Who Is Maurice Bishop And Why Is He A Caribbean Hero?
"Bishop was able to transform an entire society, and restore hope and order to an oppressed people."
In 1979, Maurice Bishop and his party, The New Jewel Movement, orchestrated the only successful revolt in the English speaking Caribbean; also deemed the “peaceful revolution.” Maurice Bishop was a lawyer and the second Prime Minister of Grenada, and studied law at the London University. Since high school, he had an interest in politics, sociology and history. He was involved and headed several clubs, such as the student council, history group, discussion club and was editor of the Student Voice. This early engagement continued while he studied abroad, and upon finalizing his studies, he worked with several youth leaders to construct a two-year plan for the transforming of their island.
Grenada was a former colony of Britain and got its independence on February 7, 1974. For almost two decades, Grenada was governed by Eric Gairy, a trade union leader who gained prominence during a general strike in the early 1950s. Gairy shortly entered politics then later became known for corruption and sexual exploitation of women. Gairy created a private police known for abusing, murdering and terrorizing those who opposed his administration. They were responsible for murdering Bishop’s father in 1974, who was a retail shop owner. These acts fueled Bishop and many of his peers to step their campaigns against the oppressive government, and improve their organization and representation of the party island wide.
In 1979, Gairy created a plan to have Bishop and his followers murdered while he was off island. After receiving the news, at the strike of the night the decision was made to take over the island. Bishop and the New Jewel Movement led the revolution in the dawn of March 13, 1979. When they got into government, Bishop and the NJM restored the country’s coffers, which were depleted by Gairy’s administration and had less than $100. Bishop was a socialist leader who advocated for workers’ rights, women’s rights and African liberation. He believed this could be achieved through mass education of the people, visionary leadership, self-reliance and economic interdependence among sovereign nations.
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Bishop’s first plan of action was to develop the island’s infrastructure and give people jobs. He also initiated a massive literacy program in which illiteracy was dropped from 35 percent to 5 percent. Healthcare became free and unemployment dropped from 50 percent to 14 percent. Bishop also introduced a system of direct democracy, where citizens were able to voice their opinions on matters of the country, and even give input into the island’s budget. Under his administration, Grenada developed relations with Cuba, Libya, Soviet Union, Nicaragua and other socialist and anti-imperial states.
Bishop’s ultimate goal was to create a self-sustaining society, which began to bear fruit through the expansion of agricultural produce, tourism and educational programs. Fearing the rise of another communist nation in the Caribbean, Bishop and Grenada were blacklisted by the Ronald Reagan administration and plans were made to destabilize Grenada by way of economic blocks. The US then created its propaganda claiming that the expansion of the airport, which Bishop sought to develop to increase the island’s economic output, was a military base for Soviet use. In 1983, a dispute took place among party leadership, which resulted in Bishop being placed under house arrest. His supporters freed him in protest and took him to a military base where they were later attacked by members of the People’s Revolutionary Army. Bishop, including civilians and members of his cabinet, were gunned down by firing squad. Their bodies were seized and burned in a pit. The location is still unknown to this day.
Although the revolution was short-lived, Bishop was able to transform an entire society, and restore hope and order to an oppressed people. In honor of him, we channel his fighting spirit and continue the mission of justice, empowerment and self-reliance for all oppressed people of the world. As popularly chanted, “Forward Ever. Backward Never!”