Monday, 19 May 2014

Forward Ever: The Killing of a Revolution, Grenada, Bruce Paddington, Selwyn Strachan, Maurice Bishop

Was an order given to execute Grenada Prime Minister Maurice Bishop? If so, who issued that order and why? A new film attempts to unearth answers. 
Paul Coleman reports.

Post-screening panel (left to right) Professor Gus John,
director Bruce Paddington, and Michael La Rose (© London Intelligence)

Who really shot the sherrif?

Would a low-ranking soldier shoot and execute his Prime Minister without an order from a superior officer?
Admittedly, it’s not an everyday question.
But a man sat right behind me stood up to deny an inference that he – as a high ranking officer - had given such an order to five subordinates.

The man – Selwyn Strachan – had just seen himself on the big screen at the National Film Theatre. Strachan’s cagey answers, filmed in a documentary interview, suggest for some reason he knows more than he is prepared to say.
  In the film, Forward Ever: The Killing of a Revolution (Director, Bruce Paddington, 2013), Strachan is asked if he or his senior colleagues issued an order on 19 October 1983 - to former army officer Callistus Bernard and four other soldiers to line up against a fort yard wall Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, his pregnant partner Jacqueline Creft, and other prominent government figures - and execute them with machine gun fire.
  Bishop’s last act was to reportedly to have defiantly faced his executioners when they asked him to turn his back on them and face the wall.

Selwyn Strachan, featured in Forward Ever, stands up in the audience
and tries to explain his role in the chilling events in Grenada 1983
(© London Intelligence)

Dozens of other Bishop supporters were killed that day at the fort that overlooks St George’s, the capital of Eastern Caribbean island, Grenada. Many died jumping off high fort walls to try and escape being shot dead in cold blood.
  In the interview, Strachan only goes as far to say that someone must have been responsible – and as a senior army officer at the time, it’s natural that investigators and historians look at his role.
  Strachan was one of 17 people imprisoned for up to 26 years for their alleged role in the killing of Prime Minister Bishop, cabinet members, and the massacre of civilians. The unknown exact toll of that bloody day is estimated at 300 people.

Strachan stands up and announces his presence in the full house audience during a Question and Answer session after a special British Film Institute Forward Ever screening on London’s South Bank (17 May). He challenges director Dr Bruce Paddington, a University of the West Indies lecturer, who is on stage to answer questions.

Strachan tells the audience that in October 1983 the Grenada people’s revolution – that included popular movements and zonal and parish councils that fed directly into government decisions - was “breaking down”.
  “We had to take some fundamental decisions to arrest this situation,” says Strachan.
“All of these decisions are documented,” adds Strachan. “They can be read. Nothing was held in secret.”
 Strachan denies that a hardline Marxist-Leninist clique in the People's Revolutionary Government had sought to oust the popular Bishop and hijack the revolution.

Strachan claims Paddington’s film tries to “rewrite history”.
  “I was there and I know the scene,” says Strachan. “I want you to know that what you presented was totally biased and untrue.”
  Paddington says he stands by his film and that he attempted to give full rein to different perspectives of the tragic events that befell the revolution on this Caribbean island. Days later, 8,000 American troops invaded Grenada - an independent nation and a British Commonwealth country - on the orders of President Ronald Reagan - at no time a friend of the Grenada revolution that overthrow the tyrannical Eric Gairy regime in 1979.

In the film, Callistus Bernard, in a chillingly matter-of-fact interview, details how he organised the lining up of his former colleagues before they used “any weapons we had at hand” to murder them.
Bishop’s body – and those of the others massacred – have never been found. 
Bizarrely, Bernard says in the film that after the massacre they decided to “burn the bodies in order to preserve them”.

Forward Ever: The Killing of a Revolution, directed by Bruce Paddington, 2013, was screened at the BFI on 17 May and was followed by a panel discussion with Professor Gus John, George Padmore Institute chair Michael La Rose, and filmmaker Bruce Paddington.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, May 2014

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