• U.S.

Now to Make It Work

21 minute read
Ed Magnuson

Grenada’s “rescue” accomplished, the task of rehabilitation begins

Sweat soaked the layers of their camouflage battle uniforms. Their rifles and backpacks grew heavy in the 100° F heat of the tropical isle. But it had been a long time since American soldiers had felt so good, or so welcome, in a foreign land. Declared a delighted U.S. paratrooper as he patrolled a post in a suddenly peaceful Grenada: “We’re surrounded by friendlies.”

Indeed they were. The Grenadians had lived through the intrigue and excitement of a Marxist revolution and experienced one of the bloodiest days in the tiny island’s history when then” popular leader, Maurice Bishop, and more than 100 citizens were gunned down by renegade leftist radicals on Oct. 19. They had fearfully endured a round-the-clock curfew imposed by an undisciplined military regime that issued orders to kill any violators. They had huddled in their houses after the American invaders had jolted them awake in a furious predawn assault on

Oct. 25. Last week Grenadians let their spirits soar.

“The chains have been removed from our hands, the stitches from our lips,” said Wilkie Edwards, a bus driver in the fishing town of Grenville on Grenada’s east coast. The zesty beat of steel-band calypso music from radios and portable tape decks followed the U.S. military patrols as smiling Grenadians surged about the Americans. They offered the soldiers fruit and vegetables and serenaded them with guitars. Women rushed to embrace the young paratroopers. “I feel so settled; I feel so free,” declared Linda Charles, a cashier in a reopened gas station in St. George’s. With a grin, David Rodd, a cement-plant worker, proclaimed: “This is the week of our liberation.” Newly painted writing appeared beside the faded slogans of the revolution on the walls of buildings. GOD BLESS AMERICA read some. A few residents suggested as delicious irony: the island’s new 10,000-ft. airstrip, begun with Cuban labor and long the object of deep concern in Washington, be completed with U.S. dollars and be named “Ronald Reagan International Airport.”

The euphoria on the picturesque island, roughly the acreage of Detroit, may fade as Grenada tries to rebuild its shattered political system and economy. It will not be easy to fashion a new government that islanders, badly split in political ideology, can trust, or to revive an economy hurt by falling crop and tourist income. In addition, the country still faces the task of repairing its rocky roads as well as its war-damaged power facilities and water systems.

For the moment, however, Grenadians were not worrying much about the difficult tasks ahead. With only an occasional sniper firing at U.S. soldiers from isolated sites, the Defense Department announced on Wednesday that “hostilities have ceased.” Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger then ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces to begin. By week’s end the invasion force of 6,000 paratroopers, Army Rangers and Marines had dwindled to about 2,500 men of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., and up to 500 support personnel. The 400 soldiers contributed by Grenada’s neighboring island nations (Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent) took up routine police duties, patrolling harbors and checkpoints. A task force of six Navy ships, headed by the aircraft carrier Independence, resumed its interrupted mission to relieve U.S. Marines in Lebanon, now carrying troops that had unexpectedly been tested in battle. Declared President Reagan: “Our objectives have been achieved.”

For Reagan, the Grenada operation seemed to be turning into a political gain at home, particularly if the pullout continues at a rapid pace. With the serendipitous discovery in Grenada of large Cuban arms stockpiles and documents disclosing secret military agreements between Grenada’s former leaders and Cuba and the Soviet Union, the mission, which both Reagan and many Grenadians insisted be called “a rescue” rather than “an invasion,” seemed easier to justify. Some of those documents were released by the State Department last week with considerable fanfare.

Fidel Castro’s prestige and adventurism in the Caribbean and Central America had sustained a setback. The U.S.’s European allies, who had initially been highly critical of the American resort to military force, began softening their rhetoric as the success of the intervention seemed clearer. The U.N. General Assembly voted 108 to 9 to denounce the U.S. move, but Reagan airily dismissed its action with the quip: “It did not upset my breakfast any.” (The White House press office promptly produced Reagan’s breakfast menu: one poached egg, fruit, toast, coffee.)

