Let me start by making it clear that I consider it a privilege and an honour to be invited to deliver the Inaugural March 13th Lecture to commemorate the ground-breaking Revolution that began in Grenada on March 13th, 1979. I therefore commend the Grenada Revolution Memorial Foundation and by extension, the Government and people of Grenada for keeping alive the memory of that historic occasion.
I do so for several reasons:
First, both philosophers like George Santayana and practical political leaders such as Winston Churchill have repeatedly told us that: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
However, the problem is that History is constantly being redefined by “the winners” in such a way as to present “the losers” as having made an insignificant contribution to the evolutionary process of human development.
So whether we like it or not, the history of the world is written from the perspective of those who have succeeded in establishing their hegemony over others defined as “different”, based on tribe, race, colour, ethnicity, class, nationality, or ideology.
But because human beings have the capacity to reason and to reach their own conclusions about what is right or wrong, there has always been considerable resistance to domination and an almost unquenchable thirst for freedom. I am convinced that this unending struggle for a better life by the oppressed has led to a culture of resistance and a progression towards a higher form of civilization.
It is therefore absolutely imperative that enlightened states and social institutions provide opportunities for people to express different perspectives on history as a democratic right.
The history of the Caribbean, that collection of countries that are washed by the Caribbean Sea and which includes parts of Central, North and South America, offers considerable evidence to support this thesis.
Those who are familiar with the people’s history of this Region would know that it has been the confluence of cultures from nearly every continent, ever since Christopher Columbus accidentally landed in the Region in 1492.
Since then it has been the victim of European hegemony of one sort or another that systematically destroyed or suppressed the indigenous civilizations as well as the cultures of people brought in from as far as Africa and Asia.
Despite this, the reality is that the Caribbean has established a long tradition of resistance to genocide, slavery, colonialism and racism. As a result, the Region is famous for its independent thinkers and political leaders who spoke out and struck blows for freedom and self-determination.
They envisaged our destiny as independent shapers of hemispheric unity and progress, rather than appendages of Empire. They, in one way or another, contributed to the emerging Caribbean Civilization.
These leaders ranged from Nanny the Maroon to Toussaint L’Ouverture; from Bolivar to Marti; from C. L. R. James to Frantz Fanon; and from Marcus Garvey, Clement Payne, and other leaders of the Civil Disturbances of the 1930’s to the succession of outstanding political leaders who took their countries to “Independence” from the 1960’s.
The Caribbean, like the rest of the world, received a powerful ideological injection from October 1917, when the Russian Revolution, fueled to the Communist Manifesto, succeeded in toppling one of the most powerful Empires in existence.
By stressing the nobility of work, and advocating ownership and control of the means of production by workers for workers, this Manifesto and the related Revolution succeeded in sending a powerful message of hope to oppressed workers throughout the world.
They even promised to….”everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things”. And because this Revolution was perceived as posing a threat to the dominant capitalist states of the world, it ushered in the Cold War.
Most of the 20th Century was therefore characterized by the struggle of workers to unite and seize control of states in order to improve the conditions under which they worked. This struggle lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
Between October 1917 and November 1989, the international landscape experienced the most polarized configuration of Foreign Policy and developmental options. Global power was split between Capitalist and Socialist models.
Even the attempt by several developing countries to define themselves as an autonomous “Third World” ran into problems. So intense was the global contestation between the two monolithic, ideological and economic systems that even the attempt to create a Non Aligned Movement was racked by internal tensions from the Cold War.
The Cold War undermined the freedom and independence of sovereign states by forcing them to submit to the supremacy of either the capitalist or communist camp.
Needless to say, the Communist Manifesto had a powerful appeal to countries of the Caribbean Region. Its ideology contained apparent solutions to all forms of oppression, particularly those based on class and race. As such, it built a momentum that reached a climax in the Grenadian Revolution of March 13th, 1979.
The significance of the Grenadian Revolution is that it elicited a massive response from the most powerful capitalist state in the world, simply because it was seen as tantamount to throwing a match to a keg of gunpowder.
If the Revolution had succeeded in the backyard of the USA it was feared that it would have led to the demise of the capitalist Goliath among non-white nations weakened by racist and capitalist exploitation.
Throughout the crisis, Maurice Bishop offered a completely different perspective to that of the US Government:
“We are obviously no threat to America. Nor is Cuba for that matter. I think Washington fears that we could set an example for the rest of the region if our Revolution succeeds.
In the Caribbean region you’re talking about small countries with small populations and limited resources; countries that over the years have been classic examples of neo-capitalist dependencies.
Now you have these new governments like Nicaragua and Grenada that are attempting a different experiment. They are no longer looking at development as how many hotels you have on the beach but in terms of what benefits people get. How many have jobs? How many are being fed, housed, and clothed? How many of their children receive education?
We certainly believe in Grenada that the people of the English-speaking Caribbean want to see an experiment like that succeed. They want to see what we are trying to build come about.
America understands that and obviously if we are able to succeed where previous governments following different models failed, that would be very, very subversive.”
Despite the pleas from Maurice Bishop, the USA mobilized enough military force to subdue a nation state several times larger and more powerful than Grenada in 1983. The Revolution was ruthlessly crushed.
The impact of this aggression was to intimidate potential socialist revolutionaries wanting to improve the lives of ordinary people. History will therefore one day show that the end of the Cold War began in 1983, with the invasion of Grenada and not 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell.
Between the two Octobers of 1917 and 1983, the Caribbean itself experienced several tensions. In many respects the options were set for the Region by the Monroe Doctrine which sought to establish the Americas – including the Caribbean – as a sphere of uncontested influence of the United States. And even though many Caribbean nations fell in line with that prescription of power, a few defied it.
From that first October of 1917, insurrections influenced by the example of the Russian Revolution occurred in most parts of the world. However, in the English speaking Caribbean it was not until 1953 with the assumption of power by Cheddi Jagan, under colonially administered elections, that the first real rejection of a Caribbean state with the neo-colonial development model was first attempted.
Of course as we know, the British colonialists would have none of it; and military intervention in this democratic outcome reversed the people’s will.
The next major historical milestone that challenged the hegemony of the West in the Caribbean was the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. That history is well known to all of us; and fifty years later with the declassification of secret documents, we have learnt of the innumerable efforts at subversion of that process.
The lesson that these documents convincingly teach is that in every historical context, any intervention aimed at stifling the people’s aspirations for liberation from oppressive regimes inevitably leads to a deeper radicalization of the process.
Following the Cuban process, the Michael Manley experiment with Democratic Socialism, and the experience of Allende’s Chile were the next major efforts to make a break with the old structures of dominance and dependence. In both of these cases, interventions of destabilization by Capitalist Agents led to the demise of the radical project.
The Grenada Revolution on March 13th, 1979 marked the most decisive fracture in the Anglophone Caribbean with the political and constitutional status quo.
The greatest tragedy of that historical episode is that we have failed to learn the lessons of that experience and even more disturbingly, succeeding generations seem to have no knowledge of what is without question, the most significant historical episode in the Caribbean in the 20th Century.
It has been repeatedly said that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”. The most important lesson for us, the contemporary leaders of the Region, is the imperative and the special responsibility to speak out clearly and loudly against any infringement of the fundamental freedoms that our fore-parents so desperately fought for.
Please note that no decisive interventions were made by the Caribbean or American leadership when Eric Gairy brought Grenada into the orbit of fascism with links to Pinochet and Park Chung-Hee; his use of the Mongoose Gang; and his progressive subversion of the democratic process.
In a recent lecture in honor of George Brizan, the current Director General of the OECS and a protagonist of the Grenada Revolution, Dr. Didacus Jules warned:
“Regardless of one’s ideological or political outlook, it is indisputable that Grenada has a unique contemporary history and we must learn to digest the pain as well as the accomplishments of that history if we are to create a future brighter than the tumultuous past”.
