Maurice Bishop

(1944—1983) prime minister of Grenada

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(b. Aruba, 29 May 1944; d. St George's, Grenada, 19 Oct. 1983) Grenadian; Prime Minister 1979 –83 Born in the Dutch island of Aruba to Grenadian parents, Bishop trained as a barrister in London before returning to Grenada in 1970 to become involved in radical politics. He was instrumental in merging a number of small left-wing groups into the New Jewel Movement (NJM) in 1973, which campaigned against the autocratic government of Premier Eric Gairy. Gairy repressed the NJM and other opponents and in 1974 Bishop was jailed, two weeks after his father had been shot dead during a demonstration. In 1976 Bishop headed a three-party alliance and was elected to parliament, becoming leader of the opposition.

In March 1979 the NJM staged a bloodless coup when Gairy was abroad and proclaimed a People's Revolutionary Government (PRG), in which Bishop was named Prime Minister. Charismatic and popular, he became the figurehead of the PRG, attracting considerable support both within Grenada and from radical circles in Europe and North America. For all its Marxist rhetoric, the PRG was in reality a pragmatic regime, encouraging co-operation between private and public sectors and attempting to diversify out of the island's dependency on agricultural commodities. It earned the enmity of the USA, however, through its close links with Cuba, which assisted in the building of an international airport.

In 1983 differences between the ‘moderate’ Bishop faction and hardliners within the NJM broke out into violence. Refusing to share the party leadership, Bishop was arrested and then forcibly released by a crowd of supporters. As he was preparing to address a meeting in the capital, St George's, troops loyal to the opposing faction of Bernard Coard opened fire. Bishop and several prominent ministers and supporters were then executed. In the ensuing chaos a Revolutionary Military Council seized power, providing the Reagan administration with the pretext to invade Grenada on 25 October.

Maurice Bishop was feared by regional conservative governments as a subversive example but was also widely admired for his stance against US domination and in favour of small-island sovereignty. His government won praise for its economic policies from such unlikely sources as the World Bank, but some Grenadians accused him of tolerating human rights abuses.

From A Dictionary of Political Biography in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Politics.

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