This October marks the anniversary of the assassinations of two Black revolutionaries - Maurice Bishop on October, 19th, 1983 and Thomas Sankara (main picture) on October 15th, 1987. The assassination of Maurice Bishop effectively ended the Grenadian revolution and the “New Jewel Movement” when on the 25th October, US forces under Ronald Reagan invaded the Island.
The JEWEL Movement (The Joint Endeavour for Welfare, Education & Liberation) originally started in 1972 as a political movement centred around the agricultural cooperatives. A year later the New Jewel movement was created and Maurice Bishop became Prime Minister in March 1979.
Bishop was assassinated in ‘palace’ coup led by Deputy Prime Minister and childhood friend, Bernard Coard, over ideological differences. Coard along with his wife Phyllis, were sentenced to death which was later commuted to life-imprisonment. In 2007, the Privy Council of UK, ruled the death sentences unconstitutional which has implications for the case in the first place. What is clear is the New Jewel Movement’s socialist ideology and its relationship with Cuba were perceived as a “communist” threat to the US hegemony in the Caribbean.
The invasion battle lasted just over a week and resulted in the death of many Grenadians and 12 Cuban civilians who were there to help with the construction of an airport in the capital. According to Don Rojas, press secretary to Maurice Bishop, the US invasion had been planned as early as 1981 and the coup provided the perfect excuse.
“The coup provided a pretext for the invasion to take place at that particular moment. In other words, taking advantage of an opportunity of internal destabilization as a result of the coup and confusion within the Grenadian society. The invasion however had been planned by the Reagan administration as far back as 1981. In fact, there were mock invasion, military exercises on the island of Viequas off of the island of Puerto Rico. Viequas happens to be similar in topography to Grenada. This had been in the works, so to speak, for at least two years before October of 1983.”
Grenada under the New Jewel Movement
The aims of the revolutionary movment, which received aid from both Cuba and the Soviet Union, was to create a modern agricultural programme based on a system of cooperatives, people’s assemblies, free health and education for all and low cost housing. Both workers rights and women’s rights were core principles of Bishops as well as the struggle against racism and Apartheid. The latter took place through the formation of a National Women’s Organization which along with other social groups participated in policy decisions. Women were given equal pay and paid maternity leave, and sex discrimination made illegal.
The Grenadian revolution only lasted 4 years but in that brief period, the New Jewel Movement transformed Grenada from a neo-colonialist state to a Pan-African revolutionary state. [See Bishops speech to the UN National Assembly]
Thomas Sankara seized power in 1983 in a popular Pan-African coup in what was Upper Volta - he changed the name of the country to Burkina Faso meaning ‘land of honest men’. Like Maurice Bishop, Sankara had a vision to change the way things were – to show that there are other ways of socioeconomic and political organization which are work in the interest of the people rather than corporations and Western governments.
The revolution sought to create a an anti-imperialist social democracy in one of the world’s poorest countries. Issues such as land rights, labour rights, agriculture, education and women’s at the forefront of the revolution’s aims. Sankara stated that “there is no true social revolution without the liberation of women.”
One of Sankara’s principle priorities was the banning of female genital mutilation [FGM]. In addition, he promoted contraception and discouraged polygamy. Sankara also embarked on a massive nationalization project which no doubt infuriated the business elite and the French government. The similarities with Bishop did not end there, as in 1987, Sankara, was assassinated after only four years in power, in an ‘imperialist’ coup by his former comrade, Blaise Comparore. Comparore who proceeded to overturn most of Sankara’s policies remains in power today.
The truth of who was behind the assassination is still illusive. It has been suggested that former Liberian warload, Charles Taylor was possibly complicit in the assassination of Sankara. In a 2009 documentary, Italian film maker, Silverstro Montanaro implicates the US and French government as well as Comparore and Taylor in Sankara’s assassination.
Burkina critics of Sankara claim he became authoritarian closing down trade unions and banning strikes. In response to his critics, Sankara said in 1985 that:
“I would like to leave behind me the conviction that if we maintain a certain amount of caution and organization we deserve victory… You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.”
Sokari Ekine is a human rights activist, writer and an award-winning blogger. She blogs at http://Blacklooks.org
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