Published on Monday, October 27, 2003 by the Long Island (NY) Newsday
False Claims Led to Attacks on Grenada, Iraq
by Sheryl McCarthy

Twenty years ago this past Saturday, 1,900 United States marines and paratroopers invaded the tiny Carribbean island of Grenada.

President Ronald Reagan claimed that the unrest following the recent overthrow and murder of Grenada's socialist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop had put the lives of more than 500 American medical students there at risk.

He said he was also concerned about the growing Communist influence in Grenada and suspected that an airport being constructed there would be used as a staging area for Cuban and Soviet troops. The invasion was "forced on us by events that have no precedent in the eastern Carribbean," Reagan said, so the United States "had no choice but to act strongly and decisively."

Grenada's tiny army was crushed overnight, almost 100 people were killed and the United States installed a provisional government. But the reasons the Reagan administration gave for invading Grenada turned out to be dubious. The medical students, it turns out, were never in any danger. The presumed plans for the airport and reports about an alleged stash of weapons were grossly exaggerated. Even the administration's claim that it was invited to invade Grenada by the concerned leaders of some neighboring Carribbean countries turned out to be dicey at best. But these were the days of the Cold War, when U.S. officials were driven by paranoia that Grenada would turn Communist and that the rest of the Caribbean would follow.

"The United States was looking for a pretext to get rid of Bishop and his regime, to move the whole thing out," said Don Rojas, the general manager of WBAI-Pacifica Radio and Bishop's press secretary at the time of the coup. "The coup was just a great opportunity to invade and overthrow the government in its entirely." Moreoever, "fabrications were used."

The claims that the airport was being constructed as a Soviet and Cuban military base and was therefore a threat to U.S. security "was totally false," Rojas says. Nor were there any weapons of significance, other than some small arms and a couple of armored cars. "There were no jet planes, no tanks or anything like that."

Twenty years later, the comparison with Iraq is striking. The hype about Saddam Hussein's still-missing weapons of mass destruction. The supposedly imminent threat he posed to the United States. And the Bush administration's repeated efforts to link Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks, just as Reagan linked the building of an airport to a pending takeover by the Communists. All of these claims have been proved false.

The invasion of Grenada outraged the international community. "It is very clear that in today's world the United States has decided that might is right, that nobody has the right to decide its own destiny when the United States decides that it is the wrong destiny," Grenada's ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Ian Jacobs, said. Granted, there's no comparison between the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein and the left-leaning tendencies of Maurice Bishop. But Iraq, like Grenada, was a case of a big country telling a small country what it could and could not do.

Rojas, a native Grenadian who was a schoolmate of Maurice Bishop as a boy, recalled that Bishop was loved by the Grenadians and admired throughout the Caribbean. He had overthrown a corrupt dictator who'd been supported by the United States because he was fervently anti-Communist. During Bishop's four years in office he greatly improved living and economic conditions in Grenada, promoted self-determination for Grenada's people after years of British domination and was preparing to hold democratic elections.

After the coup Grenada might well have resolved its internal struggles in its own way, had it not been for the big foot of the United States.

Depending on whom you talk to, Grenada has either thrived as a result of the U.S. invasion or has sadly failed to reach its potential in the last 20 years. The point is that the invasion of Grenada, like U.S. interventions in Vietnam, Nicaragua and Iraq, remind us that when we mess around in the affairs of other countries, not in pursuit of their interests but our own, we set into motion all kinds of forces, the impact of which may not be known for years to come.

Copyright 2003, Newsday, Inc.