Grenada Government - Political Dynamics
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies
Politics in Grenada traditionally has been more concerned with personalities and class interests than with ideology. Political parties, even those that grow out of labor union movements, are usually dominated by charismatic leaders who can motivate their followers through strong emotional (or, in the case of Gairy, even mystical) appeal. The aspect of class interest has tended to devolve into lower versus middle-class aspirations, there being no political party or parties commonly identified with the interests of the upper class.
In this respect, as in many others, the PRG represented an aberration in Grenadian history. The "vanguard" of the revolution-- the NJM--was a party whose membership was drawn from the urban middle class (mainly young professionals who saw their opportunities limited under the corrupt Gairy government). When the PRG assumed power in March 1979, it presented the novel impression of a middle-class junta that sought, at least rhetorically, to reach out to the poor (the workers and peasantry). This initial promise never bore fruit, however, as the PRG was unable to make lasting economic gains and eventually fell victim to ideological infighting between Leninists and pragmatists, an internal conflict that paved the way for external intervention.
The New National Party (NNP) scored a resounding electoral victory in December 1984, winning fourteen of the fifteen seats in the House of Representatives. The NNP was neither an established party nor a homogeneous one, but rather an amalgamation of three separate parties that, with some outside encouragement, ultimately joined forces to ward off the potential restoration to power of Gairy.
The senior partner in the NNP was Blaize's Grenada National Party (GNP). Established in 1956, the GNP has traditionally represented the interests of the urban middle class, drawing the majority of its support from St. George's. The GNP led the government in Grenada during the periods 1957-61 and 1962-67. These two periods of GNP government represented the only interruptions in the domination of Grenadian politics by Gairy and GULP between 1951 and 1979. In 1976 the GNP joined an opposition coalition that included Bishop's NJM, but it played no part in the PRG after the 1979 coup.
Another member of the NNP was the National Democratic Party (NDP), established in February 1984 and led by George Brizan. Formerly a member of the NJM, Brizan dissociated himself from the group after it came to be dominated by Bishop, Coard, and others who envisioned it as a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party. Brizan's political leanings were said to be social democratic.
The third constituent of the NNP was the Grenada Democratic Movement (GDM), founded in Barbados by Francis Alexis. The NNP had originally included the Christian Democratic Labour Party (CDLP) among its ranks, but the CDLP dropped out shortly after the establishment of the NNP over what appeared to be a personal dispute between Blaize and CDLP leader Winston Whyte.
The evolution of the NNP was neither easy nor smooth. The first step in the process was the April 1984 formation of the Team for National Togetherness (TNT). This initial umbrella group was to have brought the GNP, NDP, and GDM under one political banner; however, its establishment was announced publicly before the private process of negotiating party organization could get fully underway. These talks eventually bogged down over the issue of how many candidates from each of the constituent parties would be allowed to contest the parliamentary elections. Frustrated with the haggling, Brizan withdrew the NDP from the TNT in August. The GNP/GDM grouping was then renamed the Team for National Unity.
In addition to the specific dispute over candidacies, the TNT leaders also differed over broader issues of ideology and political protocol, according to some sources. These divergences seem to have pitted Blaize, the conservative elder statesman, against Brizan, the young progressive. Blaize is reported to have felt that the GNP deserved primacy within the coalition by virtue of its longer history as an established party; he is said to have demanded veto power over all proposed candidates. There may also have been disputes over specific issues, such as the presence of United States and Caribbean military forces on Grenada and the continuation of certain social programs begun under the PRG.
The seeming inability of the moderate Grenadian parties to unite was viewed with concern by the leaders of neighboring countries. Having supported military action to rid the country of a seemingly unstable Marxist-Leninist regime, these leaders did not wish to see Grenada returned to the control of Gairy, whom they viewed as the most likely beneficiary of a divided electorate. If nothing else, Gairy's return to power would have represented a public relations embarrassment of the first order. Therefore, acting in a tradition of regional consultation stretching back at least as far as the West Indies Federation of 1958-62, prime ministers Tom Adams of Barbados, James Mitchell of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and John G.M. Compton of St. Lucia volunteered their services as mediators in the negotiating process. Most reports concur that the session that finally produced the NNP was held in August 1984 on Union Island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The neighboring prime ministers were present at the August 26 public ceremony in Grenada at which the formation of the new coalition was announced.
Reports of friction among the NNP membership began to circulate soon after the December 1984 elections. Factionalism within the party stemmed from the nature of its founding, the uneasiness that prevailed among the leaders of the constituent parties, and the autocratic control exercised by Blaize over party affairs. Early reports hinted at rivalry between Alexis and Brizan for the right to succeed Blaize as party leader. This notion was reinforced by the competition between the two for the post of deputy political leader, a position to which Alexis was elected at the party convention of December 1985. Subsequent events tended to draw Alexis and Brizan closer together, however. At the 1986 party convention, Blaize's associate Ben Jones replaced Alexis as deputy political leader, cementing further the dominance of Blaize's GNP faction within the NNP.
The first public demonstrations of the NNP's internal tensions were provided by the defections of two members of Parliament--Kenny Lalsingh and Phinsley St. Louis--each of whom left the party in August 1986 and formed separate political organizations. In February 1987, observers reported that Brizan, Alexis, and Tillman Thomas, the junior minister for legal affairs, had refused to sign a declaration of party unity. In April this simmering dispute boiled over when the three resigned from the government, citing their disagreement with Blaize over what had come to be known as the "retrenchment," the proposed release of 1,500-1,800 civil servants. Although they did not announce their withdrawal from the NNP at that time, Alexis and Brizan technically became part of the parliamentary opposition, reducing Blaize's majority, once fourteen to one, to nine to six.
