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Government, Economy Remain Shaky Despite High Hopes, U.S. Aid : Five Years Later, Grenada Still Bears the Scars of War

October 14, 1988|DON A. SCHANCHE | Times Staff Writer

ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada — The last step toward putting Grenada's recent bloody past to rest is being played out with an agonizing deliberation that some see as a metaphor for the gentle island nation's halting return to democracy.

In a sweltering courtroom where the local Lions Club used to meet, 13 men and one woman who were once the Marxist elite here are appealing their sentences to be hanged for the executions of 11 comrades, including their longtime revolutionary leader, Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.

Those murders on Oct. 19, 1983, accompanied by the killings of a still-unknown number of supporters of Bishop and of bystanders, strengthened assertions in Washington that the lives of 500 American medical students in Grenada were at risk and established the basis for the U.S. invasion six days later.

In what most Grenadians still call "the rescue mission," 6,000 U.S. airborne troops and Marines overwhelmed the revolutionary government that most of its neighbors had long wanted to quash. Ironically, when American forces landed, the revolution already was devouring itself.

Still Picking Up Pieces

Nearly five years later, under a democratically elected government that is widely viewed as honest but incompetent, Grenada is still picking up the pieces left when the Americans went home.

Almost no one in the population of 94,000 says he regrets the U.S. intervention, and almost everyone is better off than in 1983--but there have been disappointments.

Among them, the largest five-year U.S. aid program in the region's history, about $110 million, has slowed to a trickle of less than $7 million a year, most of it earmarked for health and rural development.

The heavy U.S. investment of what some Grenadians call "conscience money" for damage done and lives lost during the invasion went mainly toward improvements in the island's infrastructure that would lure foreign investors. Instead, it drew speculators and promoters. So far, only four small American assembly plants that together employ fewer than 200 people have settled on the island.

Almost 20% of the American aid money was spent to complete the modern international airport at Point Salines, 15 minutes from the capital, St. George's, where American troops fought Cubans for the first time since the Spanish-American War. It was this Cuban construction project, about four-fifths finished at the time of the invasion, that raised fears in Washington of a new Soviet bridgehead in the Americas.

When President Reagan formally dedicated the airport in February, 1986, expectations were high that a flood of American tourists would follow. They did not, despite the now-tranquil island's reputation among travel writers as perhaps the most beautiful in the Caribbean.

Shunned by U.S. Airlines

No U.S. airline will schedule regular flights to Grenada because, they say, there are not enough hotel rooms to make scheduled traffic profitable. At the same time, international hotel investors complain that they cannot risk building the needed tourist facilities until Grenada gets on the airlines' schedules.

"It's 'Catch-22.' Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?" sighed Royston Hopkin, president of the Grenada Hotel Assn. Other, less tangible influences also have curbed the growth of tourism, he said, such as reminders of the invasion by Reagan and Republican presidential nominee George Bush that Hopkin claims send a subliminal message that the easygoing island is still a battle zone.

As a result, the current 45% annual occupancy rate of Grenada's 1,038 hotel rooms is "disastrously low," Hopkin said.

Although Prime Minister Herbert Blaize has set the promotion of foreign investment and tourism as high priorities, both receive minuscule sums in the country's $96-million annual budget. Indeed, after paying fixed costs and salaries to a bureaucracy of 7,000--about one-fourth of the national work force--there is not enough money left over to do much else.

Tax collections under a reformed tax structure designed to encourage private enterprise have fallen woefully short of expectations, forcing the government to borrow heavily from local banks to make up its budget deficit. In the process, that borrowing has soaked up funds that might otherwise have been available for local business expansion.

Described as incorruptible but plodding, Blaize, 70, is an old-line Grenadian politician who has political problems as well. The center-right New National Party that he headed when he was elected in 1984 fell apart last year when six of the brightest men in his government quit to form a centrist opposition party, the National Democratic Congress.

The best known among them, educator George Brizan, 44, complained that Blaize is too autocratic and "helter-skelter with his hodgepodge planning. In small countries where you have limited resources, planning is critical--otherwise, your resources are squandered."

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