A look back to 1983: U.S. invaded, occupied Grenada

October 25 was the 31st anniversary of the U.S. invasion, occupation and bombing of the island nation of Grenada. The country had become nominally independent from Britain in 1974, but then was ruled by a repressive, eccentric Grenadian, Prime Minister Eric Gairy, who was supported by the United States and Britain and had a brutal secret police force.

In March 1979, socialist Maurice Bishop, a New Jewel Movement party leader, took over Grenada in a bloodless coup. The U.S. granted asylum to Gairy, who then aired anti-Grenada radio ­broadcasts.

Bishop, a lawyer, was educated in London. Under Bishop’s government, revolutionary programs were instituted to increase literacy, teacher training, jobs, social services and agriculture. The government provided free health care and milk for school children; it established free secondary schools and scholarships for study abroad. Bishop’s administration build roads and improved transportation systems and public utilities. He invited small, progressive U.S. entrepreneurs to the island.

Bishop believed in self-determination. He developed local councils and organizations for the masses’ participation to ensure grass-roots democracy, reflective of his desire to create “popular socialism.” He aimed to build a self-sufficient country.

Bishop was inspired by Karl Marx and Bob Marley. He was also influenced by the U.S. Black Power Movement and “new left” politics.

Grenada supported the socialist countries and had good relationships with Venezuela, Mexico and Canada. However, Bishop’s closest relationship was with Cuban President Fidel Castro. Cuba provided Grenada with volunteer construction workers, social workers, doctors, dentists, nurses, public health workers, teachers and about 40 military personnel.

Immediately after Grenada’s reforms were instituted, then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s administration became hostile toward Bishop, warned Grenada about trading with Cuba, bugged the Grenadian U.N. mission, spread fear about travel and tourism to the country — which were vital to Grenada — and spread other lies intended to weaken Grenada’s economy.

After Carter’s administration, that of President Ronald Reagan invented more lies about Grenada, which the U.S. media perpetuated, such as that the Soviet Union had delivered helicopters, boats and supersonic fighter jets to Grenada’s air force. However, Grenada had no air force.

The Reagan administration claimed that an airport being built in Grenada by Cuban workers was secretly meant for Russian and Cuban military purposes and showed what it called “spy photos.” In fact, the airfield site was being enlarged to accommodate tourism via jet planes and to allow night flights.

The new airport, encouraged by the World Bank, was being built by a London firm, Plessey Airports, to civilian specifications. Plessey hired 500 Cubans to do the labor. The communications work was being done by a British transnational corporation and funded by Venezuela, Mexico and Canada.

U.S. plotted to destabilize Grenada

Since 1981, the C.I.A. had attempted to destabilize Grenada politically and economically. Two years before the 1983 invasion, U.S. forces staged a mock invasion of Grenada on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, using paratroopers, air and naval assaults, and almost 10,000 troops to invade a country whose total population was less than 100,000.

A struggle within the New Jewel Movement led to a coup against Bishop and his assassination on Oct. 19, 1983. Taking advantage of the situation, the U.S. invaded six days later, using as its pretext an alleged danger faced by U.S. medical students.

The London Observer reported, “Amer­ica admitted later that four civilian charter flights left Grenada’s airport on Oct. 24, carrying American medical students.” They were never in danger before the invasion; some chose to stay behind.

“Operation Urgent Fury” consisted of 7,600 U.S. troops, a huge force against Grenada’s tiny army. At first, the U.S. government refused media access to Grenada. The British Guardian reported on Nov. 25, 1983, that the war lasted just one week and that U.S. forces had killed or wounded 400 Grenadians and 84 Cubans.

Later, as reported in the Guardian on Jan. 3, 1986, the U.S. trained a new, brutal police force and then replaced the interim government.

Reagan claimed that Grenada was a Soviet-Cuban colony, aiming to “export terror” and “undermine democracy.” Days before the U.S. invasion, on behalf of Grenada’s government, Cuba notified the U.S. that it would “cooperate in solution of the problem without violence or intervention.” Cuba received no reply, reported the Guardian on Oct. 23, 1983.

There was widespread bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for the invasion. While a United Nations Security Council vote to condemn the invasion was vetoed by the U.S., the U.N. General Assembly voted against the invasion by a large margin. Even U.S. allies strongly criticized the U.S. actions.

The U.S. perceived Grenada as a threat because it was an English-speaking country and could influence the U.S. Black population. The government had refused economic domination by the U.S. and its corporate interests. If small, poor Grenada continued its pro-socialist development, it would set a bad precedent for other “Third World” countries, reasoned the imperialists.

Precedent set for U.S. “regime-change” strategy

Grenada was an important precedent for regime change by U.S. military intervention. It was a warning to the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The U.S. had used the same strategy of propaganda and demonization in the 1960s to overthrow the leader of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, and other independent leaders.

U.S. propaganda about the need to establish its military forces to “protect the people” and “stabilize foreign governments” is now a ploy to expand NATO and the European Union, to increase Western influence in Ukraine and other countries, and to instill hatred toward China, Libya and Syria.

Other justifications for the invasion of Grenada were that the U.S. needed to prove its military strength and to show a quick victory after its monumental defeat in Vietnam and after U.S. forces intervening in Lebanon’s civil war were attacked just days before the U.S. hit Grenada.

Grenada’s economy declined after the U.S. invasion. Mass organizations were dismantled, labor unions were reorganized, and more than half of the Cuban medical personnel were expelled. Investment and tax codes were revised to favor foreign investment; cooperatives and state enterprises were sold to private interests. Billboards that had inspired the people to work for justice, equality, development and national sovereignty were replaced by those promoting U.S. consumer products.

The quality of life deteriorated. While 60 percent of the population were under age 25, no pediatricians remained on the island. No psychiatrists were available — the U.S. had bombed the mental hospital, killing patients and staff. The U.S. arrested and expelled most foreign doctors and teachers. Civilians were held in jail for months without charge. The navy confiscated the only radio station, and the press was censored.

Corruption is now a serious problem in Grenada. Government officials have awarded contracts for public works to foreign investors with criminal ties, who’ve set up offshore banking operations without oversight, following the neoliberal orthodoxy dictated by the White House.