We take a look at the 1983 U.S.-invasion of Grenada that led to the installation of a pro-American government to replace the former rule of the leftist President Maurice Bishop. We speak with Bishop’s former Press Secretary Don Rojas, who was deported from Grenada by the U.S. military. [Includes transcript]
In the early morning hours of October 25, 1983, the United States invaded the small Caribbean nation of Grenada. The fiery leftist President Maurice Bishop had been assassinated days earlier. The initial invasion consisted of some 1,200 US troops. At the time of the invasion, a delegation of 500 Cubans were in the country.
They included doctors, engineers, teachers and construction workers, who were there to help build an international civilian airport for Grenada. When the US forces moved in they landed at the airport, they killed more than a dozen Cubans and more than 40 Grenadian soldiers. The U.S. quickly consolidated its occupation of the island and expanded its force to more than 7,000. By December a pro-American government was established.
- Don Rojas, the former Press Secretary for President Maurice Bishop of Grenada from 1981-1983. Before that he was the Editor in Chief of Grenada’s national newspaper "The Free West Indian." When US Marines invaded Grenada in 1983, he was deported by the US military to Barbados. He is currently the General Manager of Pacifica station WBAI in New York.
AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to democracy now!.
DON ROJAS: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Nice to see you.
DON ROJAS: Good to be with you and Juan.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us with that morning, October, 25, 1983. Where were you?
DON ROJAS: I was actually in hiding. I was underground, so to speak, this coming a few days after the coup d’état that had assassinated Prime Minister Maurice bishop, and several of his close colleagues. I was in hiding at the time. The invasion, of course, brought tremendous fury, death and destruction in the first 24 hours, and continuing for another week or so, active fighting throughout the country, resulting in the deaths of many Grenadians, and international workers, including Cubans who were there to help us construct the civilian international airport.
JUAN GONZALEZ: An invasion of a country doesn’t occur overnight. To what degree, in retrospect as you have been able to see the facts, was the invasion coordinated with the coup? Or was it done with knowledge that the coup was about to occur?
DON ROJAS: No, no. The coup provided a pretext for the invasion to take place at that particular moment. In other words, taking advantage of an opportunity of internal destabilization as a result of the coup and confusion within the Grenadian society. The invasion however had been planned by the Reagan administration as far back as 1981. In fact, there were mock invasion, military exercises on the island of Viequas off of the island of Puerto Rico. Viequas happens to be similar in topography to Grenada. This had been in the works, so to speak, for at least two years before October of 1983.
AMY GOODMAN: So explain the chronology even before those morning hours of October 25. I think it was a great surprise to many people in this country that the US was invading Grenada.
DON ROJAS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, I believe the press was kept off the island?
DON ROJAS: Yes. That’s correct. The press was actually quarantined in Barbados for several days after the initial invading force came into Grenada. Of course, this created a tremendous uproar within the international media community. But prior to that, of course, the Reagan administration had been conducting a very organized and concerted campaign of political, economic, diplomatic destabilization of the Bishop government, the revolutionary government of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, from the time Reagan came into office. The justification for the invasion, as articulated by President Reagan, I would say, was full of lies and distortions and falsifications. Reagan attempted to confuse the American people and the world by claiming that the Grenadian government was in fact building that the Soviet and Cuban military base in the Caribbean region. That was totally false. Also by using the fact that there were American medical students on the island, claiming that their lives were threatened by the Grenadian authorities. That was totally false.
AMY GOODMAN: Because there was a US medical school in Grenada.
DON ROJAS: There was and there is. A US-run and owned medical school in Grenada.
AMY GOODMAN: The famous scene of the students coming off the plane in the United States and one dropping to his knees and kissing the ground–was he a medical student?
DON ROJAS: I’m not sure about that, however, I can tell you that in the period before the invasion during the time of the internal coup d’état that had killed Maurice Bishop, when the entire country was under a lockdown curfew, and no one could have left their homes in Grenada, the only persons freely walking about the beaches of the country and the streets of the city were the American medical students.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And how did the United States troops, once they occupied the country, deal with those who had perpetrated the coup against Maurice Bishop?
DON ROJAS: Well, they were arrested, several of them, and they were held in detention for many months. Then there was subsequently a trial, and they were sentenced to life in prison. They are still there, actually, in prison in Grenada, after, what, 21 years.
AMY GOODMAN: What was Maurice Bishop trying to accomplish? When was he elected? What were you doing in Grenada?
DON ROJAS: I was serving the Maurice Bishop government at the time as the press secretary to the prime minister. Prior to that, I had served in the capacity of editor of the national newspaper, editor-in-chief, as you pointed out in your introduction. Maurice Bishop was attempting to empower the Grenadian people, a people who had a long history of slavery followed which British colonialism, followed by independence in 1974. Five years after formal independence from Britain, Maurice bishop attempted to begin a social experiment to empower the Grenadian people, to involve them in the decision-making that would affect their daily lives. To bring a popular form of democracy to a country that had for, as I said for centuries, had been under the thumb of foreign rulers, in this particular case, the British. Maurice Bishop’s vision for Grenada was of a small country standing tall and proud in the Caribbean region, and in the world community. He was able to bring his message very successfully of a new way for Grenada and the Caribbean to the world, to the United Nations, to the non-aligned movement, et cetera, and received tremendous acclaim around the world at a time. At the time of his death, he had an international stature that was — you might say, it was far out of proportion to the size of the country.
AMY GOODMAN: How did he die?
DON ROJAS: He was killed. He was assassinated on the morning of October 19 in a bloody coup d’état. Several of the members of his cabinet and others —
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that the US had anything to do with it?
DON ROJAS: Not anything directly to do with it. We don’t have evidence of that as of yet. There are range of theories and speculations as to exactly how the US was involved in the events of October 19. But I can say for certain that the US was very much involved inside of Grenada in terms of the ongoing campaign to destabilize the country from 1979 all the way up to 1983.
AMY GOODMAN: Last year, Phillys Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies compared the invasion of Iraq with the invasion of Grenada, saying "I what we’re dealing with now is Grenada on steroids. This is Reagan on steroids. This is a doctrine out of something that was viewed as shocking. There was international outrage, and now there’s international outrage but it’s muted by fear." She said "The invasion of Grenada was in some ways a symbolic act, to everyone but the people of Grenada. It was designed to show that the US was going to be the biggest and toughest kid on the block."
DON ROJAS: I think Phillys is correct in that. Unfortunately, one of the smallest countries in the world was chosen to demonstrate this new toughness on the part of the most powerful nation in the world. It’s a bitter irony.
AMY GOODMAN: The reaction of the Caribbean community?
DON ROJAS: The reaction of the Caribbean community was mixed, Amy. Among the people of the Caribbean, I would say that the vast majority of them opposed the US invasion. There were some governments in the region that did support it, the government of Barbados and the government of Dominique. The government of Jamaica was led by Prime Minister Seaga, who was a close friend and ally of President Reagan at the time.
AMY GOODMAN: He was dubbed by some as President CIA-ga.
DON ROJAS: Exactly. In fact, he holds the distinction of being the first foreign leader to be invited to dinner at the White House after Reagan was elected in 1981.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Don Rojas, now General Manager of WBAI, at the time in hiding and ultimately sent off to Barbados.
DON ROJAS: Thank you very much, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Thanks for being with us. We’re going to take a brief break.
DON ROJAS: Thanks for remembering Grenada.