The Grenada intervention, the United Nations, Caricom and Jamaica's foreign policy in the 1980s
SEAGA... was Jamaica's Prime Minister for most of the 1980s

Thirty-nine years ago, on October 25, 1983, after a period of unrest during which Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, several members of his Cabinet and a number of other citizens were killed, the United States, with the support, and at the "request", of six Caricom countries, including Jamaica, undertook an "armed intervention" in Grenada.

A draft resolution deploring the armed intervention and calling for the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Grenada, brought to the attention of the 15-member United Nations Security Council by three of its non-permanent members, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and Guyana, was vetoed by the United States, one of the council's five permanent members. The vote was 11 in favour; one against — the veto by the US; and three abstentions — Britain, Togo and Zaire, all allies of the US.

France, the Netherlands and Pakistan, also allies of the US, voted in favour of the resolution. The US action had little international support and was widely condemned. This was at the height of the Cold War, during which the US had been financing the contra rebels in Nicaragua, and Guyana had accused it of planning an invasion. However, Zimbabwe (whose president, Robert Mugabe, visited Washington a month before the Grenada intervention) had good relations with the US, excellent relations with China and "notoriously cold" relations with the USSR.

The debate in the Security Council on October 26, 1983 was a lively one. Among the 63 countries which spoke, only the US and some Caribbean nations defended the intervention. Almost all the rest strongly condemned, what many considered an invasion, while reaffirming the principle of non-use of force in international affairs.

Here are a few snippets from the debate:

Munoz Ledo for Mexico:

''What we have here is a clear violation of the rules of international law...The invasion of Grenada is totally lacking in justification.''

Jeane Kirkpatrick for the US:

''It should not be difficult for any people to discern the difference between the force that liberates captive people from terror [in Grenada] and the force that imposes terror on captive people [in Afghanistan].''

Koh for Singapore:

"My Government cannot condone the action of our friends in Grenada.''

However, he contended, the Soviet intervention of Afghanistan probably took more lives daily than the entire invasion of Grenada. Interestingly, one of the 18 countries which voted against the January 1980 UN General Assembly resolution condemning the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union was Grenada.

Sir Egerton for Jamaica:

"Let us begin with the troops of the Cuban Government. Who invited them to Grenada? Are they properly there at the request of a legitimate government of Grenada?"

Kouri for Cuba:

"I shall not waste the valuable time of the council — or my own, for that matter — refuting the base lies of those who will go down in history as wretched butterflies pierced by the just pin of the peoples, as accomplices and lackeys of Yankee imperialism in the martyrdom of the people of Grenada."

Jacobs for Antigua and Barbuda (responding to Cuba):

"When these belligerent countries speak about lackeys, I must state unequivocally that the communist satellites, the lackeys and puppets of totalitarianism, must remember that their sole purpose is to impose the will of their imperialist masters on others."

The Security Council having failed in its duty to uphold peace, the situation in Grenada was then brought to the attention of the General Assembly (on the basis of the uniting for peace Resolution 377V of 1950) which on November 2, 1983 adopted resolution 38/7 by a vote of 108 in favour, nine against and 27 abstentions. By the resolution, the General Assembly deeply deplored the armed intervention which it said constituted a flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Grenada.

Caricom, as expected, was divided — and had been so for a very long time. As a matter of fact, there has hardly been a time when it was united. Recently, however, it voted as one in support of General Assembly resolution ES-11/1 which deplored in the strongest terms the aggression by Russia against Ukraine.

In 1983, Caricom leaders not only had their daggers drawn but held them at each other's throats. There were allegations that Guyana, whose role at the UN came in for some amount of criticism from those of its Caricom partners who supported the intervention, had informed the revolutionaries in Grenada of the impending intervention thereby allowing them and their Cuban backers to put up an unexpectedly strong resistance to what was supposed to be an easy-breezy surprise attack.

Guyanese President Forbes Burnham, who had accused Jamaica's Prime Minister Edward Seaga of trying to get Guyana expelled from Caricom, famously labelled certain Caricom leaders quislings.

Barbados' Prime Minister Tom Adams was derisively referred to as "Uncle Tom", and allegations surfaced in the US establishment press that Dominica's Prime Minister Eugenia Charles was in the pay of the CIA.

Jamaica, along with Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, the spunky six of the intervention alliance, voted against the resolution. Guyana, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada — whose delegate, with strong support, fought off a weak attempt to have his credentials rejected — and Suriname (not then a Caricom member state) voted in favour. Belize and Haiti (not then a member state of Caricom) abstained; and St Christopher and Nevis, at the time the UN's newest member, did not participate in the vote. El Salvador and Israel, both major recipients of military assistance from their Cold War ally, the United States, voted against the resolution.

Canada and the UK abstained. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, blindsided, humiliated and intensely embarrassed at not having been consulted or even been given adequate warning, told US President Ronald Reagan, her closest ally, that she was "deeply disturbed" by the invasion of what was a former British colony, and a member of the Commonwealth with the same head of State as Britain.

In a message sent at 12:30 am on the October 25, the day of the invasion, Thatcher wrote 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 sighting of Cruise missiles in this country. I must ask you to think most carefully about these points. I cannot conceal that I am deeply disturbed by your latest communication. You asked for my advice. I have set it out and hope that even at this late stage you will take it into account before events are irrevocable."

Twenty minutes later, she called Reagan on the hotline requesting him to consider very carefully the message which she had just sent. According to Thatcher, he undertook to do so but said, "we are already at zero". At 7:45 that morning Thatcher received a message, in which Reagan said that he had weighed very carefully the considerations that she had raised but that he believed them to be outweighed by other factors. The Cowboy was not for turning. Well, not by the Iron Lady. And being a firm believer in the Munroe Doctrine, he certainly was not going to "lose any breakfast" over criticisms of action he had taken in his own "backyard".

