Experiment in Development: Update from Grenada

This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email sftp.publishing@gmail.com

Experiment in Development: Update from Grenada

by SftP & Joseph Burke

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 13, No. 3, May-June 1981, p. 15 — 18

Joseph Burke, 

Consul General of Grenada 

141 East 44th Street, Suite 905 

New York, N.Y. 10017 

The island of Grenada, a small oval-shaped volcanic island some 34 km. long and 19 km. wide, is located about 160 km. north of the Venezuelan coast, just south of Barbados. Of the population of 102,000, over 8 percent live in the capital of St. George’s, a large port located on the south-west coast. 

Since its discovery by Columbus on August 15, 1498, both France and Britain have tried to lay claim to the island. Prior to colonization the island was dominated by the war-like Carib Indians, who had earlier killed off the Arawaks, a more peaceful tribe. In 1649 the French governor of Martinique bought Grenada and established a settlement at St. George’s. The French held control of the island for more than one hundred years, finally relinquishing it to the British in 1762. Except for a brief period of French occupation in the early 1870’s, Britain held control of the island until it became an independent state in the British Commonwealth in 1967, with Eric Gairy being named as prime minister. Independence as a nation came in 1974. In 1978 a revolution, led by the New Jewel Movement (NJM), threw Gairy out of power. 

During its tenure as a British colony, Grenada served as a source of sugar and spices, of which nutmeg was the most important, and became known as the Isle of Spice. Although the world’s largest producer of nutmeg today, it was initially developed as a sugar colony. The British set up huge plantations of sugarcane and, in the late 1700s, started importing large numbers of slaves from Africa to work in them. This fact, coupled with the destruction of the native Indians, helps explain the present-day composition of the population, where over 95 percent are of African or mixed descent. Although slavery was abolished in 1833, the Africans and their descendents continued to be exploited rather fiercely, having no real choice but to work on the British-owned plantations. This exploitation continued after independence, under Gairy’s despotic rule. Only since the revolution have the lives of the broad masses of people been substantially improved. 

Historically, the major crops have been bananas, sugar, cocoa, and nutmeg. After the emancipation of the slaves in 1833, sugar production declined and gave way to the growth of the banana industry. Bananas were the dominant export until 1969. Since then, production has declined while coconut meat and other coconut products have become more important as exports. Today, the two most important exports, and those for which Grenada is known, are nutmeg and cocoa. 

SftP: We are told in the press here that the revolution in Grenada was actually a coup by a small group of people led by Maurice Bishop. How do Grenadans see it? 

Burke: We have to bear in mind that in the years since 1973 the political awareness of the people of Grenada has been worked on. The New Jewel Movement went up and down the length and breadth of our country pointing out to people the atrocities under Eric Matthew Gairy and what the Movement felt was a better way of running the country. While it is true to say that on the morning of March 13th, it was a small group of some 46 people who actually initiated the revolution, it is also true that as far back as 1974-75, in particular, the New Jewel Movement was able to put thousands and thousands of people on the streets of St. George’s. It was only when the Mongoose Gang of Eric Matthew Gairy (the Mongoose Gang was a gang similar to the Tontons Macoutes in Haiti) started beating and shooting people (the father of our Prime Minister himself was killed in one of those massive demonstrations) that the demonstrations cooled off. In Grenada, we have members in the present government who were members of the opposition in the past government. These people were elected even during Gairy’s reign when he massively rigged elections. So, these people represent a vast number of the people in our country. Another thing that people might not be aware of is that we have a very young population, a population in which the youth of our country felt starved of identity. People had qualifications and could not find jobs because they did not support Eric Matthew Gairy. It is false to say that the revolution in Grenada was a deed of a minority of people in the country. We have massive support. I would venture to say that now we have the support of at least 90 percent of the population in Grenada behind the revolution. It is a popular, people’s revolution. 

SftP: How do people participate in the ongoing revolution, in the economic decisions, the political decisions, and so forth? 

