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
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
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
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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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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