Grenada, Carriacou & Petite Martinique 46 Years of Independence
Still Moving Forward
An Essay By Michael Derek Roberts
As Grenadians in the United States, in the Grenada Diaspora around the world, celebrate 46 years of independence, this CARICOM nation is at both a political and socio-economic crossroad. Like all emerging economies in the Caribbean region this tri-island nation still struggles to build a sustainable economy while it wrestles with endemic and systemic poverty and its by-products of crime, high unemployment, corruption at all levels, and a still as yet 21st century identity.
Indeed, the nagging and lasting legacy of slavery and British colonialism, that spawned a lob-sided economy and low levels of development, especially of the productive forces, makes Grenada in 2020, still a pre-capitalist nation with blurred, undeveloped class structure. Independence therefore is a mixed bag – it is far better to be free of the stultifying and stifling yoke of British domination, even though if independence was not granted under exactly ideal circumstances or conditions.
And too, the Westminister system of democracy has failed miserably in CARICOM as this electoral system disenfranchises and dumps thousands of voters across regional elections – Grenada included. Today, the ruling New National Party (NNP) government led by the island’s longest serving prime minister Dr. Keith Claudius Mitchell, that controls ALL of the seats in the nation’s Parliament is a grotesque abboration, and unintended consequence of a “first past the poll” electoral system whose modus operandi created an elected dictatorship since there is no “official opposition” to the government, and therefore, by extension, no real checks and balances to its national hubris, arrogance, excesses and punitive policies.
Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique today depends on its service industry – tourism – as the foundation of the economy. I worry about this sustainability given the fact that a natural disaster or other negative publicity, in the age of the Internet and Social Media, can see a “Flight of Tourists,” thus forcing layoffs and other real negative impacts. Moreover, the tourist industry across the Caribbean is notorious for majority low-wage and seasonal jobs without benefits. Grenada has also been in the spotlight lately for its “economic citizenship” program that is branded locally as “selling Grenada passports.”
Fact is that countries across the world do have these kinds of programs that can bring in large chunks of money – if done right and with strong governmental oversight and transparency – things lacking in the Grenada context. If done wrong the program can create corruption and be simply a grab bag for wrongdoers and opportunists in government. Still, social and economic woes aside, Grenada, like the rest of the region, can view independence as not only a mixed blessing but an eerie never-ending dance characterized by one step forward and three backwards.
However, Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique’s future will depend on its talented and hardworking people and their penchant for doing the extraordinary. They alone will determine who to hitch their stars to as they move further into the 21st century. The path forward since February 7, 1974 has been at times painful, other times joyful, and still at others a mixture of both. Forward Ever! Backward Never!
Brief Grenada History
Long before the arrival of Europeans, Grenada was settled by Caribs, who forcibly dislodged an earlier population of peaceful Arawaks from the island. The so-called explorer, Christopher Columbus, landed on the island in 1498 and arrogantly named it ‘Concepcion‘(later the name was changed to Grenada by the Spaniards).
Between the 15th and 16th centuries, Europeans tried unsuccessfully to colonize the island but failed at every attempt due to the fierce resistance of the Caribs. In this “balance of power” struggle Britain and France competed for control and it was in 1674 that the French launched a series of successful attacks on the Caribs, finally gaining control of the whole island. By 1753, Grenada was a flourishing French possession in the Caribbean, with over 100 sugar mills and 12,000 enslaved Africans working on the plantations.
Britain won Grenada from France in 1763 under the Treaty of Paris. Although the French recaptured the island in 1779, control was restored to Britain in 1783 under the Treaty of Versailles. Grenada remained a British colony for about 200-years until independence in 1974. Under British colonial rule, Grenada’s economy underwent an important transformation. Like much of the rest of the Caribbean region, it was settled to cultivate cocoa, cotton, sugar, and nutmegs, which were produced by slave labor. By the time of the emancipation of slaves in 1833, Grenada had a slave population of around 25,000!