The Burning Spear 1981
Source: The Burning Spear. Vol. 8 No. 11, January, 1981;
Transcribed: for marxists.org by David Adams.
In November and December, the Consul General from Grenada for North America, Joseph Kanute Burke made an inspiring and educational tour of North America. Grenada, a Caribbean island with an African population of 130,000 has made unprecedented steps forward in health, education, women's rights, and full popular power since the popular revolution of March, 1979. The Honorable Mr. Burke brought words of solidarity from his nation to the popular revolutionary forces struggling today in El Salvador, spoke on TV and radio and at numerous public forums. On December 3, he spoke at length before a largely black audience at Laney College. The following is a paraphrased summary of the remarks he made:
Introduction was made by Gus Newport, Mayor of Berkeley and former Buffalo, N.Y. member of Malcolm X's Organization of Africo-American Unity. Self-determination, independence, and freedom are concepts at the core of what we call humanity, essential to our dignity. Knowledge is power. For black people in the U.S., this has been a revolutionary goal. Joseph Kanute Burke has been active in struggle for these goals for many years, and has worked with Grenadian leader Maurice Bishop for over 20 years in the Grenadian National Party and the New Jewel Movement. We are honored to have him with us tonight to speak of Grenada's work and priorities today.
Joseph Kanute Burke: My purpose is to speak specifically of incidents that have occurred and are occurring in Grenada. On March 13, 1979, Grenada experienced a revolution. Revolutions are not exported but they are conceived by the people. Conditions must exist before you get one. Revolution was conceived ever since we suffered under the stranglehold of slavery, and continued through colonialism and neocolonialism.
Black people are still being held in mental slavery, lack of education. So this people prepared and pulled off a revolution, the first revolution in an English-speaking country. Grenada is the second largest nutmeg producer in the world (second to Indonesia) and is known as a spice island. Just as the Caribbean countries contributed to the industrial development of Europe, Europe ravaged Mother Africa and brought us to work in the Caribbean. But we have a saying that the hand that holds the iron knows the heat. When the time comes to let go of the hot iron, they will, regardless of what people in cool regions think.
This is the background: In 1951 Eric Matthew Gairy returned to Grenada from the Dutch West Indies and set up the Grenada Manual and Mental Workers Movement and the Grenada United Labor Party. Britain gave Grenada its freedom but stayed around supposedly to provide for our "defense." Gairy was premier but found to have mismanaged public funds. The British set up new elections and the Grenadian National Party set up the government.
People were aware that Gairy did some wrong things but they put back in power. Then Eric Matthew Gairy surrounded himself with the gangster element, the Mongoose Gang. This was similar to the Totem Mocouts of Haiti today. Repression increased. In 1955, the murder rate went up. In the 1960s Gairy rigged election after election. The British knighted Eric Matthew Gairy in 1977. They were silent as long as he was no threat, and suppressed his own people. He would come to the United Nations and talk about UFO's.
In 1970, the mass opposition to Gairy set up assemblies of the Revolutionary JEWEL (standing for Joint Endeavors for Welfare, Education, and Liberty). During the 1972 election, the opposition had to flee. In 1973, many returned to Grenada and established the New Jewel Movement. Terror was on the rise. Thousands came out to demonstrate in 1974 and 75.
In the 1976 elections, three opposition parties, the New Jewel, the Grenada National Party, and the United People's Party made an alliance and won a majority. But Gairy lied about the results and formed a government.
In 1977, Gairy sent Grenadians to train in Chile. Chilean airplanes landed in Grenada to bring U.S. arms, hidden in boxes marked "medical supplies." News of this leaked to us and we knew where to get the medical supplies (M-1's and M-16's) which we used in the revolution.
In August of 1978, five of our brothers disappeared. There was no investigation. In December a police inspector disappeared and two assistant superintendents of police were poisoned. It was thought these people were witness to the original murders and the government got rid of them.
The tempo was rising for the people to strike. In February, 1979, the bank workers said they wanted to be represented by the trade union of their choice, although many had been afraid to oppose Gairy. The bank workers fought. Maurice Bishop, a lawyer, fought with them. They won.
Eric Matthew Gairy was angered so much that he threatened the leaders of the New Jewel Movement on the radio. And until this day, some Grenadians are still hunted by the FBI in the U.S. for supposedly sending arms to Grenada.
On the 12th of March, 1979, Gairy left orders for the liquidation of the New Jewel Movement. News of this order was leaked. The leadership banded together and decided: it was either liberty or death. At 3 a.m. on the 13th of March, 47 people decided to stage a revolution. They marched on the army barracks, and caught the soldiers with their pants down, they had been so certain of Gairy's power. Only one was killed in the take-over. The revolutionaries went to the radio station and took control. They called the masses to come out in support of the revolution. We jumped on our jackasses and bikes and cars to spread the word.
At 10 a.m. on that very morning we declared a national holiday. Some of us were dispatched to the U.S., to Canada, Guyana, Cuba, England to try to get recognition and assistance. We were alien to firearms, we had no medical supplies (but the Chilean "medicines" hidden in Queen's Park). We need to train our people.
Patrol boats were needed. Guyanese, Jamaicans, Panamanians, and Cubans (who sent 12 medical practitioners) helped. One week after the revolution, the U.S. press said Grenada has a Russian base, that we are digging tunnels to accommodate Russian submarines and that anti-aircraft guns were pointed skyward.
