The Revolution in Grenada
by Howard Fienberg
"We are a lot like Americans. If you kick us in the shin, we will kick you in the balls."
Maurice Bishop (Heine, 193)
Options for Third World governments are slim ; there are "no theory and viable alternatives to the two dominant world systems." (Mandle, 97) New regimes require creativity if they wish to deviate from strict doctrine of communism or capitalism, the former East or West. The Soviet model, in the past, tended to be the one of choice, because the promises it made seemed too good to be true; they were.
America in the past was generally very sensitive to deviations from its system of government around the world; these were deemed to be threats to is world hegemony, and it went to great lengths to maintain that hegemony. The Caribbean was a particularly sensitive region, and "any effort to achieve greater autonomy and self-reliance in the region [risked] incurring American hostility... greater self-reliance in the Caribbean would come at the expense of at least some American interests." (Mandle, 100) This is precisely what occurred in Grenada during the revolution of 1979 to 1983, culminating in Operation Urgent Fury.
The United States can claim to have had three military victories since the end of World War II: Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf in January 1991, the invasion of Panama in December of 1989, dubbed Operation Just Cause, and Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. On October 25, 1983, forces of the United States, along with help from several of Grenada's neighbors, occupied the Caribbean nation of Grenada. This was the first occupation of a Caribbean nation since 1965, and was the absolute first invasion of an English-speaking Caribbean state. This invasion was the zenith of years of American foreign policy in the region as a whole and in Grenada in particular. This case study of American global policy will focus on Grenada's recent history, from the post-independence Gairy dictatorship, to the revolution on 1979, to the collapse of the leftist regime in 1983. It will also retrace the steps of American policy towards the small nation.
In order to understand the more recent history of Grenada, we must look back into its past. The first attempt by Europeans to settle the island came in 1609: about 200 English tried settle the island and were scared off or killed by the indigenous Carib population. The first permanent settlement came in 1650, when a wealthy Frenchmen named Monsieur du Parquet, began a four-year process of taming the island. It was exploited until it attained the status of a French possession in 1674. A British fleet, during the Seven Years war, occupied the island in 1762, and rights to the island were transferred at the Peace of Paris to the United Kingdom a year later. (O'Shaughnessy, 31)
Until Parliament's passing of the West Indies Act of 1967, Grenada was a colony of Great Britain, along with its Caribbean neighbors Antigua, Dominica, St. Kitts/Nevis/Anguilla, St. Lucius, and St. Vincent. The West Indies Act carried similarities to the British North America Act of 100 years earlier, building a confederation of sorts, with the colonies given internal autonomy, and external affairs to be taken care of by the Empire; this status was called Associated Statehood. (O'Shaughnessy, 40) Despite some vocal opposition on the island, talks were begun in London in May of 1973, and on February 7, 1974, Grenada became an independent state within the British Commonwealth of Nations. (Gilmore, 18-19)
Grenada had nearly always been a plantation economy, which involved "...the large scale production of agricultural commodities, generally for export markets." (Mandle, 4) It employed a lot of unskilled laborers under the direction of a few highly-skilled supervisors. The nation was ripe for change; the workers had always been denied the access to land so that they could be employed cheaply in the service of the plantations and estates, rather than working their own private plots. This process of exploitation, dubbed "plantation slavery," kept the population relatively docile for years. (4-5) However, as its hold on the populace dwindled, and more of the masses attained some form of education, dissatisfaction arose, and an indigenous "intelligentsia" was born that would eventually "give rise to the Grenada Revolution," (14) and lead it to fruition.
Eric Matthew Gairy, a young union organizer, registered the Grenada Manual and Mental Workers Union in 1950, and soon had organized the country's first general strike. His populist rhetoric and charisma drew him much support. As the strike continued, he was deported by the island's General on 22 February, 1951. Mass violence and demonstrations ensued, forcing the Governor to return Gairy to Grenada, and turning Gairy into a heroic idol. ( O'Shaughnessy, 35-36) He quickly capitalized on this by creating a Grenada People's Party to participate in the October 1951 elections where they won 71% of the vote, earning six of the eight seats in Grenada's so-called parliament, and several places on the cabinet. Gairy forfeited his seat on the cabinet due to frequent absence, but in the elections of September 1954, the Grenada United Labor Party, which was the reorganized GPP, took seven of the eight seats in parliament. (36-7) Gairy faded somewhat for several years, but returned in the 1961 elections, where he became Chief Minister with eight of the ten parliament seats. (37)
Allegations of embezzlement and abuse of public funds and Gairy's peculiar ability to annoy and bully drove Great Britain to dissolve the parliament and cabinet, dumping Gairy from office. However, he returned in the elections of 1967, and "began to show his worst side," that of Gairy the dictator. (38) Power became centralized in his pocket during this period, and so did public support. To enforce this, he maintained the Grenadian Defense Force, the police, and his private band of thugs called the Mongoose Gang. The only opposition offered was from the Grenada National Party, which was viewed by most as being the outpost of the higher and wealthier classes, led by Herbert Blaize.
