August 24, 1998
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
“Fidel, Fidel!” roared an enthusiastic crowd when Cuban president Fidel Castro Ruz arrived in Grenada August 2 on the last stop of a week-long tour through the English-speaking Caribbean. The revolutionary leader’s visit to Grenada, Barbados, and Jamaica registered the weakening of Washington’s decades-long efforts to seal off Cuba from the other nations in the region. Just 15 years ago, U.S. forces invaded Grenada, occupied the island for 18 months, and installed a government subservient to Washington.
Castro’s first stop was Jamaica. “We are implacably opposed to the economic blockade of Cuba, which is morally wrong,” declared Jamaican prime minister P.J. Patterson at a rally in Montego Bay. Castro was presented with keys to the city. A number of Jamaican hotel chains have set up facilities in Cuba recently, and trade is expected to deepen. While visiting Barbados, the Cuban leader spoke at a ceremony marking the abolition of chattel slavery in the 1830s. The Barbados government also unveiled a memorial to the 73 passengers, most of them Cuban, who were killed in a terrorist bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976. The Cuban government faults counterrevolutionaries in the United States for the deaths.
Ever since working people in Cuba took power in 1959, Washington has pressured Caribbean governments to break off ties with Havana. Lázaro Cabezas, Cuba’s ambassador to the eastern Caribbean, commented that today “no one can speak of the Caribbean without including Cuba.” Trade between Cuba and its neighbors has jumped from $6 million 10 years ago to $65 million in 1997. The Clinton administration has threatened to sanction Caribbean nations for trading with Cuba. But ever- declining U.S. investment in the region – from $226 million a decade ago to $24 million today -means such threats have less impact.
The Cuban government, with the approval of most of its Caribbean neighbors, is moving towards entering the 15-nation trading bloc CARICOM (Caribbean Community) and has even been named an official observer in European Union negotiations to set up a trade pact between EU, Caribbean, Pacific, and 71 African nations.
Honoring those killed in U.S. invasion
Hundreds of people in Grenada came out of their houses to welcome the Cuban president, and show solidarity and appreciation for Cuba’s role in helping to develop and defend that island. Castro received a 21-gun salute, and was greeted by Cabinet members and other dignitaries to the rhythm of a calypso interpretation of the Cuban song “Guantanamera.”
Castro was present for the unveiling of a plaque to honor the Cuban internationalist construction workers killed in the 1983 U.S. invasion of the island. They had been in Grenada building a new airport – a major contribution to the country’s economy -and defended themselves when attacked by the invading forces.
More than 5,000 Grenadians out of a population of 97,000 turned out to give a hero’s send off to the Cuban leader at the end of his visit.
The big-business press tried to downplay the significance of Castro’s tour of the Caribbean, taking the occasion to lie and slander Cuban internationalists and Grenadian revolutionists. The New York Times published an article August 3 by Larry Rohter that referred to Cuban construction workers and other personnel in Grenada in 1983. Rohter alleges that the Cuban workers “defied Castro’s orders.” He also asserts that those who weren’t killed in the U.S. assault “eventually surrendered and returned to Havana in disgrace.”
This is a blatant falsehood. The construction workers were viewed as heroes, and on Nov. 14, 1983, more than a million people turned out at the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana to honor and pay final respects to those killed during their internationalist mission in Grenada. Castro spoke at the rally proudly describing the actions of the Cuban workers and condemning Washington’s invasion.
In March 1979 the Grenadian toilers, under the leadership of Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement (NJM), toppled the hated dictatorship of Eric Gairy and replaced it with a workers and farmers government. This popular government from its earliest days received unconditional aid and collaboration from Cuba.
In 1983 a counterrevolutionary faction in the NJM led by Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard succeeded in overthrowing the workers and farmers government, and placing Bishop on house arrest. A massive outpouring of nearly a third of the population followed. Troops loyal to Coard turned their guns on the protests. They assassinated Bishop and other revolutionary leaders, as well as killing and wounding many demonstrators. This betrayal stunned and demoralized the Grenadian people, opening the gates for Washington’s “peacekeeping” forces to invade the island a few days later.
Refuting Washington’s lies
Speaking at the rally in Cuba to honor the construction workers, Fidel Castro gave a point-by-point refutation of 19 lies perpetrated by Washington about the U.S. invasion of Grenada. These lies, which are echoed again today by writers like Rohter, include: that the airport was meant to be a military outpost for Cuba; that the construction workers were really professional soldiers; that Washington invaded to protect the lives of U.S. citizens; that Cuba was behind the coup that killed Bishop; that Cuba was planning to invade and occupy Grenada; and more.
Maurice Bishop himself, in an interview with the Miami Herald in 1983, said the idea that Cuba was building a base for Cuba military aircraft was “ludicrous.” “There has never been any attempt on the part of any Cuban official, including Fidel Castro, to try to get us to do anything in return for the assistance we received…. On the contrary, I have found it is precisely those countries – the United States for example – that have cut economic assistance that are the ones that are making all the demands, putting on all the pressure.”
The Cuban government’s decision that the volunteers would stay and continue construction of the airport, even after Bishop’s assassination and in face of clear preparations for an invasion by Washington, was part of those internationalists’ commitment to the people of that struggle. They rejected the idea that Washington had any authority in the region whatsoever, no matter what internal conflicts existed on the island.
The overwhelming majority of Cuban personnel in Grenada at the time were civilians, nearly half of whom where older than 40. Others were children of diplomats. Like most Cubans, they had basic training with weapons, but at the time of the invasion these were not yet even distributed. Nor were there enough to go around. Only the Cuban construction workers had instructions from Havana to only engage the Yankee aggressors if attacked, and that is what they did.
But these workers – men and women of the Cuban revolution – did defend their ground. They continued construction as long as possible and gave the invading force a left hook that U.S. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who later commanded Washington’s 1991 slaughter of the Iraqi people, had not expected.
What “started as a highly unconventional, surgical in nature operation went sour right away…because of the assumption that the Cubans weren’t going to fight,” Schwarzkopf said in a 1991 interview with New Republic magazine. In an additional tribute of sorts, the reporter paraphrased Schwarzkopf as adding that the U.S. commanders hadn’t expected resistance from Grenadians either, but “many of the gunners had been trained in Cuba; they were brave and highly disciplined; not only did they remain at their posts in the face of withering fire from U.S. helicopter gunships, they fired back.”