So Comrades, let us analyze the lessons learnt with respect to the Foreign Policy and the development options pursued by the Grenada Revolution.
For me, the fundamental principles that guided the Foreign Policy of the Revolution were:
• An explicit Policy of Non Alignment and Diversification of Relations –basically the use of Foreign Policy to extend the range of friendships while providing options in pursuit of national self-interest. Grenada did not believe in putting all its eggs in one basket, especially a basket that was lined with dictated conditionalities that ran counter to its philosophy of what must be done to empower and enfranchise its people.
To use the words of the National Hero of Barbados, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow, in his first address to the United Nations as Prime Minister of Barbados, we must pursue a Foreign Policy that allows our countries “to be friends of all, but satellites of none”.
• The establishment of non-Negotiable Principles as the foundation of our Foreign Policy – At the core of this must be support of self-determination for all peoples. In CARICOM this fundamental principle has guided our relations with Cuba and Venezuela; and indeed our response to the USA intervention in both Iraq and Libya. In addition, we must maintain unflinching opposition to Apartheid, colonialism and racism wherever and however they are practiced. These values flow logically from the historical journey of the majority of our people over the last 400 years in the Caribbean.
• Alignment of Development Aid Requirements with Foreign Relations – Given the limited options we have for the development of our people, especially in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, we must seek development aid from our friends who share a similar philosophical and developmental outlook to our countries.
• The integration of Foreign Relations with solidarity groups supportive of development and the political agenda of the Revolution – It is critical that we better and more strategically structure our outreach to the Diaspora. This strategy pursued by the Grenadian Revolution was essential to the Revolutionary Government being able to beat back the efforts of the USA to derail the construction of the International Airport.
Today, we must cease the rhetoric as to how we can mobilize our citizens to be an effective lobby in the Diaspora to advance our approach to development. We must simply get on with it! This would be even more meaningful if we co-ordinate our efforts as a Region to sensitize and mobilize our people whether in London, New York or Toronto.
We should note that besides extending its relations with traditional western powers such as the United Kingdom, the European Union and France and seeking to extend relations with the United States, Grenada built up close relations with a wide cluster of non-traditional countries: the Nordic countries, a diverse array of (democratic) Latin American countries, (Sandinista) Nicaragua, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, East Germany, DPR Korea, Mozambique, Libya and Syria.
Hugh O’Shaughnessy, in his book “Grenada –Revolution, Invasion and Aftermath “recounted that:
“…….. [Washington’s] rage reached paranoiac proportions when Grenada started close co-operation with Cuba and the USSR. Grenada’s action challenged the hegemony that Washington was expecting to extend throughout the Caribbean after the withdrawal of the British who had dominated it for two centuries.”
Grenada’s Foreign Policy under Maurice Bishop is best summed up in this extensive quotation from an early speech in response to a US ultimatum on relations with Cuba:
“Grenada is a sovereign and independent country, although a tiny speck on the world map, and we expect all countries to strictly respect our independence just as we will respect theirs.
No country has the right to tell us what to do or how to run our country or who to be friendly with. We certainly would not attempt to tell any other country what to do. We are not in anybody’s backyard, and we are definitely not for sale.
Anybody who thinks they can bully us or threaten us clearly has no understanding, idea, or clue as to what material we are made of.
They clearly have no idea of the tremendous struggles which our people have fought. Though small and poor, we are proud and determined. We would sooner give up our lives before we compromise, sell out, or betray our sovereignty, our independence, our integrity, our manhood, and the right of our people to national self-determination and social progress………
We are a small country, we are a poor country, with a population of largely African descent, we are a part of the exploited Third World, and we definitely have a stake in seeking the creation of a new international economic order which would assist in ensuring economic justice for the oppressed and exploited peoples of the world, and in ensuring that the resources of the sea are used for the benefit of all the people of the world and not for a tiny minority of profiteers.
