Thirty Years Later, Grenada Emerges as a Leader on Sustainable Development
December 5, 2013
This fall marked the thirtieth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Grenada in response to the country’s military coup—an operation that implemented a stable constitutional government that has lasted on the island nation to this day. Known as Operation Urgent Fury, the arrival of U.S. troops in Grenada is celebrated as a national holiday, Grenadian Thanksgiving Day.
Thirty years after the 1983 invasion, it is clearer than ever that the Caribbean island nation has outgrown its reputation as the so-called “Spice Isle.” In recent years, the island has restructured its economy and development model, emerging as a regional pioneer in sustainable development.
Despite its small population of just over 100,000 and the many challenges the island has faced, Grenada has advanced drastically over the past thirty years.
So where is Grenada today, and what does its progress mean for sustainable development efforts in the Caribbean and the Western Hemisphere?
Q1: What happened in 1983, and what was the role of the United States?
A1: On October 13, 1983 the military overthrew Grenadian prime minister Maurice Bishop in a coup jointly led by deputy prime minister Bernard Coard and commander of the Grenadian Armed Forces general Hudson Austin.
The coup is seen as the result of the dissatisfaction of the hardline communist faction of Bishop’s Socialist party, the New Jewel Movement (NJM). Upset by Bishop’s attempts to forge closer ties with the United States, the faction demanded he share power. When he refused, Bishop was placed under house arrest—and six days later, the Bishop and his cabinet were assassinated.
With Coard in power, the government implemented a shoot-on-sight curfew and martial law. Concerned for the 800 American medical students in Grenada given the unstable and violent circumstances, President Ronald Reagan launched Operation Urgent Fury on October 25 with the support of the Organization of American States and six Caribbean nations.
The operation overthrew the military regime in a matter of weeks and installed an interim administration. The United States captured the coup leaders, who were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Bishop. Elections were held for a new constitutional government in December of the following year, and center-based parties have held power in Grenada ever since.
Q2: Where is Grenada today?
A2: Grenada, long known as the Spice Isle for its large-scale exports of nutmeg and mace, has shifted to a largely services-based, open economy over the past two decades. The island’s agricultural (spice) sector was largely destroyed by hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Emily (2005), furthering the economy’s increased reliance on its tourism sector as its main driver of economic growth.
Despite Grenada’s recent improvements and its impressive ability to rebound from the devastating effects of the hurricanes, the nation faces a substantial debt burden from its rebuilding process. With public debt-to-GDP ratio of nearly 110%, the government’s ability to engage in public investments and social projects remains limited.
Even given these challenges, the Grenadian government has worked to reduce its dependence on PetroCaribe—a dependence which has historically left the country vulnerable to the vagaries of the political environment in Venezuela and highly volatile oil prices.
Seeking to minimize that risk, Grenada established its National Energy Policy to institutionalize its transition to a low-carbon economy, based principally on the use of indigenous alternative sources of energy—and contributing to the country’s sustainable model of achieving energy security and energy independence.
While this model is admirable in its developmental and environmental goals alone, it is also well worth recognizing its potential in managing the risks associated with Venezuelan resource dominance—an increasingly pressing geostrategic issue in the hemisphere as the South American country grows ever less stable.
Q3: What does Grenada have to offer in the region and beyond?
A3: Today, Grenada aims to become a regional and global leader on issues of sustainable development and resources. The nation has prioritized its commitment to sustainable development, a green economy, and poverty eradication through a set of initiatives and programs at the institutional and developmental levels.
The government is currently in the process of implementing constitutional reforms that will address the use of natural resources and implement citizen rights based on ecological integrity. The country is also implementing legislation and institutional reviews to enhance its capacity to further its sustainable development by harmonizing its environmental protection laws with those of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), the Caribbean Community (Caricom), and others.
The United Nations has already recognized Grenada for its commitment to sustainable development leadership. Following the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the Grenadian government worked with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs on a study examining the implementation of climate change adaptation programs and their integration into national plans for sustainable development. The study largely highlights Grenada’s efforts to define a national strategy to address these issues, identifying the Caribbean island as a key example for other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) facing similar challenges.
Conclusion: As evidenced by Grenada’s move to gain leadership in pioneering sustainable development, its small size belies its potential impact on climate solutions and sustainable development—yet the country’s ongoing economic and social challenges have only made its leadership aspirations harder to achieve.
Grenada’s story mirrors the struggle of the Caribbean—one which remains largely overlooked in international affairs, and even within the Western Hemisphere. International attention on the Caribbean remains largely focused on issues of stability and transnational crime, with the region’s history of poverty, weak economies, and inefficient governments continuing to taint global perceptions, even as the foundations of those stereotypes grow weaker.
Despite the region’s economic, political, and social transformations, Caribbean nations remain unable to showcase their developments, whose forward-looking and innovative nature could establish a new and exciting narrative for the region.
Will Grenada’s efforts toward establishing a viable model for sustainable development serve to catapult the Caribbean to the international status is has worked so hard to earn?
Carl Meacham is director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Michelle Sinclair, staff assistant with the CSIS Americas Program, provided research assistance.
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