THE AMERICAN' MAN" A talk with Eric Gairy

September 25, 2007

Report on the Americas editor George Black recently visited six small island states in the Eastern Caribbean. The conclusions of his research will ap- pear in our July/August issue which will look at the evolution of U.S. eco- nomic and security policies in Jamai- ca and the smaller English-speaking countries. Below we share with you one of the lighter sides of Black's field work. In the aftermath of the October 1983 invasion of Grenada, perhaps the biggest headache facing the United States was the prospect that former Prime Minister Eric Gairy might be returned to power. Gairy was one of the generation of political leaders who led their islands to uni- versal suffrage and then to indepen- dence from Great Britain. Doubling as labor leaders and party chiefs, they came to dominate island politics in the Eastern Caribbean. Gairy's Grenada United Labor Party, or GULP, defeated its leading opponent, Herbert Blaize's Grenada National Party (GNP) in six elections U : Gairy out of seven between 1954 and 1976. But while many of the older genera- tion of labor leaders cum politicians-- such as Grantley Adams of Barba- dos or Norman Manley of Jamaica-- became legendary elder statesmen, others discredited themselves with an Post-invasion Grenada-a U.S. showcase increasing tendency toward corruption and often bizarre personal behavior. Patrick John in Dominica and the Bird family in Antigua were good exam- ples of the type. But none could e- qual the eccentricities of "Gairyism." Eventually, after controlling Grenada for the better part of three decades, the GULP and "Uncle Gairy" were swept away on March 13, 1979 by Maurice Bishop's New Jewel Move- ment. It seemed to be the end of an era. Yet when he returned to Grenada after the invasion, Gairy proved that his support, concentrated among poor farmworkers, was remarkably resil- ient. To make matters worse, his op- ponents approached the December 3 elections badly divided. The survivors of the NJM remain riven by factional disputes. Those now grouped in the Maurice Bishop Patriotic Movement (MBPM) were tainted in voters' eyes by the traumatic violence of October 1983 when the revolution destroyed itself. Opposing Gairy on the right was his longtime rival, Herbert Blaize, still leader of the GNP despite his advanc- ing years and infirmity. Other new parties sprang up in 1984, each with charismatic leaders but only rudimen- tary organization. One group, headed by urban professionals, was the New REPORT ON THE AMERICASDemocratic Party (NDP), a vehicle for educator George Brizan. Brizan was a member of the NJM for four months in 1973 and claims to still agree with its basic goals of social re- form. Another was the Grenada Dem- ocratic Movement (GDM), led by lawyer Francis Alexis and university statistics professor Keith Mitchell, which enjoyed some backing in rural areas. The main task for Washington was to encourage these three parties to unite against Gairy. At the behest of St. Lucia's conservative Prime Minis- ter John Compton, and with strong be- hind-the-scenes urging from the United States, leaders from the GNP, NDP and GDM met last August 26 on St. Vincent's Union Island and agreed on an electoral front-the New Na- tional Party (NNP), with Blaize as its leader. According to reports in The Washington Post and The New York Times, private conservative groups in the United States were heavily in- volved in backing the NNP's cam- paign. The election resulted in a virtually clean sweep for the NNP, which took 59% of the vote and 14 out of 15 seats. Gairy's GULP took 36% of the vote, but only a single seat under the winner-take-all system. Today, Blaize is the island's prime minister. NDP leader Brizan is Minister of Ag- riculture and is widely considered Blaize's heir presumptive. And what of Gairy? I talked with him at length in early February in the Grenadian capital of St. George's. He is holed up these days in a friend's rambling pink-walled house in the hills above the town's beautiful har- bor. The building has a vaguely paramilitary air, its entrance guarded by stacks of cement blocks like im- promptu sentry posts. Bodyguards lounge on packing cases, playing cards and drinking Carib beer. I asked Gairy about the elections, his feelings about the United States and his plans for the future. Here are some of his answers. On Fraud in the Elections Yes, of course there was fraud in the elections. My feelings toward the United States remain positive, as they have been for three decades. That has not changed, despite the one Ameri- can resident here responsible for the foul play of which we are victims. Our party was the only faction sup- porting the Americans but our people are now bitter and angry and hostile to the Americans because of what they suspect took place. That.old, automat- ic, spontaneous smile for the Ameri- cans has gone. I have been talking to two people in the U.S. Embassy here. One is called Richard James Tierney; he is the head of the political section. Tierney is the one who put the factions of the NNP together into a synthetic-or rather a syncretic-soup. He was the brain be- hind it. In a meeting which he had with me on December 17, he ac- knowledged direct responsibility for the fraud with the election ballots. Tierney admits that special ballots were brought in from Georgia-he even mentioned the name of the com- pany. Tierney brought in the votes al- ready marked with special chemicals. The votes cast by Grenadians didn't show up. There was a discrepancy be- tween the crosses that appeared on the ballot papers, which were all identical and obviously machine-made, and the mark made by voters with the colored pencil. But we don't have the money to take the case to court. It's the Americans who have the money. On U.S. Relations Twenty-seven years ago, the Amer- icans realized my leadership and my friendship for the United States. Lis- ten, I was one of the three most im- portant guests to be invited to the most important event in America-the Fourth of July-and to the most im- portant place, which is Philadelphia. And do you know who the other two guests were? They were Red Skelton, who was sitting on my left, and John Glenn, who was on my right. That's an exalted position for a West Indian man to be in. They must have been impressed with me. Another thing: every time the Americans came to Grenada, I would organize a function for them. I would take them to the beach, or prepare them spice baskets with nutmeg and everything, or give them my car and take them for a picnic to show my love and friendship for America. I have been awarded the highest honor of the State of New York by Governor Rockefeller. I