International Journal, Vol. XL No.2, Spring 1985, p.377
Canadian Institute of International Affairs

Review article

The Caribbean after Grenada

Bob Thomson

Independent researcher and consultant at present writing a book on the banana industry in the eastern Caribbean for the Latin American Bureau; field representative in eastern Caribbean, Canadian University Service Overseas, 1976-79.

- The International Crisis in the Caribbean by Anthony Payne (London: Croom Helm/Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1984, £14.95 $18.50)
- Grenada: Revolution and Invasion by Anthony Payne, Paul Sutton, and Tony Thorndike (London: Croom Helm, 1984, 233pp, £17.95)
- Grenada: Whose Freedom (London: Latin America Bureau, 1984, 128pp, £2.95)

Caribbeana has become a growth industry in the wake of the United States invasion of Grenada. The veritable explosion of analysis, speculation, and general academic interest in the area has produced a good deal of decent material which would have been ignored or never have appeared were it not for the tragic events of October 1983.

The three books reviewed here are but the tip of an iceberg; yet they provide a good basis for examining the events leading up to the United States invasion, the current situation in Grenada, and the implications of both for future development in the wider Caribbean. All three look upon Grenada from a perspective sympathetic to the Grenadian revolution and attempt to draw lessons from the internal collapse of the New Jewel Movement (NJM), as well as to explain and elaborate upon the many factors, both internal and external, which influenced and limited that revolution. The first two books are more academic in tone and tend to emphasize the political factors governing the geopolitics of the Caribbean as a whole, while the Latin America Bureau has adopted an approach which is more openly in solidarity with the revolution while still critical of both external and internal actors.

Anthony .Payne provides a very useful introduction to the complexities of foreign policy in the broader Caribbean, and his small volume may well become required reading for any beginning study of regional foreign policy. He covers the roles of the United States and of the old colonial powers (Britain, France, and the Netherlands), the Latin American connection, and the reactions of regional territories themselves. While the book is mostly a descriptive overview and therefore somewhat limited, the author has been able to convey an ample impression of the myriad factors and national interests which impinge upon Caribbean diplomacy. This is particularly useful with respect to the role of Latin American actors, such as Venezuela, Mexico, and Cuba, which is often ignored in deference to the two superpowers' interests. In the case of Cuba, Mr Payne points out the degree to which its interests and actions in the region are sufficiently different from those of the Soviet Union to merit consideration on their own and much more careful study than the Reagan administration in Washington would care to admit.

Canadian readers may be disappointed with Mr Payne's lack of reference to their country's role in the region, although perhaps this is another particular lesson to be absorbed in the wake of the United States invasion. While the Department of External Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency (cIDA) have long touted Canada's special, non-colonial relationship with the Commonwealth Caribbean, this link seems to be more a product of the bureaucracy's desire to claim a sphere of interest, no matter how small, than the conclusion to be drawn from any objective appraisal of important Canadian trade, aid, and humanitarian Interests. While not insignificant, Canada's role in the region may be safely placed alongside those of the middle Latin American powers, Venezuela and Mexico, and less important than that of Cuba which has major interests in its own right as a Caribbean nation as well as a disproportionate influence by virtue of its being a foil to the United States, by far the most important actor in the region.

The events of October 1983 were a watershed in Caribbean affairs and can be analyzed from several perspectives: the character of the Grenadian revolution, the role of the New Jewel Movement and its internal dynamics and ideology, the United States invasion and occupation, and the implications of these events for the entire Caribbean in the longer term.

With respect to the character of the Grenadian revolution, both Payne, Sutton, and Thorndike and the Latin America Bureau devote some 25 pages to a description of just what was happening in Grenada from 13 March 1979 to October 1983, as well as additional brief introductions to pre-revolutionary history and to the regime of Eric Gairy, which in many ways spawned the revolution by its corruption and repression. Here, useful outlines of the economic, social, and political achievements of the NJM are duly catalogued with slightly different approaches. The Payne, Sutton, and Thorndike volume provides a summary of economic statistics, projects, and other data a Ia World Bank, as well as a description of 'people's power,' the complex mechanism of political consultation through parish, zonal, and village councils and mass organizations of women, youth, and workers. They also present a helpful three-page economic analysis of the international airport project and its relationship to the tourist industry. This is a discussion missed by others who tend to focus on the non-military nature of the project and the Reagan administration's distortion of its strategic significance as a card in the propaganda war it waged with the NJM.

Both volumes touch briefly on criticisms of the NJM and the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG) for their treatment of political prisoners, the media, and elections. Both stress that human rights violations, although real and in some cases unjustified, were not major problems. At one point the Latin America Bureau book attempts a rather weak rationalization for such occurrences by claiming that formal rights generally protect only the most privileged sectors of society and that it is easier to raise moral objections than to stipulate alternatives which balance authority and true freedoms based on something other than economic power. It is this type of rationalization that Clive Thomas of the University of Guyana attacked in a speech at Queen's University in May 1984 (reprinted in the September 1984 Caribbean Contact), charging that democracy must be a key issue in socialist transformation and that progressive intellectuals do the revolution a disservice by acting solely as 'cheerleaders' in the name of solidarity and not playing a constructively critical and creative role as well.

