Special report by Marcia Braveboy
Grenadian children of the fifties, sixties and seventies still have fresh memories of the 1979 overthrow of the “mongoose-gang” and the despotic rule of Grenada’s first Prime Minister, Sir Eric Gairy… and in a twist of irony, the bloody end of the offspring from the overthrow – the Maurice Bishop-led Revolutionary Movement (MBPM) Government in 1983.
The first two Prime Ministers of the Spice Isle – each popular and charismatic – fallen from grace, the latter never to survive what may have seemed to be his own karma revisiting his leadership, many times worse than his army’s violent revolt over Sir Eric in 1979.
How could I forget?
I was a young reporter, 19 years of age just starting my career in journalism, green faced and overwhelmed, with the curiosity visibly leaping out of me. The editor in chief at the newly formed Frontline Newspaper sent me to cover what was one of my first major media conferences at the Hibiscus Inn, (a hotel owned by Sir Eric himself) when the lanky looking blind old man clad in a white suit (as always) sat at the head of the conference table and reminded journalists of his visionary assertion that Maurice Bishop lived by the gun and would have died by the gun. The rest is history.
Fragmented families, husbands who were part of the insurrection had to flee to save their lives and for other unknown reasons, an unprecedented brain drain, the stability of a country rocked and left on shaky and unsuitable grounds, a people left vulnerable and looking for answers, bloodied at heart.
Nicholas Brathwaite was thrown forward before an obviously despondent and unfocused people, still dazed by the bloody events. He was asked to chair what an Interim Advisory Council that governed from 9 December 9, 1983 to December 4, 1984, the year Grenadians voted in fresh elections.
Though he was overwhelmingly the favourite to lead the country at the time, Brathwaite was not ready to take on the mantle of Prime Minister. It was the beginning of a phase of self-effacing leaders who would govern Grenada and begin the healing after the mongoose-gang rule and revolution eras.
It would seem the glitter and glamour of the charismatic and glib talking that characterized both Sir Eric and Bishop were no longer a requirement for becoming Prime Minister of Grenada. The deep interest coming out of the paradigm shift – or bloody turn of events if you prefer – was character over charisma. The next Prime Minister had to be of indisputable repute and probably made of a stainless steel kind of mettle.
From December 4, 1984 to December 19, 1989, bound to a wheel chair, a differently-abled solemn looking Herbert A. Blaize braved the tide for one term with a newly formed political party, the Grenada National Party (GNP). He died in office of a heart attack, days after increasing protests by public servants for higher wages.
At the heart of these protests was the youthful, overly ambitious Keith Mitchell who was groveling after and craving power. He demanded that Blaize sell the telephone company, the Grenada Telecommunications Services, to foreign investor Cable and Wireless and pay the workers. The Prime Minister yielded; a shocked nation learned that their leader died shortly after acceding to this demand.
Everyone was looking for someone to blame, and the nation would be the judge, jury and prosecutor to determine who was responsible for the Prime Minister’s sudden passing. Fingers pointed at the protesters but they needed a face to put to the dissident voices and they found Mitchell, who played a leading role in the demonstrations.
It was not a good sign for a people still reeling from the overthrow of its first Prime Minister and the assassination of its second Prime Minister. Mitchell would ensconce himself in the backstage of the political arena, at least for a while.
Another temperate leader was Ben Jones who succeeded Prime Minister Blaize from 20th December 1989 to 16th March 1990 under The National Party (TNP), the renamed Grenada National Party (GNP). During those incarnations the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was formed and was poised and ready to form the 1990 Government.
Prime Minister Nicholas Brathwaite emerged, in what looked like a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifice he made for his interim leadership role following the bloody coup. It was what the people wanted then, a dream fulfilled for them. When he was ready, they handed the prime ministership it to Brathwaite. It was a chance to bring stability to the Spice Isle that still had blood on its soil.
By then, layers of the burdens of the Grenada Revolution were peeled off, and as Grenadians shaked off the bloodied history and tried to move on, a new generation was born.
The population comprised 60 per cent youth, a demographic completely unaware of its past, of its history and a generation whose gullibility and ignorance would seek more dynamic leadership and would buy any package that represented their concept of what good leadership is. The time was right for Keith Mitchell to show what he can do.
However, with an adult population fully cognizant of the political sins of the past and still being influential over obedient sons and daughters, Mitchell failed in his first attempt to become Prime Minister. It was Nicholas Brathwaite’s time.
Grenada’s present Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, coming from the Herbert Blaize, Ben Jones and Nicholas Brathwaite eras, was one of the candidates of the Nicholas Brathwaite-led Administration. It was his first attempt in the political race and he lost his seat.
With the button age creeping up on us and our children being exposed to rapid growing technological advances, the self-effacement of the past three Prime Ministers was bound to wear off. History was slowly on the reverse and about to repeat itself.
