Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 21

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 1983. Breaking curfew
The Revo Blog. Part 13 - curfew continues
The Revo Blog. Part 14 - 24th October 1983. 'Back to normal' day
The Revo Blog. Part 15 - 25th October 1983. Invasion - the first 2 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 15a - Faye's journey continues
The Revo Blog. Part 16 - 25th October 1983. War - the next 4 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 16a - photos
The Revo Blog. Part 17 - 25th October 1983 - midday onwards
The Revo Blog. Part 18 - 26th-27th October 1983 - the war continues
The Revo Blog. Part 19 - 28th-30th October 1983 - more war
The Revo Blog. Part 20 - 31st October - 2nd November 1983 - defining 'normal'

Thursday 3rd November - the lunatics are taking over the asylum

In the morning, N comes round and H, C and I go with her to the Governor General's residence to see if we can find a way to get a message home. It's over a week since the invasion and ten days since we were last able to phone. We're very aware of the dreadful state our families and friends must be in, imagining what's happening to us and with no means of finding out if we're safe.

A press conference has been scheduled and the area is buzzing with journalists and film crews, including the BBC and ITN.

We spot the guy who bought our first films from us. He's reading a book by a freelance journalist who covered the Vietnam war. Having heard that this guy is drawn to conflicts, taking appalling risks to get to the world's hottest hotspots, but then coming up with such crap material it can't be used, I find his choice of reading matter hilarious and burst out laughing. It seems we all have these self images that determine the parts we play, but his is the ultimate cliche. Unsurprisingly, he's not amused by my hysteria.

From there, H, N and I try to hitch to Birch Grove, where we hope to get some fresh produce, but when we can't get a ride we walk instead to Mt Parnassus and from there to Richmond Hill. The plan is to see again if it's possible to get any help for N's brother who had been an inmate in the mental hospital and escaped when it was bombed by the Americans on the first day of the war.

Richmond Hill. Scene of so much of the drama of these last days and weeks. Here we see the house where Maurice was kept under house arrest and freed by the people on 19th October.

A ruined PRA anti-aircraft gun stands guard at one of the forts.

And when we see the ruins of Maurice Bishop's mother's house and shop, we wonder if this was the result of one of the bombs we had watched fall on the first day of the war.

But far worse than any of this, is the scene awaiting us at the crazy house.

It's an image plucked straight from a nightmare, but it's the smell we notice first. A dense fug of disinfectant, layered over but not diminishing a sickly sweet stench that sticks in your mouth and throat. Without asking, we all know what this is. It's been ten days since the bomb was dropped on the hospital. Ten days in the sweltering sub-tropical heat.

Gulping and silent, we climb some stairs and turn a corner and see confirmation of what we have already assumed. The wards are decimated, twisted and mangled beds sprouting from the wreckage. A small group of men, their mouths and noses covered by masks, are working to bring out more bodies buried in the ruins.

We don't stay long. It's clear there's no one here who can help us with N's brother and we've seen enough to give us fodder for nightmares for years to come. As we turn to go back down the stairs, a journalist is coming up in the opposite direction. He glances at our cameras and assumes we must be colleagues and kindred spirits.

'Anything good happening up there?' he asks.
I gawp at him in horror.
'They're bringing out more bodies,' I reply, naively thinking this information will shame him into a reaction.
'Great,' he says and pushes past, his ghoulish enthusiasm evident.

I'm too busy gagging to think up a suitably withering response.

We head back to the Governor General's. This time we manage to speak to a secretary from a phone at the gate. She gives us another number for the GG's PA. It's all very frustrating and we still can't get to talk to anyone who will be able to send a message back home for us.

But some parts of the outside world are determined to communicate with us. When we reach back to our yard, there's a telegram waiting for H from her sister in Zimbabwe.

Forward with resistance. Yankees go home.

I reel with the implications. Just as we were feeling at our most vulnerable, terrified that we might be on the US radar, this arrives! We've been smiling sweetly and keeping a deliberately low profile and I'm really anxious this will draw unwanted attention to us. H is delighted to hear from her sister, but I'm furious with her for sending it and possibly endangering us further.

And anyway, such empty slogans come nowhere near defining the complexities of Grenada's current struggle.

Friday 4th November - life's a beach

We decide to check out the scene at Grand Anse. C and I go to The Limes, where many of the international workers had been living, but they've all gone. Further confirmation that we are among the very few foreigners who haven't chosen to be evacuated.

From there we head for Carifta Cottages. This is the housing development where C had been staying when she first arrived in Grenada, before we found her the yard in Tempe. The place is eerie and deserted as we pick our way through the rubble. Three of the cottages have been completely demolished by direct hits and many others are badly damaged. The devastation is disorientating and it takes us some time before we can confirm that the cottage where C had stayed is one of those that has been destroyed.

We stare at the ruins of her former home reeling in shock, reflecting on how different things would have been if she hadn't moved to Tempe.