One criticism which I would offer of these works is in their presentation of pre-revolutionary history. While covering the legacies of slavery and colonialism well in the brief space allowed, these authors, as well as most others, have failed adequately to apply to modern politics their analysis of the political and economic forces generated by this history. The tendency has been to stress the drain on the economy by external forces, without thoroughly reviewing the internal balance of forces which provides the main dynamic for local politics today. Further study is needed of the weakness of class identity and development generated by colonialism and neocolonialism in peripheral capitalist societies. Neither local capital, which is obstructed by transnational capital, nor peasants, nor workers have been able to develop any sort of autonomous economic base to defend their interests, thus creating a fractionalization of forces under which no one class can dominate the society on the strength of its own resources. In this situation, the modern state plays a key role in tipping the political balance, thus explaining in great part the 'coup/counter coup' syndrome so prevalent in the Third World today in which competing classes, most often rival factions of the petty bourgeoisie, struggle for domination using the various mechanisms of the state. Clive Thomas provides a useful review of these ideas in his recent Monthly Review book, The Rise of the Authoritarian State in Peripheral Societies.

A more graphic example of this failure could hardly be found than the inability of the Coard faction of the NJM to recognize or at least pay enough attention to the internal opposi tion to its centralist strategy. Mr Coard's orthodox theory failed to give due weight to domestic class structures and awareness, in deference to the rhetoric of anti-imperialism and a rigid, some say infantile, Leninist interpretation of the vanguard party. The majority of the population, which was obviously not prepared to accept this approach yet, was ignored. Here the analysis provided by these books on the role of the NJM as a socialist party is an important contribution to our understanding of these events.

Both the Payne, Sutton, and Thorndike and Latin America Bureau volumes rely heavily on a synthesis of the minutes of the NJM Central Committee released by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to cover this important area. It would appear that these documents, despite their source, are largely unaltered and have been confirmed as substantially authentic by independent interviews with some of the actors in the drama of October 1983. The synthesis of the Latin America Bureau is somewhat broader and attempts to place this information in the framework of the major issues at stake, while Payne, Sutton, and Thorndike have presented a rather detailed account of who said what to whom and when. Indeed, their presentation becomes so detailed that the impression is given of a definitive account of the events which no other author or even direct actor has claimed to be able to provide to date. Given the confusion surrounding the crucial events at Fort Rupert, where Maurice Bishop and his colleagues were murdered, the majority of observers have been purposely indefinite with respect to many details, contending that only an open and fair trial or enquiry, including the testimony of the Coards, would enable a piecing together of a complete picture of the key events and issues.

At issue were the party's concerns about the stagnation of the revolution, which stemmed in part from objective factors such as the economy. The near completion of the international airport (and a consequent reduction of capital inflow), low international prices for nutmeg and cocoa, and a slackening in tourist arrivals had resulted in a slowdown in the economy. In addition, the PRG had reached the limits of savings possible from the elimination of the corruption of the Gairy regime and from an improved administration of the state. There were more subjective concerns as well, however. The party was small in number and the physical toll of hard work and organization was having an effect on the health of key individuals as well as creating frustration among many who were asked to work fourteen-hour days, six or seven days a week, and continued to have new party, civic, and government tasks piled on in addition to demands that they meet strict 'Leninist' standards in internal evaluations of their work. Exhaustion was common, and NJM activity and contacts with the people through the mass organizations were falling off and becoming less sensitive.

It was these problems that the party attempted to address over the summer of 1983 and which led to the proposal in mid-September that Messrs Bishop and Coard became joint leaders of the party, with Bernard Coard responsible for organization and chairing the Political Bureau, and Maurice Bishop responsible for representing the revolution and chairing the Central Committee. There were indications that the proposal for joint leadership had been discussed by many in the Central Committee prior to the 14-16 September meeting at which it was raised for the first time with Mr Bishop. The majority of the committee seemed to accept that it had a certain logic, although George Louison objected strenuously that, whatever the scheme's merits in dealing with the weaknesses and strengths of the two men and the party's overall situation, it would be extremely difficult in practice to have two equal leaders and to co-ordinate their actions and decisions. Mr Bishop himself seemed to have doubts which centred around the danger of such a decision being interpreted by the public as a split in the party if word of it got out.

Bernard Coard had resigned from the Central Committee in September 1982 claiming that it relied on him too much and that he was tired of constantly having to play the role of critic. Because of his considerable managerial skills, it is not difficult to see how he would conceptualize a technocratic solution to the problems of the revolution and justify this within a theoretical framework of greater centralized and state control. Undoubtedly he felt enormously frustrated and impatient in attempting to change the society against great odds with only a small group of highly motivated but nevertheless human activists. The temptation to believe in a fixed science of organization which could relieve these frustrations must have been considerable.

