Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Grenada: Recent Turmoil - by Gary

The historical trajectory of this tiny island nation is for the most part pretty familiar turf; it goes something like this:
  • The indigenous locals (Caribs) are wiped out early.
  • A colonial power (France) sets up highly profitable plantations using African slave labour.
  • Another colonial power (England) contests ownership of the island and eventually wins.
  • Slavery is abolished – and replaced with indentured Indian workers (same system – different name).
  • The bottom drops out of the price of many plantation products while the price of labour continues to increase – the plantation era draws to a close and white elites gradually abandon ship.
  • Independence is granted (England is too broke to prop the country up any more).
  • The country lacks political maturity and early attempts to implement a constitutional democracy are met with only moderate success.

So it was that with the granting of full independence in 1974 Grenada’s first home grown prime minister, Eric Gairy was elected to office.  Initially joyfully embraced by the general population, unfortunately he gradually transmogrified in to an eccentric allegedly vote rigging bully boy, surrounding himself with a thuggish police force.

It is around this point in its history that the island nation of Grenada takes a very interesting turn. Like many emerging third world nations it was a fertile field for the germination of the seeds of socialism and the ideals of the Black Power movement.  So it was that in 1979 Gairy’s elected government was toppled in a bloodless coup by the Peoples Revolutionary Government under the leadership of moderate Maurice Bishop.

With Cuban and some limited Russian support Bishop achieved amazing results for his country.  He dramatically improved education standards, improved the productivity of agriculture, reduced unemployment, introduced a universal health care system and dramatically improved economic performance.  Meanwhile the staunchly anti-communist West, and the US in particular, looked on with unabashed disapproval.

However by 1983 Bishop’s socialist government started to unravel, torn by internal dissent.  A coup, lead by the deputy prime minister, toppled Bishop placing him under house arrest.  But Bishop enjoyed popular support, and demonstrations around the island culminated in a protesting mob releasing him.  The regime struck back; soldiers recaptured Bishop and he, along with at least 7 other key supporters, was executed.  Meanwhile soldiers opened fire on street protestors - nobody really knows how many were killed.  A total curfew was instituted; anybody leaving their house without authorization was liable to be shot on sight.

The US administration, long concerned about the rise of socialism in the Caribbean, and particularly concerned about the communist hardliners now assuming control in Granada, took advantage of the situation to act quickly and decisively.  Thus in one of the more astonishing displays of US foreign policy President Ronald Reagan ordered a military invasion of Grenada to restore democracy.  On October 25 1983, just six days after the coup, operation Urgent Fury was unleashed upon the unsuspecting islanders with the arrival of thousands of US troops.  The UN General Assembly, in a vote of 108 to 9 with 27 abstentions, declared it “a flagrant violation of international law”.  Wow!

Post invasion, with the resumption of a somewhat corrupt but US acceptable parliamentary democracy, island life returned to something like normal.  Then in September 2004, after almost 50 hurricane free years Hurricane Ivan struck the island damaging/destroying around 90% of homes, many churches and many public buildings including parliament house, along with a similar percentage of the island’s nutmeg trees.  Hurricane Emily came ashore just 10 months later causing more severe damage.  The combined impact of these storms has been a body-blow to the nation’s economy.

Notwithstanding all this recent turmoil, the capital of St George is a friendly, vibrant town, 
still retaining colonial influences.

Many colonial buildings survive in the small towns of Grenada.

One of the most successful Grenadian plantation products is nutmeg, introduced from Indonesia in 1847.

The processing sheds look little different today.  Nutmeg, pre-hurricane, accounted for 40% of the value of all exports – it is steadily recovering again. Tourism and a US medical campus are the other major industries.

Fishing is an important industry in the coastal towns.

Perhaps all these troubles explains the strength of community still prevalent in the small towns.

Locals love ‘liming’, hanging out with friends relaxing and chatting.  It’s so popular a local mobile phone network provider has adopted the term as their brand name.

Playing the steel pan is part of the national school curriculum.

In short the national identity is still strong and vibrant.

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