New Internationalist

Interview with Maurice Bishop

Issue 094

The New Internationalist spoke to Grenada’s Prime Minister Maurice Bishop in his St. George’s office. The following are excerpts from that interview.

Photo: Wayne Ellwood
Bishop: 'Parliamentary democracy has failed the region' Photo: Wayne Ellwood

On the previous Government
We inherited a situation of absolutely no planning. It was anarchy. In the 1918 budget there was $15 for an economist for the whole year. When we pressed in parliament we were told that was a token provision in the event they found an economist. There was no planning. Gairy believed he was a mystic. He seemed to believe he had a direct line to God and that’s how the problems of the country got solved.

On relations with the US
We are obviously no threat to America, Nor is Cuba for that matter. I think Washington fears that we could set an example for the rest of the region if our Revolution succeeds. In the Caribbean region you’re talking about small countries with small populations and limited resources, countries that over the years have been classic examples of neo-capitalist depend­encies. Now you have these new governments like Nicaragua and Grenada that are attempting a different experiment. They are no longer looking at development as how many hotels you have on the beach but in terms of what benefits people get. How many have jobs? How many are being fed, housed, and clothed? How many of the children receive education? We certainly believe in Grenada that the people of the English-speaking Caribbean want to see an experiment like that succeed. They want to see what we are trying to build come about. America understands that and obviously if we are able to succeed where previousgovernments following different models failed, that would be very, very subversive,

On Democracy and Elections
We don’t believe that a parliamentary system is the most relevant in our situation. After all, we took power outside the ballot-box and we are trying to build our Revolution on the basis of a new form of democracy: grass­roots and democratic, creating mechanismsand institutions which really have relevance to the people, If we succeed it will bring in question this whole parliamentary approach to demo­cracy which we regard as having failed in the region. We believe that elections could be important, but for us the question is one of timing. We don’t regard it now as a priority. We would much rather see elections come when the economy is more stable, when the Revolution is more consolidated. When more people have in fact had benefits brought to them. When more people are literate and able to understand what the meaning of a vote really is and what role they should have in building a genuine participatory democracy.

On Human Rights
We have a very different conception of human rights than so-called Western demo­cracies. We see human rights much more in terms of economic rights: people having the right to jobs, housing, health and education. Civil and political human rights of course we have no quarrel with. We support them, but we take a different political and class position on these questions than Western clemocracies.  When you raise the question of political prisoners people have to be very frank about this and admit a number of things. First, many Western democracies have thousands of political prisoners. Consider the UK in relation to Northern Ireland. In America Andy Young after all has said that blacks in American jails are political prisoners. I could not agree more with regard’ to the system that tries them and the racism that is endemic in it. Our position is that people who are threats to national security have to be kept away from society - both in their own interests, and more funda­mentally in the interests of the new society we are trying to build.

On Aid
Non-alignment for us is the right to build our own system and the right to have relations with all countries that we deem desirable - which essentially means all countries bar South Africa. The one condition on aid is there must be no strings attached which we find unaccept­able. If one group says to us’you must balance your budget’ and that’s also our goal,well then, there’s no problem. If some lending agency says ‘you must cut social spending and put people out of jobs’, well that’s not part of our objective and we would not accept that kind of aid.

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