(Ah, my own podium. Warning, I've waited years for this! )
Few people in the US (or the rest of the world?) have a good understanding of the events surrounding the October 1983 U.S. "intervention" in Grenada. Therefore, most folks have a poor impression of those events, because that's what the press reported. Now get me right, I usually vote Democrat, so I have no particular love of then President Ronald Reagan, his policies, U.S. imperialism or U.S. expansionism, but hear me out because the press gave all of us the wrong impression.
We had visited Grenada several times before the U.S. came in, and were always impressed by the Grenadians. While walking around other Caribbean islands, we'd often hear "Hey skip, gimmie a dolla'." In Grenada it was more often "Hey skip, you got anyt'ing needs work on you' boat?" For me, there was a big difference. Grenadians, as individuals, were willing to work for their money.
But in truth, Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was definitely a protégé of Castro. There were lots of signs around the island saying things like "Buy Grenada" and "Work hard to build a strong Grenada" and women driving tractors or fishing boats, and other things that we associate with Communist rhetoric. But these concepts, taken by themselves, are not bad for an emerging nation, and the treasury that Bishop took over was flat broke. The (very corrupt) previous administration had sucked it dry (see the Grenada history section). So when Castro offered to build Grenada a modern airport, Bishop jumped at it.
How these 2 concepts - wanting to work to get ahead, and the communist government - could coexist in Grenada at the same time is still a mystery to me. I've talked to lots of folks in Grenada to try to understand this, but I haven't yet come up with an answer I can explain easily. As near as I can tell, Grenada was (and is) full of friendly, poor, rising young entrepreneurial capitalists. Perhaps the local folks may not really have understood that Communism means that nobody gets ahead.
By the way, most ex-British islands down here experimented with Communist and/or Socialist governments at one time or another shortly after their independence. I remember not being able to import a Radio-Shack floppy disk drive (of all things) into St. Lucia because the equipment was considered too hi-tech for that government then, and the U.S. had slapped import restrictions on them!
Another strange thing was that we never saw any Cubans on Grenada, even though we visited the island and traveled all over it several times back then. Apparently, they kept to their own "compound". The only sign of the Cubans we perceived was actually quite funny. One day the Cuban embassy called the Grenada Coast Guard on the marine VHF radio, and we shamelessly listened in. The embassy operator was full of comrade this and comrade that, and it soon became evident that the Grenada Coast Guard had never "comrade-ed" anyone in their lives! It was hysterical listening to them try and hearing them mess it up and trip all over their tongues.
One of the things that didn't make it into the U.S. press was that most of the other ex-British Caribbean islands were a bit concerned about the Cubans. It was hoped that they'd build the airport and leave. I even heard that sentiment on Grenada. That doesn't seem to agree with the official party line, but Grenada was poor and largely uneducated, and as I've said before, I suspect the common folks didn't really understand Communism, especially the mild form practiced by Bishop. They just wanted the government to provide schools and hospitals for them, and Bishop did a commendable job of that.
But what really annoyed me was that the U.S. press (and presumably the world press as well) completely ignored the fact that every one of the East Caribbean nations was so glad that the U.S. finally got off their butts and did something about the Cubans! All up and down the islands, people were wearing black armbands in solidarity with the U.S. and with Bishop (who had been murdered, along with much of his cabinet, by radical members of his own party).
Here the U.S. finally does something right, and the press ignores that crucial fact! At the time, much of the press was working out of the living room of a friend of mine, and he said that literally hundreds of reports would come in every day applauding the U.S. actions, but the press ignored them because "happy news isn't news". Instead, the press would focus on the one derogatory report that would inevitably come in with all the good ones.
Incidentally, I heard that then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher came unglued at the time because the U.S. didn't tell her that they were going in, when in fact, they probably told too many people. Something leaked and the Cubans beat their plowshares back into AK47s and the US lost something like 70 good soldiers.
When we returned to Grenada, just before Christmas '83, the combat was effectively over. U.S. soldiers were handing out Christmas toys to the children of Grenada, who absolutely loved them. "God Bless America" was painted by the locals on walls, on the billboards, even right on the roads wherever we went. At the time, we were exploring with cruising friends Steve and Jan Reed. Now, Steve is an ex-Marine Corps helicopter pilot. Although currently inactive, he'd served in Vietnam and seen more than he'll talk about. One day we were walking down the street when an old woman came running out of her shack, fell to her knees at Steve's feet, and started embracing him and telling him how glad she was that the U.S. had arrived. She was so effusive in her praise of the U.S. that she got Steve crying with her, right there in the middle of the street. Powerful stuff.
America takes a lot of heat for poor foreign policy. Some of that is probably justified, but not all. It bugs me that the press had the overwhelming opportunity to report something good, and it decided to focus instead on the minute quantity of negative. The actions and feelings of the people down here were not accurately reported, to America's detriment. The press should be ashamed of themselves.
OK, I feel better now -- I'll get down off my soapbox. But I can't help wondering -
How many other times have the press misled us?
How is the press misleading us now?
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