After the arrest of some thirty nurses who were protesting conditions at a hospital in December of 1970, opposition forces decided that direct action was the only route to follow, particularly later, due to Gairy's fixing of elections in 1972 (Mandle, 14) and his limitations placed on public demonstrations laid out following them. The 1970's saw violent upheaval across Gairy's Caribbean neighborhood; these developments did not bode well for his regime.
Young lawyer Maurice Bishop took on his first sizable legal case when he was caught in the middle of the nurse's strike mentioned above and decided to undertake their defense. The trial brought Bishop much acclaim and resulted in the acquittal of all the defendants. It also put him in touch with lawyers across the Caribbean devoted to supporting human rights. Thus was he set on the path that would eventually lead him to the top.
The Joint Endevour for Welfare, Education, and Liberation (JEWEL) movement was formed in 1970 at the behest of Unison Whiteman. This movement found its first victory when it organized the rural populace in La Sagesse in a fight for access to a public beach which the owner of a road in front of the beach, Lord Brownlow, wished to prevent the people from crossing. He was driven out of the country and the road was opened to public use.
Several months later, at a joint congress on 11 March, 1973, JEWEL merged with Bishop's Movement for Assemblies of the People (MAP), an intellectual movement, to become the New Jewel Movement (NJM). In 1973, the NJM formally demanded that Gairy resign. Gairy's reaction was to put down a protest, in blood, on January 21, 1974, dubbed "Bloody Monday," where 1 demonstrator was killed and many more were wounded. (Mandle,16) The 1976 election, the first for the NJM, was a defeat, resulting in Gairy's reaffirmation of power. After this loss, they completely gave up on elections as a way to power; they turned to a form of Leninism and formed a military wing of their party.
In March of 1979, the military forces of the NJM struck in a coup d'Žtat. On the 13, Bishop took over the Prime Ministership and addressed his new nation to the sounds of rousing support. In his address, "Bishop promised Grenada both economic development and democracy." (18) Bishop's
commitment to construct an indigenous and more deeply democratic political system than the one which had been inherited from colonialism spoke to the aspirations of a wide section of West Indian society. (Mandle, 46)
The future looked bright for the new regime.
The disagreements about the NJM's ideology and intentions were great and varied. There was no doubt when they came to power that they were of a socialist bent, but as to their foreign policy, the assurances faded quickly. Their improvement of relations with Marxist Cuba brought increasing flack from the United States, and even more so when they sought aid from the Soviet Union. The NJM thought that if they were public and loud about their ideals and made great accomplishments for socialism that the Soviets would notice them. They were wrong, for the most part; mostly it was America and the other Caribbean nations that took notice and worried.
The ideology and practices of the New Jewel Movement regime were their own personal hybrid of socialism. Their ideas sprang from such sources as the Black Power movement, which had turned the US inside out during the decade, and had nearly toppled the government in Trinidad, to a grassroots perspective of democracy. This was based on Tanzania's unique socialist movement. Julius Nyerrere Ujama, leader of the East African nation, attempted to create an alternative to the two available forms of government with which he was faced, communism and capitalism. He chose to build an ideology around the glorification of the past, and its collective villages. (Powell lecture) However, since the social fabric of Grenada was "created anew by the European colonizers after the eradication of the indigenous Carib population," Grenadians had "no traditional culture to fall back on," making an imitation of Nyerrere impossible. (Heine, 7)
In June of 1983, Bishop placed blame for the hostility between Grenada and the US on the US:
From the first days of coming to power, the US pursued a policy which showed no respect for our national pride and aspirations, and sought consistantly to bring the Revolution to its knees ... such an attitude [by the US] exists principally because Grenada has taken a very firm and decisive step on the road to genuine national independence, non-alignment, and self-determination. (Heine, 181)
Disagreements over who started the problems abounded, just as they had in the revolutions in Cuba and Nicaragua. The question was, did the United States' provocations turn Grenada to socialism and hostility, or did Grenada's socialism and hostility scare the US into provoking Grenada?
President Jimmy Carter's administration was the first to focus on the Caribbean before a security threat had popped up rather than after the fact. The new administration wanted to demonstrate that it could accept democratic socialists, such as Michael Manley of Jamaica. (Heine, 185) Following the coup, the NJM contacted its neighbors, as well as the US, and assured them that it wanted good relations, it would protect US lives and property, and would hold "prompt and free elections of a legally constituted government." (187) After a meeting of the National Security Council on March 15, the US decided to support Britain and the other East Caribbean nations in pressuring the new regime to make good on its promises for elections. (188) The NJM appealed to Britain, the US, and Canada for economic aid, and was well received, but the US began to have doubts.
