By Lincoln Depradine
Three decades have passed and much of the truth about exactly what happened in Grenada in 1983 – on October 19 and in the period leading up to October 25 – remains fuzzy and riddled in controversy and dispute.
It could be reasonably argued that truth, under the circumstances of 1983, may depend on where the conveyer of truth was situated and the experience of the individual and his and her family.
In the past 30 years, enmity has developed, friendships developed or broken, over people’s positions – praising, condemning or indifferent – of what happened on October 25 when foreign troops landed on Grenada’s shores.
For the Americans, they call it an invasion. Grenadians’ reference swings from invasion, to intervention, to rescue mission.
The more creative coined new descriptors, such as “intervasion’’ and “rescuvasion’’.
For some people, not just in Grenada but also worldwide, there is no greater violation of sovereignty than the invasion of your country by a foreign force, especially by a nation of people who are predominantly of a different race and culture. It offends the sense of independence.
This, they would argue, is not to quarrel with the majority of Grenadians who may have wanted or welcomed the 1983 invasion.
But, they invite their detractors to ask an invading nation if they would like another nation invading their own country, and they say it’s guaranteed that the answer will be a resounding, “no’’.
Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, some members of his cabinet, and other Grenadians, were killed when soldiers of the People’s Revolutionary Amery stormed Fort Rupert – now Fort George – on October 19, 1983.
I’m not sure if a determination has been made of the exact death toll from the October 19 incident on the fort.
What is questionable, though, are the reports that “hundreds’’ had died. Even a number of 100 killed seems farfethched; 100 translates to 0.001 percent of Grenada’s population of 100,000.
That 0.001 percent is equivalent to the deaths of 1,000 of Trinidad’s estimated population of 1 million; 250 in Barbados; 2,500 in Jamaica; and 380,000 in a US population of 380 million.
The remains of deceased are also a sore issue. The only thing that has been established beyond dispute is that the bodies were buried in mass graves.
The 17 army and government officials convicted in the October 19 killings swear they do not know where the bodies were taken after the remains were unearthed by the invading forces.
Earlier this year, at an Anglican Church function of some ex-prisoners and family of the victims, one family member said that after the invasion, US soldiers took her to a grave site in the south of the island where the bodies were buried. At the time, she said, the 17 were already arrested and in jail.
Now, to the invasion; was it an invasion by invitation or an invasion by coercion?
Sir Paul Scoon, former Governor General, was a grand statesman that had earned my respect and that of many Grenadians. He died last month at 78. May his soul rest in peace.
However, I have never believed the story that Sir Paul, with the solid backing of the late Dominica Prime Minister, Dame Eugenia Charles, “invited’’ US President Ronald Reagan to intervene in Grenada’s crazy political mess to rescue hapless Grenadians. Somewhere, in all the confusion, it also turned into a mission to rescue American students at St George’s University….although, ironically, American students at SGU were the safest people in all of Grenada. The records show that visits were made to the university’s chancellor, assuring him and reassuring him that the army in control of the island was committed to ensuring not a single American is hurt.
But, let’s get back to the supposed “invitation’’ to then President Reagan. To believe that story, first meant trying to figure out how the invitation from Sir Paul to the US leader was extended – by phone, telex, e-mail, snail-mail or what. The whole country was on lock down. And that included Governor General Scoon.
Second, one would have to believe that the US was sitting around, minding its own business, unaware of Grenada, with no interest in a little Third World country in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, when this urgent invitation to “intervade’’ arrived at the White House.
It was followed shortly afterwards by a visit to Washington by PM Charles, who prodded and cajoled a reluctant USA into doing something about the Grenada situation.
Are we to believe, therefore, that it is likely the US could have rejected the desperate pleadings of Sir Paul and Dame Eugenia?
Most honest, sensible, rationale people in the US and Grenada agree that invitation or no invitation, ready or not, the United States was going to use the breakdown of law and order in Grenada to move in and crush the so-called Commies that had overthrown Eric Gairy in 1979 and had established close ties with America’s cold war enemies, such as Cuba and the former Soviet Union.
Sir Paul and Dame Eugenia were useful in the public relations components of the invasion; portraying an unwilling United States – the most powerful national on earth – as being prodded into invading a tiny island-state many miles away from the nearest US coastline.
One of President Reagan’s best friends and an ideological ally was the late Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Britain.
In her memoirs that were released in Britain in August, Thatcher gives an insight into Reagan’s thinking and her feelings on the Grenada invasion.
Reagan framed it not as an invitation from Sir Paul but as a request for military action in Grenada from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
“At 7.15 in the evening of Monday, 24th October, I received a message from President Reagan while I was hosting a reception at Downing Street. The President wrote that he was giving serious consideration to the OECS request for military action,’’ Thatcher writes in her memoir. “He asked for my thoughts and advice. I was strongly against intervention.’’
Later, according to Thatcher, another message arrived from Reagan in which he stated that he had decided to “respond positively to the request for military action”.
Thatcher frowned on the US decision, saying the American action “will be seen as intervention by a Western country in the internal affairs of a small independent nation, however unattractive its regime’’.
Further, writes Thatcher, the US President’s decision “causes us the gravest concern”, and she claims that Sir Paul – the GG and the Queen’s representative in Grenada – had told a British official that if there were an intervention, “he would probably be killed.”
Another revelation from Thatcher’s memoirs was the determination by Thatcher’s foreign policy adviser, Anthony Parsons, that “it is becoming increasingly obvious that” the United States “had been planning the Grenada move for some time”.
If Parsons is right, it is only reasonable to conclude that there was no invitation, nor was one needed, for the invasion, rescue mission, intervention, “intervasion’’, or “rescuvasion’’ of Grenada on October 25, 1983.
To get to the complete truth of 1983, there must not only be a telling of the events but Grenadians themselves also must commit their experiences to paper, especially in authoring books.
Through cross references and the comparing of notes and information, we may reach a convergence of truths and facts.
Documentation is also important in educating future generations about their country’s history, and possibly avoiding a repeat of tragic mistakes of the past.
This article was first published in the Grenada newspaper, Caribupdate Weekly. Lincoln Depradine is a Grenada-born, Toronto-based journalist