In October 1987, the opposition coalesced under the banner of yet another political party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Brizan was elected as leader of the NDC, which also included Alexis, Lalsingh, Thomas, and St. Louis among its ranks. Although its level of popular support was difficult to gauge, the NDC appeared to generate some enthusiasm among those Grenadians looking for an alternative to the established political organizations headed by Blaize and Gairy.
Aside from the NNP, the only major political party in Grenada in the mid-1980s was GULP, which dated back to 1951 and was led by Gairy. Once the dominant political force on the island, Gairy and his party gradually lost the confidence of most Grenadians through corruption and repression. This erosion of public support was demonstrated by the generally positive reaction to the 1979 seizure of power by Maurice Bishop and the NJM. In the post-Bishop period, GULP clearly suffered from Gairy's enforced exile, his diminished personal popularity, and the low level of party institutionalization. GULP's disarray could be read in the party's reaction to the December 1984 elections. Immediately after the balloting, GULP appeared to represent the official parliamentary opposition to the NNP. Its one victorious member, Marcel Peters, defected after a dispute with party leader Gairy over political tactics, however. Gairy had decried the elections as fraudulent and ordered Peters to refuse his seat in the House. Peters refused, withdrew from GULP, declared his own political organization (apparently standard procedure for Grenadian politicians), and assumed the post of leader of the opposition, a position he eventually yielded to NNP defector St. Louis.
The history of GULP is the history of its leader, Eric Gairy. Gairy began his political life as a labor leader, establishing the Grenada Mental and Manual Workers Union (GMMWU) in 1950. The GMMWU was a rural workers' union that concentrated its organizing efforts within the Grenadian sugar industry. Like many young Grenadians, Gairy left the island in search of work. After a short stint as a construction worker in Trinidad and Tobago, Gairy moved on to the oil refineries of Aruba. It was there that he began his labor organizing activities, somewhat to the consternation of Dutch authorities, who reportedly deported him in 1949. After asserting his credentials as a populist leader through the vehicle of the GMMWU, Gairy successfully entered the electoral arena in 1951 under the banner of the newly formed GULP, which took 64 percent of that year's ballots (the first held under the Universal Suffrage Law of 1950). Gairy and GULP lost only two of the six general elections held from 1951 until 1979, when the party was overthrown by the NJM. The party drew heavily on the organization and resources of the GMMWU, and the membership of the two groups remained fluid throughout Gairy's years in power.
Gairy returned to Grenada in January 1984 after another involuntary exile, this one lasting almost five years. Although Gairy appeared to have retained some support among the rural population, most Grenadians seemed to have rejected him as a result of his past history of strongman rule, corruption, and harassment of political opponents.
After the electoral defeat of 1984, Gairy seemed to be making plans to broaden the appeal of GULP. In April 1985, he claimed that the party's leadership would be purged, that attempts would be made to expand its low level of support among Grenadian youth, and that all future GULP candidates for office would be drawn directly from the ranks of the party and not recruited for only one campaign. This last promise suggested an effort to institutionalize what had long been a highly personalistic political organization. GULP support appeared to be dwindling by 1987, however, as new party leaders failed to emerge, other political leaders continued to attract support among Gairy's former rural constituency, and the party restricted its activities as a result of lack of funds.
Although GULP appeared largely ineffective as a political vehicle, Gairy continued to enjoy some measure of influence on the labor front. His longtime union organization, the GMMWU, was renamed the Grenada Manual Maritime and Intellectual Workers Union (GMMIWU). Its membership base still lay among rural agricultural workers. The economic disarray left in the wake of the PRG and the void in agricultural labor organization after the demise of the Bishop regime left the GMMIWU in a good position to recruit new members and exert influence on both the government and private producers, although it, like GULP, suffered from underfunding and possible defection of its members to other organizations.
The left, consisting of the Maurice Bishop Patriotic Movement (MBPM) and the persistent remnants of the NJM, was an insignificant political force in the late 1980s. The MBPM was founded in 1984 by Kendrick Radix, an original NJM member and PRG cabinet minister who played no part in the short-lived Revolutionary Military Council. The MBPM began as the Maurice Bishop and the 19th October Martyrs Foundation, a group dedicated to raising funds for scholarships for Grenadian students (presumably for study in "progressive" or socialist countries) and to erecting a monument to Bishop and other fallen comrades. Although successful in its monument campaign, the MBPM failed to have the Point Salines International Airport named after Bishop. The transformation of the MBPM from foundation to political party occurred in August 1984; Radix claimed that only his movement could prevent Gairy's return to power. During the election campaign, he promised that an MBPM government would confiscate supposedly idle farmland that had been previously held by the PRG but had since reverted to its previous owners because of a lack of proper compensation. The movement failed to attract a popular following in the 1984 elections, however, capturing only 5 percent of the vote and no seats in Parliament.
The group still laying claim to the title of NJM represented the hard core of the organization, the remaining "Coardites" who supported the establishment of an orthodox Marxist-Leninist state but who had not involved themselves directly in the putsch of October 19, 1983. The NJM declined to participate in the elections of 1984, probably knowing that it would have drawn even less support than Radix's MBPM (with which it continued to feud rhetorically). The continued existence of this organization despite a good deal of public antipathy was one measure of the openness of the Grenadian system.
Other small political parties continued to function in Grenada in the mid-1980s. Whyte's CDLP contested the elections but attracted only 0.26 percent of the total vote. The Grenada Federated Labour Party, an organization that first contested elections in 1957 but that subsequently lay dormant, drew only 0.02 percent of the 1984 vote.
Data as of November 1987
NOTE: The information regarding Commonweath of Caribbean Islands on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Grenada Political Dynamics information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Grenada Political Dynamics should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.