Souring the flavor of the spice island for more than a decade had been the corrupt and repressive government of Sir Eric Gairy. On the morning of March 13, 1979, while Gairy was visiting New York City, a truckload of armed men captured the army barracks in St. George’s and installed an articulate London-trained lawyer named Maurice Bishop as prime minister.
Within weeks the new government was armed with weapons from Cuba and firing salvos of criticism against American “interference.” By the time I arrived in Grenada in mid-1980, posters of Fidel Castro and Bishop smiled down on me, and some 200 Cuban technicians were helping build a new airport capable of landing the largest jets.
The airport construction and the friendship with Cuba made foreign policymakers in Washington nervous. Their protests to Grenada made Bishop angry.
”Just after the revolution we requested aid and arms from the U. S. ,” he told me one evening at his hilltop offices, which overlook the bay-hugging capital of St. George’s.
“We were offered 85,000—barely enough to build a toilet! Cuba sent arms, technicians, and doctors. Which one would you call a friend?”
State Department officials say that, as a matter of policy, the United States channels funds to small islands of the eastern Caribbean through regional institutions such as the Caribbean Development Bank.
Grenada draws heavily on these funds. Those whom politicians would call friends or enemies, their constituents may call acquaintances. On my way to view the controversial new airport, I picked up a hitchhiker on his way to work as a security guard. He smiled agreeably when I identified myself as a visitor from the U. S.
“Is this the airport that the Cubans are building?” I asked him as we topped a rise to see a massive carving of hills and filling of gullies for a runway.
”Yes, there are many Cubans working on it,” he said, still smiling agreeably.
I dropped him at his post, a man happy for a ride from an American and a job working among Cubans.
Complaints about the revolutionary government are not difficult to find: a drift toward socialism, the lack of elections and of a free press, the proliferation of guns.
Even Bishop’s critics concede, however, that he would probably win an election if one were held. He has, through land reforms, revolutionary zeal, and the placing of Grenada in the international spotlight, given his people a new pride.