Quiet Lies Over the Land
On Oct. 19 Alexis joined thousands of Grenadians who descended on St. George's, their capital city, in an effort to rescue 38-year-old Maurice Bishop, the country's charismatic socialist Prime Minister, from a house arrest imposed by a radical faction of his government. When the crowd, composed mainly of schoolchildren, reached Bishop's house, soldiers fired into the air but did not prevent the Prime Minister from escaping. "The people carry Bishop on their shoulders," Alexis recalls, "and he says, 'Long live the masses!' and the masses say, 'Long live Maurice Bishop!' "
It was a magic moment, but the euphoria was short-lived. About 15 minutes later two armored cars carrying Grenadian soldiers appeared and, without warning, fired on the crowd. "I was standing on a truck," says Alexis. "When I hear the shots, I duck down and my hand was off. The blood was pumping, pumping and my arm got black, black, blacker. I tell myself I might be dead and then I go unconscious."
Alexis was still unconscious when the soldiers lined up Bishop, three of his cabinet members and two union leaders and shot them dead. Alexis was lying in Grenada's General Hospital that night when Gen. Hudson Austin, 45, head of the new military government, announced a four-day shoot-on-sight curfew. He was still there six days later when he awoke to the sounds of Americans invading. "When I hear the invasion, I was glad," he says.
Ironically, one of those Grenadian soldiers was Alexis' brother Martin. "He was on the armored car shooting into the crowd," says Alexis. Early last month Cpl. Martin Simon, 20, was in Richmond Hill Prison, along with General Austin, Bernard Coard, leader of the coup that deposed Bishop, and more than 40 other detainees who were awaiting indictment for their roles in the massacre. "My father go see him, but I stay far from him," says Alexis. "He mighta shot off my arm."
Out of school and unemployed, Alexis spends his days hanging around the rural town of Birchgrove, where he lives with his parents, who are banana growers, and four other children in a tiny wooden house with a tin roof and cardboard windows. "I just stay home and practice writing my name and things," he says. "I was left-handed and now I got to learn to do everything with my right hand. My doctor say I get an artificial arm, but I don't know when. Maybe this year."
Alexis Simon is an apt symbol of Grenada today: Wounded in a fratricidal bloodbath, he is healing slowly and waiting for help. The whole country, which achieved independence from Britain in 1974, seems to be waiting, resting up after five turbulent years that included Bishop's Marxist revolution, a war of words with the United States over the new Cuban-built airport, Coard's Leninist coup, the massacre and finally the invasion. (On Feb. 22, as an angry mob outside the courthouse screamed "Hang them all!", Austin, former Deputy Prime Minister Coard and 16 other former Grenadian leaders were charged with murder or with conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism. They face possible death sentences after their April trials.) Recognizing the country's eagerness to sample the joys of ennui after so much excitement, the interim government of Sir Paul Scoon is so low-key as to be almost nonexistent. Nicholas Brathwaite, chairman of Scoon's advisory council, keeps making vague promises of elections within a year, and almost no one is pressing him to set an early date.
Meanwhile life goes on as usual for Grenada's 110,000 citizens. The electricity and the telephones lapse into a coma almost daily, just as they did under socialism. The roads remain perforated with potholes—except for the section traveled by Secretary of State George Schultz, which was hastily repaired before his six-hour visit last month. And since the army was disbanded and airport construction was halted, the ranks of the unemployed have doubled. They sit in the shade or sell souvenirs to tourists, who drift in aboard the occasional cruise ships.
Of course, there have been some changes since the invasion. The revolutionary slogans that the Bishop government painted almost everywhere are now covered by a thick white pigment. The official national holiday has been changed from March 13, the anniversary of the Bishop revolution, back to Feb. 7, the anniversary of independence from Britain. The half-finished international airport at Point Salines, once attacked by the Reagan Administration as unnecessary except as a Cuban military base, is now scheduled to be completed with help from the Reagan Administration at an estimated cost of more than $70 million.
