After suffering for the truth, a hero suffers Ivan's violence No word on hero after storm ravages island

September 18, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

IT'S BEEN over a week since the hurricane rightly called Ivan the Terrible ripped through Grenada, destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the homes and left at least 39 people dead and thousands homeless.

Electricity was kaput. I've heard that phone service has been restored, but I still haven't been able to get in touch with the one Grenadian I hope was not among the 39 fatalities.

My list of heroes is a short one, but Leslie Pierre sits at the very top of it. Pierre is the founder, publisher and editor of The Grenadian Voice, a newspaper he started in the early 1980s in direct defiance of the Provisional Revolutionary Government, which was run by devotees of the Marxist New Jewel Movement.

Pierre spent two years in the prison that sits in the Grenadian capital of St. George's - the one that Ivan devastated along with most other buildings - for daring to be critical of a government many of his black American cousins, especially the ones holding elected office, had only kind words for. He was freed after the American intervention, which some call an invasion, in 1983.

Slight of height and white of hair, Pierre's elfish appearance might account for his puckish sense of humor, still highly developed in the days after he left that prison. He roamed St. George's and heard his fellow Grenadians welcome American troops with shouts of "We love you!" But the troops, still unclear who was friend or foe soon after the invasion, stopped and searched Grenadians often. Pierre and his wife were searched after one such stop. Noticing the terrified look on his wife's face as troops ordered the couple to lie flat, Pierre felt compelled to offer her some advice.

"Tell them, `We love you,'" Pierre said to her.

I interviewed Pierre over a year ago in his office on Melville Street in St. George's. As I listened to his tale of how he defied his government and published some truths it was uncomfortable with, I remember thinking, "Isn't this guy the reason journalists are in the business? He's not in it to get rich, be liked or be loved. Anyone who's in it for those reasons needs to find another line of work."

As impressive as what Pierre did to get thrown into prison was, it's what he did after he got out that put him on my hero's list. The American intervention came after Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and eight others were executed following a power struggle with a faction run by Bernard Coard. Coard and others were tried for those murders and convicted. It was Pierre who argued on the pages of his newspaper that the trials weren't fair because they weren't done under Grenada's old constitution.

"You advocated for the very people who imprisoned you," I asked him. "Why?"

"Because," Pierre answered, "fair is fair."

That's an amazingly simple principle that is very hard to live by. Pierre showed he does, and immediately went to the top of my hero's list.

For the past week, I've been searching for some word about my hero. I tried calling Grenada information to get the number to The Grenadian Voice and got only busy signals. It was the same when I called other numbers.

I phoned Don Rojas, a Randallstown resident who was part of the Grenadian government during that difficult time when Pierre was in prison. These days Rojas is the general manager of radio station WBAI in New York City. He hasn't been able to get in touch with Pierre, but he did give me an idea of what the feisty editor - who I pray is still alive - and other Grenadians are facing in the wake of Ivan's destruction.

"The entire agricultural economy has been affected," Rojas said of the island, which depends on agriculture for its existence. "The nutmeg, cocoa and banana crops were destroyed. Schools have been destroyed. The hospital was destroyed. The parliament building was destroyed. The government is unable to function as a government. It will take 15 to 20 years to rebuild that economy."

Rojas will host a two-hour radiothon from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. today on WBAI to raise money for relief efforts. Several prime ministers and ambassadors from Caribbean countries hit by Ivan will be on hand, as well as New York Rep. Charles Rangel. An invitation has been extended to the chief executive officer of United Way International, which is helping in the recovery.

"There are several relief efforts," Rojas said. "There's a need for food, medicine and blankets. There are several international relief agencies involved. The Red Cross has donated $2 million."

If you give, offer the people of Grenada, other Caribbean nations and our own folks here hit by Ivan some much needed prayers as well.

And send a special one up for a guy named Leslie Pierre.

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