We walk past the American medical school which is pockmarked all over with bullet holes and then onto the beach. This is perhaps the most heartbreaking sight of all. The two miles of golden sand are crisscrossed with rolls of barbed wire and dugout trenches. The wreckage of a crashed helicopter juts out from the shallow water of the beautiful Caribbean. A palm tree has been chopped down to be used a shelter.

And everywhere - everywhere - is the litter of discarded brown ration packets.

Back home, we hear on the news that sixteen people have been confirmed as dead at the mental hospital and sixty six are still missing. During the night, the dark sky is ripped open by phosphorescent flares.

Saturday 5th November - remember, remember the 5th of November

We're awakened by some quick bursts of rifle fire. Is it really still not fully over yet? The amnesty announced three days ago runs out today. From this point on, any members of the PRA and militia who haven't voluntarily handed themselves over to the US soldiers at Queen's Park will be considered to be deserters and will be 'treated accordingly'.

Once again, we find this both confusing and chilling. How can the US treat enemy soldiers as deserters? And 'treated accordingly' can surely only mean execution. Is this just a scare tactic to persuade anyone still fighting to give up? And if they haven't done so now that the amnesty is over, does that mean there will be no alternative to their death?

And if all this is so, the inescapable conclusion is that only now is it becoming clear that the invasion, which so many have seen as saving us from a worse fate, will in reality just mean Grenada has substituted one set of ruthless oppressors for another.

There's yet another big argument at home. Now that our lives no longer seem to be at immediate risk, these battles on the home front are becoming daily occurrences. H, C and I go into St Georges and find it swarming with journalists, camera crews and soldiers.

When we get back to Tempe, we find the junction has been totally transformed in our absence. It's no longer called Kaunda Square, supposedly because Kenya didn't come to Grenada's aid in the crisis. It's Ralphie Square now and we're told he was a local man who was imprisoned by the Revo and died in prison - supposedly of slow poison.

All the old Revo symbols and slogans have been painted over and replaced by a professionally-executed wall painting.

God bless America.
Long live the US and Caribbean heroes of freedom.

25th October, 1983.

When aligned to a doctrine, prepare for the backlash.


We're told it was painted by local people, but it's clear that it is the work of the Americans. Part of their psyops, no doubt. But the name change to Ralphie Square shows that local people must have had input too.

This new stage in the battle for hearts and minds is proving to be acutely depressing. It feels like they're trying to erase all the good memories of the Revo and ensure it will always be equated in people's minds with repression and horror. They're beginning to dismantle the Revo billboards too in this attempt to rewrite history.

The problem is that people are still so deeply traumatised. It makes us all highly suggestible and open to manipulation and I have fears that the blatant propaganda will be effective.

It's round about this time that we hear that one of the first acts of the invading forces was to alter the billboard sign at Pearls Airport. It used to say Welcome to Free Grenada. The Americans covered up the word 'free'. You said it, guys.

Sunday 6th November - whose truth?

According to the news, Bernard and Phyllis Coard, together with Hudson Austin and the other high profile prisoners, have been taken from the US ship where they had been held and have been handed over to the Caribbean Security Forces. They were blindfolded and handcuffed, with the men stripped to the waist and are now in individual cells at the prison.

It's impossible to summon up any sympathy for them. The overwhelming perception is that they and not the US are responsible for the death of the Revo and the situation we are now all in.

The evening news announces that hundreds of people peacefully demonstrated today in St Georges against Coard and the others. What??? Can this be true? We've heard nothing about it. No one we know was there or saw any kind of demonstration. And anyway, there's supposed to be a state of emergency prohibiting any kind of demonstrations ...

And this then marks yet another new stage. One where we're told what is happening even though we know it can't be true. The effect is confusing and disorientating, once again keeping people off balance and heightening anxiety levels. We can only assume it's a deliberate tactic. Another element of so-called 'psyops'.

It's just the beginning of our education into how propaganda works. So crude, but oh so effective.


Unknown said...

Yes, that is how it works. I can taste the disorientation from here. The hospital part sounds horrific ...

Anonymous said...

My heart and will in hiddenhomeless mode,so to speak,time to look for pastures new,but helped me through the winter cold and wet!...
xx homelesschicken

Liane Spicer said...

When I was in Grenada 5 years ago (just before hurricane Ivan hit) I noticed an unusual number of ruined, burnt-out buildings along the road from the airport to St. Georges, all along Grand Anse. I didn't realize at the time that it was a legacy of the invasion which seemed so far in the past, but that's exactly what it must have been.

Horrific is the word.

Debi said...

The way the propaganda works is really unsettling and that seems to be part of its purpose, Babs.

HC - keep that heart beating strong!

Liane - that shocks me that the buildings were still left derelict just 5 yrs ago. Nowadays anyone visiting would assume all damage they saw was down to the hurricane.