Reagan’s Legacy In The Caribbean
HOUSE OF LABOUR: In Friday June 15th edition of the Bahama Journal, Godfrey Eneas of the Eneas File fame touched on the legacy of Ronald Reagan and Black Americans. I was particularly interested in his approach to the subject and he did say some things that needed to be said. I was, however, disappointed that Eneas sought to examine Reagan’s legacy for black Americans, but neglected to mention Reagan’s legacy in the Caribbean; particularly, in reference to progressive individuals and movements in the Caribbean.
Indeed, President Reagan the 40th President of the United States was a polarizing figure not only for Black Americans but all third world peoples particularly, in the Caribbean and Latin America.
During Reagan’s presidency, reaction to the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) had been much like the FTAA is seen today, as mostly benefiting Americans not the Caribbean. More importantly, for Inside Labour is the fact that Reagan fired 13,000 U.S. air traffic controllers in 1981 after they staged a work stoppage. He used the U.S. National Labour Relations Board to crack down on trade unions. In line with this we saw many of our Caribbean leaders attempt similar “union busting” tactics that lingered on and ended with the busting of our own air traffic controllers union being put under “heavy manners” by the FNM government of Hubert Ingraham.
Reagan’s crowning glory of his legacy in the Caribbean was the U.S. invasion of Grenada. An examination of this opprobrious event and its impact may prove useful in putting his legacy in the Caribbean in proper perspective. Reagan’s 1983 invasion of Grenada was not universally applauded and indeed the full week coverage by CNN, NBC, FOX NEWS, ABC, CBS that attempted to deify this man, who demonized progressives the world over and setback the progressive forces of the world fifty years.
At that time progressive Bahamians and Caribbean people deplored in the strongest terms, the act of naked aggression and imperialism that was carried out in October 1981, when the United States of America (USA), the world’s richest and one of its largest states, invaded tiny Grenada (pop. 110,000).
The people of the Caribbean and all over the third world have suffered for centuries the racism, economic deprivation and political inequality of British and other colonialisms. We also know that thousands of our exploited brothers and sisters have endured the harshest punishments in the attempt to escape from this status by becoming independent nations with the right to plot their own destinies.
When the U.S. imperialists under Reagan armed with phrases like “restoring democracy,” “eradicating Marxism,” “eliminating a source of subversion,” “preventing terrorism,” etc. destroy a sovereign nation like Grenada, it brought back to all of us the bitter memories of colonialism. We were reminded that they were offering then a better life by enslaving us in the same ways the Japanese and German imperialists of World War II tried to convince the world that their systems of domination were “co-prosperity spheres”.
It should be noted that the vast majority of the world’s nations condemned the American action, including Britain, Canada and France, the then USSR and our own government of the Bahamas. Such condemnation was proof enough of the unpopularity of this policy, and Reagan realized that his imperialism fooled no one. The vote in the United Nations General Assembly on November 3 1981 (108-9 with abstentions), which demanded that the USA withdraw from Grenada, was further proof of the world’s opprobrium for that nation’s Caribbean adventure. In many respects, this was the beginning in modern times of the United States becoming an international outlaw.
The major reasons given by the USA under Reagan for the intervention in Grenada were as follows: First the death of Maurice Bishop, ex- Prime Minister of Grenada, created much instability in that society, which instability threatened the safety of 1,000 Americans who were there. The numbers included hundreds of students at St. George’s Medical School, a U.S. owned medical facility on the island. Secondly, Grenada was exporting revolutions to other parts of the Caribbean. Thirdly, Grenada was a Cuba- Soviet military base in the U.S.A's “backyard” or in its “sphere of influence.”
All progressive people in the Caribbean and elsewhere deplored the senseless arguments among the then Grenadian leadership that resulted in the death of Prime Minister Bishop and some of his ministers. However, if assassination of leaders was a valid reason for intervening in a country, the United States should have been invaded a long time ago. For example in the last century America’s greatest President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy was killed, and President Reagan in his time was shot. We also recall that distinguished Americans like Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were killed. It is common knowledge that when Dr. King died riots took place in large numbers of America’s cities. Yet in spite of the instability, no nation “intervened” in the USA.
In Grenada after Bishop’s death there were no uprisings, the Americans on the island insisted that they were safe. A US and Canadian diplomat visited the country a couple of days before the invasion and found their people safe, and General Hudson Austin had agreed to open the airport to allow foreign nationals to leave. In this same context, President Fidel Castro of Cuba, a close friend of Grenada, who had nearly 800 of his nationals working on projects in the island like the then new airport, volunteered to act as a go-between to insure the safety of the Americans. Clearly there was little “instability” in Grenada, and there was no threat to American lives at any time before the invasion.
