317. Telegram From the Embassy in Barbados to the Department of State1

1368. Subject: Grenada: Meeting with Prime Minister Bishop. Ref: State 87104.2

1. (C) Entire text.

2. Summary: Accompanied by Consul Laroche I saw Prime Minister Bishop April 10. We discussed extreme anxieties prevailing in Grenada and what U.S. could do to help tranquilize the situation. We discussed provisions of U.S. Neutrality Act. Bishop gave greater specificity to his arms requests to U.S. He denied Cuba has offered assistance and indicated any such offer would only be accepted in extreme circumstances. Bishop was exhausted and not very responsive. End summary.

3. In compliance with instructions contained reftel I called on Prime Minister Bishop April 10. I was accompanied by Consul Laroche. Bishop was accompanied by Vincent Noel, who appears to act as Bishop’s Chief of Staff. Meeting lasted one hour.

4. I opened by thanking Bishop for his visit to the medical school.3 I believed it would help calm unreasoned fears. As Bishop knew I had important instructions from my government which I would pass to him formally but I said I wanted to speak informally first. Bishop understood the distinction. I said he probably knew of Office Director Hewitt’s visit to the region.4 (Bishop previously mentioned he learned of it from Jamaica.) Now I was going to Washington on personal business for a few days. Thus new insights on developments in Grenada would be available to high Washington officials who were following matters closely.

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5. I wondered what views I should convey particularly as regards the great anxiety I perceived in Grenada over the possibility of an invasion to reestablish Gairy. I was sure all interested in Grenada’s future would want to know exactly what could be done to help mitigate the extreme uncertainty which prevailed in Grenada which was obviously harmful to the economy, the rule of law and relations between Grenada and its friends. I wondered if publicizing the fact that Gairy was probably in San Diego and certainly not on a neighboring island might not have a calming effect. I conveyed the suggestion of American residents that visits of warships from Grenada’s traditional friends might help. Certainly if he could provide us with leads establishing Gairy’s contravention of U.S. laws we could take helpful action. I mentioned the rumors in town alleging the fears of an imminent invasion were being artificially stimulated. Bishop said that was not so. The PRG is genuinely concerned that an attack is coming. The PRG has no proof of Gairy’s machinations but has established that Gairy is in contact with people who could raise mercenaries. I asked Bishop for photocopies of the famous Frank Marberry, Jr. letters for investigative purposes in the U.S. Bishop said he would try to get them for us but I consider it unlikely we will have them. Bishop is fully informed of the April 7 Miami Herald interview as well as a radio interview given a New York station by Gairy both from San Diego. He could not explain why Gairy’s known whereabouts were not being publicized in Grenada.5 Bishop said one would have to know Gairy to realize how certain it is that he is plotting a comeback. The PRG had to be ready for this. Security was the over-riding consideration. A visit by a Western naval vessel “would cause confusion. We don’t want that.” The PRG expected the economy would suffer as a result of the greater need to assure the safeguarding of the revolution.

6. I raised the subject of arms. I said on Saturday he had mentioned arms to junior officers of the Embassy (see Bridgetown 1318).6 I wondered if there was to be a followup. Bishop said no, that the PRG’s request had been made. I said I had no information at all on the numbers and types of weapons. After prodding Bishop said he needed 500 semi-automatic weapons and 200 machine guns. I reminded him that guns needed ammunition. He thought a while then said about 1,000 rounds for each gun to allow for practice would do. Training, he said, would be only by other CARICOM states which I took to be Guyana.

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7. As Bishop was obviously very tired and not very responsive, I then told him I would be speaking formally on instructions. I read and then gave him a non-paper containing talking points conveyed reftel as authorized by Grove/Ortiz telcon.7 I asked him if he wanted to know a little about the U.S. Neutrality Act. He did and I described it in detail.

8. I then said our position on Grenada’s ties with Cuba was a very significant statement.8 Bishop reacted by saying his government had been in power one month and had received no assistance from its traditional friends. There was urgency in PRG’s request. It therefore would turn wherever it could to get assistance. The Grenadian revolution was irreversible and independent. It could not be compromised either by what it disliked in the West or by the Soviet and Communist bloc. I asked him point blank if the Cubans had offered assistance. He firmly said they had not. I asked him what his response would be if they did. He answered that depends on the circumstances. I asked what he meant by that. He replied if mercenaries invade, PRG would get help wherever it could. I told him Grenada was a fully independent country and could take whatever actions it wished. However he should have no doubts that developing close ties with Cuba would greatly complicate relations with Grenada’s neighbors and with friendly countries like the U.S. I reminded him that we had only been aware of the details of his arms request for about ten minutes and that his government has steadily declined to go into the details of possible contributions by the U.S. to Grenada’s economic development. I said I didn’t understand what he meant by a lack of U.S. response. He said that was so, but he was working 22 hours a day and security was his over-riding concern. We would have time to talk later. He said he had a positive response from an English-speaking CARICOM country which was providing security equipment and training. Bishop then said if Jamaica were attacked he knew Jamaica would call on Cuban assistance. I asked him if an attack on Jamaica seemed likely. He acknowledged it was not.

9. Although conversation was cordial and Bishop would have given me all the time I needed, he seemed so utterly exhausted, his responses were so desultory and he showed so little inclination to expand on any subject I decided to leave him with a concentrated message from us [Page 781] and try to catch the next plane out. He accompanied me to the street to help me hail a taxi and said he hoped we would meet again before my departure.

10. Comment: Statement of U.S. position on Grenadian ties with Cuba had a visible impact on Bishop. Bishop is obviously under great stress as he discovers that it is easier to oppose a government than run one, but he remains very cool and controlled and his strong leadership qualities are apparent. I am prepared to discuss implications of all this during my consultations.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790177–0137. Confidential; Niact Immediate. Repeated for information to Caracas, Georgetown, Kingston, London, Port of Spain, and Ottawa.
  2. In telegram 87104 to Bridgetown, April 7, the Department instructed Ortiz to meet with Bishop and transmitted talking points to reassure Grenadian leaders that Eric Gairy would not be marshalling a mercenary army. One of the talking points transmitted in the telegram notes that “it would not be in Grenada’s best interests to seek assistance from a country such as Cuba to forestall such an attack. We would view with displeasure any tendency on the part of Grenada to develop closer ties with Cuba.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790159–1150) Grenada and Cuba established diplomatic relations on April 14.
  3. In telegram 1361 from Bridgetown, April 11, the Embassy reported on a visit by Bishop to St. George’s University Medical School on April 10. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790172–0232)
  4. See Document 315.
  5. Gairy made several statements in April 1979 about his desire to return to power. An article in The Los Angeles Times, for instance, quotes Gairy as “watching and waiting” for his opportunity to come back to Grenada. (The Los Angeles Times, April 10, p. A1)
  6. See footnote 2, Document 316.
  7. The non-paper (likely the talking points in telegram 87104 to Bridgetown) caused some controversy. On April 13, Bishop referenced the paper in a speech in order to attack the Department’s Caribbean policy. (Telegram 1427 from Bridgetown, April 16, and telegram 1448 from Bridgetown, April 18; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790175–0959 and D790179–0160)
  8. See footnote 2 above.