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Grenada: 30 years after US invasion, wounds, mystery remain

In this file photo from October 2003, U.S. Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere Otto Reich lays a wreath at a memorial for 19 American soldiers killed during the Grenada invasion.

Some call it the intervention. Others refer to it as the invasion.

Officially it’s known as Thanksgiving Day — the anniversary of the morning 6,000-plus U.S. soldiers landed on the sandy beaches of an almost forgotten speck in the eastern Caribbean to oust a Marxist regime that had executed the island’s charismatic left-wing prime minister.

But 30 years to the day American troops arrived to restore calm, the people of Grenada are still searching for peace.

“I don’t think as a nation we have done enough to facilitate national healing,” said Anne Peters, who survived the Oct. 19 executions that sparked the U.S. military involvement ordered by President Ronald Reagan.

Peters, a teacher, was with Prime Minister Maurice Bishop in his final hours. Bishop had been placed under house arrest by members of his political party but later freed by demonstrators, Peters among them. Together Bishop and the demonstrators took control of the military barracks —where Bishop and members of his cabinet were later lined up against a wall and shot.

“On that morning they [the U.S. troops] came, I didn’t really care who came, whether they were from Jupiter or from Mars,” said Peters, who was shot during the attack. “I just needed to be relieved of the pain and suffering. But then I said, ‘You came, did what you had to do and now leave us alone.’ ”

Like many in Grenada, Peters has mixed emotions about the United States. She observes Oct. 19 — the day of Bishop’s execution — but has no plans to be among those commemorating Oct 25.

“I’ve never been to any official event,” she said. “As someone who was traumatized during Oct. 19, healing came after years of reflection, introspection on my own and coming to terms with reality.”

But in a country where many do not know the fate of their loved ones who went missing during that fateful time, healing and reconciliation have not come easy.

“There is still a lot of pain, a bitter memory,” said Shirma Wells, a spokeswoman with the committee in charge of Friday’s official commemoration. “It’s very fresh and it comes renewed.”

Like in years past, Grenada will mark the day as an official holiday. There will be a church service, wreaths will be laid and there will be visits to the island’s cemetery. Joining islanders will be local government officials and some of the U.S. soldiers who came to protect American students attending a medical school in the island and free the islands’ 100,000 citizens, who had been put under a 24-hour curfew by a military council after Bishop’s death.

But as many visit the unmarked grave of a group of fallen Grenadian soldiers whose bodies were mistakenly sent to Cuba and then returned to Grenada for burial, one question will linger as always: The whereabouts of the bodies of Bishop and his cabinet members..

“The location of the bodies is a serious question,” said Rev. Sean Doggett, a Roman Catholic priest with the Conference of Churches. A generation later, no one knows — or is saying — where the bodies were buried. Even an international forensic team led by the University of Maine, brought in by Grenada’s Conference of Churches and the government to find the slain leader’s remains, wasn’t successful.

“We still haven’t gotten anywhere despite all of the things that have taken place,” said John Angus Martin, a local historian and manager of the Grenada National Museum. “The same questions remain unanswered.”

Earlier this month, the museum put up an exhibit of photos and artifacts from the revolutionary period, 1979-83, in commemoration of the event. The displays include photographs, books and other items.

“We have had a generation or two who really don’t know a lot about the revolution,” Martin said. “For a lot of people it’s still an open wound.”

The exhibits, as well as a documentary by a Trinidadian filmmaker, have helped, several people say. Peters and her husband, playwright Francis Urias Peters, also are trying to contribute in their own way. They are staging a play with a revolution theme.

All are part of the healing process for a pivotal period in Grenada’s history, islanders said.

“It’s not just about giving thanks to God for one event but for everything,” said Doggett. “Life is good in Grenada, despite the economic hardships. It is us giving thanks for all of that.”

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