Professor Gus John is a fellow of the Centre for Leadership in Learning at the Institute of Education, University of London, and visiting faculty professor of education at the University of Strathclyde. He is also the author of ‘Time to Tell: The Grenada Massacre and After.’ Born in Grenada in 1945, he emigrated to the UK in 1964.
After an early London screening of ‘Forward Ever’ in January, Professor John wrote a lengthy and detailed post on his blog; reading the complete article it is clear that his diaspora status does nothing to dilute the intensity of his memory and understanding of that tumultuous period in Caribbean history.
“The film takes you on a journey of hope and near despair. You . . . share in the elation, sense of liberation and hopefulness of the Grenada people as they own the revolution and engage in building popular movements . . . and local organs of government, including zonal and parish councils and forums for decision making that fed directly into government policy making.
“The film explores the human rights record of the People’s Revolutionary Government and includes testimonies from former detainees, including those who sought to organise a ‘free press,’ independent of the government and its channels of mass communication . . . [and] continues with an exploration of the cracks that were beginning to develop within the leadership of the Revolution . . .”
Professor John lists the key milestones of the PRG’s swift and deadly implosion recounted in the 113 minute documentary by Dr. Bruce Paddington and partially funded by UWI.
“The joint leadership proposal which Bishop had originally endorsed and then changed his mind about; Bishop being put under the spotlight by his comrades; his alleged responsibility for circulating or encouraging the circulation of a rumour that Bernard Coard was planning to kill him; Bishop being put under house arrest; the people mobilising and physically removing Bishop from house arrest in a gesture symbolising that it was their Revolution, he was their leader and he was not going to be kept imprisoned without their consent.”
“Then come the gruesome accounts of what transpired on Fort Rupert, culminating in the massacre by machine gunfire of Bishop and most of his Cabinet, including his pregnant partner, Jacqueline Creft.”
Reading through Professor John’s detailed account, I was interested to find that one of the elements of the film that I found fascinating, had also made a deep impression on the veteran educator.
“The most chilling part of that film for me was the account of Callistus Bernard, a former Army officer who, without emotion or any suggestion of remorse, told in detail how he organised the rounding up and lining up of those former colleagues of his, before using ‘any weapons we had at hand’ to murder them. Bizarrely, he stated that after the massacre they decided to ‘burn the bodies in order to preserve them…’”
But as evidenced by the Q&A session after the Saint Lucian premiere of the film on July 10, to Gus John and to many others, the Grenadian Revolution is “not a history that is fully told, nor a history about which even the people most directly involved in the process and its implosion agree.In fact, the contributions of many former government and Party members to the film are unashamed attempts to rewrite that history and justify their part in the murderous events of 19 October 1983 on ideological and military grounds.”
Dr. Bruce Paddington agrees that in some ways there will always be more questions than answers about the Revolution.
Among them, what was the root of the factionalising that emerged to eventually obliterate the Party and government? Whose orders put Bishop under house arrest? Were the executions ordered and if so, by whom? Where are the bodies of Maurice Bishop and the others executed at Fort Rupert? Was political interference from Cuba the cause of the PNG disintegration and what part did the CIA play before, during and after the revolution?
All are alluded to but never expounded.
From Dr. Paddington’s comments at the July 10 premiere one thing is clear: there is much more to the story of the Grenadian Revolution than can be contained within even a long format documentary film, but ‘Forward Ever: The Killing of a Revolution’ is his personal contribution to telling that significant tale and documenting its historical impact on Grenada and the world.