St. George's University School of Medicine, once a sleepy beach school, is now a media magnet. The American students, who returned in January, enjoy escorting unsuspecting reporters into the anatomy lab, just to see them squirm at the sight of opened cadavers. And 275 U.S. soldiers—along with 500 Caribbean troops—patrol the island in jeeps and helicopters. The soldiers report that the Grenadian people are friendly, but some Grenadian animals still put up resistance. "Sometimes the cows try to attack our aircraft," says Sgt. Richard Frye of Hampton, Va. as he stands by his helicopter in a pasture-turned-landing strip. "And yesterday a dog attacked us."
The only political event to stir much controversy in Grenada since the invasion was the return of former Prime Minister Sir Eric Gairy, 62, who ruled the country from 1967 until Bishop overthrew him in 1979. Gairy now sits in a sprawling pink house overlooking St. George's and entertains a nearly endless stream of foreign journalists. He has become quite adept at manipulating the media. "My better side is here," he says, waving his left hand at a photographer foolish enough to snap him from the right. Outside Grenada, Gairy is known chiefly for his bizarre United Nations speeches advocating investigation of UFOs; inside the country, he is remembered as a corrupt despot who employed a collection of thugs called the "Mongoose Gang" to discipline dissidents, including Maurice Bishop.
Gairy now denies both his infatuation with UFOs and his history of brutality, dismissing the allegations as "Communist propaganda." While digressing on such ethereal subjects as metaphysics, spiritual healing and personal magnetism, Gairy also denies any intention of running for office in the next elections. But, he says, "My party will have its candidates, and I know we'll be getting a landslide."
At the moment that seems unlikely. A recent poll showed Gairy's Grenada United Labour Party receiving only 5 percent of the vote, which was slightly more than Bishop's New Jewel Movement but far behind such choices as "Don't want any elections" (7 percent), "Refuse to say" (14 percent), "Would not vote" (23 percent) and "Don't know" (39 percent).
The poll appeared in the weekly Grenadian Voice, the only newspaper currently publishing on the island. Leslie Pierre, a 50ish local importer, founded the Voice in 1981 as an independent alternative to the Bishop government's official organ, The Free West Indian. Pierre expected that the paper would be suppressed, and it was, shortly after it sold out 3,000 mimeographed copies of the first issue. "Bishop said that we weren't the voice of Grenada, we were the voice of businessmen and opportunists and the CIA. I can't even spell CIA," Pierre says with a laugh. Shortly after the paper was closed in June 1981, Pierre was arrested and imprisoned without charges or trial. He was not the island's only political prisoner: He estimates that 700 Grenadian detainees were held by the Bishop government during its four-year reign.
Pierre was still in prison on Oct. 26, when American bombs scared the guards away. "As soon as we realized what was happening," he says, "we attacked the locks and the doors and got out." A month later Pierre published the second issue of the Voice—more than two years after the first. "I felt that if they had locked us up for publishing a newspaper and we were out, then we ought to publish again," he explains.
Another political prisoner freed in the aftermath of the invasion was George Louison, 32, who had served as Bishop's minister of agriculture until the October coup. Louison's position gave him a ringside view as the revolution descended into ideological infighting and then collapsed in self-destruction. He watched, horrified, as Coard's "ultra-left" faction ousted Bishop. A few days after the Prime Minister was placed under house arrest, Louison and other Bishop loyalists were imprisoned in a dungeon near the army barracks at Fort Frederick. From their cell, he says, they could hear soldiers debating whether or not to execute them. And then, on Oct. 26, as the American bombing intensified, the soldiers fled, and Louison and the other prisoners escaped.
The jailbreak did not end Louison's ordeal, however. In the next month he was arrested three times by American soldiers, detained briefly and then released. Now unemployed, he lives off the largesse of his mother. "That's who has been feeding me for the last three months," he says with a sheepish grin. He keeps in touch with the survivors of Bishop's New Jewel Movement but says that they are too busy "recovering from the shock and the trauma" to prepare for any elections. Instead, Louison and some friends have converted a dingy office in St. George's into a shrine to Bishop and the other Oct. 19 martyrs. Surrounded by photos of their leader in better days, they hawk books of his speeches and T-shirts decorated with his picture and the slogan "His Spirit Lives." Thus far, they have been at least partially successful: The T-shirts are almost as popular as the ones that read "America, Thank You for Liberating Grenada."