Burke: If you were to go to Grenada now, one of the things that would strike you most is the feeling of satisfaction, the identification that people make with the government. You would hardly hear people talk about “they” referring to the government. They talk about “we”. That is because they are part of the decision-making process of our country. The U.S. Ambassador to the Caribbean, Sally Sheltern, based in Barbados, made mention of the fact that our Prime Minister goes on the air and tells people everything! The reason why he does this, and the reason why weekly we have dozens of meetings going on simultaneously in our country, is the fact that we want to keep our people aware of all the issues pertaining to Grenada. People have the opportunity to air their views, to make recommendations, and, may I tell you, in Grenada, you don’t have to have a long wait to see a minister. It’s a small society and our ministers are popular, they are of the people. They mingle with and among the people and they hear for themselves a lot of the suggestions, grievances, or criticisms in Grenada. We have a Women’s Desk, and complaints or suggestions are being fed through the Women’s Desk on the woman question, or indeed on any question. Weekly, there are meetings in all the parishes where decisions and suggestions are channelled to the government. You really have a participatory system going on in Grenada. Immediately after the revolution, for example, 26 of our schools were renovated through voluntary labor. People just kept turning out and refurbishing the schools, painting, doing whatever work there was to be done. All voluntarily. This is how they show their feeling of being a part of what is going on. On weekends we get people fixing roads, cleaning drains, and so on, and the admixture of sexes and ages is really tremendous. This, in effect, is how the people act out their feeling of identity with what is going on in the country. 

SftP: How are those projects organized or decided on? Has the revolution created a system of community organizations and labor organizations or something like that through which people participate? 

Burke: From 1973, 1974, 1975, mobilizing the community was a major feature of the NJM’s work. Yes, we have any number of organizations, we call them cells, throughout the country that meet regularly. We have a Farmers Club, 4-H, political groups, a women’s organization, a teacher’s organization, a parent-teacher’s organization, any number, any variety of organizations and so on. Information is being channelled through those groups. You have a constant dialogue taking place. It was because of the organizing of the community that when the revolution struck, the NJM was able to just go ahead and call the vast number of our people out and they came massively in support of the revolution. 

SftP: Are the economic plans and economic decisions also worked through the people there and the popular organizations? 

Burke: Certainly, certainly. One example is the land reform that we have been pursuing. Now, in Grenada we have a lot of idle land. At the same time that the lands are idle we have young people in the country idle and we’re shackled by a large bill for the importation of foodstuffs. We feel it is time for us to increase our production, make our nonproductive lands productive, thereby creating employment opportunities for our people and, at the same time, cutting down on the importation of foodstuffs. We set about by getting the people in every parish and every village to identify, for example, large portions of land that have been underutilized. So they pinpoint those lands to the commission. Once that has been done, the commission considers the recommendations and grievances that come from the people and makes recommendations with regard to the utilization of those lands. Persons owning the lands would be informed of the findings and asked to present a plan which would indicate that they plan to increase production from the land. If they don’t want to do that, they are asked to lease the land to the government or to sell the land… The government would then turn those lands over to cooperatives within the various parishes. Those cooperatives will, with the aid of the government of course, turn those idle lands into production. So that is one example where you have people participating in what is in fact the basis of our economy. 

SftP: Here in the United States there has been a lot of debate about this choice that developing nations are supposed to face between immediate but limited improvements in the standard of living and continued sacrifices by the people in order to build up the industrial infrastructure for later sustained improvements in the standard of living. 

Burke: I personally do not agree. I do not see a clear-cut line of a country opting for immediate improvement in the standard of living or continuing to sacrifice for an improvement in the standard of living later. I see those things running concurrently and in the case of Grenada I think this is what is happening. We have been observing an immediate improvement in the standard of living. We have created more employment opportunities, we have begun processing our own fish, and we have begun to diversify the productin of food crops, so we have already seen an immediate improvement. We have a scheme where we assist people in repairing their homes to make them more livable. At the same time, we are embarking on developing industries. We are not going to make the mistake of some countries where they talk about having industrial development but mean that parts from more industrialized countries would be shipped to their country to be assembled, because we see that if you do this, you are playing into the hands of the countries from where the parts are coming. They could manipulate and create unemployment or what have you. We in Grenada know that we have an agricultural country, and whatever industry we try to develop will be centered around agri-industrial development. We see immediate improvement in the standard of living and a long term improvement in the standard of living going side-by-side. We do not see that you have to suffer now so as to benefit later. 

SftP: Are you receiving aid from other countries for your development plans? Is there any cooperation in development between you and other nations? 

Burke: Of course. We have been getting quite a lot of assistance. Let me say that the Organization of American States (OAS) has been very forthcoming. What happened in the last administration, we understand, is that they were unable to produce any type of plan or program and therefore were not able to get the type of assistance from the OAS they might have. Since the revolution, we have been able to produce proposals for that organization and they in turn have given us a lot of assistance in the areas of health, education, family planning, and things like that. Also we have been able to secure a lot of assistance from countries in our region. Panama, for example, is helping us to improve our livestock industry. Venezuela has come in with much assistance with regard to the building of our international airport building. Cuba by far has given us the most assistance with regard to the building of our international airport. They have also given us assistance with regard to improving our health system and have helped us with our water supply system. For the fields we have gotten grants from countries like Iraq and Libya. We have gotten assistance from Kenya, Nigeria, and Canada. The point I’m making is that we have been able to show to these countries that we intend to introduce programs which would serve to benefit the masses of our people, and to a large extent they have been very responsive. For example, we intend to develop a fishing industry and we realize that we must have facilities for refrigeration. Czechoslovakia has promised to come to our assistance in that respect. We have a very bright team of people in the government, good men and women. They are able to show programs geared towards improving the lot of the masses of our people, and countries have been responding.

SftP: At the present time, what does the New Jewel Movement see as the role of science and technology in development? 

Burke: I mentioned that we are going to develop a new fishing industry. A lot of the people we have sent away on scholarships, rather than indulging, as in the past, in law and medicine, are engaged in studies centered around agri-industries, canning, preserving fish, agronomy, soil mechanics, and engineering. We see technology as being very important to us in Grenada, especially in the field of energy. We have a very windy country and we feel that we should be able to generate electricity from wind power. We think that, being in the tropics, we could capitalize on solar energy, and so we’re looking at those possibilities. We are studded with rivers, not anything as big as in the United States, but nonetheless rivers and waterfalls, and for a number of years there has been a lot of talk of developing hydroelectric power, and we are also looking into that. Bear in mind that we are a small country looking at various ways in which we hope to improve on our energy. You can see that the introduction of science and technology in those areas would be very important to us, as well as in fishing, in agriculture, in the development of electricity, in medicine, and in other areas. But I don’t think we are going to be thinking of better ways of assembling motor cars. 

SftP: How would you characterize your approach to developing technology and a scientific base in your country? Are you importing technology from developed nations, developing indigenous technology or what has been called appropriate technology? 

Burke: It’s both. Really, we do not have to import much, because a lot of our own nationals live in the United States, they live in the United Kingdom, they live in Canada, and they are involved in science and technology. So, we see it is important to encourage, to try to bring back into Grenada some of our own people so they can apply their skills. In that way we are not really importing technology. With regard to local technology, if I may use that term, already we have begun to see that evolving. For example, we have started smoking some of our fish and salting some of our fish. If you were to look at recent issues of our Free West Indian newspaper, you would see that some of our young people in fact invented an oven for the curing of our fish. Not only invented it, but they have already improved on it. So we are working on both aspects. Naturally we will need assistance. Right now we are putting in a new international airport, and we need to bring in technology from the outside. We do not see it as either one or the other. 

SftP: What can we do to help, either as Americans or as people with scientific and technical backgrounds? 

Burke: Generally, I would say people can help by firstly learning more about what is happening in the Caribbean as a whole and in Grenada in particular. The formation of Friendship Societies, a St. Louis-Grenada Friendship Society or whatever, with a view to assimilating and disseminating information about our country is very important. Tourism plays a great part in the economy of our country and these organizations could also organize tours, trips, and what have you, to Grenada. Perhaps more directly, in sending materials to be used in schools. Already we have had quite a lot of assistance from the United States in the form of video and audio equipment to be used in public education in the field of health and in general education. Things that you might think simple, like pens, pencils, notebooks and textbooks to be used in our schools. Medical equipment, any amount of antibiotics, aspirins, disposable syringes, things like that, wheel chairs, bed clothing, any sort of medical item could come in useful. Also we would like, if skilled persons could take a week or two and come to Grenada and give some assistance on a consultative basis or in practical terms, especially people in the field of education, we know you get long vacations in the United States, you can come down to Grenada and give some assistance in our education program. Any number of things. What I would suggest is communication could be sent to our office in New York, directly to Grenada, or to our office in Washington, D.C., if any person or any group of persons think they are able to give assistance in any way. Of course, to be more direct, money is always handy, and bear in mind that the American dollar is worth 2.7 of our dollars. A few thousands of dollars could go a very long way towards improving the lot of our people. We have started to put up day care centers, so any type of equipment that could be used with preschool youngsters — playpens, plasticenes that children could use for making various forms, drawing equipment — all these sorts of things could be very, very useful for us.

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