Phyllis Coard: The only ‘powerful’ woman involved in Grenada’s bloody coup of 1983

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Those who ink into annals the history of a people possess more than anyone else, an opportunity to define the people’s future, and to Grenadian politician and activist Phyllis Coard, that was supposed to be a self-evident truth.

In her 2019 publication, Unchained: A Caribbean Woman’s Journey Through Invasion, Incarceration and Liberation, Coard explained that she sought to tell her truth, knowing very well the forces that have worked to shape the narrative of her reputation.

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She wanted to challenge how history would remember her, hopefully, more than an ex-convict who helped to overthrow a popular government. According to her friend and former Jamaican senator Lambert Brown, Coard knew she was hated.

“She suffered because when the difficulties came in 1983, some sought to blame her. They thought she had influenced her husband, and she was not well-liked regionally,” Brown told The Gleaner.

Coard blamed the United States for her 16-and-half years in prison but also seemed somewhat thankful for the compulsion to self-discovery while at the lowest point in her life.

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As the only woman who was charged with crimes associated with the overthrow and murder of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop in 1983, Coard knew her story would not only be different but necessary to the reconstruction of history.

In October 1983, internal divisions within the New Jewel Movement in Grenada led to the dramatic capture and assassination of Bishop by a military junta group within the party. Bishop’s deputy Prime Minister and childhood friend, Bernard Coard, who was Phyllis’s husband, led the coup but he was deposed only three days later by General Hudson Austin.

Austin himself was captured six days later when the United States invaded the island with 7,600 soldiers, an overwhelming amount of troops for the tiny country which has slightly over 100,000 inhabitants today. The country held elections a year later but many leftist sympathizers had fled.

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Then a deputy Foreign Minister, Mrs Coard was the only woman who stood trial with 16 others for the crimes of 1983. The accused are now infamously known as the Grenada 17.

Along with some of the others, Coard was sentenced to death along with her husband. But the sentence was eventually delayed as Coard waited on death row.

However, in 2000, she was released on compassionate grounds after she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Coard left to live out the rest of her life in her native Jamaica, where until her death on September 6, 2020, she remained committed to fighting and speaking on behalf of Caribbean women.

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