The Hew Jewel- Revolution in Grenada

September 25, 2007

"People of Grenada, this revolu- tion is for work, for food, for decent housing and health facilities and for a bright future for our children and great grand-children." So proclaimed the new Prime Minister of the People's Revolu- tionary Government (PRG) of Grenada on March 13, 1979, just hours after the People's Revolu- tionary Army (PRA) staged a suc- cessful coup against the tyrannical regime of Prime Minister Eric Gairy. GAIRYISM Although the coup itself was sudden and unexpected, Gairy's overthrow should come as no sur- prise. In the two decades during which he ruled Grenada, Gairy--a mystic preoccupied with UFOs-- became the most repressive leader in the English-speaking Caribbean. His transgressions of democratic principles are legion: legislation was enacted curtailing the right of assembly, freedom of speech and expression, and out- lawing all trade unions other than the Grenada Manual Maritime and Intellectual Workers' Union (GM- MIWU) whose President-General- For-Life was Gairy himself; misuse of public funds, electoral fraud and corruption and incompetence in the civil service were ubiquitous; the mafia was allowed a dominant financial interest in nightclubs and other businesses; and Gairy's per- 40 sonal body guard, the Mongoose Gang, intimidated and terrorized the general populace. Moreover, while Gairy exploited his position to acquire extensive property holdings and amass a personal fortune, Grenada's work- ing people suffered a very low and declining standard of living. With unemployment at 50%, an ex- traordinary increase in the rate of inflation and the imposition of new taxes on certain consumption goods and services, Gairyism ex- perienced a tremendous surge of opposition in the past decade. THE NEW JEWEL MOVEMENT The most significant expression of that opposition was the New Jewel Movement-whose leader- ship organized the revolution of March 13 and now constitutes the leadership of the PRG. The Move- ment was born in the merger of two groups similarly committed to grassroots organization for democratic ends. In 1972 the Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education and Liberation (JEWEL) was found- ed by Selwyn Strachan, and Unison Whiteman-now, respec- tively, Minister of Communications and Works and Labor and Minister of Agriculture, Tourism and Fisheries. About that same time, Maurice Bishop and Kendrick Radix-now, respectively, Prime Minister and Ambassador to the Prime Minister Maurice Bishop United Nations-founded the Movement for Assemblies of the People (MAP). When the two groups merged in 1973, Grenada had already com- pleted negotiations with Britain regarding its colonial status; Grenada's imminent independ- ence-to become effective in February 1974-provided the con- text and unifying theme for the program proposed by the NJM in its 1973 Manifesto. Arguing that political independence could only be meaningful if economic dependence and the resulting poverty were overcome, the Manifesto urged increased em- phasis on domestic production of food, clothing and construction materials and even medicines (from local herbs), the expansion of the fishing and food processing industries and the organization of economic activity in cooperatives. Such planned economic develop- ment would ensure increased employment, a decreased cost of living and equitable distribution of NACLA Reportupdate . update * update . update the economic fruits, and thereby raise the standard of living of Grenada's vast majority-the working people. It was also argued that genuine independence requires the con- tinuous involvement of all the peo- ple in the process of political decision-making, i.e., genuine democracy. Toward that end the Manifesto proposed as the future form of government, a system of People's Assemblies in which membership is required of and guaranteed to all; each Village and Workers Assembly would have equal representation in the Na- tional Assembly, the country's governing body. ON TO VICTORY As a result of its continued and successful grassroots organiza- tion, the NJM incurred Gairy's wrath and its members were often victims of harassment, beatings and even murder. (Bishop's father was assassinated at a 1974 mass demonstration.) Their bid to oust Gairy in 1976 via an electoral alliance with the Grenada National Party (GNP)-the party of the ur- ban middle class-and a smaller, right-wing party, only intensified the Prime Minister's repressive stance. But Gairy was unable to stop their activities, and, on March 13, 1979, even his Chilean-trained defense forces could not prevent their seizure and consolidation of state power in a period of less than 24 hours. In the immediate aftermath of the coup, an interim governing body-the PRG-was estab- lished. It is now composed of 23 members-12 NJM members, 2 GNP members and 9 members of predominantly working-class origin who were rural supporters of the NJM. This body will continue to function as the government until the new constitution is drafted (the Gairy Constitution was suspended) and approved by referendum, and subsequently, new elections are held. Enjoying broad popular support, the PRG has turned its energies to the tremendous challenge of na- THE -a-A-A' A WEST INDIES %ISL "AND NEIGHBOURING COL O#o 4DIA ('--" o - a. 8 6. n t i Janl-e 198 V rNEZ U E.LA JonlFab 1960 tional reconstruction. TOWARD ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE Since assuming power, the PRG has shunned any ideological labels; in response to calls by various Caribbean leftists to "go beyond bourgeois democracy" to "socialism," Prime Minister Bishop has replied only that "We will feel our way. But we will take whatever steps necessary to get greater control of our resources and to end imperialist domination of our economy." With that in mind, the government has begun to attack the most flagrant