Grenada: 30 Years Later

Barrington M. Salmon | 10/30/2013, 3 p.m.
The late Maurice Bishop, prime minister of Grenada, led a coup in 1979 in an attempt to change the social and economic fortunes of the tiny island nation. Nancy Shia

“Ambition. Coard always wanted to be prime minister,” he said. “It was jealousy and all those base human emotions and when you have those kinds of negative emotions, you can become very irrational. They figured they’d kill him and hold on to control of the government. They took the most extreme measures.”

Hassan said she and her children were among the throng who marched to free Bishop.

“For them, they got the best history lesson in the world. They witnessed history, saw it up close,” she said of her children. “I took my kids with me, saw two people who I know and asked them to keep an eye on them. We got separated and got swept up in this. Taking them was not a wise thing because something dangerous could have happened. They could have gotten trampled. Word of mouth got people to go to free Bishop. Children were in school uniforms.”

Events that day unfolded pretty quickly, said Hassan, and Rojas characterized what happened as pandemonium after the soldiers assassinated Bishop.

President Ronald Reagan had become increasingly concerned about what was happening in Grenada and Bishop’s murder provided him with the pretext to destroy the revolution. Mark Zepezauer in the article, Grenada, from the book, The CIA’s Greatest Hits, said the Reagan administration began planning the invasion two years before it occurred. The Caribbean and Latin America were considered America’s backyard and Reagan wasn’t about to allow socialism or communism to flourish at America’s doorstep.

“Bishop's mildly socialist program (private enterprise left unmolested, but free health care, school lunches, etc.) was the final straw,” Zepezauer said. “Before long, a CIA propaganda campaign was portraying Grenada as a terrorist state allied to the Soviet Union, its 100,000 inhabitants armed to the teeth and poised to attack the pitifully vulnerable U.S.”

“ … CIA acts of sabotage proliferated. Money was given to opposition politicians and neighboring armies. Finally, in late 1983, Bishop was overthrown by extremists in his own party and executed, and the U.S. invasion began. CIA agents among the "hostages" helped coordinate the three-day war over shortwave radio.”

At the time, several historians and political analysts said, Reagan sought the opportunity to re-energize a country demoralized by an attack against a Marine barracks in Lebanon which killed 241 servicemen; Vietnam; the humiliation of the Iran hostage crisis; and challenges by “Marxist-led insurgents [who] had seized power in Nicaragua and were ascendant in El Salvador and Guatemala.”

“We always had a suspicion that the U.S. would find a way to overthrow the government,” Rojas said. “From the time Reagan came to power, he orchestrated a campaign to isolate, and destroy the Bishop government economically, socially, and politically – we were under a lot of pressure.”

“The U.S. military had carried out exercises called Operation Fury off the coast of Vieques. They were just waiting. Coard and Austin provided the U.S. with a pretext to engage. American medical students being in danger is BS. While all Grenadians were locked up [indoors], students were walking on the beach. The U.S. put an end to the revolution once and for all.”

Yet both Rojas and Hassan say Bishop’s considerable contributions can’t be denied.

“Thirty years later, the legacy is still alive,” Rojas said. “[People] remember him with warmth and love. It was a time of great excitement and hope. For the first time, people thought they were getting involved in building their country.”