Our aim, therefore, is to join all organizations and work with all countries that will help us to become more independent and more in control of our own resources. In this regard, nobody who understands present-day realities can seriously challenge our right to develop working relations with a variety of countries.”
The construction of the International Airport is the best example of the materialization of the benefits of revolutionary Grenada’s Foreign Policy alignment with its development option.
The airport was built with funding from the most diverse assortment of countries – Cuba, Canada, the Caribbean Development Bank, France, Venezuela and Libya were among the main contributors.
Contrary to the assertions by US President Reagan, the airport was a major economic and not a military project. It was designed to transform Grenada’s tourism and trade potential and was one of the most widely supported initiatives of the revolution. It significantly opened up the economic options of Grenadians, and by extension their social well-being.
I must confess that I have drawn heavily on many of these principles in piloting my country through one of the most devastating recessions in recent history. When the Dominica Labour Party came to power in 2000, it found a Foreign Policy that was determined by traditional colonial customs. The 44 countries with which it had established diplomatic relations since Independence were predominantly on the American side of the Cold War divide.
As the Cold War thawed out, my Administration decided to review the country’s Foreign Policy. We rationally decided that it was in the best interest of Dominica to shift from supporting Taiwan to adopting the “One China Policy”.
This change of policy began to bear fruit immediately as support – in the form of grants and concessionary loans – was received from the People’s Republic of China.
These were used for: building the Windsor Park Sports Stadium; rehabilitating the Roseau to Portsmouth Road; improving housing in the Kalinago Territory; gaining access to on-going Agricultural technical co-operation; up-grading medical facilities; disbursing flood relief; offering scholarships to students; constructing the State House, the Conference Centre, the Commissions Building, and the Dominica State College.
Similar close relationships were established with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela that led to the signing of the PetroCaribe Agreement and the joining of the Bolivarian Alliance for Peoples of our America (ALBA) in 2008.
The benefits that flowed from these agreements included access to low-priced petroleum products; Grants and concessionary funding to finance the Housing Revolution;
grants for Hurricane Recovery, the National Security Programme, the construction of Sea Defense walls, Agricultural Diversification, Tourism Infrastructure, Scholarships and the Melville Hall Airport upgrade.
Realignment with other countries brought several more benefits such as:
• Health Care and Scholarships from Cuba; and
• Investments from the Kingdom of Morocco for the Cabrits Hotel Resort and Spa.
By 2014 Dominica had established meaningful and productive relationships with 94 states. In the process it received international recognition for its efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development without destroying its natural environment and its communities.
In this way Dominica was able to attract more grants, concessionary loans and technical aid from friendly countries.
Today, all countries, particularly small island development states, face the challenges of globalization. As the Rt. Honourable P. J. Patterson warned us:
“None of us should believe that autonomy and independence constitute irreversible and unassailable gains for relatively small and powerless nations. The shadow of globalization is as long as its grip is strong, and it carries with it the potential –if not the intention by the powerful, to make client states of the weak and vulnerable; opening them as markets; assuming once again control of their factors of production; and reducing them to a state of dependency that compromises their autonomy.”
Similarly, George Brizan, the Grenadian Economist has reminded us to be constantly vigilant of the new threats to small and vulnerable jurisdictions in the Region:
“Today the new imperialism that is emerging has many faces very different in form to the old well-known faces. But the elaborate system of control and dominance of the world economy by a few nations remains intact despite accommodation for a few new ones. The ending of the Cold War has enhanced and strengthened that control, dominance and stranglehold of the few on the many; by the minority of countries on the majority of countries.”
In the final analysis, globalization poses both opportunities and threats. We have dwelt long enough on the challenges at the expense of the opportunities. So let us not despair and overlook the opportunities.