abuses of the neocolonial trade relation- ship. Grenada is an agricultural coun- try where most of the land under cultivation is owned and operated by a small local elite and produces agricultural goods for export, es- pecially cocoa, bananas and nutmeg. (Grenada, which achieved early fame as "The Spice Island," is the world's largest producer of nutmeg.) The grave consequences of this form of agricultural organization have been experienced by under- developed countries around the world. On the one hand, the raw agricultural exports face a buyers' market, and the consequent low prices paid by transnational agribusiness corporations translate into limited foreign ex- change reserves. On the other hand, severe limitations on local food production make imperative the importation of processed foods at monopoly prices, signal- ling both an increased cost of liv- ing and a drain on foreign ex- change reserves. For example, Grenada sold a half-pound of cocoa for $1.25 Eastern Carib- 41update update update * update bean Currency (ECC) for process- ing abroad; upon return, a half- pound of processed cocoa cost Grenadians $9.25 ECC. The general pattern that results is a decreased standard of living for working people, balance of payments crises and an explosion in the public debt. To stem the erosion in the standard of living, the PRG created an Import-Export Board which im- mediately effected a 15% and 30% price reduction on rice and sugar imports, respectively. Beyond that, the government, following the 1973 NJM program, has undertaken the development of an agro-industrial sector based on local products-processing and canning fruits, fruit juices and nectars-and the modernization of the fishing industry. Also idle land, some of which was acquired by the state during the Gairy regime, has been brought into cultivation. Lettuce farms have already been planted, harvested and exported to Trinidad-Tobago -even before the PRG's first an- niversary. And one of the goals for 1980 is the planting of one million cocoa, nutmeg and banana trees. A priority of the new govern- ment is the development of the tourist industry, which accounts for 35% of the country's revenues. In an effort to stimulate tourism, the government is con- structing a new International Air- port and a highway connecting the airport to main parts of the island. And, in order to guarantee that the industry's income remains in Grenada-in the past, 90C of every tourist dollar spent in- Grenada returned abroad-local and foreign hotel proprietors are being encouraged to utilize local foods, entertainment, handicrafts 42 and other goods and services. If successful, these projects will increase employment, decrease the rate of inflation and increase foreign exchange reserves. Private-including foreign-- capital is considered necessary for economic development; how- ever, investors will be made aware of specific guidelines aimed at in- tegrating all investment activity in- to the overall development plan. Similarly, foreign banks operating in Grenada-such as Barclay's, the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia-have been notified that they are welcome to stay (contrary to the 1973 Manifesto which called for na- tionalization of the banks), but must make credit available for development projects. HELP FROM ABROAD The government is pursuing a policy of non-alignment (it was represented at the most recent Conference of Non-Aligned Na- tions, held in Havana) and has sought economic assistance from both capitalist and socialist coun- tries. Cuba, with whom the PRG established diplomatic relations soon after March 13, is providing $25 million and 250 workers for the construction of the Interna- tional Airport and highway. It has also provided the new government a health team and other techni- cians, and has accepted Grena- dian students for various courses of study. Venezuela has agreed to contribute $500,000 and an addi- tional $230,000 export financing loan. In contrast, the United States, "displeased" by the PRG's ties to Cuba, has offered the strug- gling nation a paltry $5,000 assistance for each of several small projects. The PRG has made significant gestures toward economic in- dependence via its present strategy. However, the question must be posed as to the limits of that strategy, since similar efforts throughout the third world have failed to break the chains of dependence and poverty; on what basis, then, can we assume that Grenada can escape the tentacles of imperialism? EXTENDING DEMOCRACY Although the revolution must confront, over the long-term, the pernicious domination of global capitalism-a far greater danger than the destabilization tactics of the revolution's opponents, or U.S. hostility to the regime-the new government has already been able to make a difference in the daily lives of working people. Along with the creation of new jobs, and the decrease in the cost of certain consumption items, the leadership has made important headway toward the creation of genuine democracy. Among its other ac- complishments, it has established two-way communication channels with the population; encouraged and created mechanisms for mass participation and the development of national con- sciousness; welcomed the par- ticipation of women and set a na- tional goal of "equal pay for equal work;" organized a literacy cam- paign; and opened village-level Centers for Popular Education. The people have responded with enthusiasm, apparent confidence in the leadership and a new at- titude about themselves. With an intelligent leadership committed to the improvement of the quality of life of its constituen- cy, a mass popular base and a will- ingness to explore new solutions for old problems, the PRG should be able to attain at least some of its goals.

Tags: Grenada, coup, PM Eric Gairy, New Jewel, PM Maurice Bishop

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