Prime Minister Seaga, who relished the "big man", "war boat" role he had assumed for himself and was well aware of the British view, shared by most countries, that the intervention was in violation of Grenada's sovereignty, colluded and conspired with Reagan to withhold information from Thatcher. According to Seaga, "the Caribbean [meaning he] was concerned that if the British were informed, they would try to stop the intervention and, thus, in the circumstances, concurred with Reagan's [peremptory] decision to delay informing Thatcher." (The word "peremptory" was used by Seaga to describe Reagan's decision.) Reagan, however, told Thatcher that he had not advised her of the intervention aforehand, not because of any "feeling on our part of lack of confidence at your end", but because of "our fear of our own weakness over here with regard to secrecy" — "a nagging problem of a loose source, a leak here." Heads of government should not accuse each other of lying. And no one did.

The 1980s was a period of ferment in Jamaica's foreign policy. There were allegations and denials. There were spies and conspiracies, wars and rumours of wars, arrests and expulsions. A poisoning here, an assassination attempt there. And allegations of extrajudicial killings. Covert action and allegations of coups. There was too a lot of misinformation and propaganda. It was a time to be fearful.

Ronnie Manderson-Jones, a Jamaican diplomat at the time, later described the 1980s as a period in which the tide was turned and the "Cuban menace" was repelled. Seaga, writing in 2010, suggested that the 1979 Grenada coup, led by Bishop, could have proven infectious and the "Caribbean could [have fallen] into a state of turmoil, fomented by radical leftists in the region," claimed he "tamed the turmoil". In what he saw as a "clash of ideologies", his job, which he suitably embellished, was to rally the forces on the right to "turn them back".

But it was not just a struggle over ideas. Blood was spilt and lives disrupted — and not just in Grenada. Lies were told and people deceived. It has been asserted that Jamaica stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States in what was a famous victory of "democracy over totalitarianism" achieved by three great cold war warriors — Seaga, Reagan and Eugenia Charles, the Caribbean's own Iron Lady. Maggie, although hurt, would soon make up with her ideological soulmates, Ronnie and Eddie, in their quest to end history and establish Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government throughout the universe and neoliberalism its creed.

The intervention (or invasion as it is often called) was the first and only time that independent Jamaica "went to war" and it did so with the use of an Air Jamaica plane, pilots and cabin crew. Its 150 troops, landing in St George's long after the Americans had arrived, never saw combat and were assigned a peacekeeping role. It was also the first and only condemnation by the international community of an action taken by Jamaica.

The war would have a wide-ranging impact on our lives, our institutions, our political economy and on regional and international relations. One immediate consequence was that Seaga, having "won a war", called a snap election which the People's National Party (PNP) boycotted, putting at risk, but apparently creating no lasting harm to, the nation's democracy. More profoundly, neoliberalism and Pax Americana — one ideology and one superpower — were to be entrenched. But only for a unipolar moment. The American Empire is in decline but remains quite formidable; Europe adrift is mobilising; revanchist Russia is up against a resilient US-NATO proxy in Ukraine; and a rising China is being hobbled by an aggressive containment policy from the US as well as by economic slowdown and mounting domestic social upheaval. The world is faced with a deepening economic, social, political and ecological crisis. There is talk of Armageddon.

It is not always that we understand the greater game. Or are even allowed to watch it on TV. In seeking out a relationship, if you are weak, vulnerable, poor, small, dependent and unprepossessing (forget myths about being "tallawah") and are negotiating in a tough and unforgiving environment, with disparate and competing powers and interests, in which nobody owes you anything, an environment peopled with scammers and deceivers, at once complex and highly nuanced, then you have to be intelligent, wily and courageous. And remember to learn from history.

Seaga, who fancied himself a star player and a man of courage and conviction, had reminisced with pride about the role he played in Grenada and in capitalism's triumph over communism. Could it be that he was played? Perhaps, just perhaps, he, like Thatcher, had been deceived. He took his country into war but his troops had to find their way to the battlefield on the State-owned airline and when they did get there, after hostilities had long ended, were assigned by their superiors to guard prisoners. Mocking. Or could it be that after careful consideration, Seaga had picked the "right" side? Maybe the choice was an easy one for him as anti-communism was the default position of the JLP and the ideology of its founder and his mentor, Alexander Bustamante.

In February 1983, eight months before the Grenada invasion, in a ceremony held at the White House, Seaga was awarded the 1982 American Friendship Medal by the Freedoms Foundation for his "efforts to further democratic institutions and the free-market economy and for his courageous leadership in the cause of freedom for all people".

At the ceremony, his friend Reagan said nice things about him. Perhaps he needed to justify the plaudits. Sometimes a leader gets boosted. What is known for sure is that Seaga, being convinced that communism was bad and capitalism was good and that Jamaica's greatest asset was its proximity to the United States, was prepared to use all means necessary to spread his belief and convince others of his fealty. Seaga's motivations aside, could it be that Jamaica, a small, weak, dependent State, was a mere pawn in a greater game which it neither understood nor played, but which left it with blood on its hands and international condemnation?

It has often been said that Jamaica has long practised a "principled" foreign policy; that of the 1980s was anything but.

War is no game. It is the greatest evil.

Ambassador Emeritus Audley Rodriques, among other duties, served as Jamaica's top diplomat to Venezuela, Kuwait, and South Africa.

REAGAN ... approved United States' military intervention in Grenada.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Jamaica's Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Sir Egerton Richardson.
Forbes Burnham ... Guyana's former President.
Eugenia Charles served as Prime Minister of Dominica.
Former Prime Minister of Barbados, Tom Adams.

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