Dominica 202 and the Ghosts of the Grenada Revolution Comes Haunting – And a Call for a Popular Assembly
By Gabriel J, Christian., Esq
The downfall of the Grenada Revolution, as with the USSR, revolves around an authoritarian approach to governance. Even today, Russian President Vladimir Putin has scant regard for democratic norms; he fudges elections and arrests his critics on trumped-up charges. Is that behaviour familiar to those of us who observe the anti-democratic trend taken by Skerrit on Dominica?
In Russia today, Putin has invaded a sovereign state, Ukraine, and is savagely bombarding its people. Did he consult the Russian people in a truly democratic fashion? Did he even entertain more peaceful means to secure his concerns about NATO expansion? Today, his brutal invasion has strengthened NATO and turned once sympathetic elements in Ukraine's population against Russia. As Russia is a nuclear power, the war in Ukraine threatens to lead to World War III and the potential end to human existence. Ostensibly democratic nations such as the United States and Britain are not immune from militarism and unjust and foolhardy military expeditions. Iraq and Vietnam, before that, arguably fall within those categories. However, democratic anti-war forces in both nations led to the end of those missions. Generally, I am wedded to an antiwar philosophy and opposed the Iraq War.
I am reminded, therefore, of how important democratic governance is to a free republic and the rule of law. In nearby Grenada, we saw the dead end of anti-democratic governance, which led to the collapse of the Grenada Revolution. Closing Parliament
In Grenada, Bishop (after overthrowing the elected leader Eric Gairy) shut down parliament and suspended habeas corpus during the entire revolutionary period. Someone could be arrested on the bogus charge of being a "threat to the revolution" and held without trial. No bail. No evidentiary hearing before an impartial judge could be had on politically linked charges.
When Bishop himself was arrested, he had no parliament to appeal to. He had no lawyer to get him bail. There was no petition for habeas corpus that someone could file that the Revolution would respect. The model the Revolution had adopted was that of a slip of paper scribbled by the Prime Minister or one of his designees, handed to state security, and that could result in one being held in prison at the pleasure of the Revolution.
So, on October 19, 1983, it was left to Grenadian students and other outraged citizens to burst into Bishop's residence and free him and his girlfriend from lockdown. Both Maurice Bishop and his girlfriend Jacqueline Craft had been tied to their beds. Once released, Bishop tried to recapture state power, and the conflict between citizens and the Peoples Revolutionary Army at Fort Rupert resulted in bloody drama and many deaths. Following the massacre at Fort Rupert, which resulted in the death of Maurice Bishop and his key allies, General Hudson Austin of the Peoples Revolutionary Army declared that a Revolutionary Military Council had taken over. Austin, after that, announced on Radio Free Grenada a 24-hour shoot-on-sight curfew. The Grenadian people cowered in their homes, terrified - and certainly unable to enjoy any freedoms. The bloody collapse of the Grenada Revolution on October 19, 1983, made a mockery of the long struggle against slavery and colonialism that had provided the Grenada people with greater liberties during the self-government regime that evolved on the island after World War II.
Dame Eugenia and US Military Intervention
The United States, at the urging of Dominica's Prime Minister Eugenia Charles, then Chair of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States to which Grenada belonged, launched a military intervention into Grenada on October 25, 1983. That intervention by the US took place with allied Caribbean forces. The focus of that action was to stop the bloodshed, remove the military junta and return Grenada to some form of parliamentary democracy that had existed before the March 13, 1979 Revolution that put Maurice Bishop's New Jewel Movement (NJM) in power. The NJM had overthrown Prime Minister Eric Gairy on the suspicion (never proved) that he had instructed his security forces to massacre the NJM leadership while he was on travel overseas. The Revolution, while it brought forth a Cuban-built international airport and some gains in literacy and agriculture, destroyed the liberties and parliamentary democracy that Grenadians had come to enjoy after World War II.
We must act before that same intolerance and dictatorial tendency leads to bloodshed on our island, Dominica.
The erasure of the rule of law and the bloody collapse of the Grenada Revolution destroyed the Caribbean nationalist left for a generation. It blunted the quest in our region to craft innovative pathways to enhance democracy and social justice. We do not want such bloodshed in Dominica, and that is why I speak so harshly against the current dictatorial course of conduct of the Skerrit regime. I am the last person alive from the 1980 official Dominica delegation sent to the First Festival of the Grenada Revolution. The delegation was led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Michael Douglas, the legendary
Pan Africanist and socialist advocate of our generation Senator Roosrvelt "Rosie" Douglas and Dominica Trade Union executive member Hilarian Deschamp. They are all gone now. I attended as an executive of the National Youth Council and activist of the Democratic Labour Party formed by interim Prime Minister Oliver "OJ" Seraphine. Seraphine had replaced Prime Minister Patrick John, who had lost power due to the popular insurrection following the May 29, 1979 riot outside Dominica's parliament.
When I was a guest of the Grenada Revolution, I was young and idealistic. My time with Rosie Douglas' Popular Independence Committee and other student comrades in Dominica's independence movement of 1976-1978 was quite fulfilling and noble. We believed passionately in anti-colonial philosophy and saw socialism as the solution to the inequities of the colonial state.
Patrick John's Overthrow
The year before I travelled to Grenada, the Dominica Federation of Students, of which I was then President, had been at the forefront of the 1979 popular insurrection following the bloody May 29, 1979 riot. While the trade unions, Dominica Freedom Party, and the political left carried the weight - it was the radicalized youth, high school and Sixth Form College students who led the charge to blockade the Government Headquarters and confront the police and defence force on the riotous morning of May 29, 1979. At this moment, I remember student leaders such as Albert "Panman" Bellot, Ricky Alport, Dexter Francis, Curtis Victor, Sookdin St Hilaire, and others at the forefront of that epic struggle to save Doninica's democracy.
It must be noted that we had resorted to protest to prevent passage into law of two bills proposed by Prime Minister Patrick John. One bill would have stifled freedom of the press, and the other would have limited the right of unionized workers to strike.
That insurrection following the riot replaced the Patrick John regime with a Dominica Labour Party-led interim government of national unity. With youth and students (via the National Youth Council and Dominica Federation of Students) having been part of the Committee of National Salvation that cobbled together the interim government, we were close to the levers of state power. That is how I got to be on the delegation to Grenada. Besides, several leaders of the Grenada Revolution were ideological allies that I had befriended when we travelled to Cuba in the summer of 1978 aboard the Cuban ferry Commandante Pineres for the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students. I have since penned a memoir of that time titled "Aboard the Commandante Pineres."
When I got to Grenada in 1980, I was only 19 and the youngest delegate on our delegation. Even then, I could see signs of intolerance in Grenada that were of concern. But then we were all hot with revolutionary idealism. Only with time, experience, and an understanding of the importance of the rule of law and democratic norms can I analyze things more soberly. Today, some of the same anti-democratic trends and intolerance are being made manifest by the Skerrit regime. Skerrit detests anyone who criticizes him and declares them traitors and enemies of the state. Such a dictatorial trend will be the end of our small republic and its democratic culture if it is not stopped. Not Yet Outright Dictatorship
We are not quite an outright dictatorship in Dominica yet - thank God. However, Skerrit is ruling our beloved island like a despot and creating a tiny oligarchy that has grown wealthy based on the sale of Dominica's passports. That inequity has bred anger, hate, and division. Added to that, the bogus charges by the Director of Public Prosecution and the police against those who criticize the government are enough for me to recognize the one-party state model when I see it. The one-party state will destroy Dominica. It simply won't do for us.
No Dominican who grew up with the freedoms with which we have become comfortable can abide by the anti-democratic one-man rule that has now reared its ugly head on our island. That is why I ask for a popular assembly of all our democracy-inclined people. That assembly will create a provisional government that will unite civil society, the opposition, and the Dominica Diaspora to do the following:
1.Ask the government to resign and create a national unity government to oversee new elections once electoral reform has been enacted.
2.Where the government will not resign, a civil disobedience movement is engaged to compel its resignation.
3.That a Truth and Reconciliation Commission be the mission of any new government to restore social concord, good governance, and civility and to recoup misappropriated state funds.
Under the rule of Roosevelt Skerrit, all arms of the state have come under his domination. The civil service, police service, and state media now bend to his will. The judiciary is tainted by bias and has become distrusted by a broad cross-section of the population. Such a state of affairs has undermined the democratic moorings of our once law-abiding and peace-loving republic.
Webster's Dictionary defines a Commonwealth as one founded on law and united by compact or tacit agreement of the people for the common good, one in which supreme authority is vested in the people. Here are the elements of a commonwealth, which is essentially governance for the common good:A nation founded on law, not one party or one man; Supreme authority vested in the people.
When those elements are examined, surely, we do not have a commonwealth on Dominica anymore. The wealth is for some. The old Dominica Labour Party philosophy of "All Shall Eat" has been replaced by a craven practice: "The well-connected shall eat all." According to the Al Jazeera investigative report into the sale of diplomatic positions by the regime, "90% of the passport sales funds go to the leadership, only 10% to the people."
Our Commonwealth of Dominica has been replaced by a wealthy passport-peddling oligarchy committed to fooling the people and violating electoral laws to remain in power. This is a sad reality and is not said lightly. I make this observation based on the repeated instances of fraud, misuse of power, and the numerous excuses made by Roosevelt Skerrit to cover up corruption in office. At this time, especially after the Dominica and Syria diplomatic relations scandal, saving our commonwealth requires us to unite for the common good. In that way, we can rededicate ourselves to the democratic founding principles of our island republic and become an exemplary democratic republic among the family of nations.