The USA in the Caribbean: Thirty years after American fury

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Confirmed speakers include:

  • Keynote speaker: Sir Shridath "Sonny" Ramphal, GCMG, AC, ONZ, OE, OM, OCC, QC, FRSA Secretary-General of the Commonwealth (1975-1990); Foreign Minister of Guyana (1972-1975).
     
  • Peter Gay, Diplomatic Service 1963 to 1998 (Kaduna and Lagos, Nigeria 1963-67, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 1967-71, Toronto, Canada - 1974-75, Port of Spain, Trinidad 1976-1980 and High Commission representative in Grenada 1979-1980,  Mogadishu, Somalia, 1983-87, Oporto, Portugal 1987-91.

  • Professor Gus John, Author of: Time to Tell the Grenada Massacre and After: Grenada Diary 14-25 December 1983 (2010).
     
  • Dr Michael Kandiah, Director of the Grenada Witness Seminar Programme, Kings College London.
     
  • John KellyCMG, LVO, MBE, Former UK Permanent Representative, FCO, Grenada, 1982-86.
     
  • Professor Philip Murphy, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Joint Editor of  Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. Author of: Monarchy and End of Empire (2013); The Queen and the Commonwealth (2012).   
     
  • Professor Howard Tumber, Director of Research for City University's Graduate School of Journalism, Co-director of the Centre for Law, Justice & Journalism. Author of: Journalists at War (1988); and Journalists under Fire (2006).  

 

October 2013 is the 30th anniversary of the United States (US) invasion of Grenada. 

In 1983, one of the smallest independent countries in the Western hemisphere, the Caribbean island of Grenada, was invaded by the largest country in the Western hemisphere, the United States of America (US). The invasion, named Operation Urgent Fury, began on 25 October 1983, less than 48 hours after the bombing of the US barracks in Lebanon, where 241 US marines died in the largest non-nuclear attack on record. Nearly eight thousand US soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines participated in Operation Urgent Fury along with 353 Caribbean allies in the Caribbean Peace Forces. The invasion was also the first major US military operation since the Vietnam War.

 

The Situation

The invasion was criticised by several countries, and the United Nations (UN) called for a cessation of the ‘armed intervention’ with 108 members in favour of the resolution (Resolution 38/7) with 9 against and 27 abstentions Britain had abstained. The UN Security Council also brought a resolution stating that it ‘deeply deplores the armed intervention in Grenada, which statutes a flagrant violation of international law.’ However, this resolution was vetoed by only the US, 11 to 1.

The US largely justified the invasion by claiming that they feared the island’s Communist aspirations, including the relationship Grenada had with Soviet Russia and Cuba, and the nearby presence of Marxist Nicaraguan Sandinistas. The US also claimed that a commercial airstrip being built on the island was suspiciously large, and that US medical students based at an American university in Grenada could be taken hostage, as US diplomats in Iran had been four years before. These claims were despite a US fact-finding mission concluding that the new airstrip was not for military purposes. 

 

The Response

Some US Democratic Members of Congress sought to impeach President Reagan. While, the Queen, the Head of State of Grenada, was said to be furious with both of the US and British premiers and had demanded answers from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. However, Thatcher was apparently ‘deeply disturbed’ by the news of an invasion. President Reagan claimed that Thatcher ‘...was very adamant and continued to insist that we cancel our [planned] landings on Grenada. I couldn't tell her that it had already begun.’

 

The Media 

Many victory-starved US officials had blamed journalism for Watergate and the visual failings of the Vietnam War.

For the first time in US warfare history journalists were explicitly excluded from an invasion and only ‘official’ accounts of combat events were released. After learning of the invasion journalists were not helped to reach Grenada and attempted to access the island by boat and small plane, only to be promptly detained, allegedly shot at or chased away by US fighter planes.

Once journalists were allowed to travel to Grenada, reporters were held in Barbados for two days and released only when the invasion was already considered a success.

 

The Aftermath

With incidents such as US airforces mistakenly firing upon and killing US ground-forces, and using tourist maps which nearly caused the failure to find a US student campus in Grenada, the invasion highlighted US military intelligence and communication problems. This resulted in the most important legislative changes affecting the US military since the end of World War II; namely, the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (Pub. L.99–433).

Les Janka, the US Deputy White House Press Secretary for Foreign Affairs, resigned three days after the invasion ‘out of principal’ and to protect his ‘personal integrity’ after he had to repeatedly report the official line of no civilian casualties and that the US had no plans to invade Grenada, right until the US military had already landed on Grenadian shores. On the same day, reporters alleged that President Reagan had been jovial and joking about his own re-election. 

 

The Legacy

The US withdrew from Grenada in December 1983, just before the 1984 US Presidential elections. The incumbent, Republican President Reagan, was re-elected in a historic popular and electoral vote landslide. Reagan won 525 of the 538 electoral votes and 49 of the 50 states. The Democratic defeat was the worst in US history and Reagan's electoral votes total remains a US record.

The US invasion of Grenada is widely recognised as the end of US open war coverage, and is blamed for the friction that remains between the US media and the Pentagon. Some also suggest that the invasion was the litmus test for US military action in the Panama, the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

During 2000-2002, a truth and reconciliation commission, in Grenada, sought to address the existing resentment and injustices from the era. Officially, the US sustained 19 deaths and 116 wounded; Cuban forces sustained 25 deaths, 59 wounded; whilst Grenada sustained 45 deaths and 358 wounded, with at least 24 civilian deaths. Many of whom were killed in the bombing of a Grenadian psychiatric hospital.

The date of the US invasion is now a national Thanksgiving Day holiday in Grenada, and the controversial airstrip’s airport was renamed in honour of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop who was murdered immediately before the invasion. In 2008, Tillman Thomas, who had been imprisoned for two years by Maurice Bishop, was elected Prime Minister of Grenada, only to be historically removed from government and opposition, in February 2013, by losing every seat his party held.

 

A feature of this conference will be a publication of the Grenada Witness Seminartranscripts of interviews with some of the decision makers involved during the invasion.

 

This conference is likely to discuss some of the following international issues:

  • The discord between the Queen, as the Commonwealth Head of State, and the British Prime Minister.
  • The disagreement and fraught special relationship between the United States and Britain.
  • Is a ‘former colony’ ever a ‘former’ colony? When does a state become sovereign?
  • Thirty years on, has the relationship between the Caribbean, Cuba, the United States, and Britain changed? Could such a political situation arise today? 
  • How has US foreign policy changed towards smaller states, including the Caribbean, and other Commonwealth countries since the invasion of Grenada?
  • Do foreign invasions still win elections?
  • What legacy did the invasion of Grenada leave for conflict journalism? 
  • How effective is ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ in politics?
  • Imperialist America? Communist Cuba? Is the Cold War over?
  • What status does the Commonwealth still have in international security and diplomacy?
  • Is there still a security issue in the Caribbean Basin? Is the Caribbean still the backyard of the US?
     

This conference is supported by the Political Studies Association, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (University of London) and The Round Table journal.
 

Please register early to avoid disappointment.
Places are limited and registration is essential.

 

For further details contact the Caribbean Politics Chair, Karen Hunte.