The murder of Maurice Bishop, Grenada's leftist prime minister, while in the custody of that country's armed forces, seems to mark the completion of a power takeover by hard-line communist Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard.
The new regime will be considerably more isolated than Bishop's. Cuba for the moment is keeping its distance from the coup - a posture observers attribute to Cuban leader Fidel Castro's personal friendship with Bishop and his desire not to alienate English-speaking neighbors he has recently been courting. Foreign ministers of the English-speaking Caribbean countries are about to meet in Antigua to discuss possible measures in protest of the Coard takeover.
Official United States comments on the Coard takeover give no hint that it is considering any specific actions against Coard, but a measure of US concern is shown by the State Department's quick creation of a task force on Grenada - a measure it did not take during the recent Guatemalan coup. One dilemma for the US is that it has few options with which to express anger at Coard. It has no diplomatic relations with Grenada and no significant trade.
Under Bishop, Grenada was radical but still maintained a mixed economy, with 60 percent of all enterprises in private hands. Although unpopular with the Reagan administration, Bishop had the support of Cuba and left-of-center governments throughout the world and enjoyed cordial relations with most of his more moderate Caribbean neighbors.
It is unlikely that Coard will command much popular support either inside or outside Grenada. Observers seem to agree that the charismatic Bishop enjoyed widespread popularity among Grenadans. And because of this popularity, Coard initially attempted to maintain Bishop as figurehead prime minister, while stripping him of most of his real power.
These plans were upset when some 4,000 chanting, largely unarmed demonstrators rushed into Bishop's residence in Grenada's capital city and freed him Wednesday from the house arrest that had been enforced by Coard's military supporters. Hoisting Bishop onto their shoulders, the demonstrators paraded the prime minister through downtown St. George - their numbers increasing - until they reached Fort Rupert, the military headquarters. There, according to reliable reports, the crowd was met by truckloads of government troops, who started firing into the air.
Some of the troops directed shots into the crowd killing 4 to 10 demonstrators. During this melee, Bishop was reportedly shot in the leg.
Diplomatic observers in Grenada state that Bishop then surrendered to government troops and was seen, with his hands above his head, being led into Fort Rupert.
Reliable sources in Barbados say that Bishop was executed by Army troops shortly afterward. Killed with him, they say, were Foreign Minister Unison Whiteman, Education Minister Jacqueline Creft, and Housing Minister Norris Bain.
This contradicts Grenadan military reports that Bishop was shot in an ''exchange of fire'' with troops.
For the moment, the Coard regime is officially led by a military revolutionary council, headed by Hudson Austin, commander of the island's armed forces. Austin has proclaimed marshal law and declared a 24-hour curfew, stating that anyone caught leaving their homes before 6 a.m. Monday without permission would be ''shot on sight.''
It remains to be seen whether he will gain crucial Cuban and East bloc support and whether, even with that support, he can maintain control in the face of inevitable international and domestic pressures against his regime.