Reviewer: Gary E. (GEP) Protain (firstname.lastname@example.org). GEP is a GBSS Grenada Island Scholar of many years ago. His email name is a very modest tribute to his piano-playing skills.
“The Gairy Movement in Grenada” is a first-class, first-hand account of Grenada’s premier leader from the island’s mid-20th century era to the revolution of the New Jewel Movement that ousted him in 1979. As a Gairy confidant, and diplomatic presence through many of Grenada’s pre-coup and post-coup years, the author’s intuitive grasp of the volatile period dominated by Sir Eric, helps to unfold the island’s complex story at the hands of a dynamic and ruthless Prime Minister.
Griffith’s research is deep and his understanding of his subject vast. His descriptive commentary of “Uncle Gairy’s” political and personal career will not please everyone, but his lifting of the veil on a Caribbean legend will open eyes and minds to illuminate more than a few dark corners of previously unexplained historical events and milestones. … Griffith’s gives a comprehensive, insightful look at the brilliance and flaws (both huge) of the Caribbean’s consummate politician of the second half of the 20th century.
The book ranges over Grenada’s political history from 1947-1997, primarily focusing on the fascinating life story of Sir Eric M. Gairy – his early years in Aruba’s oil industry where he was introduced to trade unionism; his rise to power and fall from power over fifty years as a charismatic and powerful labor leader, and as Grenada’s first post-Independence Prime Minister.
Gairy joined Manley, Bustamante, Barrow, Bradshaw, Burnham, Adams, Jagan and Williams in the pantheon of effective and divisive West Indies Prime Ministers. He also joined a vast Commonwealth team of eloquent UK-jailed labor leaders (including Nkrumah, Nehru, Kenyatta, Mandela et al) who conquered Westminster’s put-downs and contempt to revolutionize colonial party politics, and to change the balance of third-world power forever.
In this lengthy, well-researched biography, Griffith shines as someone who as there, ‘on the scene’, infusing his observations into the historical story. His chronicle style allows him to observe his subject continuously, and to be fair in assessing Gairy, the man and his foibles. Griffith’s scenario satisfyingly delves into the contradictions, misadventures, and personal strengths and failings of a man with a superiority complex, who changed his country much for the better, finally for the worse.
We relive Gairy’s modest origins, brilliant school-boy reputation, religious (RC) leanings, his thwarted education ambitions, his protestations against the landed interests and the colonial power. We also relive how Gairy boldly coped with obstructionism from the post-war landed gentry’s estate barons who always regarded him as an inferior, upstart power-grabber, even a communist. His political rivals always under-estimated his abilities and almost mystical hold on the ‘under-and-middle-classes’ that consistently re-elected him singing endlessly: “We’ll never let our leader fall !”. Indeed, his back-to-the-wall political battles – victories and defeats both – all liven up Griffith’s substantive volume.
Gairy exhibited fearlessness and drive in his perceived mission to elevate the common man from hopeless post-WW2 starvation wages in country and town. These same qualities he exhibited to elevate his own political status and personal career in Independent Grenada. He stirred wide-ranging feelings amongst his Grenadian electorate. Career victories and defeats brought highlights that juggled devotion and derision, loyalty and condemnation, fear and redemption, and finally doubt and revolution that brought him down in absentia when he thought he was unbeatable and unbreakable.
Gairy’s rule ended with a 1979 coup when the New Jewel Movement, whose base was mainly youth, took over the Government of Grenada while he was on a trip abroad. As Griffith suggests, this result may have been predicated by Gairy’s autocratic manner of dealing with opposition, and certain human rights abuses taking place, apparently with his connivance. It was a testimony to Gairy’s arrogance that the happenings of the times did not prudently suggest to him that this was possible. It is to Griffith’s credit that he did not spend much book space in condemning the New Jewel Movement, but true to his main subject, he indicated what he thought were Gairy’s weaknesses in the ‘game’.
British writer Graham Greene unknowingly described Sir Eric Gairy’s entry onto the Caribbean political scene as a young firebrand Grenada union leader in the late 1940’s when he prophetically wrote: “There always comes a moment in time when a symbolic door opens – and lets the Future in.” That door opened for Eric Mathew Gairy, and later for the New Jewel Movement, albeit short-lived for the latter.
This book is a portrait of a Leader that’s well worth reading.
From its contents flowed what was to become a Grenada Tragedy, which adds to its qualities as a valuable read.