Any time a people stand up and fight for their own self determination in our countries, if patriots are fighting for their own lives, they say they are "guerillas." Since the revolution, we have seen examples of counter-revolutionary activity (as in Chile and other countries). Soon after the revolution, a travel agency was burned. A mass media propaganda campaign in the Caribbean, the U.S., and Europe is filled with slanderous articles. We refuse to believe that those are coincidental, as we know the work of the CIA. And so we realized that we have to go out and tell the truth about Grenada. Here is a brief list of the gains the revolution has made:
(1) One year before the revolution, there were two Grenadians abroad on university scholarship. 20 months later, more than 200 Grenadians are abroad on scholarship. They are studying marine biology, economy, civil engineering, soil mechanics, and public health to build our economy.
(2) Before the revolution, we could not attend the University of the West Indies because Gairy would not pay past debts. Now we have paid $2 million and our students attend there.
(3) Secondary education used to cost $37.50 per term which made it unavailable for the great majority of our people. Now, one year later, it costs $12.50 and next year it will be free.
(4) Each school child gets free milk and hot lunch. For three hundred years under the British, we did not see this.
(5) We never had an eye clinic; now we have an eye clinic in Grenada.
(6) We never had one maternity ward. Now we have built a new maternity ward in the main hospital.
(7) Before, the Doctors could work on government premises and charge the poor for care. Now, there is free medical care for all.
(8) In agriculture, we must import many items. Gairy seized people's land, chopped it up and destroyed productivity. Now we have a Land Reform Commission. Plots of land of 50 or more acres which are idle must come up with a plan for production; if the owner does not do this, he has the option to leave or sell to the government which turns it over to co-ops of working people. We are sure the landowners will choose one of the three options.
(9) In fishing, we were ripped off by many countries: South Korea used to catch our fish. We have set up a National Fishing Fleet of 7 trawlers. Tuna is exported to us from North America. This tuna passes right through our waters. We will catch it and can it ourselves. We have started smoking and salting fish.
(10) Before, England took our agricultural products. A Grenadian worker who plants the banana was getting 18 cents/lb. while an Englishman who sorts the bananas got 25 cents/lb. Black workers have always been underestimated as we worked on the docks, in the post office, and on the railroads of England. They thought we were happy. But while we worked we studied and planned to go back to our countries and give them a taste of their own medicine. And the British economic crisis today is tied to the liberation struggles winning in the Third World.
(11) Grenada today has equal pay for equal work for women.
(12) We have daycare so that women are free to work outside the home.
(13) We have passed a bill granting women 3 moths maternity leave with 2 months full pay. Before to be pregnant, especially out of wedlock, was considered a crime. And some of those who impregnated our women were the big lawyers and landowners-who undermined the process of worker's marriage. We have outlawed the term "illegitimate."
(14) In finance, even in the 1960's when you went in the banks, the only black face you saw was a messenger (often from Canada or England). Today, the Grenadian National Commercial Bank has been set up. Barclay's Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia and others were setting up hotels, gambling, and other enterprises tax free for seven years; then the owner would leave and declare bankruptcy; and his brother would buy up the business with seven years tax free. Now we welcome investment as long as it does not lead to the decadence of our country. No gambling, no Miss Western Universe Beauty Pageant, no offshore banks to launder money of crooks and pimps. Investors must honor trade union rights and the first money brought in is taxable. 25% of all deposits in Grenada now are in the National Commercial Bank.
This should be an education to the black sisters and brothers in this country. When there is black solidarity day in this country, too many can't make it. In Grenada, we educated our people (who are 90% black) and opened our own bank. Black people will still be oppressed until we see the need to band together and work for out freedom. We can hope, trust, pray, plead, that those who suppress us will released us.
How many Martin Luther Kings will there be? The only way working people, oppressed people, can win freedom is when they decide to fight and lay claim to our rights. We know we are up against a difficult situation. We knew it when the U.S. Ambassador Ortiz said we were under Cuban influence, which should be ended. My own grand uncle's son was an officer in Batista's army. We are not separate from any of the people of the Caribbean.
The same strategic importance the U.S. says we now have we have always had. Each country in the Caribbean is strategic to the U.S., for example Haiti which suffers greatly. Why do they show no concern to make that situation better?
We in Grenada are resolute; in the past Gairy came to the UN to talk about the rights of plants, about UFO's. Now we speak as a Third World nation, about Namibia, Belize, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Zimbabwe. We have no time to talk about UFO's.
In the U.S. people like to say, "Don't mess with him, he's big." In Grenada, we say, "Small axes cut down big trees." Big countries never had an interest in us before. Why now? No country is going to dictate to Grenada. We accept assistance from any country but South Africa. They could give us $10 billion; we don't want it. We are poor but while some have tried. We will turn down any assistance that violates our principles of no strings attached.
We have not just got up and said, "Let's have a revolution." Third World countries are told that if we want an economy, we must assemble items for the big countries (cars, light bulbs, etc.). Then, whenever the U.S. wants, it withholds raw materials and brings down the government. We will develop out independence around agriculture. Development is not for a select few but for the vast majority. This is our socialism. People say: "Are you going to imitate Cuba?" I say, "In England, schools, railroads, water, and electricity are nationalized. I think there is alot in England we can imitate."
As soon as we evolve a system conducive to the benefits of the people, they label us all kinds of "ism." Socialism for us is more equal opportunity to schools, parks, medicine. If anyone calls that communism, we want communism. And I hope I will be quoted correctly on this.