also have the Medal of the Americas, which is the most envi- able award in the hemisphere, given by all the chambers of commerce. I was awarded that in a very touching ceremony. Then, I was called to At- lanta, Georgia, to open an art museum in the early 1970s. So they figure, well, there must be something special between Grenada and the United States. Listen, they even gave me 200 used tennis rackets for the kids. That special rapport went on right through until 1979. If the Bishop coup hadn't happened, I would have done the same thing in 1979 that I had done before-an official reception at the re- sidence of the Governor General for every American citizen who lived on the island. For 21 years now, I have been ask- ing for an American military presence here in Grenada. I went to the State Department to ask for it, but the other leaders in the region just laughed and mocked me. When Trinidad was try- ing to get rid of the American bases, I asked if Grenada could have them in- stead. But the other islands knew that with American support I would be too powerful. I was the original patron of the American military presence in the Eastern Caribbean, quite definitely. I don't want to say too much about the British. We have a British heritage and a British culture here, but I have always felt closer to the Americans, in that I worked for a U.S. oil company in Aruba, an affiliate of the New Jer- sey Standard Oil. We always main- tained a celebration of the Queen's birthday, but we also brought in the Fourth of July. On the Revolution The communist threat is not al- together removed. The problem is that the Americans don't see the danger. They cloak themselves in the advice they get from the mulatto class in this country, those who don't want to be called black. Bishop indoctrinated the young people into communism and atheism. Now the powers-that-be can't handle the situation. Neither the MARCH/APRIL 1985 9interim government nor the govern- ment that came in after the elections can deal with it. The new government is full of communists: Brizan is a communist; Alexis is a communist. Ninety percent of Grenadians will tell you that. Tierney allowed them to take power just because he wanted to take the credit. None of them have any positive feelings for the United States. Blaize said that the American troops had done their job and now they should get out. Brizan also said the Ameri- cans must go. He's a communist. He made a speech here where he said that we don't need democracy, we need socialism. These people are all indoc- trinated, they're all communists. There's no doubt at all that I'm the Americans' man here; I'm the best friend they have in Grenada. When I lived in the United States after the Bishop coup, my relations with the Administration were not very good. They were good to a certain level with the Carter Administra- tion-Carter himself was a personal friend of mine. But the lower echelons of both the Carter and the Reagan ad- ministrations imbibed the propaganda of Bishop and the communists. They believed what Bishop said about me- that I was corrupt, that I was involved in witchcraft, that I had a Mongoose Gang. The communists are very shrewd about making their propaganda. I would have believed some of the things they wrote about me if I didn't know myself so well. The Bishop people didn't just start the propaganda in 1979 you know. They had people who came here from Europe in 1976 to study the sources of my popularity with women. They watched me danc- ing, they studied all the things I did. They knew I was the strongest and most outspoken of all the leaders against communism. I was the only one to reject all the invitations from Castro, even to have exchanges with sportsmen. On His Regional Leadership I won seven elections out of eight here. I'm the pro in politics of the whole Caribbean area. The other politicians in the Caribbean are Trying to Keep ulsnopsa legacy alive against me out of simple jealousy. I am the only man who has ever been elected prime minister of Grenada. Blaize did not win the elections: he was placed in power by the Ameri- cans. The elections were handed to him, as he himself said, "on a silver platter." Look, all these people are jealous of me. I have 31 honors on my shoul- der-and I don't mean all that little stuff like the keys of the city. I've got hundreds of them. No, I mean the big ones. I have five knighthoods. I got the last one kneeling before Queen Elizabeth. Six months later she called me back and asked me to be a member of her Privy Council. So my proper title is The Right Honourable Sir Eric Matthew Gairy. For life! The first book ever written on the politics of the REPORT ON THE AMERICAS region had my profile on the cover. They could have had Sir Grantley Adams, or Eric Williams of Trinidad, or Norman Manley, the father of Michael Manley in Jamaica. But no, they chose me instead. Then it was Grenada that got the big Caribbean exposition-Expo '69. No other is- land got so much. I was the first West Indian leader to be invited by Presi- dent Carlos Andr6s P6rez of Ven- ezuela. He sent his private executive jet to pick me up and have lunch with him at his residence, Miraflores. You see, the other leaders were glad to see me go, because Grenada overshadows the other islands when Gairy is in power. It was me who was invited to be a judge at the Miss World contest in London in 1970. And Miss Grenada won, she became Miss World. They all looked at me and said, "What manner of man is this?" They were happy to see my down- fall. Dominican Prime Minister Eu- genia Charles started it, the election fraud I mean, then the others--Comp- ton, Seaga of Jamaica and Son Mitch- ell of St. Vincent. They're all mad. When I go to those countries, I get a bigger welcome than the local leaders. That's my own charisma. I can't stop that. On His Political Future I will run for office again. I will be prime minister of Grenada again. I've been travelling around the coun- tryside, having fireside chats with the people of Grenada. The people love me; well, 70% of the people love me. It is very touching to see their love. On UFOs Now everyone talks a lot about how I used to mention UFOs all the time. Well, it's true that I brought the mat- ter up twice in the United Nations. But do people think I would have been awarded all those 31 honors, things like the Venezuelan Order of the Liberator Simon Bolivar, if I only talked about UFOs? Do they think I'm a clown? They. forget all the other things I did. Who else did so much for Grenada? Who do they think it was who had the dancing horses flown in from Guyana?

Tags: Grenada, Eric Gairy, US relations, electoral fraud

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