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Grenada: Government warms up to Cuba -- again
Latinamerica Press / January 22, 1998

By Larry Luxner

ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada -- Fourteen years after U.S. Marines invaded Grenada to overthrow a Marxist regime that had just executed the country's prime minister, tourists -- if they search hard enough -- can find scattered reminders of that bloody episode.

On the northern side of the Caribbean island, along an abandoned airstrip, sit the bombed-out hulks of Aeroflot and Cubana planes, goats and sheep tied to the rusting fuselages. In the capital city of St. George's, motorists are still greeted by fading graffiti that says "Thank You U.S.A. for Liberating Us."

But the most enduring reminder of the 1983 U.S. invasion, Butler House -- the regime's bombed-out headquarters overlooking St. George's harbor -- will soon be torn down and replaced with a five-star luxury hotel.

The $140 million Blue Lagoon complex, which includes a 500-yacht marina for the super-rich, is being financed by Daventree Ltd., a Bahamas-based holding company controlled by Czech investor Viktor Kozeny.

"People are very excited about this project," says Winston Whyte, the company's local managing director. "Our marina will accommodate the best of the best. That's why we're planning a 180-room hotel, chateaus and villas coming down to the waterfront. It'll be absolutely beautiful. It'll be like a city on the water."

If the Blue Lagoon project comes to pass, it'll be a shot in the arm for Grenada -- where small hotels are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the banana industry is in crisis and efforts to attract foreign investors to industrial parks have been less than successful. Rupert Agostini, chairman of the Grenada Industrial Development Corp., concedes that "manufacturing investment has been very slow, almost insignificant," while the number of stayover tourists during the first half of 1997 rose only 0.4% and cruise-ship visits fell 1.2% from the same period last year.

"Not a single genuine investor has come into Grenada since June 1995," charges former Prime Minister George Brizan. "There is no confidence and no macroeconomic climate to attract investors. The Mitchell government has no plans or policies, and they're not guided by anything except how to protect and preserve their political power."

Brizan, who now heads the opposition National Democratic Congress, makes no secret of his dislike for the nation's current premier, Dr. Keith Mitchell. In yellow leaflets distributed around the island, Brizan refers to Mitchell as a "Devil Leader" whose New National Party "butchers and crucifies the people."

Mitchell, who studied and later taught mathematics at Howard University for several years before returning to Grenada, says Grenada's GDP will expand by 5% in 1997. This growth, he said, is being fueled by Grenadians returning home from the United States, Great Britain and Canada, as well as large infrastructure projects like the $23 million National Stadium Complex and a $75 million Ritz-Carlton that'll boast the country's first 18-hole golf course.

"This country went through a tough time. We have to do a lot of things to correct our image," Mitchell said in a lengthy interview at his St. George's office (see sidebar).

One of the smallest nations in the Western Hemisphere, the 133-square-mile island was discovered by Columbus in 1498 and settled by the French in 1650. After oscillating between French and British rule for 130 years, it was ceded to Great Britain in 1783, finally achieving independence in 1974. Its current population is estimated at 98,000.

Besides being the world's second-largest exporter of nutmegs after Indonesia, Grenada's chief claim to fame is its 1979 Marxist coup that toppled Prime Minister Eric Gairy and brought Maurice Bishop to power, and Bishop's 1983 execution by supporters of Bernard Coard. That led to President Reagan's Oct. 25 invasion, the re-establishment of democracy in Grenada, and Washington's eventual passage of the Caribbean Basin Initiative to stem Communist influence in the region.

"It was an experiment that was doomed from the very beginning," nutmeg exporter Pilton Campbell says of Bishop's revolution. "It was not in our tradition. Those who spoke out were locked up, and the majority of people were simply silent."

Dr. Bob Jordan -- an anatomy professor who has taught at Grenada's St. George's University since 1979 -- remembers the U.S. invasion well.

"Everybody says it was a ploy to get Castro out of this country," he recalled. "But during the last two weeks [of the regime], our students' and faculty's lives were really threatened. I thought they could easily go the other way, make us hostages and set us up for a real bloodbath."

These days, things are much calmer at St. George's University, and Jordan -- who's also associate dean of admissions -- focuses on more pleasant subjects like the university's aggressive expansion plans, which will pump $25 million a year into the Grenadian economy. To an observer, the impeccably neat campus, with its pastel buildings overlooking sparkling blue waters, looks more like an expensive Caribbean resort than a med school.

Yet despite CBI benefits and years of European preferential quotas for its bananas, Grenada is still essentially a Third World country whose per-capita income hovers around $2,300. The UN Development Program lists Grenada 54th in the world, with a human development index of 0.843 -- just ahead of neighboring St. Lucia and St. Vincent but way behind other Caribbean islands such as Barbados, Bahamas, Antigua, Trinidad & Tobago and Dominica.

Grenada is in a particularly difficult position now because of the recent suspension of banana exports to Great Britain due to poor quality. The subsequent loss of EU banana quotas at the insistence of the Clinton administration -- which argued that such preferences discriminated against Latin American banana exporters -- only compounds the problem.

Many feel that instead of opposing banana quotas in the name of free trade, the United States should do more to help their country by giving Grenada the same access to the U.S. market that Mexico now enjoys under NAFTA.

"Grenada will always be grateful and say thanks to the United States for what it has done, but our expectations are high, and whether or not we have benefitted as fully as we could from this relationship is still to be determined," said Denis Antoine, Grenada's ambassador in Washington. "We recognize that as a young, developing country, there is much more room for cooperation. Facilitating the growth of a country like Grenada is to the benefit of the United States."

Meanwhile, the Grenadian government is quietly resuming its once-close ties with Communist Cuba. Mitchell toured Havana last year as a guest of Cuban President Fidel Castro, and has invited Castro to visit Grenada next February, just before the beginning of the annual Caricom summit to be held there Mar. 2-3. In addition, three pages of a recent government-produced "Year in Review" newspaper supplement on Grenada were devoted to Mitchell's five-day visit to Cuba, complete with photos of Mitchell shaking hands with Castro, touring a biotechnology institute and reviewing an honor guard in front of Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion.

Despite Washington's unhappiness over the general warming of ties between Cuba and its Caribbean neighbors, Mitchell says his position is quite clear.

"Cuba was very helpful to Grenada from 1979 to 1983, particularly in the building of our international airport. That cannot be questioned," he said. "Besides that, it played a very crucial role in the development of our human resources, the education of hundreds of children of very poor parentage who would never have had an opportunity to become doctors and engineers. We therefore believe that if a country has gone out of its way to provide support, the least you can do is recognize them for it. I don't see how anyone can have difficulty with this. We are not doing anything behind the scenes, and we are not against anyone's security or national interests."

Mitchell said his country recently flew 42 students to Havana on engineering, medical and computer-science scholarships. On the same plane, Grenada also sent one ton of raw cocoa to be processed as the first stage of a planned $10 million joint-venture chocolate factory.

Asked if Clinton administration officials have raised objections over Castro's proposed trip, Mitchell responded: "They have never spoken to me about specifically not associating with Fidel. That would not be a wise thing anyway, even if they felt so. Their only concern has been that we should be a lot more vocal about the human-rights situation in Cuba."

Yet many Grenadians -- including opposition leader Brizan -- remember the events of 14 years ago and remain suspicious.

"Grenada must be developed by Grenadians, and we should appreciate assistance from friends all over the world," says the politician, "but we should not get involved in superpower politics."

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