On October 25, 1983, six days after Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was executed by Bernard Coard's Stalanist sect, the United States armed forces landed troops on the beaches of Grenada.
To understand the whys and wherefores of the invasion of Grenada by 7,000 U.S. soldiers, supplemented by about 300 military personnel from surrounding islands, the reader should know a little about the history leading up to the conflict.
Grenada, the early years
Grenada is a small island of 135 square miles, with a population of about 95,000. It is located 100 miles north of Venezuela, among the Windward island chain in the southern Caribbean Sea. Trinidad and Tobago lie to the south; St. Vincent and the Grenadines lie to the north. It is a rolling, mountainous island well known for its fragrant spice trees and other producing plants, including nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and cocoa.
The first contact by non-native peoples was made by Christopher Columbus in 1498. Grenada was inhabited by Island Caribs (Kalinago) and the Karina from mainland South America. Following a failed attempt by the British to settle there, the French stepped in to acquire the island in 1650. That led to a war with the Caribs of nearby Dominica and St. Vincent, who didn't want to lose their trade routes to the mainland.
The British regained control over the island in 1783, and made Grenada a Crown Colony in 1877.
To the present
Finally, in 1974, Grenada was granted independence from Britain. The new government, led by Sir Eric Gairy, slowly moved toward a totalitarian state, which triggered a revolt.
When Gairy was in New York, speaking at the United Nations in March 1979, Maurice Bishop, a well-liked and educated leftist, led a bloodless coup to usurp control of the Grenadan government.
Bishop espoused a government based on the New JEWEL Movement (New Joint Endeaver for Welfare, Education, and Liberation), a rural activist association. JEWEL had merged with the intelligensia of the Movement for Assemblies of the People (MAP), whose political roots were grounded in the Black Power movement. Bishop's Marxist leanings led to ties with Cuba, Russia, and other left-wing countries.
Bishop invited Cuban engineers to his island to build an international airport to enhance tourism. That was seen by President Ronald Reagan as a threat to the United States because the airstrip could be used to build up an arms cache, and propel a military build-up in the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, hard-line Marxist Bernard Coard, Bishop's deputy prime minister and erstwhile friend, felt that Bishop didn't operate far enough to the left. On October 19, 1983, Coard, backed by his own military, seized power in a bloody coup, then executed Bishop and members of his inner circle.
Operation Urgent Fury
That latest attempt to install a Marxist-Leninist government within the U.S. sphere of influence so alarmed members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, that they appealed to the U.S., Barbados, and Jamaica to intervene. At stake was not only a struggle of ideologies, but also a threat to about 1,000 medical students living on the island, many of whom were Americans.
While the posturing was going on in the Caribbean, a truck bomb exploded on October 23, half a world away in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 American marines. In addition to the great loss of life, the incident was a major embarrassment to the United States.
The coup in Grenada gave Reagan a chance to exact a little revenge on anti-American regimes in the Caribbean and the rest of the world. On October 25, the president dispatched an invasion force, dubbed "Operation Urgent Fury," to liberate the island and rescue the students.
Grenadan troops numbered about 1,200, with about 800 Cubans (mostly construction workers with handguns) and 60 advisors from the Soviet Union, North Korea, East Germany, Bulgaria, and Libya. That small contingent was soon confronted by a U.S.-led international force of about 7,300 men.
The operation was deemed a success, with minimal U.S. casualties (19 killed, 106 injured), and was wrapped up in mid-December. Coard, his family, and close advisors were arrested. Coard was tried and sentenced to death, but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. The remaining Cubans and other survivors were arrested; native Grenadans were released, and a pro-American government took power.
Just prior to the invasion, protests rang off the walls of the Oval Office. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom insisted, "in the strongest possible terms," that "Grenada was part of the British Commonwealth, and the United States had no business interfering in its affairs."
Reagan later reminisced, "She was very adamant and continued to insist that we cancel our landings on Grenada. I couldn't tell her that it had already begun."
Following the invasion, Thatcher told Reagan,
"This action will be seen as intervention by a western country in the internal affairs of a small independent nation, however unattractive its regime. I ask you to consider this in the context of our wider East-West relations and of the fact that we will be having in the next few days to present to our Parliament and people the siting of cruise missiles in this country. I cannot conceal that I am deeply disturbed by your latest communication."
An impassive Reagan would later joke that Grenada had to be invaded because it was the world's largest producer of nutmeg. "You can't make eggnog without nutmeg," he remarked.