Finally permitted by U.S. military authorities to roam freely on Grenada, newsmen found that even some of the island’s ardent leftists were enthusiastic about the American intervention. Former Prime Minister Maurice Bishop had been their hero, and when he was placed under house arrest by extremists led by Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard and then executed by a Military Revolutionary Army Council headed by General Hudson Austin, the earlier revolutionaries lost their zeal. Said Lloyd Noel, a former Attorney General under Bishop who had been imprisoned after breaking with Bishop’s party: “The Americans should feel free to establish a base here.” He urged that the U.S. stay for at least two years of transition to a more stable government. Lyden Ramdhany, Bishop’s former Minister of Tourism, conceded that “there is an end to the revolution in Grenada. We feel very embarrassed and upset. We have disappointed the left all over the Caribbean.” Many Grenadians not active in politics took a similar view. “The revolution taught us what the masses can do, and what the masses are going to do today is destroy the revolution,” said Norris Cox, another cement worker.

The Cubans clearly had lost favor on the island. When a noon crowd watching the police station in Grenville saw 82nd Airborne officers arrive with Godwin Horsford, a well-known Coard supporter, in their custody, the spectators booed Horsford and shouted, “Cuban! Cuban!” Ermyn Campbell, who lived next door to the Cuban embassy in St. George’s, recalled that “the Cubans were darling neighbors, very polite. But the U.S. is the best thing for us now. Things were coming so unstuck that I’m sure we were just snatched in time from the devil’s own mouth.”

Grenadians seemed eager to comply with the pleas of Sir Paul Scoon, the Governor-General, who represents Queen Elizabeth II. His ceremonial post, virtually ignored by the Bishop government, suddenly became a temporary center of power. The residents heeded his call to go back to their jobs, even though many found little to do there. In St. George’s Harbor, where colorful fishing boats bobbed in the coral-studded water, customs inspectors appeared for duty in a nearly empty storeroom. Said Haddon Latouche, one of the inspectors: “In the past, we saw crates and shipments, but we couldn’t inspect them. There was always a superior authority from the party present.” Some $475,000 worth of emergency food and basic supplies were on their way from the U.S. to replenish dwindling stocks. But even without them, Grenadians were in an optimistic mood. Said one shopkeeper: “We have plenty enough. The cows are in the pasture, and the fish are in the sea.”

Reporters also learned for the first time the true dimensions of the massacre on what the residents call “Bloody Wednesday.” This event proved pivotal; it turned Grenadians against the revolution and soured them on Cuba, since many believed that the Cubans, despite Castro’s proclaimed fondness for Bishop, had been behind Bishop’s arrest and death. His supporters had carefully organized a rally to free him on that fateful day. The crowd had swelled to about 25,000 people, nearly a fourth of the island’s entire population. They had swept past the guards holding him prisoner at his house, snake-danced up a winding hill, carrying Bishop along, and rushed into the limestone-walled Fort Rupert, an army stronghold renamed after Bishop’s father.

There, Bishop pleaded with the soldiers to put down their weapons, shouting, “For God’s sake, don’t point guns at your own people.”

Taking charge, he ordered that the fort’s canteen be opened and cold drinks served to the hot, dust-choked people. Suddenly, a Soviet-built, eight-wheel, mud-colored armored personnel carrier pointed its turret at the throng. A recoilless machine gun, powerful enough to knock aircraft out of the sky, opened fire randomly into the crowd. Some fled over the walls. Many others died. The bodies piled up in the fort’s yard. Bishop, who was out of the line of fire, and Education Minister Jacqueline Creft (the two had a four-year-old son, Vladimir) were seized, taken deeper into the fort and executed with single pistol shots to their heads. Two other Cabinet ministers and two union leaders were also murdered.

For days, Grenadian families did not know how many people had died. The bodies had been quickly carried away by General Austin’s soldiers and burned, probably at Camp Calivigny, later the site of an invasion battle at the island’s southern tip. But the families began totaling up their missing members, mostly young supporters of the revolution. Their first count reached more than 70. Last week, moving more freely about the island to compare reports, most thought the death toll would reach about 140.

TIME also learned that the plotters against Bishop had first hatched a different scheme: they had intended to poison him and blame the murder on the CIA. A period of mourning would have been used hypocritically by the poisoners to stir fury against the U.S. But Bishop’s delayed return from a trip to Cuba apparently disrupted the timing of the plot. Instead, he was held captive in a back room of his house, clothed only in his underwear.

At least two years earlier, a Western intelligence officer had tried to tell Washington that U.S. pressure against Grenada was only strengthening the hand of the leftist militants who were trying to push Bishop aside. The man arranged a rendezvous in Canada with CIA agents and warned that the U.S. had only three options: 1) leave Grenada alone, 2) support the island’s businessmen as a rival source of power against the Communists, 3) continue to pressure and isolate Grenada. If Washington pursued the third course, he claims to have told the CIA, Grenada would turn increasingly toward Cuba, which would dominate the island, and the only way to save it would be “to send in the Marines in five years.” The CIA reply, he said, was “You must be joking.”

When the American forces did arrive and gain control of the island, Grenadians were eager to direct them to leaders in hiding who, many felt, had betrayed the revolution. Marines ringed the house in which Coard and his wife Phyllis had taken refuge. Only when a U.S. officer began a loud countdown, threatening to open fire on the building, did the two emerge and were taken into custody. Austin was holed up in a palatial coastal resort that once was a haven for the island’s leading capitalists. He fell for a ruse by Grenadian intelligence agents who pretended to accept his offered bribe of $2,000 to take him by boat to the neighboring island of Carriacou or $3,500 to get him to Marxistdominated Guyana. Instead, they set him up for easy capture by Army paratroopers. The U.S. held the two for eventual return to the custody of a new Grenadian government, which, it is assumed, will bring them to trial for the murder of Bishop and for the Wednesday massacre.

Sir Paul Scoon, meanwhile, became in effect a one-man local government, backed by the authority of U.S. guns. He acted decisively in severing all diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and Libya, ordering them to close their embassies. He directed that the Cubans retain only one diplomat on the island. The three embassies were guarded by U.S. troops. Officially, this was for the protection of the diplomats. Privately, a State Department official in Washington admitted, “We don’t want them rattling around the island.”

With normal communications between Grenada and the rest of the world cut off during the invasion, and then apparently kept that way by U.S. military authorities, the U.S. played a most unusual role: it served as the only communications channel between the isolated Soviet embassy and Moscow. Washington relayed a list, provided by the embassy, of Soviet citizens in the Grenada chancellery to Moscow, as well as the embassy’s request for instructions on what to do next. The Kremlin orders, sent through Washington, were that everyone, including a number of East Germans, North Koreans and Bulgarians, should leave the island, as Scoon had demanded. The Soviets, who had paid $40,000 each for two Mercedes embassy cars, reached the dealer on the island to see if he would buy the autos back. He did, for $4,000 each.

When Soviet Ambassador Gennadi I. Sazhenev rode one of the Mercedes to the new airstrip, where 126 occupants of the Soviet embassy were to board a U.S. military C-130 transport, a bizarre diplomatic clash occurred. U.S. soldiers insisted on searching the car. “We’re looking for bombs,” an American officer disingenuously explained. The ambassador grumpily assented. But for nearly eight hours he angrily resisted efforts by U.S. soldiers to search all of the Soviet baggage, including a number of unsealed crates. When he finally and reluctantly yielded, the reason for his obduracy became clear: one crate contained 28 AK-47 automatic rifles, 300 loaded AK-47 magazines and five loaded pistols. The cache was confiscated before the passengers were flown to Mexico to catch an Aeroflot jet to the Soviet Union.

Cuban embassy officials held out against the eviction orders, demanding to remain until they were certain that more than 650 Cuban construction workers and military personnel being held by the U.S. Army were being properly treated and until arrangements for their return to Havana were complete. Army troops kept U.S. newsmen from entering the Cuban embassy. Reporters learned, however, that during the invasion U.S. paratroopers had vandalized the Cuban ambassador’s one-story residence on a promontory near the uncompleted Point Salines airport. Furniture was smashed, windows broken and an obscene message written on the wall. Libya’s ambassador, meanwhile, finally arranged a meeting with U.S. officials to deliver a plaintive question: “How can we get off the island?” He was flown to Barbados aboard a military plane two days later.

