BERNARD COARD TELLS A MOUTHFUL
St. George’s Grenada
By Leroy Noel
The following interview with Bernard Coard, former deputy Prime Minister of the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) was conducted by Grenadian Journalist Leroy Noel over a period of several weeks through a combination of written questions to him, a visit with him at the Richmond Hill Prison, followed by written questions to which he submitted written answers.’
Bernard Coard is one of the 17 persons convicted for the death of Maurice Bishop and several of his cabinet colleagues. The trial of the 17 also raised eyebrows across the world and was denounced by several international organisations.
Q: When Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada, on September 7th last, the walls of the prison in three locations, including in your section, collapsed, and the vast majority of prisoners fled, why didn’t you and the other members of the Grenada Seventeen?
A: Because it would have been highly irresponsible for us to do so, especially given who we were and are.
Q: But at that moment and for several days to come, there was no functioning government in Grenada, any functioning police force, and so on. Some prisoners fled to St. Vincent, some to Trinidad, and a few went as far as Venezuela. Some of these are yet to be located. Why didn’t you?
A: Only the guilty flee. Our position, from day one, is that we will stay and fight through the courts, for our freedom.
Q: Journalists from several regional and international media organizations interviewed you inside the prison on several of the days immediately following Ivan. They reported you as saying that you did not want nor would you accept freedom granted by the government of Grenada. Did you really say this?
Q: But if the government of Grenada were to offer you your freedom immediately, why, after twenty-one years wouldn’t you grasp it with both hands and leave the prison there and then?
A: That was precisely the question that several of the journalists asked me. My answer then as now is that we wish no favours from this or any other government of Grenada in the future. We have been illegally detained for twenty-one years. We are legally entitled to our freedom. We want it not from some government seeking to dispense ‘charity’ or ‘mercy’ or gain political credit but from a Court of Law based on the requirements of Grenada’s laws and constitution. It is more than time for the lawlessness with which our case has been handled over the last two decades to be brought to an end.
Q: But weren’t you convicted in Courts of Law, and these convictions upheld in the Court of Appeal?
A: It is far better that a world-renowned international body which has won the Nobel Prize for its work in defending and promoting human rights and justice worldwide, answer your question, than your simply accepting what I have to say about the Kangaroo Trial and Kangaroo Appeal process through which we were put. I refer, of course, to the October 2003 Report of Amnesty International. This 32-page report explains, in some detail, the kind of “trial” and “Appeal” which we received in those days.
Q: OK, but do you want to add anything to what Amnesty International Report has to say?
A: Only this. Judges in all countries of the world that I know about are paid by the month, to hear all cases which come before them. This was true even in Apartheid South Africa and Augusto Pinochet’s Chile. When, however, judges are paid as in our case just to hear one case, and when each is paid one million yes, one million Eastern Caribbean dollars just to hear that one case, you need to ask yourself why. When, on top of this, they demand an additional US $650, 000 to deliver their judgement, you need to do more than simply ask why. If you wish, I can send you the documentary proof regarding these payments, not only from official Grenada government and Parliamentary records, but also from Declassified (Secret) US government documents, released by the US government as a result of a US Federal Court Order under the Freedom Of Information Act.
Q: OK, I hear you. But why was there a need to put you people through a “Kangaroo” process to use your term? Why wasn’t your case handled the same as anybody else’s?
A: If you have evidence to convict someone, there is no need to sack the established Court Registrar and dismiss the jury array he selected, ad instead take one of the prosecution’s team of lawyers in the very said case and make her the temporary Registrar, and have her then choose a new array of jurors from which the final twelve would be chosen. There would be no need for eleven (11) of, the twelve (12) jurors finally selected (and who brought in verdicts of “guilty”) to have been people not legally eligible to be jurors at all, under the jury ordinance! There would also be no need to pass nine (9) yes, nine laws (including three new jury laws) wholly or partially aimed at rigging the conditions under which our trial and appeal process would be undertaken. There would also be no need to torture us, and manufacture evidence in the form of perjured testimony from four witnesses. And, finally, as mentioned already, there would be no need to make millionaires of the judges who conducted our case! Kangaroo trials, by their very nature, therefore, are reserved for the trial of political opponents and those whom you know you have no evidence against; who, therefore, would be found not guilty, if tried in accordance with the law.
Q: But I am still not clear as to why the United States government, as well as all the then governments of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) should have found it necessary to have put the seventeen of you through a process which Amnesty International referred to as ‘manifestly unfair’, and failing to meet internationally acceptable standards. Why was this necessary, do you think?
