That Grenada invasion

Published: Friday | October 24, 2008

TOMORROW IS the 25th anniversary of Operation Urgent Fury, where United States (US) troops invaded Grenada to win their first conflict since before the Vietnam War. The initial assault consisted of some 1,200 US troops, and they met stiff resistance from about 1,500 Grenadian soldiers and 722 Cubans (mostly engineers assisting with the construction of an airport).

The fighting was heavy and went on for three days; about 6,000 US reinforcements were called in, drawn from the famous 82nd Airborne Division, the Delta force, the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron, the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit, (what became) the 75th Ranger Regiment, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (the Night Stalkers) and two teams of US Navy Seals. The flagship of the invading fleet of 23 warships was the aircraft carrier USS Independence, carrying fighter jets and bombers. An admiral was in overall command, but US ground forces were led by Major General H. Norman Schwarzkopf (Stormin' Norman) who eight years later was commander of coalition forces in the first Gulf War.

Resistance might have lasted much longer if the Grenada military had not been in disarray following the overthrow and murder of popular Prime Minister Maurice Bishop by hard-line Marxists in his government. Had some ardent Bishop supporters not been disarmed in the coup, the US death toll might have been much higher than the reported 19 killed and 116 wounded.

One similarity between the present Iraq war and the Grenada invasion is that the initial justifications proved to be demonstrably false. The major justification for Urgent Fury was the protection of 800 American students at the US-run St George's University. US officials falsely claimed that the island's only airport was closed, offering the students no escape. In reality, scores of people left the island on charter flights the day before the invasion; scheduled flights had ceased as a direct result of pressure by US officials. After limiting the ability of Americans to depart, the US then used their presence as an excuse to invade.

Evacuating students

The students were never actually in any danger prior to the invasion. Grenadian officials had met with university administrators and guaranteed the students' safety. Urgent State Department requests to university officials to publicly request US intervention were refused. US Embassy staffers from Barbados visited Grenada and saw no need to evacuate students. The chancellor polled students and found that 90 per cent did not want to be evacuated. As the invasion began, the chancellor denounced it as totally unnecessary and a far greater risk to student safety than Grenada's domestic crisis.

A second major justification for the invasion was the reported Cuban military build-up. President Reagan claimed US troops found six ware-houses "stacked to the ceiling" with weapons destined for Cuban intervention in Central America. In reality, there were only three ware-houses, one-quarter full of antiquated small arms confiscated a few days earlier by coup leaders from popular militias. Furthermore, Grenada is three times further from Central America than is Cuba itself.

President Reagan charged that the airport was to be a Soviet/Cuban airbase; it has since been acknowledged that its sole purpose was for civilian airliners. While some construction workers were Cuban, the contractor was the British firm Plessey. Plessey officials pointed out that none of the necessary components for a military airfield were being built, such as bomb-resistant underground fuel tanks, sheltering bays for parked aircraft, or fortified control towers.

A third major pretext was a request for intervention by the OECS. It was later revealed that the "urgent request for assistance" by these Caribbean states was drafted by US officials and given to selected Caribbean leaders to sign. A token force of 300 troops from Jamaica, Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent was involved, but only in policing functions in areas already secured by American forces.

What was the reason?

The CIA had sought to overthrow Bishop once he came to power in 1981, making efforts to destabilise his government politically and economically. As early as August 1981, US armed forces staged a mock invasion of Grenada on the island of Vieques off Puerto Rico.

What was Maurice Bishop's crime that led the US government to want regime change so badly? In the four years of the Bishop government, while most Caribbean nations suffered from the worldwide recession, Grenada achieved a nine per cent cumulative growth rate. Unemployment dropped from 49 per cent to 14 per cent. The government diversified agriculture, developed coopera-tives, and created an agro-industrial base that led to a reduction of food imports. The literacy rate, already at a respectable 85 per cent, grew to about 98 per cent. Free health care and secondary education were provided; the number of secondary schools tripled; scores of Grenadians received scholarships to study abroad. There were programmes to develop the fishing industry, handicrafts, housing, tourism, to expand roads and the transport system, and to upgrade public utilities.

Why, then, did the US invade? Grenada was seen as a bad example for other poor Caribbean states. Its foreign policy was not subservient to the US and it was not open to having its economy dominated by US corporate interests. A show of force would cause states with similar leftist nationalist ideals to think twice. If a country as small and poor as Grenada could have continued its rapid rate of development under a socialist model, it would set a bad precedent for other Third World countries. In short, Grenada under Bishop was reaching a dangerous level of health care, literacy, housing, participatory democracy, and economic independence.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution which "deeply deplores the armed intervention in Grenada, which constitutes a flagrant violation of interna-tional law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of that State" by a vote of 122 in favour to nine against with 27 abstentions; the nine against were Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, El Salvador, Israel, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada, and the US; the invasion was actively opposed by the UK, Trinidad and Tobago and Canada, among others. A similar resolution was discussed in the Security Council and although receiving widespread support, was ultimately vetoed by the US.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon.