|Caribbean Islands Table of Contents
Although Grenada has much in common with the other small islands to its north, it has tended throughout its history to look to larger states in an effort to define its role in the world. Since its initial discovery by Christopher Columbus, Grenada has shared or sought associations of differing kinds with France, Britain, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba (and, by extension, the Soviet Union), and the United States.
Spain's association with the island extended little beyond sighting it and giving it a name, inasmuch as the Spanish made no effort to establish a colony, perhaps because of the ferocity of the Caribs already in residence (see The Pre-European Population, ch. 1). Interestingly, the island's present name is not that given to it by Columbus. That name, which it bore but briefly, was Concepción. Assigned in 1498, it had given way by 1523 on maps and charts of the region to the Spanish variant of its current designation, Granada. Speculation has it that Spanish explorers, struck by the resemblance of Grenada's mountains to those of the Sierra Nevada in Spain, applied the familiar name of a great city to this strange place so far from home. Over the centuries, although control of the island passed from France to Britain (and briefly back to France again), the name endured with but the slightest of etymological alterations, changing from Granada to La Grenade to Grenada.
The French were the first to settle Grenada. Legend holds that in 1652 the last of the defending Caribs threw himself into the sea from a spot that was christened le Morne des Sauteurs and is known today as Leapers' Hill. Exploited first for indigo and later for sugar production, the island prospered and, like many others in the Caribbean, attracted the attention of the British. Taken by Admiral George Rodney in 1762, near the end of the Seven Years' War (1756-63) in Europe, Grenada reverted to French rule from 1779 to 1783, when it was restored to Britain by the Treaty of Versailles of 1783. The inhabitants' loyalties remained divided between the two European powers for many years, as illustrated by the Rebellion of 1795 (Fédon's Rebellion). In the course of this violent episode, a group of rebels under the command of the mulatto general Julien Fédon and inspired by the rhetoric of the French Revolution wreaked havoc on the island and its British settlers in an unsuccessful attempt to reunite with France.
From 1784 until its independence in 1974, Grenada remained a member of the British Empire, passing through various stages of colonial status and multiple associations with other regional states. Early in the twentieth century, it produced one of the region's outstanding leaders, T. Albert Marryshow. His Representative Government Association, which inspired similar movements in other Windward Islands states and in Trinidad, did much to encourage the liberalization of British rule in the Caribbean.
It is ironic that the achievement in 1950 of universal adult suffrage, long a goal of Marryshow's, led directly to his displacement in Grenadian political life by a new figure, Eric Matthew Gairy. Whereas Marryshow had been a man of the middle class, Gairy and his Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) appealed to the lower class, the peasantry. Suddenly empowered by the vote, Gairy's supporters swept him to the leadership of the Legislative Council in 1951; he dominated the island's politics for almost three decades.
The most successful electoral challenge to Gairy between 1951 and 1979 was posed by Herbert Blaize's Grenada National Party (GNP) in 1961, mainly on the issue of union with Trinidad and Tobago (the "unitary state" proposal). Again reflecting the Grenadian penchant for looking outward for support and viability, the GNP campaigned on a platform urging acceptance of the Trinidadian offer of union. Although Blaize's party won the election, it subsequently lost a large measure of prestige and credibility when Trinidad failed to follow through on the proposal. The GNP's fall from grace paved the way for the return of Gairy, who has never tired of the role of political savior of his country.
In March 1979, Maurice Bishop and his followers in the New Jewel Movement (NJM) seized power in Grenada. Looking to Cuba and other Marxist-Leninist countries as its models, the NJM attempted to implement the first Marxist revolutionary state in the Englishspeaking Caribbean. The initial promises of this "revo"--as the revolution was dubbed--focused on the welfare of the people, for Bishop pledged to provide jobs, food, housing, and education. Free elections were also promised. The People's Revolutionary Government (PRG) established by the 1979 coup failed to live up to the expectations of the Grenadian people, however. Although representative government was promised, the constitution was suspended. In its place, the PRG brought forth a series of "people's laws," the most effective of which were those that curtailed individual freedoms and facilitated the detention of dissidents.
In the economic sphere, the PRG made only slow and halting progress toward socialism. Constrained by the need to attract high levels of foreign aid and frustrated by the intractable nature of the island's economic problems, the ideological fervor of some members of the NJM gave way to increased repression and intensified conflict within the NJM Central Committee. This internal struggle, essentially a contest between the more pragmatic Bishop and his doctrinaire deputy prime minister Bernard Coard, led directly to the downfall of the PRG and the murder of Bishop and many others on October 19, 1983. His death exposed the truth that the hard-liners among the NJM had failed to recognize, namely, that if the PRG had any claim to legitimacy at all, it was through the charismatic authority of Bishop, who had remained generally popular in Grenada throughout the PRG period.
Bishop's murder set the stage for the October 25, 1983, military intervention by United States and Caribbean forces (see Current Strategic Considerations, ch. 7). After that date, Grenada turned to the United States as its principal ally and benefactor. Although the harsh repression of the PRG was a thing of the past, Grenadians continued to face a number of thorny political and economic problems as they looked toward the future.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress