318. Memorandum From Robert Pastor of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Aaron)1


  • Time to Reassess US Policy to Grenada and the Caribbean: Second-Generation Surrogates?

I. Current Policy

Since the overthrow of Grenadian Prime Minister Gairy, on March 13, our policy to the new Revolutionary Government of Grenada under Maurice Bishop has been relaxed but concerned. We premised this posture on the belief that Bishop and his followers were of the Manley “socialist democratic” school, but that they were pragmatic and could be co-opted by us or, for that matter, by the Cubans. The feeling was that as time passed, the realities of governing a little country like Grenada would steer Bishop towards working with us. We should therefore stay relaxed. A more confrontational strategy by us could perhaps push the Grenadians in the arms of the Cubans. We have worked with Canada, the UK, Venezuela, Trinidad, and Barbados, and we only took steps to recognize the Bishop government after CARICOM [Page 782] did. At this time, we appear to be encouraging potential donor countries to give aid to Grenada.

The key point was our belief that Bishop and his group were manipulable. They were of the Left but would be pragmatic enough to keep Grenada in our camp and to keep the Cubans at a distance. In the past week, we received new evidence to suggest that these premises may be faulty.

II. New Direction in Grenada: The Cubans Arrive

The Cubans are now directly involved in trying to help “consolidate” Bishop’s revolution. 8 Cubans arrived covertly last week. A large shipment of arms was flown from Cuba to Guyana where it was transshipped to Grenada. Bishop has suspended the constitution, suggested indirectly that he will abandon the Governor General at an appropriate time, locked up 83 political prisoners, issued ten “revolutionary decrees,” and suggested that the new constitution should be modeled on the people’s assemblies of Cuba. While telling us (and Canada and UK) of his interest in obtaining military support, he was already receiving covert military support from Cuba. The non-resident Cuban Ambassador to Barbados (stationed in Guyana) has been very aggressive and appears to be coordinating most of the operations. A Cuban merchant ship (Vietnam Heroico) with 200 cadets on board is apparently on its way to Grenada. Radical Jamaicans have also been helping Bishop.

Our Ambassador Ortiz conveyed to Bishop our concern over possible ties with the Cubans. Bishop dodged Ortiz’s questions about whether he requested aid from the Cubans, though he did make an unintended revealing comment when he noted Jamaica’s ties with the Cubans and said that Jamaica would probably request aid from Cuba if there were a threat of attack.2

I believe that Bishop has lost interest in free elections. He fears he may not be able to win. By trying to play-up a foreign invasion threat (by Gairy), he is seeking justification for inviting the Guyanese to defend him and to provide his followers with training and arms. The more he builds up his “people’s militia,” the more likely he will frighten tourists (about 50 percent of Grenada’s export earnings) and the more dependent he will find himself on the Cubans.

In the end, it looks as if he might try to create a one-party state. It is conceivable he could have his closest ties with the Cubans. Grenada could become a training camp for young radicals from the other islands.

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III. Time for a New Strategy

We have tried to avoid the hard decisions, but I think the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to take any steps that will be effective. Is a quasi-Communist mini-state in the eastern Caribbean a cause for sufficient concern that we need to more clearly communicate our seriousness than we have thus far done? Should we adopt a different strategy to try to counter Grenada’s drift toward the Cubans? Should we be more relaxed about Grenada and concentrate our energies on preventing similar kinds of coups on neighboring islands?

Because all of these questions are interrelated, let me try to describe an overall strategy and specific steps rather than answer each question separately. First of all, it’s clear that we are going to have to be the catalyst if we are going to be able to reverse the drift toward Cuba in the region. We will need to clearly articulate our concern and also demonstrate that we are serious. On the other hand, I believe we will be most effective if we are not in the frontlines, but rather are in a supportive role behind Trinidad and Barbados and working in concert with the Canadians and British.

Instead of trying to calm the nations of the region, as we are now doing, we need to explain the seriousness of the situation and begin to convey intelligence and information we receive on the Cuban connection. As soon as we do that, I suspect we will find ourselves dealing with a much more concerned and eager-to-act Trinidad and Barbados (T & B). Clearly, these two nations need to take the lead, but we should make it very clear to them that we will provide them full support. What should we do?

