Leftist waves break over Caribbean

Pretty as a post card, Grenada looks like a Caribbean island ought to look. White beaches, green mountains, and friendly people captivate the visitor. The capital, St. George's, offers hibiscus flowers and breadfruit and mango trees.Cruise ships and yachts glide gently in and out of a shimmering harbor.

"The land of spice and all that's nice," goes the song at a St. George's hotel.

Stay long enough to talk with a few people, however, and you begin to realize that all is not calm and sunshine. Quite a few people are frightened, or at least apprehensive because Grenada is going through a revolution. The influence of Cuba is growing. Pictures of Fidel Castro are in favor, and government supporters like to call each other "comrade." Where it all will lead is far from clear.

One woman began to perceive fear in the air when she noticed that friends and acquaintances were whispering to her instead of speaking aloud. Shopkeepers reflect uncertainty by not replacing stocks. Some of the older people fear, and resent, the Soviet-designed weapons, apparently supplied by Cuba, that now are in the hands of young people.

A Roman Catholic priest declares that the revolutionary government is organizing, and indoctrinating, the young in order to keep them from thinking. The government's aim, he says, is to reduce the Catholic Church in Grenada to impotence.

"They don't bother us now," said the priest. "But the time will come."

More than half the people on the island are at least nominally Roman Catholic.

Long considered one of the most beautiful and friendly of the Caribbean islands, Grenada has also thrown a scare into some officials in the United States, the colossus to the north -- a scare that seems out of all proportion to the island's small size.

Only 21 miles in length and barely a dot on most maps, Grenada is viewed with mistrust in Washington because of its close connection with Cuba, its anti-US rhetoric, ahd its vote at the United Nations against a General Assembly resolution calling for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. on the issue of Afghanistan, Grenada stood alone with Cuba among the nations of the Caribbean.

Grenada's new leaders assert that the United States is secretly trying to "destabilize" the country by creating unrest through the use of false reports and violence. US officials insist that this is not true.

The primary concern of the United States is that Grenada might become a Cuban surrogate and a training ground for radical insurgents from other islands. The US wonders why Grenada needs such a large army -- some 1,500 to 2,000 men, US officials say -- when its total population is only 110,000.

They wonder why Grenada, located in the southeastern Caribbean near South America, needs such a large new international airport. It is by far the single largest construction project on the island and is being built with the help of the Cubans. Some observers think it might serve as a useful refueling stop for airplanes carrying Cuban soldiers to Africa.

US officials estimate that there are 300 to 350 Cubans in Grenada, most of them working on the airport. There are 20 much-praised health workers, including 12 doctors. A rela tive handful of Cubans is said to be involved in military training and the provision of weapons.

The Americans complain that the new government has not held elections as it had promised, that it still holds more than 70 political prisoners, that it has closed the only independent newspaper on the island, the Torchlight. A new publication, Catholic Focus, appeared Feb. 10 but failed to publish further issues, apparently because of government pressure.

Despite all this, the new government still holds the advantage of having taken over from a regime that was corrupt, dictatorial, and disliked by a sizable part of the population. The former government's chief, the now-ousted Prime Minister Eric M. Gairy, a notorious womanizer and believer in black magic, was best known at the United Nations as the only leader in the world to have assiduously promoted the study of unidentified flying objects.

On March 13, 1979, it took no more than 40 to 50 armed men attacking a barracks to throw Mr. Gairy out of power.

The island's new leader is Maurice Bishop, an urbane, London-trained lawyer who recently returned from a trip to the Middle East with promises of more than

On the positive side, Prime Minister Bishop's government has earned a reputation for honesty in its first year in power. Alistair Hughes, a respected local journalist, says the government should be praised for bringing some planning into the country's finances, starting to experiment with canning of fruits and vegetables, initiating a voluntary work program to repair schools, and revitalizing an agricultural school that had been allowed to languish under the Gairy regime.

The island's Roman Catholic bishop, Sydney A. Charles, lists the voluntary work program for schools and plans for agro-industry and low-cost housing as pluses for the new government. He says the government is trying to make education relevant to people's lives. To his list of pluses might be added better management of the island's nutmeg, cocoa, and banana plantations. To combat malnutrition, the government has improved the system for distributing dry skimmed milk to pregnant women and children in low-income families.

But some Catholics think that Bishop Charles is being naive. They point to what they describe as the indoctrination of schoolchildren in something resembling Marxist ideology.

A survey conducted in all of the island's Catholic parish councils shows that many people now feel less free than they did when the new government first took over.

One ostensible supporter of the new government, who kept shouting "Hello, comrade" to everyone in sight, lowered his voice to a whisper on one occasion: "Tell anyone you can in Washington that Grenada is important. The little places are important. . . . A lot people here are saying: Uncle Sam, save us from Moscow."

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