I don’t think that I am alone when I say that I had never heard of Grenada before. Like many other Americans I confused the Caribbean island with Granada in Spain. I think it is pretty safe to say that most people from my generation have never heard of Grenada. When we think of the Caribbean we think of Jamaica, Bahamas, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. However, if you mention Grenada to someone a little older you might get a response along the lines of, “Oh yea, we invaded Grenada during the cold war.” Even more shocking to me is that Clint Eastwood directed, produced and starred in Heartbreak Ridge, a fictionalized account of the invasion.
Grenada’s tumultuous history stands in stark contrast to the safe and peaceful Grenada of today. Grenada experienced a great deal of strife throughout its colonial history. For example, the French and English fought intense battles over the island during the seven years war, there was a bloody slave rebellion which was nearly successful under the leadership of Julien Fedon as well as destructive rioting as Grenadians fought for better working conditions and independence from British rule. Grenada eventually achieved independence under the leadership of Eric Gairy who went on to become Grenada’s first Prime Minister.
Opposition groups who opposed Eric Gairy, under the leadership of revolutionary Maurice Bishop, staged an attack and took control of the government. Maurice Bishop enjoyed widespread support among the Grenadian people, but often clashed with other leaders of the revolutionary movement who wanted Grenada to follow a strict communist ideology. His opponents attempted to remove Bishop by placing him under house arrest, however he was eventually able to free himself. Shortly after Bishop was freed a military group captured and executed him along with seven other supporters. A man named Hudson Austin named himself dictator and declared martial law over Grenada.
The United States, worried about another Caribbean country aligning itself with the Soviet Union, launched an invasion in conjunction with other Caribbean forces. Fighting lasted for about two months, 19 US soldiers died and 45 Grenadian soldiers as well as 25 cuban soldiers were killed. The United States invaded Grenada because they did not want another communist country so close to American soil. Ronald Reagan claimed that the new airport that was being built in Grenada had the ability to handle heavy bombers from the Soviet Union. The United States also stated that leaders from nearby Caribbean countries, worried that a communist revolution might occur on their island, requested American support in toppling the revolutionary government in Grenada.
Grenadians generally seem grateful for the American led military operations in Grenada. It is widely accepted that the situation deteriorated rapidly after the execution of Maurice Bishop and that the US led intervention (or invasion) was necessary so as to prevent a downward spiral into chaos. There are, however, many Grenadians who still hold socialist or communist ideals in high regard. On more than one occassion I have heard older Grenadians discussing how life would be better for the common man if Grenada had been allowed to continue down the path of communism. It is fairly common to hear government officials use language dating back to the revolutionary days. Government officials almost always end their speeches with the Maurice Bishop quote, “Forward Ever, Backswards Never.”
At first glance Grenada seems like a sleepy Caribbean nation with world class beaches, tropical fruits and delicious chocolate. After living here for over a year and a half I learned that there is much more to any country than what you see as a tourist. Grenada has had a rich history that goes beyond what any visitor experiences. Grenadians are proud of their history, whether it is Fedon’s slave rebellion, the labor and independence movement, or the revolutionary period. As a Peace Corps volunteer I try to share this history with as many people as possible.