Anthony Lewis in the New York Times October 3, 1983, in an article entitled: “What was Reagan hiding?” questioned the Reagan Administration’s tale that the Americans were in danger and that the Grenadian government was attempting to hold them there. Lewis wrote: “Now we know that Grenada and Cuba both sent messages to the United States saying that our citizens, in particular the large numbers of medical students were safe. We know that the airport was open and Americans flew out the day before the invasion, encountering no problems at the airport and seeing not even an armed guard.” Lewis went on to conclude: “The Reagan Administration was in fact not interested in exploring peaceful evacuation of Americans who wanted to leave. It did not look into chartering ships or planes. It did not respond to the Grenadian or Cuban messages until after the invasion was underway. It was determined to make a show of force.” In retrospect Inside Labour is convinced also; that Reagan was not interested in peace.
At the time The Reagan Administration and the right –wing in America and the Caribbean, constantly stated that Grenada and Cuba were bases for “exporting revolution”. An argument that made no sense. If a different worldview, for example, has no relevance to the lives of a people in a particular society, then the masses will reject it. If capitalism is irrelevant to the needs and aspirations of a society, they will reject it also. Ideologies- in other words are world outlooks that are either accepted or rejected by the masses; they cannot be exported.
On the other hand, if what Reagan and the right –wing meant by “exporting revolution,” the subversion of a country by the illegal use of force and violence, Grenada could not in any way be accused of this. Indeed, none of the Caribbean countries involved in the invasion produced a scintilla of evidence to prove that the then Grenadian Government illegally conspired to overthrow them.
Philosophers warn us that it is a mistake to confuse analogies with identities, for while an analogy is a call to clarify the specific; it is not the specific itself. The United States frequently depicts the Caribbean as being in its “backyard” and as a mental construct to illustrate its proximity to the region; such a depiction is permissible. However, America seems to see its “Caribbean backyard” not in terms of a close neighbor, but in terms of a region of the earth that they have manifest destiny to own, control and push around. Such confusion turns an analogy into a principle of ownership.
Progressives the world over insists that the Caribbean consists of sovereign nations which have a right to plot their own destiny. Much like in the recent case of Haiti. The Caribbean nations are not parts of the USA like Hawaii; we are in nobody’s backyard. Grenada in 1981 posed no military threat or “subversive threat” to any nation in this hemisphere, so Reagan had no right to obliterate that nation’s sovereignty, just like President Bush had no right to obliterate the sovereignty of Iraq. In the meantime what is fearful is that the United States feels that is has natural rights to make every nation in the world her puppet.
Reagan’s legacy in the Caribbean proved that the United States violated all the rules in international law in its invasion of Grenada, and of making a mockery of the concept of national sovereignty. It broke the elementary rules of international law regarding the recognition of states; it broke the U.N. charter of the Organization of American States (OAS), of which it is one of the founding members. The Charters of the OAS states explicitly: “The territory of a state is inviolable, it may not be the object, even temporarily of military occupation or other measures of force taken by another state, directly or indirectly, on any grounds whatever.” Some international lawyers argued that even when the U.S unjustly invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965, it at least procured “legal cover.” At that time it claimed that it was called by the military government of the Dominican Republic to “restore order”. A claim, which it rammed through the OAS after the fact. In Grenada, on the other hand, the United States destroyed the legitimate government.
Finally, the Reagan administration in trying to secure some legal legacy for its actions argued that the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) provided a legal basis for the invasion. But as Time Magazine stated: “Grenada is one of the seven members of the OECS, the charter of which says that any decision to take military action must be unanimous. Grenada certainly did not agree to invade itself. Nor was it clear that the OECS formed in 1981, had any provision, or any right to authorize military intervention in one of its member states!” Without a doubt Reagan’s legacy in the Caribbean was cemented by this lawless adventure based on the principle that might is right! When the definitive chapter on this event is written Reagan will be seen for what he was “a little man” not the colossus that the spin-doctors of Washington would have us believe.
Charles Fawkes is President of the National Consumer Association, Consumer columnist for the Nassau Guardian and organizer for the Commonwealth Group of Unions, Editor of the Headline News, The Consumer guard and The Worker’s Vanguard. He can be contacted at his office in the House of Labour at: [1-242]-326-6620. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org