Louison doesn't share that popular view of the American invasion, despite the fact that it probably saved him from execution. "My life isn't the most important factor in judging the invasion," he says. "The Coard clique brought on the greatest terror that Grenada has ever experienced, but that doesn't justify an American invasion. The Reagan Administration was planning an invasion for years and just waiting for the chance to execute it."
One spot where support might be expected for Louison's view of the invasion is the Grenada Mental Hospital, where an American bomb destroyed a dormitory building. But Henry Harvey, an attendant at the hospital, holds no animosity toward the U.S. "We call it a rescue, not an invasion," he says. Harvey stands beside the wreckage of the dormitory next to a row of poinsettia trees that somehow survived the bombing and have burst into blood-red bloom. "The red-and-white flag of the revolution was on the fort," he says, pointing up the hill to Fort Frederick. "When the planes came, the soldiers put the flag up here at the hospital. So directly it was not the Americans' fault at all."
Harvey, an elderly man with gray hair and a gentle manner, unlocks the heavy wooden door that keeps the inmates inside their yard. Immediately, those patients who are not lying catatonic on the ground rush forward to greet the strangers. Some want to shake hands, some want money and one, Stephen LaMothe, 26, wants mail. "Please correspond with me," he begs. A thin, angular man in a strangely spotless white shirt, he is eager to describe the bombing and his words tumble out on top of each other. "I was here in the building when the bomber came," he says. "One man was killed on the spot. The bullet from the plane come and hit him in the belly and he sit up and fall down dead." LaMothe mimics the action as he describes it. "They shoot bullets here and drop one bomb in that building, and when it hit, the building blow apart." As LaMothe tells his tale, the other inmates squirm past him, pressing up against the visitors, begging for coins and offering their hands. One man displays a pro-American slogan that he had laboriously printed on a matchbox. "Get back!" Harvey commands. "I told you, don't touch!" As he eases the visitors outside and locks the door, a plaintive cry rises over the wall. "Correspond with me, please. Stephen LaMothe, care of Grenada Mental Hospital. Please correspond with me."
In Grenada, everybody tells stories of the invasion, but only a few people, like Henry Farah, a medical student from Tenafly, N.J., actually have it on tape. Farah, 32, relaxes on the deck of the seaside house he shares with three other students—Tony Manoukian, 31, of Los Altos, Calif., John Carmack, 24, of Roanoke, Va. and Brian Carroll, 28, of Fairfax, Va. The sun is dropping toward the sea and the students are sipping Algerian wine spritzers and listening to the Rolling Stones. When the music stops, Farah plays the tape that another medical student, Henry Collins of Napa Valley, Calif., had made during the invasion. First there was the sound of quick, sharp pops. "That's the antiaircraft guns," says Farah. Then came a louder, rumbling noise. "That's the Americans," he says.
On the tape Collins whispered nervously, "Jesus, I gotta pull this desk over my head." The students laugh. The firing stopped. "That was the eerie thing," says Carroll. "Suddenly it would just stop for a long time." "Sometimes it got almost boring," says Farah. Somebody suggests that Farah play the portion of the tape recorded from the Grenadian government's official radio station on the morning of the invasion. Farah presses the fast-forward button until he finds it. "United States paratroopers have invaded Grenada with helicopter gunships," a nervous, staccato male voice repeated over and over. "We shall defend Grenada to the last man, to the last woman, to the last boy, to the last girl, to the last patriot. We shall drive them into the sea."
Abruptly, the voice stopped, replaced by an up-tempo reggae tune. The students laugh again. Someone recalls that within a few minutes of that broadcast, the radio station was reduced to rubble by American bombs. The students sip their spritzers and gaze out at the horizon, where three of those American "helicopter gunships" are flying into the sunset, drifting lazily along on the gentle Caribbean breezes like some strange khaki-colored seabirds.