Grenada’s time of trial

Jack McGowan October 15 1984

Grenada’s time of trial

Jack McGowan October 15 1984

Grenada’s time of trial

Jack McGowan

Last Oct. 19 Grenada’s charismatic prime minister, Maurice Bishop, three of his cabinet ministers and 19 supporters died in a hail of bullets in the Caribbean island’s capital of St. George’s. The murders were part of a coup attempt by hard-line leftists within Bishop’s own socialist party, the New Jewel Movement. That massacre and the ensuing turmoil sparked the invasion one week later by 7,000 U.S. troops, along with several hundred token forces from six other Caribbean nations. President Ronald Reagan described the military takeover as a “rescue mission.” But the tiny spice island in _ the eastern Caribbean now faces another crisis. It is gearing up for an election on Dec. 3 which, if won by either of the two extremist factions in the campaign, could plunge Grenada and its 100,000 inhabitants into chaos once more. As well, a potentially explosive trial of those accused of Bishop’s murder will get under way later this month.

The hard-line group, which had placed Bishop under house arrest at

army headquarters on a hill overlooking St. George’s, shot the prime minister. Those charged with Bishop’s murder include his former deputy Bernard Coard, Coard’s wife, Phyllis, and former army commander Hudson Austin, who headed the military junta that for six days ran the country until the American forces arrived. If found guilty they face the maximum penalty—death by hanging. The trial could revive feelings of bitterness against the New Jewel Movement, whose reign had become increasingly repressive as Bishop gave in to the demands of its hard-liners for harsher measures to wipe out any signs of dissidence. The movement, set up by Bishop in 1973 and now little more than a tattered band of followers, is contesting the election under a new name—the Maurice Bishop Patriotic Movement. But the primary concern of most moderate Grenadians is that the Grenada United Labor Party (GULP), led by the eccentric and erratic former prime ming ister, Eric Gairy, whom = Bishop unseated in a coup I in March, 1979, will win the elections.

Gairy was in New York to address the United Na-

fions on his favorite topic—unidentified flying objects—when Bishop ousted him after 10 years of violent rule. Gairy had first come to power in a 1951 election, through an alliance with the trade union movement. He consolidated his power in the 1960s, and toward the end of that decade some of his supporters launched a campaign of intimidation that earned them the nickname “Mongoose gang” after the weasel-like animal that was introduced to Grenada to eradicate snakes but eventually surpassed the reptiles as a pest. The gang, with Gairy’s acquiescence, regularly beat up political opponents, organized vote-rigging and helped to establish a reign of repression and terror which finally led to the ruthless leader’s downfall.

Gairy’s return to the island last January from the United States, where the authorities kept him under close scrutiny, revived old fears among many of the islanders who remembered his rule. Said one sales clerk in St. George’s, who refused to give her name out of fear of reprisal by the still-active remnants of the Mongoose gang: “I would rather never have the vote again if it means we get Gairy back. We do not need that kind of trouble anymore.”

Gairy, 63, who claims that he no longer has any links with the gang, has repeatedly said that he personally will not be a candidate for one of the 15 seats in the parliament but that his party will contest them all. GULP won nine seats in 1976, the last time elections were held on Grenada. Observers believe that Gairy’s party has a hard-core reservoir of about 20 per cent of the 50,000-member electorate. If the moderate opposition remains fragmented, Gairy’s party could easily win a majority.

To prevent his return to power and to improve the chances of stable government on the island, the leaders of the four centrist opposition parties—Herbert Blaize, George Brizan, Francis Alexis and Winston Whyte—agreed at a meeting last August to merge their organizations and contest the elections as the New National Party. Observers have speculated that the leaders of neighboring islands, and Washington itself, helped to engineer the merger.

According to George Louison, a former cabinet minister in Bishop’s government, the United States wants to impose its will on Grenada by stamping the island with a “Made in the U.S.” label. Clearly, the Reagan administration and those of other eastern Caribbean governments that supported the invasion have been openly concerned about a Gairy victory because it may lead to a leftist revival, which would almost certainly seek outside military aid to overthrow him. They were further alarmed on Sept. 6 when Blaize banished Whyte from the merger, accusing

him of dishonoring the agreement with the other three members by failing to repudiate a local newspaper report linking him to Gairy. The Grenada Guardian, the island’s main daily newspaper, had reported that Gairy and Whyte held talks on a possible alliance.

Another threat from the left is emerging from remaining pro-Bishop members of the New Jewel Movement who also have their sights on power. Bishop loyalists and former cabinet ministers Kenrick Radix, Louison and Lyden Rhamdanny are among the principal organizers of the Maurice Bishop

Patriotic Movement, which has announced that it will participate in the election. Political observers give it little chance. Said Alastair Hughes, a journalist and political commentator based in St. George’s: “We cannot afford to go back five years to Bishop’s era. We must forge ahead and make a new start with a new government and, for the sake of peace, not one formed by Gairy.”

Since the invasion the United States has invested millions of dollars in economic assistance, including money to complete an international airport at Point Salines—a project that Grenada

began in 1979 with Cuban aid. The Americans contended that the project was part of a Cuban attempt to set up a military base on the island, which the Soviet Union could also have used. Shortly after the invasion the Americans ousted approximately 800 Cuban workers and military advisers on the island, and the Reagan administration now considers the airport to be one means of improving Grenada’s slumping economy. After the invasion Grenada’s tourist industry virtually collapsed. The instability of the last two years of Bishop’s increasingly harsh and leftistoriented reign discouraged Americanà—the backbone of the industry —from visiting. As a result, the Grenadians regard the airport as vital to the recovery of the island’s economic mainstay—the spice trade in nutmeg, mace and cinnamon—which a 1980 decline in world prices nearly ruined.

The Americans are still very visible on the island. They have opened a large embassy at what was once the luxurious oceanside Rosspoint resort hotel. As well, they retain some 250 military policemen and other support personnel who, according to diplomatic sources in Washington, counsel the island’s ninemember interim government. Moderates on the island have welcomed the brief era of calm since the U.S. invasion, but the New Jewel Movement is enraged at the extent of the U.S. involvement in Grenadian affairs. Said Louison: “The Americans have occupied this island. They make all the decisions. They want a puppet regime.”

The United States has clearly made an effort to strengthen its influence in the Caribbean through its involvement in Grenada. Washington contributed more than $21 million to the completion of the airport as part of a $57-million overall economic aid package to the island. The Canadian government contributed roughly another $6 million to the airport project. Since some 30 per cent of Grenada’s labor force is out of work and there are no unemployment benefits, the need for investment from abroad is acute. Only the injection of mainly U.S. capital during the past nine months has kept the island’s economy from plummeting. But while both local and foreign investors have expressed interest in Grenada, few new investments have been forthcoming. Most potential investors seem to prefer to wait for the airport’s completion and the installation of an elected government before starting up any projects. Their reluctance might prove prudent. If Gairy’s party gains re-election on Dec. 3, the island may face a lengthy— and potentially turbulent—period of adjustment.

Don Bohning