Alister Hughes

Respected Caribbean journalist

Alister Hughes, one of the Caribbean's best-known journalists, arrived late at his vocation. When he came to chronicle years of revolution and invasion on his island he used the habits of industriousness and care learnt in 36 years in the retail trade. A. Norris Hughes and Sons, the family sewing-machine business, was a power in a small, poor West Indian colony where clothes were mostly home-made.

Alister Earl Hewitson Hughes, journalist: born St George's, Grenada 21 January 1919; Editor, Grenada Newsletter 1972-94; married first Cynthia Copland (died 1989; one son, two daughters), second 1997 Margaret Murphy; died St George's 28 February 2005.

Alister Hughes, one of the Caribbean's best-known journalists, arrived late at his vocation. When he came to chronicle years of revolution and invasion on his island he used the habits of industriousness and care learnt in 36 years in the retail trade. A. Norris Hughes and Sons, the family sewing-machine business, was a power in a small, poor West Indian colony where clothes were mostly home-made.

The eldest of four, with Welsh, French and black blood in his veins, Hughes was educated to secondary standard and shortly afterwards went off for a spell in neighbouring Trinidad, then as now, seen as Grenada's metropolis.

Back home, he threw himself into the world of commerce, insurance and auctioneering, though always with an eye on politics. Politics revolved round the rabble-rousing union leader Eric (later Sir Eric) Gairy and his thugs, the Mongoose Gang. Gairy came to power as Chief Minister in 1954 in one of the Caribbean dependencies which Whitehall was planning to push helter-skelter towards independence. The West Indian sugar-producing islands, prized possessions bloodily fought over between Britain and France in the 18th century, were now indigent, troublesome and surplus to Whitehall's requirements.

Hughes joined the National Party of Herbert Blaize, Gairy's principal opponent, and was its general secretary from 1957 to 1968. He was also deputy mayor for St George's, president of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and Grenada's representative on the Incorporated Chambers of Commerce in the Caribbean.

In 1969 he left business for journalism and became a local correspondent for the BBC, the Caribbean News Agency and Associated Press. Three years later he and his capable wife Cynthia started the simply produced Grenada Newsletter, which was to survive till 1994, a valuable source of news as politics grew stormier.

Hughes received his first beating from the Gairy's Mongoose Gang in 1973 as he awaited at Pearls airport the Chief Minister's return from independence negotiations in London. Undeterred, he reported on the attack for a radio station in Trinidad. The next year, on his 54th birthday, his life was endangered as he reported live on radio on the Mongoose attack on 6,000 anti-Gairy demonstrators in St George's. They were beaten, gassed and fired on and a man, Rupert Bishop, was killed. Hughes's reputation as a journalist was made.

Seven weeks later amid a general strike and electricity black-out the colony became an independent Commonwealth monarchy under Prime Minister Gairy, free to do political deals with such as General Augusto Pinochet of Chile and the US Central Intelligence Agency without Whitehall having to bother. Hughes and the newsletter somehow survived.

In March 1979 the petty tyrant was removed by a bloodless coup, the first in the Commonwealth Caribbean. It was led by the New Jewel Movement headed by Maurice Bishop, son of the man Gairy's gangsters had killed. Predictably Hughes, the conservative, and Bishop, the revolutionary and admirer of Fidel Castro, were distant. Hughes failed in an attempt to start an opposition newspaper: Bishop's People's Revolutionary Government would brook no opposition.

After Bishop himself was murdered by a rival revolutionary group in October 1983 Hughes was locked up with others in Richmond Hill prison by the new leader Hudson Austin as the US moved to invade the island. With St George's in a no-man's-land between the US invaders and the fast-melting Grenadian resistance two colleagues and I drove up to assure them it was safe to quit the jail. As we all drove back into St George's we realised how close they had been to death: inaccurate US bombing had caused fatalities and destruction at the nearby mental hospital known as "the Crazy House".

Hughes fairly reflected Grenadians' rejoicing as the US consolidated its hold on the island. Yet to the disappointment of many of his friends Hughes went on to support US efforts to justify an obviously illegal invasion. "Don't call it an invasion, call it a rescue mission," he said.

Hugh O'Shaughnessy

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