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One year later: Grenada at turning point

The United States invasion of Grenada has brought the tiny East Caribbean island a measure of stability, a promise of democracy, and an astronomical rise in popular expectations.

Grenada this week celebrates the first anniversary of the Oct. 25 invasion - many in Grenada call it a liberation or rescue mission - and the expulsion of the Soviets and Cubans. But the future looks for the moment unclear.

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The rising expectations include a desire for more jobs on an island where as much as a third of the labor force is out of work. American aid and a handful of investments have helped to create hundreds of new jobs, with the promise of more to come. But these jobs have not been sufficient to fulfill expectations of many Grenadians.

Much will depend on the elections for a legislative council, or parliament, to be held Dec. 3. If the elections result in a stable government, a sizable number of Americans and other foreign businessmen are expected to invest in the island. If the elections return to power the party of former Prime Minister Eric Gairy, American officials say, it will produce a more uncertain atmosphere and discourage investors.

Longtime foreign residents of Grenada say Mr. Gairy has been threatening businessmen who refuse to support him and his Grenada United Labor Party (GULP).

''Gairy is engaging in some of his old tricks,'' says a high-ranking US State Department official. ''He's trying to intimidate businessmen.... He's even claiming that the United States supports him, which it does not.

''People are waiting to see if Gairy and his people come back,'' the official says. ''If they do, you won't see any investment to amount to anything in Grenada.''

Gairy first rose to prominence in Grenada as a trade unionist and held power on the 133-square-mile island for some 20 years until he was ousted in a leftist-led coup in March 1979. There is considerable documentation to show that in the latter years of his rule, Gairy used a ''police auxiliary'' force known as the Mongoose Gang to intimidate and beat up his opponents. Gairy denies he used any such tactics.

In recent months the United States, a number of local business and religious figures, and several of the top government leaders from other islands in the Eastern Caribbean quietly encouraged three Grenadian political parties to join in a coalition against Gairy's GULP. The coalition was formed and is trying to offer a positive and vigorous alternative to Gairy in the few weeks that remain before the election for the 15-member council. But Gairy, relying mainly on his old labor organization, has had what amounts to a head start in the electoral campaign.

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State Department officials expect that if the noncommunist coalition is elected it will contribute advances on both the security and economic fronts:

* Security. With a stable government in office, it would be possible to remove the 230 to 240 American military personnel - soldiers, helicopter crew members, and military policemen and women - who remain on the island, officials say. They assert that a newly trained Grenadian police force should be ready to take responsibility for law and order early next year, and that the American military could be out by February or March of 1985.

* Economy. The expectation is that a stable government would encourage investment, continue to liberalize tax laws, and try to diversify a small, largely agricultural economy that has long been dependent on tourism and the export of bananas and nutmeg.

The opening of the Port Salines airport runway, planned for next Sunday, is considered a major development that will make possible the export of what aid officials describe as light, high-profit products such as nutmeg, clothing, seafood, and electronic assembly parts.

Some $19 million of the $57.2 million in US aid going to Grenada for the two years through fiscal year 1985 has been devoted to completion of the airport on which Cubans had earlier worked.

But even with increased foreign investment, it might take years for Grenada to build a viable economy. A heavy dependence on sizable infusions of American economic aid is the likelihood for years to come, some American officials say.

In the meantime, the only pre-election certainty is that during their stay in Grenada, the Soviets and Cubans and their East European allies did not offer a formula for economic success.

As two scholars point out in a recent article in the journal ''Problems of Communism,'' the Soviet Union was either unable or unwilling to provide much of the economic help which would have helped to transform Grenada into a ''socialist paradise'' in the Caribbean.

According to the authors, Jiri and Virginia Valenta, a study of recently released Grenada documents which were captured during the US invasion, show that while the communist countries contributed considerable military aid to the leftist-led regime in Grenada during the years 1979-1983, they did not provide much that was of great economic value.

Grenadians tend to give the Cuban health workers who were stationed on the island high marks. And whatever the military purpose of the Port Salines airport might have been, it made economic sense to build that airport to replace the small Pearls airport located all the way across the island at the end of a badly deteriorating road.

The Cubans donated 10 fishing boats, but for a number of reasons which have yet to be fully explained the Cuban and Grenadian fishermen running the boats failed to turn this small fishing fleet into a successful enterprise. Four of these dilapidated ferro-concrete boats now sit idle in the St. George's harbor, a symbol to some Grenadians of a Cuban failure.

At one point, the late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop reported that only two of the fishing boats were working and that those could ''collapse at any time.''

The few American businessmen who have begun to put new investments into Grenada are convinced they can do better.

Noel J. Blackman, president of the Shore Lobster & Shrimp Co. in Fort Lee, New Jersey, says that he is ''bullish'' about the Grenadian economy. With the help of a loan from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Blackman and other members of the Shore group of companies are investing $400,000 to $500,000 in a freezing and packing plant for lobsters, which Blackman says will be able to employ, directly or indirectly, about 500 people. That is a large enterprise for an island of only some 90,000 people.

Blackman said that his group expects to make a ''fair profit'' from exporting lobsters but that the intention is not to exploit Grenada's cheap labor. The businessman, who has built a similar operation in Belize, says that fishermen selling lobsters to his company will be able to make as much as $200 to $400 a week.

''It's vital that we see Grenada succeed,'' said Blackman. ''If we fail, it will be very damaging to the United States throughout the Caribbean.''

But in the end, whether the Americans and their regional allies find a formula for economic success will depend as much on the political will and entrepreneurship of the Grenadians as it does on American investments and influence.

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