Grenada judges stall for time and money


By Robert Graham

Since 1983, not much has been heard from Grenada. However, the tremendous upheaval caused by the United States invasion is still felt.

Shortly after the invasion, 17 people, including officers of the People's Revolutionary Army (PRA) and most of the central committee of the New Jewel Movement (NJM) were rounded up and imprisoned. All 17, including former deputy prime minister Bernard Coard and his wife Phyllis Coard, former minister for women's affairs, were charged with ordering the murder of former prime minister Maurice Bishop.

Bishop had been prime minister since 1979, when the leftist New Jewel Movement took over the government and initiated a sweeping program of economic and social change in the interests of Grenada's workers and peasants. An attempt by rivals in the NJM to depose Bishop led to popular protests, including the October 19, 1983, incident on which the charges against the 17 are based.

On that day, six days before the US invasion, three armoured cars of the PRA opened fire on a crowd of Bishop's supporters at Fort Rupert, where Bishop was being held. Twenty people were killed and in the ensuing chaos, Bishop and five of his key political supporters were murdered.

Three years later, in 1986, Bernard and Phyllis Coard and the rest of the Grenada 17 were convicted of Bishop's murder in an illegally convened court funded by US money. Fourteen were sentenced to hang.

Legal scholars worldwide have described the trial as an organised ritual, rather than a fair legal process. Former US attorney general Ramsey Clark has said: "The crown was unable to produce any credible evidence that the central committee ordered the retaking of Fort Rupert, the murder of Maurice Bishop or anyone else, or any act of violence".

The 17 have raised 20 irregularities in their trial, the most spectacular of which is the presiding judge's description of the defendants as "satans and devils" at a public meeting in Jamaica. The defendants have also complained of bias in the jury, denial of their right to cross-examine witnesses, admission of confessions suspected of having been obtained under duress and even torture, and withholding of documents by the US government.

Of 100 witnesses, only Cletus St Paul testified that the NJM central committee had ordered Bishop's death. However, St Paul's evidence was contradicted by others who said he was not present at

the meeting said to have taken the decision. Eminent British barrister Lord Tony Griffith has said St Paul is believed to be an agent.

Appeal hearings continued from 1988 to September 19, 1990, yet no final decision has been announced. There have been media reports that the appeal court judges are refusing to deliver judgment until they are paid large sums of money.

According to a letter from Bernard Coard printed in the Grenada Informer, the money is being withheld pending a decision to uphold the murder conviction (and the mandatory death penalty). The present government of Prime Minister Nicholas Braithwaite is almost completely dependent on US funds.

Phyllis Coard's sister, an Australian citizen, has received distressing reports of prison conditions for the 17. Phyllis Coard is the only prisoner on the island held in solitary confinement. She is forbidden to speak to other prisoners, has been sexually harassed and denied medical and dental treatment. In protest, she recently went on hunger strike.

The Australian government is about to make diplomatic inquiries concerning the delay in the verdict and the treatment of Phyllis Coard.