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It is almost 20 years ago that the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada briefly occupied the world stage with images of invading marines and celebrating islanders. But as 6,000 US troops took possession of an island of fewer than 100,000 people in October 1983, there was confusion as to where the action was actually taking place. Viewers of Soviet television news bulletins were disconcerted to learn that American forces had invaded southern Spain and taken the Andalucian city of Granada.

Grenada's emergence from international obscurity was the culmination of four turbulent years of revolution and social experimentation. The New Jewel Movement, a group of young radicals, had ousted the dictatorial Eric Gairy in March 1979 and introduced long-overdue reforms for the island's impoverished majority. The revolutionary government, and especially its charismatic leader Maurice Bishop, won support at home and abroad, but the US viewed developments, particularly an alignment with Cuba, with deep suspicion. In the end, the revolution imploded in factional in-fighting, Bishop and several supporters were murdered and a short-lived and hated military council was swept away by the marines.

Today, those traumatic events still haunt this beautiful island. Bishop's body has never been found, while his killers, their death sentences commuted, languish in a jail high above the picturesque capital of St George's. No real reconciliation has taken place and families still wonder what happened to their relatives. At the same time, the bonanza of US aid and investment, promised after the 'intervention' by the Reagan Administration, never materialized. With the Cold War over, Grenada was again no more than a dot on the map.

But the legacy of Grenada's 'revo' is not entirely dead. Individuals and communities learned much about self-belief and organization during the New Jewel period and a lively trade-union and NGO sector is testimony to that politicization. Today, opposition politicians complain that the government of Keith Mitchell has recruited many people prominent during the revolutionary period, an accusation that is not denied. It seems that even those hostile to the official Marxism of 1979-83 recognize that the revolution introduced innovative and valuable reforms after decades of corruption and stagnation. Perhaps most significantly, the modern Point Salines airport, built with Cuban assistance and fancifully depicted as a Soviet airbase by Reagan, is nowadays the key to Grenada's modest prosperity.

The island, like all its neighbours, is pinning its hopes on tourism and the airport is central to such plans. Agriculture is still the rural mainstay, but falling prices and a crisis in the banana industry have driven many young people from family-run farms to look for work in town or abroad. Tourism, and to a lesser extent data processing, offers not only employment but also much-needed dollars to a government that is painfully aware of a yawning gap between imports and exports.

Even in tourism, the influence of the revolution can still be felt. Bishop's Government banned high-rise developments and discouraged big foreign-owned hotel chains. As a result, Grenada attracts visitors with its small, family-run hotels and guesthouses. With strong environmental legislation and a determined bid to make hotels buy food from local agricultural producers, the revolutionary regime was ahead of its time. Few tourists strolling along the idyllic Grand Anse beach may realize it, but their holiday experience owes much to a far-sighted and radical government that the White House saw only as a 'tyranny'.

James Ferguson

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Map of Grenada

At a glance

Leader: Prime Minister Keith Mitchell.

Economy: Gross national income (GNI) per capita $3,520.

Monetary unit: Eastern Caribbean Dollar.

Main exports: Bananas, cocoa, spices, clothing. The main sources of income are tourism, offshore financial activity, data processing and light manufacturing.

People: 94,000. People per sq km 276 (UK 238). Grenada’s population has fallen in the last decade, as migrants seek work in Trinidad, the US and Canada.

Health: Infant mortality 21 per 1,000 (Cuba 7, US 7). The revolution introduced a network of rural clinics and Grenadians enjoy universal access to clean water and electricity.

Environment: Golf-course construction has caused conflict, and further tourist development threatens the south coast. But the mountains remain heavily forested and biologically diverse.

Culture: British and French colonizers exterminated the native Carib population and imported African slaves and Indian labourers. Britain retains some links but the major cultural influence is the US, especially after the 1983 invasion.

Religion: The majority is Roman Catholic, a legacy of French occupation in the 18th century.

Language: English (some older people speak a French patois).

Sources: State of the World’s Children 2002; World Bank; IMF; Caribbean Development Bank 2002.

Last profiled September 1991

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income distribution INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Steady economic growth has helped to eliminate the worst rural poverty but wealth is still concentrated within an urban élite. An emphasis on indirect taxation does little to redress the imbalance.
1990 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]

SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Despite a traditional farming culture, Grenada imports much food as well as capital goods and machinery. Tourism and manufacturing are swelling the import bill.
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position of women

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Women are prominent in all the professions and benefit from educational opportunities. Domestic violence remains a problem, and women are often sole heads of households in poor rural districts.
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LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Estimated officially at over 95%, a result of consistent government investment in primary education.
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FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
There are few restraints on political activity and Grenadians enjoy a free and critical media. Critics complain that the Government exercises too much power in the absence of credible opposition.
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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
74 years and rising – in 1990 it was 66 (Cuba 76, US 77).
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life expectancy


NI Assessment [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
After decades of ideological division and unstable coalition government, Keith Mitchell’s New National Party enjoys considerable support and has eclipsed the old and discredited parties. While attempting to encourage business and foreign investment, the Government has also incorporated some of the reforms initiated during the revolution and has made progress in combatting rural poverty and unemployment. But Grenada remains vulnerable to a downturn in tourism and competition from cheaper labour elsewhere in the Caribbean.

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New Internationalist issue 348 magazine cover This article is from the August 2002 issue of New Internationalist.
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