After sitting for six days under the eyes of U.S. Army guards, the Cuban construction workers were permitted to move to a more habitable tent city they had erected near the airstrip. All of the captured Cubans were sent there as the tedious process of interviewing each man continued. The U.S. interrogators wanted to determine just how many were professional soldiers, trained reservists, ordinary workers or various combinations of all three. Many of the prisoners looked too old, paunchy or otherwise unfit to be soldiers.

When 57 wounded Cubans were returned to Havana, Western journalists were permitted to interview some in their hospital beds. Most claimed that on Grenada they had been asked whether they would like to defect to the U.S. They contended that they had received no advance warning of the U.S. invasion—a claim that conflicts with Castro’s report that he sent warning to “Cuban representatives in Grenada” on the Saturday before the Tuesday strike. Even the U.S. State Department told Havana just hours before the invasion that the strike was imminent, assuring Castro that it was not aimed at his workers. This tip-off angered the Pentagon.

The wounded Cubans say they did not hear Havana’s radio instructions that they should resist “to the death.” They surrendered in small groups, they said, because they had run out of ammunition. Asked how long the Cubans had possessed large stores of weapons on the island, Lieut. Colonel Mariano Marquez Lopez evaded the question, finally saying that he could not remember.

Arrangements for releasing all of the captive Cubans were finally worked out, and the movement started late in the week. U.S. military planes began taking the Cubans from Grenada to Barbados, where they were picked up by Cuban airliners. They were welcomed as heroes in Havana.

Inevitably, as in every military action, there would be detailed assessments of how well, or how poorly, various armed units had performed. There was immediate praise by military experts both in the U.S. and abroad for the skill shown by the Army Rangers. Pilots of the first transports carrying the Rangers on the invasion strike found so much deadly antiaircraft fire at the normal jump altitudes of about 1,000 ft. that they quickly changed the plans. The C-130s dived in under the umbrella of flak, forcing the Rangers to leap from a mere 500 ft., a height not employed in combat since World War II. It gives the jumpers only 19 seconds before their bone-jarring landing. Said a high U.S. military commander: “The Cubans weren’t expecting that.” The jumps, said a foreign military expert, demonstrated the “superb training” of the Rangers.

The (Navy Seals also won praise for moving swiftly by landing craft to secure early beachheads and to fight their way through enemy forces to the hilltop house overlooking St. George’s Harbor, where Scoon had been under virtual house arrest. The Seals protected him throughout a night as Grenadian revolutionary troops surrounded the compound. Many of the Seals inside suffered wounds before Army units finally broke through to free them and Scoon. During the beach landing in rough seas, however, a landing craft carrying the Seals overturned, drowning four of the commando-style specialists.

There were also some tragic mistakes.

The worst was the U.S. bombing of a mental hospital, some 200 yards from Fort Frederick, on Richmond Hill above St. George’s. The fort was one of the last heavily defended sites manned by Grenada’s soldiers. It was protected by antiaircraft guns, one of them only 150 yards from the hospital. The soldiers had placed a Grenadian army flag outside the hospital building, which bore no markings showing that it was a medical facility.

Corsair jets from the U.S.S. Independence were sent to knock out the antiaircraft batteries and to bomb the fort. But the pilots blasted the hospital as well, apparently in the belief that it was part of the military complex. A three-story wing was leveled, burying many of the occupants. Mortuary workers found at least 20 bodies in the rubble, but other patients were missing. The death toll was difficult to determine, since some of the mentally-ill occupants had wandered away from the building during the U.S. attack.

The bombing of the hospital seemed to be an understandable error. But it was less excusable that it was first reported by a Canadian journalist and was not promptly confirmed by Pentagon officials. The Pentagon explained that by the time U.S. Marines took over the fort on foot the next day, the hospital personnel had buried the victims, and the Marines had no reason to suspect that anyone had died there.

Another mistake resulted in a Corsair strafing a group of U.S. paratroopers. The airborne unit “was trying to rout Cuban soldiers in their well-fortified Calivigny barracks when it called for Navy air help. Their position was close to an abandoned Cuban antiaircraft gun that still pointed toward the sky. From the air it looked like the intended target. “All of a sudden the world blew up,” said Lieut. Scott Schafer, who was hit by shrapnel when the Corsair fired. Twelve paratroopers were wounded. As the plane banked for another strike, a ground officer reached the pilot by radio to warn it away.

