October 1983 is arguably the most traumatic period in recent Grenada history. Within a week, the nation lost its Prime Minister, several other cabinet ministers, leaders of business and labour, military personnel, school children and other civilians.
In four years leading up to 1983, Grenada was ruled by the People’s Revolution Government (PRG) of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. The PRG came to power on March 13, 1979, after the New Jewel Movement (NJM) overthrew the government of the late Prime Minister, Sir Eric Gairy.
The PRG, despite accomplishments such as embarking on the construction of an international airport, and advances in literacy and health, was criticised by internal and external detractors on a number of fronts, including its refusal to hold Westminster-style democratic general elections.
By 1983, the PRG and NJM were beset by their own internal leadership differences on the direction the country should take politically and economically.
The situation reached a head when Prime Minister Bishop was placed under house arrest at his residence at Mt. Wheldale.
On October 19, 1983, a massive crowd of supporters marched on Mt. Wheldale, freed the Prime Minister and took him to the military headquarters of the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA), Fort George – then known as Fort Rupert.
Soldiers of the PRA were despatched to retake Fort George, ending in the deaths Mr. Bishop and many of his supporters.
A Revolutionary Military Council (RMC) was set up to run the country but their rule ended on October 25 with an invasion by United States troops, supported by soldiers and police from some Caribbean countries.
U.S. troops arrested RMC, PRG, PRA and NJM officials – including former Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard and Army Chief Hudson Austin. Eventually, 17 people were charged, convicted and sentenced to be hanged for the murder of Prime Minister Bishop and others on Fort Rupert on October 19.
The sentence was later commuted to life in prison. The prisoners mounted a successful appeal and a judge ordered a resentencing, leading to their release from the Richmond Hill Prisons.
The event of October 25, 1983, has since been officially recognised as Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
This year, government is also giving recognition to the Grenadians who lost their lives on October 19, 1983. Among the events scheduled for the day is a wreath-laying ceremony.