The restlessness of the youth of the nation was fodder for those who started a wave of political bickering within the Brathwaite-led Government that was sure to bring us back from whence we came.
The Attorney General, Dr. Francis Alexis and Finance Minister George Brizan, were both accused of wanting to overthrow Brathwaite, as the country (no doubt the young adults) raged on about economic hardships, the lukewarm style of leadership exercised by Brathwaite. There were other challenging issues as well.
Under mounting pressures he resigned three months before the 1995 general elections were due, making George Brizan the country’s sixth Prime Minister, albeit for a short stint from 1st February 1995 when Brathwaite took his exit, to 22nd June 1995. Keith Mitchell had a narrow victory at the 1995 polls – 8-7 in his favour. With his incessant thirst for power and a vow to stay in office for 20 years he was not about to get comfortable with a one seat margin in the parliament.
After mounting evidence surfaced that the Mitchell led Government was steeped in corruption he left nothing to chance. In 1999, he dissolved the parliament and called general elections one year before it was due, catching the split and chaotic opposition off guard.
Francis Alexis never gave up his attempts to become the political leader of the NDC and George Brizan, who was the party’s choice of leader, was not about to relinquish the post. They were caught in a state of unpreparedness by a Government that was quickly collapsing on the grounds of corruption. To the analytical minds, that was mortifying to the opposition and none was deserving of a place in the Parliament.
Knowing the errors of their ways, they conceded their respective positions after being trounced at the polls in 1999. Mitchell and his NNP pulled off an historical victory, winning all fifteen seats with no opposition in the parliament. The former opposition side fragmented and went their separate ways.
Tillman Thomas, who had lost his seat for the second time, stayed the course. He fanned the embers beneath the ashes of what looked like the end of the NDC, and as they say, the last of the Mohicans, the least of the apostles, the last of the self-effacing leaders, like the Phoenix was about to rise from the ashes.
With no Opposition to hold the Mitchell led NNP Government to account the Government acted like it was answerable to no one. By the next election in 2003, again called one year ahead of schedule, Mitchell won a third term but his strength was reduced to a one-seat majority.
Five years later on July 8, 2008 Mitchell lost power to the NDC led by the current Prime Minister Tillman Thomas. Mitchell remained leader of his party and took up his seat across the hall as leader of the opposition, from where he kept the pressure on the new government.
Grenadians are now getting an opportunity to decide whether they are comfortable with the man who led the government for the past five years or whether they want to bring back Mitchell.
But the odds are stacked against the non dynamic Thomas, who will most likely become a one term PM. It’s partly because of his fallout with some of his MPs and Government Ministers like Michael Church, Carl Hood, Peter David and his other disciples, Maureen Emanuel, Phinsley St. Louis et al.
Certainly with a more than youthful population – 60 per cent of Grenada’s population being youth – and a youth population lacking a sense of history, the Opposition Leader Keith Mitchell, not known by that youth voting block for his despotic style rule and chronic urge for victimizing, is seeing a silver lining behind the clouds.
Clearly there were divisions and distrust in the Thomas administration from day one from old NDC stalwarts like Maureen Emanuel, who never wanted the ever charismatic Peter David and others to be part of NDC.
There were always rumors/talk about a struggle between Ministers David and Nazim Burke for leadership of the NDC…a power struggle reminiscent of Dr. Francis Alexis and George Brizan’s fight for the takeover of the old look NDC under Brathwaite.
Then there were disagreements over Thomas’s position on casino gambling and Grenada’s relationship with ALBA. Thomas also opposed casino gambling, while some members of his cabinet, including David, supported it.
Rumor has it that those who supported those two positions received moneys from the interested parties – Zublin for the casino project and David and his crew for ALBA.
Supposedly Dominica was the transit point. It is rumored that a certain junior government minister would fly to Dominica and from there jump on the helicopter for Venezuela, unbeknownst to the PM, and collect funds from Chavez.
It is said that even the ambassador to Venezuela at the time, McLeish, was not even aware of these clandestine meetings. He’d often learn of it when he met with Venezuelan officials.
One must remember that when NDC came into power, it wasn’t so much because people loved them, but it was more that people wanted to get rid of Mitchell. It was literally anything but the now Opposition Leader.
Thomas did not do much to help what seemingly became a disabled situation. While he is genuinely a good guy and seen as honest and trustworthy, his leadership and management skills are non-existent – another symptom of the self-effacing leader that he is.
And so in a sense he has to take some responsibility for the current situation. When these problems, started he should have nipped them in the bud. But he has this laissez-faire approach and that just doesn’t work in Caribbean politics.
Like it or not dictatorship is needed. The stars seem lined up for the return of the heavy hand of Mitchell, as Thomas struggles to hold on.