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Last updated: 07 September, 2009 - Published 07:43 GMT
 
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Last of "Grenada 17" released
 
Bernard Coard in 2007
The courts had ordered a sentencing review in 2007
Mid-morning on Saturday, former Grenadian Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard and thirteen other prisoners were released from Richmond Hill Prison.

The release marked the end of the 25-year old story that was the 1983 coup.

In 1983, after four years of Maurice Bishop's People's Revolutionary Government's (PRG) administration, Bishop's Deputy, Bernard Coard, and others had become critical of Bishop's socialism, which they considered too moderate.

The rebellion by Coard and others within the PRG led to the murder of Prime Minister Bishop and four other cabinet ministers.

Their coup was, however, short-lived and crushed six days after Bishop's murder when then American President Ronald Reagan ordered US marines into Grenada.

The invasion had been supported by some members of the regional grouping, the Caribbean Community (Caricom).

That move also divided opinions across Caricom - some referring to the move as an invasion, others calling it an intervention.

Coard - Jamaica-bound

Bernard Coard and the other prisoners were the last men still in prison for their involvement in the overthrow and death of Maurice Bishop.

They were greeted by cheering relatives as they were released on Saturday morning.

Bernard Coard's wife, Phylis, had been released in March 2000 to undergo cancer treatment.

Mr Coard told reporters that he planned to join his wife in Jamaica as soon as he could sort out a passport.

PRG's bloodless coup

Maurice Bishop had come to power in March 1979 when his youthful revolutionaries overthrew the autocratic elected leader, Sir Eric Gairy.

Selwyn Strachan in 2007
Strachan said on Saturday that the healing can begin

Initially in his People's Revolutionary Government, Mr Bishop had worked closely with his deputy, Bernard Coard, who was also the minister of the finance.

By 1983, rumours of their increasing rivalry broke into the open with the prime minister placed under house arrest for refusing to accept a joint leadership plan.

Mr Bishop's supporters freed him on 19 October and took him to the police headquarters at Fort George as a huge crowd gathered.

But many were forced to flee over the steep walls of the 18th Century garrison to the hospital below as soldiers sent to retake the fort opened fire.

Then the soldiers who had once followed him as commander-in-chief lined Mr Bishop, four cabinet supporters, and six others up against a wall on the top square of the fort and shot them.

The bodies of Maurice Bishop and the ten men killed with him were never found.

Legal challenges

Within six days, President Reagan ordered troops into Grenada. He was supported by the then leaders of Jamaica, Barbados and Dominica.

President Reagan had said the move was to protect American interests and American medical students on the island. Many analysts linked the US action to the growing closeness of the PRG to Fidel Castro's Cuba.

Following the US invasion, Bernard Coard, his wife, and 15 others were arrested, tired, and 14 of them were sentenced to hang for Bishop's murder.

The death sentences were commuted to life in 1991.

Of the original "Grenada 17", only 13 remained in custody when in February 2007, following years of legal wrangling, the Privy Council in London ordered a review of their sentences "taking into account the progress made by the appellants during their time in prison".

The law lords in London acknowledged the fate of the prisoners as "so politically-charged that it is hardly reasonable to expect any government of Grenada...to take an objective view".

So they ordered the Grenada High Court to do so.

Within months Justice Francis Belle delivered his ruling: immediate release for three former soldiers; Coard and others re-sentenced for 40 years with a parole review within two years.

The men had been due to be released by early 2010 at the latest.

Healing

Senator Chester Humphrey described the release as a milestone in the island's effort to heal wounds from the events of 1983.

"It's the end of one chapter, not the completion of the book, as Grenada tries to build a future by not living in the past," he said, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Following his release, former Mobilisation Minister in the revolution, Sewlyn Strachan, at the weekend described the release as part of Grenada's "healing process".

 
 
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