GRENADA floats in the Caribbean J like a raw gem sparkling, pristine and underdeveloped,’ according to a recent report on this tiny Windward Island Its lush beaches and abundant rain forests must look nearly the way they did when Columbus stumbled upon the island in 1498.’
Columbus’ vessels have now been replaced by Geest Company ships paying weekly visits to load on bananas at St. George’s picturesque natural harbour. And Cunard cruisers disgorge North American tourists who lounge on the spectacular crescent that is the Grand Anse beach.
But the paradisal surface of tiny Grenada belies a turbulent political history. After the British left in 1974. flying-saucer buff Sir Eric Gairy ruled the island with the aid of his private army of thugs, known as the Mongoose Gang. His regime of rigged elections, political murders and economic stagnation ended with the Revo’ in 1979 when the New Jewel Movement ousted the man who had become known as the crackpot’ of the Caribbean.
Nor had Grenada’s pre-Independence history been easy. Leapers’ Hill still marks a spot where, legend has it, native Carib Indians jumped into the sea en masse rather than be enslaved Grenada’s Spanish colonisers were followed by the French and the British. who juggled the tiny island between them, and brought in black slaves to run their plantations.
The export-dependent trading pattern introduced by the colonists still dominates Grenada’s economy. Cash crops of nutmeg (Grenada grows a third of the world’s supply), cocoa and bananas account for 95 per cent of all exports. But last year’s nutmeg crop is still warehoused for want of buyers: coffee earnings have dropped 50 per cent since the late 70s.
Ironically in a country blessed with soil of legendary fertility and a population of only 110,000, Grenadas 1980 food import bill was a staggering $55.6 million. Florida orange juice and Canadian cod are popular foods in a country awash with tropical fruits and surrounded by excellent fishing waters.
Under the new Agrarian Reform Law, Grenada is matching unemployed farmers with underutilised land. Local food production could lower the estimated 35 per cent unemployment rate. The new government is strongly pushing food self-sufficiency, through small co-operatives and new government-run estates. Grenada’s first food processing plant now turns local fruit into juices, jams and nectars in the little village of True Blue. And the catch of an expanded fishing industry supplies a new fish processing plant.
While Grenadians are busy getting afloat, the Reagan administration is busy torpedoing the new regime. Prime Minister Bishop has been branded a black Fidel. His government’s reluctance to hold elections and release some 100 pro. Gairy political prisoners hasn’t helped; nor has Cuban technical assistance in building a new airport.