by Barrington M. Salmon
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer
Don Rojas didn’t know that when he accepted Maurice Bishop’s offer to become his press secretary that he’d end up being an eyewitness to a coup, and an invasion of Grenada by the U.S. military.
Rojas, 64, said he served as press secretary in the years prior to and including the 1983 invasion.
“The prime minister invited me to come back in 1979 to rebuild media,” said Rojas, a St. Vincentian native who owns and operates a progressive media relations firm in Randallstown, Md. “My first assignment was editor of the Free West Indian, and then he appointed me.”
Radio documentarian Amina Hassan spent a year in Grenada while working on a public radio series detailing the religion, politics and culture of several Caribbean countries including Jamaica, Suriname, Guyana and Puerto Rico.
“I was 40 when I went,” said Hassan, a Los Angeles native. “Personally, one of the things about Grenada was that I wanted to see if I could take care of my children out of the country by myself. I did that. I didn’t take any handouts. I raised money, put on presentations and wrote to foundations.”
“We didn’t have a lot. Peanut butter and muffin cakes would be like a treat. The rent was paid, everything was taken care of. It was important to me to do that on my own. My children saw that.”
Hassan, 72, said she and her four children lived in the neighborhood with Grenadians.
“I got there in 1982. We made good friends down there at the time,” she recalled. “We were integrated and the neighbors were nice.”
Hassan described Grenada as being severely underdeveloped.
“It was a little backwater. The government’s Xerox machines didn’t work and the government was trying to build a power plant to deal with the frequent outages,” she said.
She said people enamored by the revolution came down to the island, intrigued by being able to see the socialist experiment unfolding.
“We were openly sympathetic. We were living our lives,” Hassan said. “We did have good relations with the government. We didn’t have to pay our electric bills. We began to train some people so we didn’t have to pay tariff when we brought in equipment.”
“He was pretty charismatic and handsome too. He was well-liked and I always saw him around. Here was someone attempting to [develop] socialism so people sort of flocked there.”
Bishop seized control of the government in a bloodless coup in 1979, toppling the corrupt and brutal government of Eric Gairy. Gairy ruled by fear and used a group of thugs called the “Mongoose Gang” to beat, threaten, intimidate and murder dissidents and rivals, real and imagined.
Bishop and his New Jewel Movement advocated and espoused a milder brand of socialism that sought to improve the lives of the 100,000 residents of the tiny island-nation.
In a March 1979 speech, Bishop outlined his vision of the future.
“Let me assure the people of Grenada that all democratic freedoms, including freedom of elections, religious and political opinion, will be fully restored to the people,” he said. “People of Grenada, this revolution is for work, for food, for decent housing and health services, and for a bright future for our children and great-grandchildren.”