U.S. gunships, including the Navy’s Cobra and the Air Force’s

Spectre, proved highly effective with their shooting rate of up to 6,000 rounds a minute. They knocked out Cuban mortar and gun positions that threatened the invading troops early in the action. But they also suffered casualties, some in heroic low-level flights to draw ground fire, thereby exposing the enemy position to attacks from other U.S. choppers. The Pentagon said five helicopters had been shot down. One transport helicopter, hit by ground fire as it brought troops into the Point Salines airstrip, struck another chopper in its uncontrolled descent. Both crashed.

The final American toll was put at 18 killed, 91 wounded. The Pentagon said it had no estimate of Cubans killed or wounded. There was no estimate either of civilian deaths, except for the probability of perhaps 20 at the mental hospital. Nor was there a count of casualties among the Grenadian soldiers. The Pentagon’s vagueness on non-U.S. casualties led to suspicions, perhaps unfairly, that it was minimizing their extent.

U.S. intelligence in advance of the operation was, in the understated assessment of Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf III, the U.S. force commander for the invasion, “not what we would have desired.” This was puzzling, since, as early as last March, Reagan had publicly denounced the military buildup in Grenada as “unrelated to any conceivable threat to this island country.” Despite Reagan’s concern, the CIA did not bother to send agents into the island until two days before the invasion.

Nonetheless, U.S. intelligence estimated fairly accurately that there were some 600 Cubans on the island. What neither the CIA nor military intelligence services predicted, however, was that so many of the construction workers would prove to be well-trained fighters. Nor did the U.S. know how well armed they were. Pentagon intelligence looked bad once the operation began. The Pentagon claimed at one point that up to 1,100 Cubans were actually on the island and at least 600 of them were professional soldiers. But it then conceded that Havana’s assertion that 784 were there might be correct.

There was no good explanation for the amateurish performance of some agencies. The U.S. embassy in Barbados, TIME has learned, handled some of its informants on Grenada with extraordinary ineptness. One of them was told simply to call the embassy in Barbados whenever he had new information. But every longdistance call in Grenada is handled by telephone operators who recognize the voices of most island residents prominent enough to have the kind of knowledge that the embassy was seeking.

Another informant was given a special telephone number to use whenever he wanted to relay sensitive information to Ambassador Milan Bish in Barbados. But when the informant tried the number, he was brushed aside with the claim that the ambassador was too busy to talk. Another

Grenadian contact, who had urgent news about the recent arrival of hundreds of Cubans, was told to stop by the Barbados embassy. The Americans did not believe him when he protested that this would jeopardize his identity because the embassy was under surveillance by Grenadian informants.

The lack of solid intelligence did not endanger the mission; the U.S. employed more than sufficient military manpower to overcome even the highest estimate of Cuban strength. Nonetheless, said a State Department official, “Grenada came too close to our worst-case scenario. The top brass can see how hard it would be to do on a bigger scale.”

Was the invasion worth all the risks?

Clearly, Washington had resorted to force before seriously weighing or testing other options. The U.S. was also on shaky legal ground in sending forces into another nation, even at the request of Grenada’s worried island neighbors. In the hemisphere, that revived the old charges that America was a bully, bent on working its will with military rather than moral might.

Still, Cuba had interfered blatantly in Grenada’s affairs long before the U.S., and there had been a cry for help from the island’s neighbors. To reject that plea would have made the U.S. seem weak and untrustworthy in a tune of trouble. President Reagan’s contention that “leftist thugs” had terrorized Grenada’s residents was all too accurate. If the U.S. withdraws quickly and a stable democratic government is established in Grenada, the end result will cast the U.S. effort in a more favorable light. It should silence critics who so shallowly compared the invasion with the occupation of Afghanistan by more than 100,000 troops for nearly four years. Indeed, the relief and joy among Grenadians last week belied any glib claim that America had set out with guns to force its will upon a free people. —By Ed Magnuson. Reported by Bernard Diederich and William McWhirter/St. George’s

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