As Maurice Bishop constantly reminded his Comrades:
“Revolutionaries do not have the right to be cowards. We have to stand up to fight for our country because, the country is ours. It does not belong to anybody else.”
I am convinced that the Caribbean is still on a trajectory to realizing the dreams of our ancestors and those who fought for our right to self-determination at Independence. During slavery and colonialism our forefathers faced the daily trauma of dehumanizing conditions as they chipped away at the monumental obstacles to their progress.
In more recent decades, success came in the form of political independence. With that milestone we could say that we had truly come a long way.
However, inspired by the seminal work of the great Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, “Freedom is Choice”, our generation of Caribbean people understand that it is only when our citizens can make choices as they go about their daily lives that they will be truly free and independent. This must remain our mission as we seek to reverse four centuries of utter exploitation.
I believe that the current recession has taught many of us the virtue of uniting; the imperative of diversifying our economies by encouraging entrepreneurship and putting our God-given resources to optimum use; and the need to remain steadfast in our mission to generate wealth in such a way that all of our people receive a fair share.
We have to first create the wealth and then distribute it more equitably among our citizens so that their lot does not mirror that of their grandparents and great-grandparents.
Let us be frank. Our small size has not traditionally given us a competitive advantage. However, we now have the opportunity to leverage the technological advances in transport and communication along with the political structures of the Economic Union of the OECS and the Single Market and Economy of CARICOM to better deliver the promises of development to ALL our people.
In a very real sense, the establishment of these two regional entities as communities of sovereign states is the ultimate testimony of how Foreign Policy may be a clear expression of faith in what can be achieved while maintaining our independence as nation states in this region.
These Treaties which we have signed in the name of our people must be made living instruments that will make a difference to the teenager now leaving school in St. George’s who wants to work in the international business sector; or the dressmaker in Roseau who really wants to go into fashion and costume designing; or the farmer in St. Vincent and the Grenadines who must find additional markets for his produce to be able to continue to live fully off the land without worrying that the local market is too small to support his family; or the fisherman in the Southern Caribbean who still does not understand how we can have a University of the West Indies and a West Indies Cricket Team but he cannot sail the Caribbean Sea without fear of losing his liberty.
I focus on these people-centered issues for I have responsibility in CARICOM for the movement of Caribbean people.
And just as Maurice Bishop and the People’s Revolutionary Government understood that their philosophy to develop Grenadians had to be at the centre of their Foreign Policy, we as leaders of this great Caribbean Civilization must ensure that in the most sincere expression of our Foreign Policy, namely, in our regional Treaty arrangements, that we keep the needs of our people at the centre of the integration movement.
It is not an academic exercise. It is, and must always be, about our people and their right to have choices – to taste and enjoy freedom in all its dimensions.
Equally, we have a responsibility to ensure that we preserve our environment as guardians for the benefit of our children and grandchildren. The risks that we face as a result of global warming threaten to affect our very existence. This is real. But our responses as nation states have not been sufficiently proactive.
How many of our countries are devoting sufficient resources to minimize the consequences of natural disasters that are more likely to affect us as the global climate warms?
Where in our Foreign Policy are we developing those international relationships with countries that have already had to start confronting these issues long before our region? Where are our voices in the international arena?
In conclusion, the most important lesson we have learnt from the Grenada Revolution is that in the final analysis, it is the philosophy, together with the conviction, commitment and passion of leaders, which make the difference. At this crucial turning point in the history of the Caribbean, we need many such leaders!!
Let us therefore commit ourselves to internalizing the lessons of the Grenada Revolution.
Let us do so here in Grenada, where the stranglehold of rampant exploitation and subjugation of our people was loosened on March 13th, 1979; and where the demise of Cold War was begun in 1983.
Let us be inspired by the example of those who gave their lives in pursuit of their beliefs and their ideals.
Let us pledge to make the promise of true freedom and independence a reality for our Caribbean citizens.
I THANK YOU.