This year will see the thirtieth anniversary of the invasion of the small Caribbean island of Grenada by the might of the United States armed forces – with the connivance of the Thatcherite government in London.
Just over a year after the Malvinas War, which conveniently distracted attention away from the dire economic and social situation into which the UK had fallen, there was again a desire to draw the international spotlight away from developments in the Indian Ocean that had dangerous parallels to the events in the south Atlantic during 1982.
The nasty little war off the coast of Argentina had shown how deeply ingrained jingoism (reminiscent of the late 19th century) together with a vicious streak of racism, was in British society, however much the propaganda of the times tried to make out that there was a matter of principle at stake.
This was clearly demonstrated when the inhabitants of Diego Garcia, one of the Chagos Islands, a collection of some of the most remote islands on the planet, demanded a similar response from the British government as the ‘Falklanders’ had received. The Diego Garcians had been thrown off their land to make way for an US naval and air base and they wanted to go home.
But they were in a hiding to nothing. If most of the British population didn’t know where the Malvinas were before April 1982 (many thinking that Argentina had invaded the Scottish Isles!) most of them wouldn’t even had been able to say Diego Garcia let alone point to the globe and say where it was located. Another problem the Diego Garcians faced was that they were not white.
Even so the British and the Americans considered the parallels far too close and so concocted a ‘crisis’ in the Caribbean, about as far geographically away from the Chagos as it was possible to find.
Internal conflicts within the New Jewel Movement, initially led by Maurice Bishop, was declared so serious that the US had to invade the tiny island country ‘to safeguard the lives’ of a handful of US nationals at a college near the capital of St George.
Twelve thousand US troops were sent as part of a battle force to the island famous for its nutmegs. Grenada was, and still is, a member of the Commonwealth but Thatcher considered herself so indebted to the ‘B’ movie actor/president Reagan after the Malvinas invasion that this breach of international protocol was allowed.
To my shame I had forgotten all about this (yet another) betrayal by perfidious Albion but was forcefully reminded of the issue when I started talking to people in the rum shacks I visited during my short stay on Grenada.
February 19th is election day in Grenada and it doesn’t take a lot to start off a heated conversation about the merits of the 2 principal political contenders. And it wasn’t too long after participating in, or just listening to, these debates over cups of the 84% proof rum that I realised that the events of 30 years ago still colour the Grenadian political environment.
Those supporting the present party in power, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), are on the left and still have respect for Maurice Bishop, who was killed during the inner party struggle, and still angry about the US invasion. (The actual details of why the situation developed to such a state that the American imperialists were able to get away with their invasion are too complex to go into here and, to tell the truth, I still don’t fully understand why things got so far out of hand.)
In Grenada the population still has some (I consider, misguided) trust in the so-called democratic process and in the run up to the election issues and the prospective merits of the parties get discussed. Compare that with the UK during the last General Election when any visitor could have been excused if they didn’t know it was taking place.
The issues facing Grenadians are similar to those in most countries. The crash of 2008 is still having its effect (it is noticeable how quiet the tourist areas are in all the islands I have visited, considering that this is the height of the season) and as in other parts of the world the answer, of some, is the wholesale privatisation of the nations resources. This is the policy of the main opposition party, the New National Party (NND).
More than two weeks before the election there have been groups of people sporting the colours of their party (yellow for the NDC and green for the NNP). This month also sees the anniversary of independence from British colonial rule. The overwhelming theme of the slogans celebrating independence is the idea of one nation, all in it together (a sentiment that is expressed in the UK but without this really becoming a reality). Is this being stated as there might be a fear that the result of the elections could cause disturbances?
Talking to the locals they say that the outcome is by no means clear. The outgoing government has not lived up to its promises and there might be a change for the sake of it. How this will affect the lives of the people on this idyllic Caribbean island could be interesting to monitor in the coming weeks and months.