IV. Specific Steps

1. Tactically, it would be a mistake to focus exclusively or primarily on the Cuban connection. With respect to Grenada, we should encourage T & B to define and pursue four objectives: (1) early and free elections in Grenada; (2) stop the arms and the militarization of the country; (3) free the political prisoners; (4) de-legitimize the Cuban connection, in part, by connecting the Cubans to the arming of Grenada and the failure by Bishop to carry out his pledge for free elections. We should indicate to the leaders of Barbados that we are prepared to help them in achieving these objectives almost by whatever means they view as necessary—which could range from support for another CARICOM conference3 to sending a warship to Grenada, to raising the issue in the O.A.S. and the U.N. It should be clear that we are unwilling to [Page 784] accept the ending of democracy and the arming of Grenada and the establishment of a second-generation Soviet surrogate in the Caribbean.

We should convey this message to Bishop as well.

2. Both Barbados and Trinidad feel that we have given undue attention to Jamaica, and they are right. We need to strengthen the leadership capabilities of B & T in the area. We should help them to establish a regional police force which could provide stability and prevent violent seizures of power. We should also consider a high-level visit to the region, perhaps by Mrs. Carter, Vance, or Newsom. We should try to build up regional S & T efforts by using one of these two countries as a base. Frank Press should visit one or the other during his Latin America S & T trip.

3. DOD is currently closing down a naval oceanographic facility in Barbados, and DOD’s extraordinary stinginess has not only harmed our relations with Barbados, it has also created a security vacuum. Just at the time when we should be injecting security into the region, we are extracting it.4 Totally absurd. Neither State nor Defense seems interested in doing anything about the Barbados facility now, but I think we should go back in with a serious proposal for transforming the base into something which could help to promote regional security and prevent the Grenada example from spreading. (We should also examine the Bahamas’ bases, which we are considering leaving.)

4. We should try to expedite FMS availability to the governments in the region. State is working on this now, but we should expedite it.

5. We should consider sending a number of naval vessels to the region—perhaps using the volcanic eruption at St. Vincent as a cover. We should ask permission from Grenada to use their port at Georgetown as a way to help the people on St. Vincent. They would be in a difficult position to refuse; its presence couldn’t help but have an impact, however, on the new revolutionary government.

6. We should also ask [less than 1 line not declassified] Grenada. There is little question that Bishop has been in continuous touch with Jamaica, Cuba, Guyana, [less than 1 line not declassified] could be helpful in improving our understanding of what direction Bishop is heading.

7. The British and Canadians are considering talks with us on Grenada at the professional level on April 27. We should accelerate the schedule of that.5

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8. We should strongly encourage the World Bank to hold its June Caribbean Group meeting in Barbados instead of Washington.6 This will strengthen Barbados’ hand as a leader in the region, and it will encourage an awareness in the region of the concern and interest of the industrialized democratic countries. It will provide a good demonstration to the region’s leaders that the US and other democracies are interested in development, while the Cubans are interested in coups and politicization. (NAM Summit).7

9. In addition, we should send a clear message to the Cubans to stay out. I will prepare a longer memo on this subject this week.


That you call an SCC meeting to discuss these steps and the strategy;8

or alternatively, that you call Newsom and Vaky over to discuss them informally.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country, Box 23, Grenada, 4/1/1979–4/22/1979. Secret. Sent for action. A notation by Richard Brown of the NSC Staff reads, “DA: Think you should move on these issues.”
  2. See Document 317.
  3. The CARICOM Foreign Ministers had met in Bridgetown March 15. See footnote 2, Document 313.
  4. See Documents 308 and 311.
  5. See Document 361.
  6. The Caribbean Group meeting was held in Washington June 4–9.
  7. The Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement was held in Havana September 3–9.
  8. An NSC Staff member checked the approve option and added an asterisk. At the bottom of the page, the staffer wrote, “In discussions on April 15, 1979, D.A. told Pastor to set up a mini-SCC meeting.” On April 23, Pastor wrote an options paper for Aaron about Grenada, ahead of the SCC meeting. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron, Box 16, Grenada)