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Nagging questions about Grenada

By Daniel SoutherlandStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 1, 1983



Washington

Looking beyond the immediate action on Grenada, critics are asking half a dozen key questions that are likely to be debated for months. President Reagan gave the safety of the Americans on the tiny Caribbean island as the main reason for what he has called a rescue operation.

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Some of the questions under debate:

Were the Americans on the island in enough danger to justify the use of armed force to evacuate them?

Many of the first students to come out of Grenada certainly thought they were in danger. But many also admitted they were isolated on their campuses, not knowing much about what was happening elsewhere on the island except by way of the government-run Radio Free Grenada.

Reagan administration officials have yet to provide concrete evidence that members of the leftist-led military council, ostensibly ruling Grenada at the time, had given any thought to taking Americans hostage. But the officials argue that the situation was not only uncertain but chaotic, that council members had used violence against their domestic opponents, and that the example of the Iranian hostage crisis was in the back of their minds.

Could the United States have used negotiation to get the Americans out?

The Grenadian military council sent a cable to the US Embassy in Barbados informing American diplomats that the safety of US citizens was assured and that Americans would be allowed to leave the island. A White House spokesman said the administration distrusted the assurances because of the apparent instability of the ruling group on the island. A group of Americans did get out on one flight on Oct. 24, shortly before the invasion. But other charter flights were not allowed to land at the Grenada airport. There is still considerable confusion over the reasons for this.

President Reagan gave as a second reason for the Grenada operation a request from East Caribbean nations, which felt threatened by a military buildup on Grenada. Were those nations under any real threat?

These small island nations have armed forces that, even when combined, are no match for those that had been built up on Grenada. The islands' leaders suspected that Grenada was training insurgents. Those same leaders also observed the Cuban presence on Grenada and the construction of a new airport, which, once completed, would be capable of accommodating high-performance jet fighter-bombers.

But much remains to be learned about Cuban intentions. It is now clear that before the invasion, American intelligence on Grenada was far from complete. Some of the Cuban and Grenadian military buildup on the island may have been related to fear of an American invasion. News correspondents on the island say that many of the arms stored there are less than modern.

Speaking in the Reagan administration's favor, however, is Alistair Hughes, a highly respected Grenadian journalist who had been placed under detention by the island's military council. After being freed, Mr. Hughes said that the US troops had come just in time to prevent a further deterioration in the situation.

President Reagan gave as one reason for the Grenada action a need to restore order and democratic institutions on the island. Are those aims feasible?