George Louison

Politician who sought change for Grenada
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The Independent Online

George Louison, farmer, teacher, politician and lawyer: born Concord, Grenada 29 November 1951; (two sons); died Port of Spain, Trinidad 13 May 2003.

George Louison was one of the few Grenadians to come out of the civil strife and US invasion of Grenada 20 years ago with an enhanced reputation.

Louison came to prominence as a founder of what became known as the New Jewel Movement (Joint Endeavour for Welfare, Education and Liberation), or NJM, which sought a better life for Grenadians than they were enduring under the dictatorship of Eric Gairy, his political vehicle the Grenada United Labour Party (Gulp) and his organised ruffians, the Mongoose Gang. The bizarre politician Gairy (he once sought a UN inquiry into flying saucers) took the colony to independence from Britain in 1974 and thereafter ruled it with corrupt cruelty for five years.

Born in 1951, Louison came from a poor farming family whose name was a reminder of the years when Grenada was a French possession. From an early age he exhibited the ideals which were to bring him to prominence in a small country whose population was demanding change in society. It was a time when young people in the island such as Louison, conscious that British rule was fading throughout the Caribbean, were effervescing with ideas, often gathering in groups with names like Joint Organisation of Youth (Joy) or Grenada Assembly of Youth (Gay) in church halls in the island's tiny capital, St George's.

He was a youth co-ordinator with Cadec, Christian Action for Development in the Eastern Caribbean, which was affiliated to the Caribbean Council of Churches and was the most dynamic of the development agencies in the region. Cadec attracted funding from British bodies such as Christian Aid. Louison studied to become a teacher and received his certification at the Grenada Teachers College in 1974, going on to teach at St John's Anglican School in St George's.

Opposition to Gairy and his gang eventually coalesced into the NJM, a movement which George Louison and his brother Einstein joined. Its most charismatic leader was the tall, eloquent and handsome Maurice Bishop whose father, Rupert, had been assassinated by Gairy's men in 1974.

The two Louisons provided a link with the soil to a group which was sometimes seen as excessively theoretical and intellectual. They helped to plan and execute a bloodless military coup against Gairy on 12 March 1979. Forthwith Bishop, the new prime minister, gave the young Louison the first of many important diplomatic missions, sending him to a Caricom meeting of Caribbean leaders convened that week in Barbados. There he gave the gathering, some of whom wanted Britain to reinstate Gairy by force, an assurance about free elections, a pledge that Bishop did not honour.

Louison went on to occupy senior positions, on the Political Bureau and the Central Committee of the NJM and as minister of education, youth and social affairs and then minister of agriculture. He experienced closely the hostility that the US President Ronald Reagan was showing towards Bishop, seizing on the Grenadian's exaggerated political parlance and great deference towards the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Washington launched mendacious reports – later punctured by The New York Times – of a Soviet "submarine base" on Grenada and criticising Cuba's help in building an airport which the European Commission had earlier recommended as vital for developing tourism.

Louison and Unison Whiteman, the foreign minister, became Bishop's principal supporters as deep divisions opened up between the Grenadian leader and a group of dogmatic, sectarian Marxist-Leninists headed by Bernard Coard, Bishop's cerebral but embittered personal rival. Meanwhile, the island oddly retained the monarchy and the supposedly Leninist NJM frequented the meetings of the social democratic Socialist International.

On 14 September 1983, Louison, as minister of agriculture, was out of the island preparing Bishop's visit to Eastern Europe and Cuba during the fateful meeting of the Central Committee at which Coard and his supporters attempted to topple Bishop. A meeting of Grenadians convened by Louison in Budapest was later taken as evidence by the Coard group of Bishop's and Louison's defiance of the Central Committee.

Louison returned with Bishop from Havana on 10 October and two days later was expelled from the Central Committee and the Political Bureau by the Coard group. Bishop was put under house arrest. Thereafter, Louison, himself a disgraced prisoner, participated in the agonised negotiations between the supporters of Bishop and Coard as the NJM teetered hour by hour into the abyss. The walls of St George's were daubed with the slogans "We want Maurice" and "No Bishop, No Revo" by the prime minister's supporters and with "C for Coard, C for Communism" by his adversaries. Underlining the divisions in the country, Louison's brother Einstein remained chief of staff in the People's Revolutionary Army, though the PRA commander, Hudson Austin, was to head the troops which days later massacred Bishop's supporters.

By 19 October Bishop and seven of his closest supporters lay dead in Fort Rupert, the little castle overlooking the harbour of St George's, shot by followers of Coard. On the 27th, alleging danger to US students in Grenada and pointing to the presence of Cubans on the island, Reagan ordered a US invasion with a force of some 15,000 military backed by a carrier group. Louison escaped from confinement in the anarchy which followed the invasion as US aircraft strafed St George's.

As those of us who were present at the time saw, NJM and PRA members offered some stiff resistance, shooting down an invading helicopter: many died as US bombs fell on the island's mental hospital. Louison was questioned by the invading forces but later released.

In 1984 he joined with others loyal to Bishop's memory, such as his fellow lawyer Kendrick Radix, to plan a new "Maurice Bishop Patriotic Movement", but this did not prosper. In 1987 he moved to Britain, where he took a law degree. He returned to Grenada to practise but later set up in Port of Spain.

Hugh O'Shaughnessy