While these accounts of the events of the summer of 1983 are useful and even crucial, there remains a nagging doubt, in my mind at least, about their completeness. The perspective of Maurice Bishop is notably absent from most of these documents, either because he failed to express it in any detail at those meetings, or because it was not recorded adequately by whoever was taking the minutes. In retrospect, a number of people, notably Tim Hector of Antigua, have attempted to provide an ideological basis for Mr Bishop's opposition to the dominant Central Committee proposal for joint leadership of the party, accusing the latter of Stalinism or naive vanguardism and praising Bishop's allegiance to the masses over the party.

What does seem clear is that the majority of the party favoured a rigid and immature application of 'democratic centralism' in demanding Mr Bishop's acceptance of the will of the majority. The Marxist-Leninist tenet of a vanguard party and cadres was accepted by the majority in an idealistic attempt to improve political organization and thus salvage what was seen as a degeneration of the revolution. In attempting this, however, Mr Bishop was placed in the position of either accepting the rule of an immature party dominated by Mr Coard's impatient attempts to exert state control, or being accused of 'one-manism' and a personal, petty bourgeois desire for the status quo. In actual fact, in losing the majority of the party to Mr Coard's perspective, Mr Bishop was forced to choose between a utopian reliance on the 'will of the masses' over the organizational base of the party or a reversion to support from the petty bourgeoisie and a non-revolutionary national 'revolution'.

Realizing that Mr Coard's concept of Soviet-style state control would never be accepted by the people, but unable to convince the party to be more flexible and pragmatic, Mr Bishop dithered. The arrest of Mr Bishop and the rigid, false dichotomy of 'true socialism' versus 'one-manism' became a self-fulfilling rationale for subsequent events. The possibility of some pragmatic amalgam of the party and the masses seems never to have been put on the table, and the discussion degenerated into immature personality clashes.

The United States invasion which followed quickly in the wake of the internal break-up of the NJM changed the geopolitical balance in the Caribbean dramatically. In one stroke, the United States became virtually the only dominant power, supplanting whatever remnants there were of European colonialism, Latin American nationalism, Cuban 'expansionism,' and, in the eyes of many observers, including the authors of these books, even the very sovereignty of Grenada and many other small nations in the region. Both Payne, Sutton, and Thorndike and the Latin America Bureau detail for us the events and controversy surrounding the invasion and the Caribbean and international reaction to it.

One of the greatest losses in the decision to invade was the psychological independence which Grenada had begun to instil in the people of the region. In acquiescing to a United States invasion, rather than waiting for a CARICOM blockade and complete lack of internal support to bring the Revolutionary Military Council (RMc) down, the leaders of the tiny Organization of East Caribbean States relinquished a large measure of their own sovereignty along with that of Grenada. While brief civil conflict could have erupted since both sides of the NJM possessed weapons, the RMC had indicated through several local and regional contacts that they were prepared to step down in favour of a broadly based civilian government. The value of these books, albeit primarily historical and in hindsight, is their exposure in considerable detail of the alternatives to invasion which existed. Many of these were recognized at the time, even by Mr Reagan's colleague on the right, Mrs Thatcher, but were covered over by deliberate misinformation and, within Grenada, by what could only be described as hysteria provoked by the events themselves and compounded by American manipulation.

In addition to destroying its image as a moral and lawabiding state in international relations, the United States has proceeded to militarize the Caribbean and the governments which supported its actions, thereby creating the environment for force, rather than diplomacy, to become a major mechanism for resolution of conflict in the region. While these volumes allude to this militarization, they were published too early in 1984, in the heat of the events as it were, to be able to reflect much upon its implications. Tom Adams, the late prime minister of Barbados, is cited by Payne, Sutton, and Thorndike as justifying a regional defence force to protect their small governments against their own armed forces. However, Mr Adams neglects to mention the corollary so well learned in the Latin American 'national security' model; who will protect the people from a government which the army supports if it becomes unrepresentative?

Also missed because these volumes were published so soon after the events of October 1983 is a review of the current situation in Grenada and in the wider Caribbean. Grenada now faces a considerable increase in unemployment, compounded by unprecedented levels of prostitution and hard drug abuse as a consequence of the presence of foreign troops. The completion of far from perfect elections and the confirmation of a second term in office for President Reagan add new dimensions to the post-October 1983 events.

Already the focus of world attention has shifted to Central America and Afghanistan, and we may have to wait some time before such a great quantity of information and analysis is brought before as wide an audience as this explosion of Caribbeana has permitted. Our newspapers have already forgotten Grenada and did not even bother to present a rudimentary analysis of the election results and the internal divisions in the New National party the party now in power which will play an important role in the future politics of that troubled island.

Meanwhile, small groups of Caribbean scholars, nongovernmental organizations, and resource centres have gained a useful body of literature on the Grenadian revolution, and it is to be hoped that they will be encouraged to continue their work and that the region will be slightly less ignored in the study of international relations.