Story Notes

On the Caribbean island of Grenada, on March 13, 1979 the New Jewel Movement, a left-wing political party, overthrew the existing government of Grenada Prime Minister Eric Gairy by forcibly removing Gairy’s Grenada United Labor Party (GULP) while Gairy was away from the island visiting the United States.

Life Under Gairy

Prior to the uprising, Sir Eric Gairy had dominated Grenada’s politics for almost 30 years. A former trade union organizer and hero of Grenada’s estate workers in the fifties, Gairy had misused his authority and the basic infrastructure of Grenada had deteriorated. To those who dared to oppose his dominance and questionable tactics – primarily a younger generation of Grenadians – Gairy was vengeful. Police brutality was widespread and his opponents were often attacked. Grenada’s justice system filled with Gairy supporters was a lost cause for any hope of fairness.


Formed in 1973 and led by the alluring, middle-class, British-educated attorney, Maurice Bishop, the NJM organized several demonstrations throughout the 1970s in protest of Gairy and his corruption. Over the course of six (6) years NJM members were beaten, threatened, searched, harassed and imprisoned under the orders of Gairy. Prime Minister Gairy’s unforgivable actions disgusted many both inside and outside of Grenada and garnered support from many Grenadians and by 1979, the NJM had amassed the support of many citizens especially Grenada’s youth who were fed-up with Gairy’s dictatorship. But as early as 1974, the NJM secretly began transitioning to Marxist-Leninist terms and principles. This decision, however, was not made public and it didn’t change the party’s tactics in the fight against Eric Gairy.

The Takeover

During the early dark hours of the morning of March 13th 1979, while Eric Gairy was in US, the militant wing – the National Liberation Army (NLA) – of the NJM, a group of less than 50 people, stormed the True Blue army barracks and overpowered 200+ soldiers of Gairy’s Defense Force in the first ever unconstitutional transfer of power to happen in the English-speaking Caribbean. Once the shock of the overthrow had set in, most of the Grenadian people were ecstatic. Gairy was finally gone and the NJM was in.

Bishop vs. Coard

As early as 1982, divisions appeared to exist among members of the NJM leadership. The divisions focused mainly on the two key leaders of the organization: Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Bernard Coard.

NJM top leaders devoted to Maurice Bishop included:

NJM members who were supporters of Bernard Coard included:

Problems in the NJM

The overall feeling of pride that swept through the nation and the upward progression witnessed during the early years of the Grenada Revolution eventually began to wane.   As the growing economic difficulties and counter revolutionary activities that were taking place in Grenada continued, members of the Coard faction believed that the answer was to strengthen Leninist discipline by “weeding out the worst elements of the party”. Bishop was blamed for the country’s problems and by the summer of 1983, the growing split within NJM reached a critical point when the Coard faction attempted to get Maurice Bishop to accept a power-sharing role.

About the Author
Debbie is the founder and host of 'The Caribbeanist'