On March 25, the constitution was suspended and a set of "People's Laws" were enacted, but the NJM did announce that Grenada would maintain its position within the Commonwealth. On March 28, Peace Corps volunteers initially requested from the US were asked not to come. By early April, Cuban arms began arriving at Grenada's ports.
Grenada began to warn of an impending invasion by Gairy and his followers and requested military aid from its neighbors. The US assured Bishop that no invasion would occur, and also warned that if Grenada continued to increase its ties to Cuba, its relations with the US would complicate. (190-1) This was at a point where Carter was having mounting difficulties with Cuba, a souring in relations, and an increase in tensions, due to the discovery of a Soviet Brigade there in October of 1979. (Gilmore, 28)
Bishop blasted the US in a speech on April 13 for not offering enough aid, even though the US efforts had been rejected, and concluded with a statement defying the US's attempts to mold his relations with Cuba. He stated that he was not surprised by America's reaction; had not the same nation developed the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, and the Roosevelt corollary to it in 1904, specifically pointing out that the Western Hemisphere was its own business, and that the US had sovereignty there? There had been 135 invasions of Latin American countries in the hundred years previous, and he didn't see why anything should have changed. (Heine, 193) It seemed that Bishop had asked for help without really wanting it and perhaps thought that a confrontation with the US would help get him aid from other sources, like the communist bloc.
Several weeks following the speech, the US expanded economic and military aid to the nations of the Eastern Caribbean, excepting Grenada. This was part of a "regional strategy" to pressure and bribe the NJM into instituting its pledges. (Heine, 197)
The US was nearly provoked into direct action when a US citizen was arrested by Grenada on grounds of security; it was actually in retaliation for the arrest of two Grenadians in the US who were gun-running. However, before the US could decide on action, the Grenadians jumped bail, and the American was released. The same process happened again two months later, and ended in roughly the same manner. On November 18, Cuba announced plans to build an airport in Grenada.
Ronald Reagan stated what would soon be his policy as the president of the US in the Spring of 1979:
the Caribbean is rapidly becoming a Communist lake in what should be an American pond, and the United States resembles a giant, afraid to move. (Heine, 198)
His new administration restricted embassy contacts with the NJM and tried to stop the US's allies from aiding Grenada in any way. Tensions simply built up from the point that he took office.
By July of 1983, the NJM would most likely have lost any elections it could have held. Promises were left unfulfilled, and the party was still unorganized. The lack of a strong political culture meant that there was no well-organized party, like the communists in Cuba, to take over the revolution and run it properly. (Mandle, 73) Under deteriorating political conditions, Bishop was arrested on October 12 by his fellow-revolutionary Bernard Coard and his supporters on charges of planning to assassinate Coard. A huge crowd rallied and forced the release of Bishop, only to be gunned down shortly by Coard's followers. The post-Bishop government had lost all mandate to rule and found itself under massive pressure, on both the domestic and foreign fronts. In the face of a shattered revolution, many Grenadians were relieved when the first American contingent arrived on October 27.
The invasion of Grenada served to continue to heal the American wounds from Vietnam, and to redeem the self-esteem of the Reagan Administration, whose foreign policy was looking like somewhat of a dud. It was a simple propaganda coup, and a warning that America still held sway over its little pond to the south. (Ferguson, 5) It was a return to earlier American imperialism; a reminiscing American official stated that America's "reputation for imperialism, until Vietnam, rested largely on our military interventions in the Caribbean," and that activities had come full circle. (Martin, 5)
In conclusion, one must examine the evidence carefully. The United States' hegemony over the Caribbean, and much of the world, creates difficulties for new regimes there, and the policies they follow. Cuba is still under embargo and hostility to this day, and a new regime in Haiti is under storm from its neighbors. While the Cold War may be over, the world must still decide on alternatives to those governing options proffered in the past, and to find viable solutions to the problems of the future.
Ferguson, James. Grenada: Revolution in Reverse. London: British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data, 1990.
Gilmore, William C. The Grenada Intervention: Analysis and Documentation. London: Mansell Publishing Ltd., 1984.
Heine, Jorge, ed. A Revolution Aborted: The Lessons of Grenada. Pittsburgh: the University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990.
Mandle, Jey R. Big Revolution, Small Country: The Rise and Fall of the Grenada Revolution. Lanham, Maryland: North-South Publishing Company, Inc., 1985.
Martin, J. US. Policy in the Caribbean. Boulder: Westview Press, 1978.
O'Shaughnessy, Hugh. Grenada: An Eyewitness Account of the U.S. Invasion and the Caribbean History That Provoked It. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., Inc., 1984.
Powell, Dan. "European Expansion, Colonial Regimes, and Neo-colonialism." Comparative Development 100 lecture, October 5, 1992.