A: You have to realize that we were tried, convicted, and imprisoned during the final years of the Cold War. United States troops invaded our country; something condemned by the United Nations by a vote of 109 to 2 (or figures close to these). They had to find a way to justify this invasion. They spent US $18 million in propaganda alone, within the Caribbean region including Grenada, demonizing us; ad the several more millions paying for the “trial process” through which we were put. We were tried three years before the Berlin Wall fell; before the collapse of the Eastern Europe regimes allied to the Soviet Union; and five years before the final collapse of the Soviet Union itself! Indeed, the Preliminary Inquiry before a Magistrate, in our case, took place before Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union! United States troops were still doing military maneuvers in Grenada while our “Trial” was taking place; even flying helicopter gun ships over the court house itself while the proceedings were ongoing. This is why Amnesty International suggests, through the title of its Report on our “Trial” and “Appeal”, that we were The Last of the Cold War Prisoners.
Q: Do you feel any bitterness or hostility towards the United States as a result of their role in all that’s happened to you?
A: Why should I? This happened under Ronald Reagan, for God’s sake! As I just said, this all occurred during and as part of the raging, final decade of the Cold War. It must be seen in that context and with that perspective. Additionally, we must never confuse what governments do with the people of a country. After all, there are more Grenadians (and their offspring) living in the United States than those presently living inside Grenada! J And that includes all my siblings, and their children and grandchildren!
Q: Ok. That’s the International Politics side of things. But what about Grenada and the Grenadians who played various roles in terms of what happened to you? Do you feel bitter? Do you want revenge against those who may have lied on you, beat you up, and otherwise mistreated you?
A: No, absolutely not. What does that prove? How does that help anybody?
Q: But you’ve lost 21 years of your lives; seen your families broken up, your children have to grow up without you. You spent 5 years on Death Row. You must be kidding me when you say you don’t want to get back at those who you say framed you, tortured you, and denied you your freedom for all those years?
A: First of all, hating people destroys the hater, not the hated. It corrodes your insides spiritually, and even in medical terms in much the same way putting sand, or salt, in your gas tank would destroy your vehicle. This may sound strange, but harbouring bitterness and hatred towards others, imprison such a person far more than the four walls of my prison cell has imprisoned me, over the last 21 years. You feel a lightness, a wonderful inner freedom, when you free yourself of all bitterness towards those who have wronged you; when you forgive them fully, freely, and unconditionally. Secondly, if you talk to persons who have spent years in prison as political prisoners, the vast majority will tell you that it had an extraordinary effect on them in terms of their spiritual growth as human beings. You don’t have to interview Nelson Mandela and his ANC colleagues to discover this. After all Mandela is in a class by himself. He is exceptional in every way. Instead, talk to the dozens of Grenadians who were political detainees of the Revolution, and you will discover the truth of what I’m saying. The people who outside of family and close friends, have shown us the Grenada Seventeen the greatest compassion, care, and concrete assistance, have been the Revolution’s political prisoners! They have lent us moral support, and repeatedly called, publicly, for our freedom. When people whom you have wronged not only forgive you in words but follow it up with deeds such as Messrs Winston Courtney, Lloyd Noel, Leslie Pierre, Teddy Victor, Winston Whyte, Osbert James, and so many others this has a profoundly humbling effect on you. Their example has inspired us to do likewise.
And just as their forgiving attitude and practice has freed them in some inexplicable way; so also has our forgiving others for wrongs committed against us helped to free us from deep within.
Q: The Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr. the Rt. Hon. Keith Mitchell, has spoken on more than one occasion, since Hurricane Ivan, of “Coup Plots” against his government. Over the past three years, his party, the New National Party, is alleged to have distributed thousands of pamphlets around Grenada asserting that you and the Seventeen are part of some sinister ‘plot’ to stage a ‘coup’ against his government. Would you like to comment on this?
A: A couple of years ago, while Dr. Mitchell was addressing his party’s Annual Conference at the Trade Centre, electricity wet and he was therefore cut off in mid speech. He later denounced the US owned electricity company, GRENLEC, of having deliberately sabotaged him and his party. It turned out that one of the generators in Queen’s Park had broken down, leading to temporary blackouts in some areas, including the part of the island where the Trade Centre was located...Fourteen months ago, during the General Election campaign, Dr. Mitchell went on TV and radio and asserted that his car and the convoy in which he was travelling up the West Coast of the island towards a public meeting in St. Patrick’s had been firebombed (his term) by unknown political foes. He went into some detail in describing what a grave experience the whole thing had been. A day later, the Chief of Police went on TV and radio to reveal that a police investigation had revealed that there had been no firebombing of the Prime Minister’s or anybody else’s car that day; that all that had happened was that a few children had been playing with firecrackers; and this is what the Prime Minister heard, as his car drove past where these children were having fun!
