will be free to leave if they wish. Flights are hoped to resume as normal. Workplaces will open at 8.00am. Curfew will continue from 8.00pm to 5.00am until further notice. Schools, however, will remain closed for the time being.

It's only the part about schools that confirms they know their hold on people's hearts and minds is still far from certain. Then, mid afternoon, the tone abruptly changes.

3.55pm RFG. All militia should report to their units immediately.

4.55pm RFG. All immigration and airport officials are given a phone no to call urgently.

5.00pm RFG. The RMC issues a heavy plea for unity against an impending invasion. The news is followed by revolutionary songs: 'Let them come, let them come, we will bury them in the sea.'

It's enough to make your head explode. If there had been an invasion a few weeks ago, people really would have come out to barricade the roads and lay down their lives for the Revo. But now? Who would they be fighting for? The same people who had massacred, imprisoned and lied to them over the last four days? On the other hand, all lives will be at risk if there's an invasion ...

6.00pm RFG. The OECS plus Barbados and Jamaica took the decision to invade Grenada today. Armed forces are en route to Barbados where they will be joined by units from Jamaica and Antigua. An unidentified warship is already seven and a half miles from the coast, well inside Grenada's territorial waters. The invasion has been opposed by Guyana, Trinidad, the Bahamas and Belize. The RMC are prepared to hold conciliatory talks with any country.

An invasion is expected tonight and will result in the deaths of thousands of our men, women and children.


6.15pm RFG. Thousands of militia members are reporting to their units.

6.30pm RFG. Questions raised about the legality of the OECS decision to invade as it wasn't unanimous.

7.00pm radio 610. News from the Caricom meeting: Grenada has been suspended from Caricom. OECS proposes trade and economic sanctions and the cessation of all air and communication links. It has been agreed to involve external elements with the primary purpose of 'restoring normalcy' in Grenada. The Governor General may be used as a contact.

The UK is sending a destroyer to evacuate its citizens.


That's the end of the entries in my diary on this, the last day of curfew. When I look back now and try to remember how I felt at that point, the impression I have is one of holding my breath for a very long time. As I said before, the days of curfew had begun to feel relatively safe and secure.

There could be no such certainty after tonight. It's too much to wrap your head round, so it's as if life is suspended until we see what the next day will bring for us to react to.

8 comments:

BarbaraS said...

This is my favourite piece: 'Little W tells us in a shaky voice that he had indeed been picked up and taken in for military service. After a couple of days, they must have sussed he wasn't going to be much help and brought him home. L and P tease him for crying and he denies it. I get angry and say anyone would bawl under the circumstances and he throws me a grateful glance. I can see that L and P are just trying to cover up their own fear by laughing at someone they perceive as weaker.'

I can't believe you lived through this, and yet you did and through so much more.

Debi said...

It's strange, Babs. I stare at my diaries, I write these posts, I read them back ...

I'm as shocked at the content as you are ...

and yet I also can't believe these are my own experiences.

Clare Sudders said...

Blimey. What a scary time.

Very clearly explained, thank you for writing this.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Debi, what you're doing here is quite remarkable and so revealing. Kudos to you. I'm reminded of friends here who went through harrowing stuff in the journey to end apartheid.

Given what you are writing, there's a small something for you over at my place - I'm not big on these blog awards things (we all know the story :-) ) but I think this one meets what you are doing perfectly.
xxx

SueG said...

Hi. On another note...I've just been looking over my blog and I found that I've neglected to list you all this time. Ugh! Mea culpa! I've fixed it now, but sorry :-((

Debi said...

Clare - and thank you - for so many things ...

Ab Van - thanks for the award. Kudos back at you too.

Sue - no worries. Can't say I noticed and anyway on my list of priorities, worrying about something like that would be so way down on my list it would fall off the end. Just finished Tangled Roots BTW. What a wonderful way you have with words!

Marie said...

Just catching up as I haven't been blogging for a while. These are fascinating posts, Debi. I think it's great that you're blogging about your experiences.

wordtryst said...

Another mesmerizing, shocking post. Sometimes fiction has nothing on real life.