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What do the U.S., Grenada and the Venezuelan crisis have in common?

  • The Guardian (Charlottetown)
  • 28 May 2019
  • PETER MCKENNA GUEST OPINION Peter McKenna is professor and chair of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Having just returned in early May from almost two weeks in the tiny Caribbean country of Grenada, I can certainly confirm that the Venezuelan crisis was clearly the talk of the town.

Touring around the hilly capital of St. George’s, the locals were eager to chat about the dramatic events unfolding in nearby Venezuela.

Much to the chagrin and horror of my partner and daughter, it was always part of my plan to make a quick trip to Venezuela (just one hour away by air) during my Grenada visit. But it was made very clear to me by my local Air Canada representative that such an excursion would not be a good idea at this time. Besides, she stressed, there were no direct flights from Grenada to Venezuela and she was adamant about not telling me whether I could get there directly from neighbouring Trinidad or Barbados.

Like many Grenadians, she went on about the attempted coup by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó on April 30, and the subsequent violent crackdown on dissent by the Nicolás Maduro government. Some Grenadians were even wondering out loud about the possibility of a calamitous U.S. military invasion of Venezuela.

Interestingly enough, I could see three small warships slowly making their way eastward through the Caribbean Sea on May 1 — all steaming for the safe port of St. George’s after undoubtedly passing by Venezuela. And I highly doubt that it was just a coincidence that those vessels were in the area. In fact, it was later confirmed that they were all actually from Brazil — surely at the urging of Washington given the bromance between U.S. President Donald Trump and far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

It’s worth recalling, of course, that the people of Grenada know firsthand what it is like to be in the crosshairs of the United States.

Indeed, the U.S. military — under the presidential orders of the hawkish and old cold warrior Ronald Reagan — invaded the socalled “Spice Island” in late October of 1983.

Many of the reasons put forward by the Reagan White House to justify the invasion lacked credibility — including a scurrilous claim that the lives of American medical students at St. George’s University were at risk.

To this day, no one knows the official death count of innocent Grenadians killed during the U.S.led invasion that involved roughly 6,000 U.S. military personnel (in a country with barely a 1,600-strong professional armed force). I visited the spot where a mental hospital once stood, on the hillside overlooking the capital, where over 30 patients were killed by wayward U.S. bombs.

A number of countries in the Caribbean, though this is not widely publicized, are deeply concerned about the potential loss of life from any U.S. attempt to compel regime change in Venezuela. They have made it very clear to Washington that they strongly oppose President Trump’s loose talk about a “military option” for Venezuela.

Commonwealth Caribbean or (CARICOM) member Antigua has gone one step further and rejected outright the coronation of Juan Guaidó as interim Venezuelan president.

“In fact, we (CARICOM) believe that it is an extremely dangerous precedent … which has absolutely no basis in law, it has no constitutional backing, it has no support of international law, and it’s really an affront to democracy within the hemisphere,” Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne recently told the Miami Herald newspaper.

Grenadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Charles David recently told Grenada’s The New Today newspaper: “We do not want to see happen in the Caribbean what would happen in places like Libya where you intervene, you overthrow and then a mess is made as happened in Libya with ISIS and all of that literally taking over the country of Libya.” He went on to add that regional states would continue to push for a negotiated solution to the Venezuelan crisis and that “we believe in non-interference, nonintervention, democracy, rule of law — all of those principles we as Caribbean countries subscribe to — therefore we urged all of the countries to pull back.”

Perhaps it’s not all that surprising, then, that the centre-right Grenadian government of Keith Mitchell is dead set against any chatter of the U.S. invading beleaguered Venezuela. Like Venezuela, Grenada knows the pitfalls of outside interference, has a strong independence streak amongst its people and has witnessed the igniting of a nationalist flame in the past. Once again, we see that past U.S. actions can have negative implications for American foreign policy in today’s Caribbean region.

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