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Gilding the Lily in Grenada

February 21, 1986

The hero's welcome for President Reagan in Grenada was heartfelt; the island's people are clearly grateful for the political change that followed a U.S. military intervention in 1983. But there is a danger of Reagan's making too much of a good thing.

When U.S. troops landed on Grenada in the aftermath of a bloody Marxist coup, their primary mission was to protect the lives of hundreds of U.S. citizens on the island, most of them students. They succeeded, despite flaws in the mission, strategic and logistical failures that led to casualties.

The 19 American dead to whom Reagan paid tribute during his visit deserve the recognition they received, but he did them a disservice when he told Grenadians that the situation in Nicaragua today "is similar to what happened here." He is wrong and, once again, being pointlessly belligerent about the crisis in Central America. Sword-rattling at such a solemn occasion was as unseemly as it was unnecessary.

The president's rhetoric also surpassed reality when he suggested that, because Grenada is now "in the warm sunshine of liberty and justice," all is well on the small island. Grenadians were glad to be rid of the radical leftists who had murdered their genuinely popular Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. But not many think things are better for them today than they were before the coup.

Grenada's economy has not improved. Unemployment is up. Two factories built with U.S. economic aid, and much publicity, have gone broke. Grenada's money problems are endemic in the Caribbean, the result of low commodity prices, declining tourism and a shortage of business investment. Unless the need for long-range economic development in the Caribbean is faced by the United States and other regional governments, new radical movements may one day try to exploit the area's problems for their own ends.

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