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Grenada's Cheers for Reagan Will Hide Disappointment Over Jobs

February 20, 1986|WILLIAM R. LONG | Times Staff Writer

ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada — President Reagan will receive a warm welcome when he visits Grenada today, but the smiles and cheers will mask a growing mood of disappointment.

After the U.S. military invasion of this tiny Caribbean nation in October 1983, many Grenadians expected American dollars to bring a bonanza of development and employment.

"I thought it would get better," said Winston James, the father of three children. "But I don't see no betterment. I still don't have a job."

James, 28, lives in Happy Hill, a village four miles north of St. George's. He and a dozen other people interviewed there this week said Grenadians are increasingly unhappy over a persistent shortage of jobs.

'Nothing to Be Done'

The shortage is especially acute in villages outside St. George's, the capital. In Happy Hill, jobless men ambled along roads, sat on porches and lounged in shops.

"Everybody watching each other and nothing to be done," James said. "Patience give up."

Unemployment remains painfully high despite $74 million in official U.S. aid and repeated efforts to attract private foreign investment since the 1983 invasion. According to U.S. and Grenadian government estimates, at least 20% and possibly more than 30% of all Grenadian workers are jobless.

With a population of 94,000, Grenada shares the economic plight of many eastern Caribbean ministates. Because of declining agriculture and a lack of industry around the islands, unemployment rates of 20% and higher are not uncommon.

Under the leftist government that ruled Grenada before the U.S. invasion, unemployment was estimated at about 12%. Many jobs were provided by the People's Revolutionary Army and other sectors of the government.

More Jobs Then

"I never liked the revolution--the laws were too strict," James said. "But let me tell you one thing: it had more jobs in revolution time."

James, a lanky man with a gold front tooth, was sitting on the porch of Frederic Lewis, 40, a tailor with a graying beard. Lewis said U.S. aid to the Grenadian government has done little to increase job opportunities.

"The government spends too much money on ministers going away, to this conference and that conference, and nothing coming in," he said. "Instead of giving money as aid to the government, if they could get men to come and open factories. . . . We do the work, they do the investing."

The only two U.S.-owned enterprises to come to Grenada since the invasion, a toy factory and a nutmeg packaging plant, have both gone broke. William Ingle, the owner of the toy factory, pleaded guilty to fraud in borrowing $350,000 from a U.S. government agency.

Plans and Promises

Dozens of other potential American investors came to Grenada in groups organized by U.S. officials. So far, the promotion has brought little more than plans and promises.

"There has been no substantial American investment," a U.S. official said in St. George's this week.

The official said the main private business expansion in Grenada since the invasion has been in hotels, where 430 jobs have been created. The biggest foreign investment was made by Isaac Nicholas, who refurbished a government-owned beach hotel and renamed it the Ramada Renaissance. Although the hotel is affiliated with an American chain, the operator is from Trinidad and Tobago.

The U.S. official said American aid to Grenada currently is being reduced to levels that will be comparable with aid given to other small Caribbean countries.

Temporary Jobs

Most of the $74 million given since 1983 has been for financing Grenadian government operations, public works and paying for damage caused by the invasion. Most jobs created by the aid were temporary, but U.S. officials say that "infrastructure revitalization" projects helped set the stage for future development.

The United States spent about $20 million to help finish building an international airport that was started and nearly finished with Cuban aid before the U.S. invasion. The only significant resistance to the invasion came from armed Cuban workers at the airport.

Although U.S. and Grenadian officials have insisted that Cuba was building the airport as a military installation, they portray it now as an major tool for Grenadian economic development.

Prime Minister Herbert Blaize acknowledged Monday that things "have not been all that good for Grenada" since his New National Party government took power in 1984, but he chided complainers "who spread malice and discontent because we have not been able to do everything in 14 months."

Few Critical of Invasion

Few Grenadians are critical of the 1983 invasion, which ended a week of bloodshed and chaos brought on by feuding within the ruling leftist party. Prime Minister Maurice Bishop had been killed by party rivals.

Reagan called the invasion, carried out jointly with several Caribbean countries, a "rescue mission."

Blaize said Grenadians will welcome Reagan to the country "as their own national hero." Reagan will speak at a public rally in Queen's Park, a cricket ground that has been freshly painted for the occasion.

The U.S. Information Service has put up red-white-and-blue posters around St. George's inviting people to the rally.

"Come Welcome President Reagan to Grenada," the posters say over a picture of the President. "Entertainment Starts at 1:30 p.m."

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