The thirtieth anniversary of the only coup d’état in the anglophone Caribbean passed quietly on Friday, March 13. Few events have been of greater signi-ficance to the security of the small states of the Carib-bean Community since the coming of independence.
Grenada’s Prime Minister Eric Gairy was over-thrown in a coup d’état by a small gang commanded by a corporal from the Grenada Defence Force and organised by the New Jewel (meaning, Joint Endeavour for Welfare, Education and Liberation) movement. Although the coup arose from domestic causes, it had repercussions throughout the region and the hemisphere. Gairy’s unpopularity was never in doubt. But the ease and speed with which such a small band of poorly armed persons could defeat the Defence Force and depose an elected head of government set a dangerous precedent.
Coming after the mutiny of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force nine years earlier, the coup was the conservative prime ministers’ worst nightmare. Nevertheless, the outstanding diplomatic lesson of the crisis was the Caribbean Community’s ability to reach a consensus based on the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of states and collective action by member states. The leader of the coup, Maurice Bishop, personally appealed to Prime Ministers Forbes Burnham of Guyana and Michael Manley of Jamaica for support and, in an example of regional solidarity and foreign policy coordination, member states quickly reached an agreement. This had the effect of legitimising the insurgents’s aggression and accepting Bishop as a fellow Caricom prime minister.
But matters did not rest there. The coup triggered the trend towards the militarisation of the Caribbean ministates. Grenada disbanded the defence force and established a better equipped People’s Revolutionary Army. Five months afterwards, Barbados created the Barbados Defence Force. In Guyana also, four months after the coup, a new non-military chief of staff was appointed to head the Guyana Defence Force. On the other hand, several other states − St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica − fearing the misbeha-viour of an unruly soldiery, eventually either abolished, or decided not to establish, defence forces.
The Cold War in the Caribbean was at its height in 1979 and the United States of America regarded the Grenada coup only as an opportunity for the expansion of unfriendly, socialist influence and a setback for its own interests. Representatives of the so-called ‘progressive’ regimes in Dominica, Grenada and St Lucia who met in July 1979 aggravated US fears. The Declaration of St George’s issued by that meeting was seen as a warning that a wave of radicalism would sweep through the Caribbean basin. The subsequent development of strong ties between Grenada and Cuba confirmed US apprehensions.
The United Kingdom still possessed several dependencies in the Caribbean at that time. After the Grenada coup, the UK helped to establish the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States which, among other things, made provision for collective defence and security. The UK also created the Regional Security System among the small states of the Eastern Caribbean. It damaged regional solidarity by excluding Grenada and the rest of the Commonwealth Caribbean.
The Grenada coup could have been a historic opportunity for Caribbean diplomatic and security cooperation if Caricom had taken a regional initiative to create a security regime to embrace all member states. That path was not pursued. Four-and-a-half years after the coup, the USA damaged regional solidarity further by recruiting some Caribbean states to collaborate in its invasion and termination of the revolutionary regime in Grenada in October 1983.
Did Caricom learn any lessons from the Grenada débâcle?