I could go on to give further instances, but I believe you get the message. Whether it is a genuine case of the Prime Minister being paranoid, or a case of his constantly crying wolf to gain cheap political advantage or sympathy, I leave for others to decide. Whichever it is, it is highly irresponsible conduct as several persons have publicly and privately pointed out to him.
On the specific question of ‘coup plots’ let me just say this: who, in his right mind, in this day and age, would want to overthrow the government by violent means (as opposed to throwing it out of office through the ballot box, as nearly happened 14 months ago)? After such a group ‘performed’ this coup, what would the other fourteen members of CARICOM do: send messages of congratulation to the coup leaders? What would President George Bush’s government in the United States do: send an e-mail to the coup leaders saying “Congrats! Keep up the good work!”? One only has to pose the question to appreciate just how absurd all this talk by Prime Minister Mitchell is.
Q: If you win your matter in court in the next few days or weeks, what do you plan to do with your life?
A: with respect to my wife and myself, we are both now in our sixties. Several years ago, my wife renounced her Grenadian citizenship, primarily as an act to demonstrate to the government of Grenada, in a concrete way, her irrevocable intention not to ever return to Grenada. For my part, I plan to leave Grenada immediately upon my release to join my wife in Jamaica and hopefully rebuild our lives. My wife’s health, as you probably know, is not of the best, and we have zero financial resources to lean on, and no pension or insurance to look forward to, so we’ll probably have to set up some small business of our own in order to survive. Not many employers tend to hire people who are already in their sixties.
Q: What about the other members of the Grenada Seventeen?
A: Bear in mind the fact that all are in their 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s. All have acquired qualifications in fields necessary for making a new start in life. For example, three have obtained a total of five university degrees in law, including two postgraduate degrees in Company and Commercial Law. Five have done AAT or ACCA courses with a view to acquiring professional accounting qualifications. Several have acquired high levels of computer skills; two have degrees in Sociology, one in Economics, and one received an Upper Second Class honours degree in Theology from London University. He hopes to do part-time missionary work for the church upon release. One obtained a diploma in Building Construction and another a diploma in Nutrition and fitness. Let’s put it this way:
The world has changed since we entered prison 21 years ago in the closing decade of the Cold War. Grenada has changed. Half of Grenada’s present population was born after we entered prison. They don’t know us, and we don’t know them; Each member of the Grenada Seventeen has experienced the trauma of family breakup or separation, and the desperate need, now, to try to put the pieces back together; With all the above in mind, we have each spent years in prison studying hard, under very difficult circumstances, in order to start new careers and support our families financially and otherwise, upon our release. It is for all of these reasons that we chuckle with amusement when we hear of Prime Minister Mitchell’s paranoid fears about our reentry into society. Moreover, in the case of my wife and myself, we won’t even be around!
Q: OK, but there are those Grenadians who say that it would be a great loss for someone like yourself to leave Grenada permanently; that your training and experience could be invaluable to Grenada. How do you respond to this argument?
A: This is how I respond: the events of 21 years ago have left deep scars on the psyche of Grenadians over thirty years of age. My presence, in my opinion, would hinder rather than assist in the process of healing and achieving closure, which are vital for Grenada and Grenadians. This alone is sufficient reason for me to leave and stay out of Grenada. But there is also the scapegoating phenomena to consider. Were I to remain in Grenada, each time electricity goes when Dr. Mitchell is addressing his supporters, or children play with firecrackers near his car, “Bernard Coard” would be held responsible. At a personal level, I’m tired of being used by others as a scapegoat. If I’m no longer around, people will be forced to either find another person (or group of persons) to use as scapegoat(s), or start taking personal responsibility for their shortcomings and mistakes.
Finally, there is the deeply personal level. I desperately want to resume my family life; to be with my wife and children again and now, grandchildren as well! Even though my contributions to building Grenada (NIS, NCB, GBC, MNIB, House Repair programmes, raising funds for the International Airport, etc) have suffered collective amnesia, I am at peace with myself, knowing that I did my best and played my part in building Grenada. It is now time for others, especially the younger generations, to play their part. I am now retired, and won’t be coming out of retirement!