Last week this column revived the memory of the tragedy that was Grenada 1983 when a People’s Revolution that had promised so much, imploded and opened the way for foreign intervention in the form of a military invasion from the mighty USA. That such a powerful nation would seek to put one of its smallest neighbours literally “to the sword”, using the fig leaf of “protecting democracy” and a contrived “request for intervention” by some Caribbean leaders, not only surprised the international community but caused outrage as well. It did not even consult its closest ally, the United Kingdom, the former colonial overlord of Grenada. In fact even the British monarch had publicly expressed her disapproval.
Those who have studied the history of US military adventures abroad would be familiar with its scenario. In addition, the US military, for all its formidable hardware, had not since World War 2 been able to register successes abroad. It had to accept a stalemate in Korea (1953), had suffered an embarrassing defeat from the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba (1961), and worse of all was ignominiously ran out of Vietnam (1975) following the largest military engagement since the second World War.
Unfortunately this has not stopped such incursions by the American military. Following Grenada, US forces have been engaged in Panama (1989), Iraq (1990/1 to present), Afghanistan (2003) from which they had to flee as in Vietnam, Pakistan (mainly drone warfare from 2004), Somalia (2007), Libya (2011), and Syria (2014). What chance did Grenada, and indeed the Caribbean, have against such military might?
From all reports, in spite of the treachery of the “super revolutionaries” in Grenada, some Grenadians did put up resistance and paid the price. It remains a mystery to this day however that not a single one of the leadership lost their lives in battle, all being captured by the Americans. These are the “warriors” who had solemnly pledged publicly, to “defend Grenada with the last drop of blood”.
It is an irony that when the door to foreign military invasion was thrown open, the Grenada Revolution was just beginning to show the fruits of the hard work put in by its leadership and enthusiastic people. The attempts to isolate Grenada within the Caribbean had failed and that country was assuming leadership positions in the Caribbean community. Even the much-maligned Bernard Coard was helping to provide financial and economic leadership to his Caribbean colleagues in dealings with international institutions. Maurice Bishop of course had become, de facto, where the rest of the world was concerned, the premier political leader in the Caribbean.
Internally, never before had the Caribbean witnessed such a tremendous mobilisation of its human resources. Never before was the principle of Caribbean solidarity and integration put into practice as occurred in Grenada 1979-1983. The Revolution attracted some of the best of Caribbean intellectuals spearheading never before experienced (outside Cuba), impressive achievements in popular education and literacy, developments in culture, the arts and sports, experiments in agro-processing. The tremendous potential of the working people was unleashed in the building of mass organisations of workers, farmers, women and youth. And, there was the ambitious project to construct the International airport at Point Salines, today proudly carrying the name of Maurice Bishop. It was a living manifestation of the saying, “one thousand flowers bloom”.
There were negatives of course as happens with every process. The failure to appreciate how well-grounded the system of elections with all its drawbacks was in the Caribbean, proved to be a fatal flaw, consistently threatening to undermine the legitimacy of the revolutionary process. This remained the proverbial “Achilles heel” to the end.
Then there was the perception of militarisation of the process. Clearly there was an over-riding external threat as October 25, 1983 demonstrated, but, especially in those days it was a source of unease. To add to these, while Eric Gairy the overthrown dictator, had violated many of the principles of liberal democracy, the resort to arbitrary detentions of citizens, though merited in some cases, was abused in many others, constantly raising fears in the minds of citizens and always threatening to tarnish the reputation of the Grenada Revolution abroad.
The period between 1979 and 1983 was unprecedented in Caribbean history. Never since the 1930s had progressive thoughts and ideas flourished like that spawning movements which flourished all over the region. This included SVG where the UPM had become a major political force, until it too suffered from internal differences.
The invasion put paid to all that, and its collapse proved to be a major setback for the entire region. Those who opened the door will have to reckon with the charges of history.
l Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.