UNION ISLAND – THE REVOLUTION IN THE SOUTH GRENADINES THAT NEVER WAS
I always heard the Mighty Gabby’s famous song ‘Boots‘ as a child and liked it, but never knew what it was really about, then fortune came my way on my recent visit to Union Island taking my wife on a surprise 3rd Mini-Honeymoon, I met & befriended a certain fellow (no need to give his name here) – who would have assumed the political leadership of this new would-be Independent country (his brother-in-law who led the armed actions was to have retained the security force portfolio).
I am talking about the little known 7th December 1979 Union Island revolution in the Southern Grenadines.
The people of Union Island were at the time (1979) suffering from gross neglect by the central government ‘far‘ (40 miles) away on mainland Saint Vincent, so technically they DID have a legitimate right to declare Independence and secede from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; as far as my UN sponsored training course on International Human Rights Law has enlightened me.
The brother-in-law of my friend above was dispatched to Grenada where a meeting was held with then Revolutionary Prime Minister of Grenada Maurice Bishop, who supplied one boatload of Soviet small arms (mostly AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles and several hundred rounds of 7.62×39 ammunition) from the Grenadian owned nearby island of Carriacou for the planned Union Island Revolution; and Bishop offered to send 50 Grenadian Soldiers in civilian clothes (also from Carriacou) to support the Union Island Revolution – with a promise of immediate official recognition of the ‘Independent‘ Union Island from Bishop’s New Jewel Movement Revolutionary Government in Grenada.
The Union Island rebels were to arrest and detain the Police Force on Union Island, declare Independence, and receive immediate recognition (and protection) from Grenada – with the least bloodshed as was possible. My friend above argued strongly that the entire effort could be achieved without ANY bloodshed whatsoever. The Soviet arms would have been superior to the then British SLR rifles that the Vincentian and Barbadian Forces had at the time - and were more as a psychological deterrent for forces opposing the revolution to intervene – lest they be slaughtered by the superior firepower of the Rebel Forces.
The first calamity bedeviling the would be revolutionaries was the accidental sinking of the boat full of small arms from Carriacou donated by Maurice Bishop with the loss of the rebel boat driver who drowned in the same accident.
The second calamity was the fact that his brother-in-law decided (against the advice of the other Revolutionaries) to launch the revolution BEFORE it’s planned (and agreed by Maurice Bishop) due date as he feared a Police investigation into the drowning of the boatman would have uncovered the arms - and to make matters worse – with only 5% of the weapons required in hand! So lightly armed, and without 50 well trained, armed & equipped Grenadian Soldiers to back them up – a ‘revolution‘ that was doomed to fail was launched on 7th December 1979.
The third and final calamity that sealed the nail in the proverbial ‘coffin‘ of the would be Revolution was when word quickly reached the then Prime Minister of Saint Vincent Milton Cato – who wasted no-time calling on his counterpart Prime Minister Tom Adams of Barbados (himself no supporter of Maurice Bishop and his revolutionary government in Grenada) for help in crushing the rebellion. Adams dispatched his newly created Barbados Defence Force soldiers to Union Island where they routed the small rebel force by sunset the same day - thankfully with only the loss of one life…and the victim was not even a rebel! He was a police supporter in civilian attire who was spotted holding a gun (which was provided to him by the Union Island Police) – and he was shot in his back and killed on the spot (hence Gabby’s reference to ‘trigger-happy recruits‘ perhaps?).
Obviously the troops depicted in the youtube clip of the Mighty Gabby’s song ‘Boots‘ are NOT Barbadian but rather Chinese Soldiers, I just chose this version for the dramatic sound effect intro and visual imagery to reinforce a point.
The’ infamous’ brother-in-law served 6 years in jail for his actions, and it is surmised that the government authorities on the mainland were ‘lenient’ on him so as to NOT provoke any further animosity towards the central government by Union Islanders.
Hopefully, we Caribbean people will never again have recourse to even contemplate any revolutionary armed struggle to settle our grievances, let this be an era of diplomacy, equitable treatment for all; and spiritual enlightenment in our sun-blessed tropical paradise corner of God’s green Earth.
- Damon Gerard Corrie
Founder/President Pan-Tribal Confederacy of Indigenous Tribal Nations & Barbados Representative of the United Confederation of Taino People (UCTP) | Registered participant in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), Member of the Indigenous Caucus of the Americas working group on the Draft Declaration of the Americas and Sole Caribbean Representative on the planning committee of the 4th Indigenous Leaders Summit of the Americas (ILSA) – both at the Organization of American States (OAS). CARICOM Commissioner on the Indigenous Commission for Communications Technologies in the Americas (ICCTA)