1983: Grenada Occupation Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Relations between Grenada, an independent republic within the British Commonwealth of Nations, and the United States began to deteriorate in the late 1970’s with the creation of a Grenadian Marxist government, the New Jewel Movement (NJM), led by moderate socialist Maurice Bishop. Beginning in 1979, Bishop established cordial relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba, including an exchange of diplomatic recognition and the beginnings of extensive Cuban-Soviet military and financial aid to Grenada. As a result, the United States government initiated a boycott of the Bishop government, refused to accept the credentials of the Grenadian ambassador in Washington, D.C., and withdrew the United States ambassador to Grenada.

Relations between Grenada, an independent republic within the British Commonwealth of Nations, and the United States began to deteriorate in the late 1970’s with the creation of a Grenadian Marxist government, the New Jewel Movement (NJM), led by moderate socialist Maurice Bishop. Beginning in 1979, Bishop established cordial relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba, including an exchange of diplomatic recognition and the beginnings of extensive Cuban-Soviet military and financial aid to Grenada. As a result, the United States government initiated a boycott of the Bishop government, refused to accept the credentials of the Grenadian ambassador in Washington, D.C., and withdrew the United States ambassador to Grenada.

The United States also attempted to block loans to Grenada from Western Europe, the World Bank, and the Caribbean Development Bank. Grenada was excluded from U.S. regional assistance programs available to other Caribbean and Latin American states. Soviet and Cuban assistance for Central American rebellions hostile to the United States strengthened the U.S. resolve to prevent further possible Soviet threats to U.S. interests in Latin America and the Caribbean.

U.S.-Grenada Tensions

The immediate cause of heightened U.S.-Grenadian tensions, however, was the construction of an international airport at Point Salines, southwest of St. George’s, Grenada’s capital. According to U.S. intelligence sources, the airport was being built with assistance from Cuba, as well as several European nations. Cuban engineers were alleged to be in the process of lengthening and strengthening the airport runways for the possible use of Cuban and Soviet military aircraft. The alleged military application of the new Grenadian airport was used from 1981 to 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, a longtime critic of Soviet influence and a staunch supporter of Cold War diplomacy, to focus attention on the alleged Soviet and Cuban direction of Bishop’s NJM. The Reagan administration claimed that the Soviet Union had established a missile base in Grenada’s central mountains, and that sophisticated Soviet monitoring equipment might be installed in Grenada to track U.S. submarine movements in the Caribbean.

U.S. Intervention

The Reagan administration’s decision to use military force was reinforced by an October, 1983, coup against Bishop, sparked by Bernard Coard, the leader of an extremist revolutionary faction within the New Jewel Movement and an ardent admirer of Cuban communism. Coard also was accused of being responsible for Bishop’s murder during the fighting between NJM factions and Grenadian government forces. Coard’s extremist revolutionary regime immediately requested increased Cuban and Soviet military assistance and ordered the creation of a people’s militia, the jailing of political opponents, and an end to Bishop’s pledge of free elections by the beginning of 1984. Following several weeks of ineffective diplomatic negotiations between the Reagan administration and the Coard regime, on October 25, 1983, U.S. Marines and U.S. Army Rangers, plus a small military police force from six Caribbean nations, invaded Grenada. The U.S. military force included nineteen hundred Marines, the helicopter carrier Saipan, a sixteen-ship battle group led by the aircraft carrier Independence, and the amphibious assault ship Guam.

U.S. soldier poses with American students at a Grenadan medical school. Protecting the safety of U.S. nationals was a primary justification of the U.S. occupation of the minuscule eastern Caribbean nation. (U.S. Department of Defense)

President Reagan’s official announcement of the invasion included a statement that the United States was responding to an October 23 request from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to help restore law and order in Grenada and guarantee political freedom and free elections for the Grenadian population. Reagan also maintained that information from the OECS and reports that U.S. citizens, many of them medical students enrolled at the Medical University of St. George’s, were trying to escape the island and could be held hostage by the Coard regime or Cuban military advisers had persuaded him that the United States had no choice but to act decisively. Reagan’s assertions were seconded by Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica, chairwoman of the OECS. Charles asserted that the Coard-led coup against Bishop was inspired and directed by Cuban advisers who feared that free elections in Grenada would result in a repudiation of revolutionary Marxism and the end of Cuban influence on the island.

Resistance to the U.S. Invasion

Armed resistance to the U.S.-led invasion was stronger than anticipated. U.S. military intelligence concluded that between six hundred and eleven hundred Cuban construction workers, military advisers, and militia were in Grenada. U.S. Marines reported that the airport, government buildings, and other strategic areas were heavily defended. By October 26, however, most opposition had been subdued and, once the major U.S. military objectives were attained, three hundred members of a joint eastern Caribbean police force landed on the island to begin security operations. By October 29, all Cuban personnel on the island had been captured, and Coard and other members of his regime had been arrested. Under OECS auspices, a new interim government was announced under British Commonwealth jurisdiction. Sir Paul Scoon, Commonwealth governor general, on November 1 announced plans for elections and revealed his intention to bring to trial those responsible for the murder of Maurice Bishop. Scoon also delivered diplomatic messages to the Soviet Union and Cuba that Grenada was cutting all ties with the two nations, and that approximately 650 captured Cubans would be repatriated.

By early November, the U.S. Department of State had revealed the contents of thousands of secret documents discovered by U.S. and Caribbean security forces. The documents included three Soviet supply agreements with the Bishop regime. U.S. officials also cited evidence that the Soviet Union had agreed to provide military training for the Grenadian militia. Other documents indicated that Cuba had long-range plans to take over the island and initiate a terrorist training camp to be used to foment revolutionary movements in the Caribbean and Central America. The Central Intelligence Agency released captured Cuban communications indicating that Cuba had planned to send 341 additional officers and 4,000 reservists to Grenada by the end of 1983. Reagan administration officials also cited documentary evidence to show that Cuba and the Coard regime planned to hold U.S. citizens hostage in the event of hostile U.S. actions.

International Reactions

International reaction to the U.S. invasion was almost universally negative. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher expressed considerable doubt regarding the invasion and advised Reagan to reconsider using military action as a substitute for economic sanctions against the Coard regime. Thatcher also announced publicly that the Grenada situation should be considered a British Commonwealth affair and therefore outside the interests of the United States. By November 1, however, the Thatcher government announced limited support for Reagan’s decision to invade, based on the prime minister’s understanding that the United States was entitled to act at the request of the OECS. The French government, on October 25, declared the U.S. invasion a violation of international law. The Canadian government also announced its regret for the invasion in light of the lack of substantial evidence to show that U.S. citizens in Grenada were in danger. The governments of the Soviet Union and Cuba, and the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua issued pro forma condemnations of U.S. actions, which asserted that the Reagan administration was interested solely in subordinating Grenada to U.S. neocolonialist rule. On October 28, the United Nations Security Council approved, by a vote of eleven to one, with three abstentions, a resolution condemning the armed intervention in Grenada. The United States vetoed the resolution.

In the United States, political opinions regarding the invasion split along party lines. Democratic congressmen and senators generally condemned the invasion as unprovoked, hasty, an overreaction, and tantamount to an act of war. Other Democratic Party leaders in Washington ridiculed Reagan as having a “cowboy mentality” and criticized the president for relying too heavily on the military solution to diplomatic problems. Republican political leaders, however, praised Reagan’s “decisive actions.” Most proinvasion sentiment centered on arguments for enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine, the thwarting of Soviet-inspired terrorism, and the necessity for backing the president and the U.S. Armed Forces during a time of crisis. U.S. public opinion generally favored President Reagan’s decision to invade Grenada and eliminate Soviet and Cuban influence.

Categories: History Content