Press disputes justification of Grenada invasion
St. George's, Grenada
American officials in Barbados Wednesday prepared to receive 14 bodies being flown in from Cuba. The Cuban goverment says these dead are really Grenadians. If Cuba is correct, then United States figures on the number of casualties from the intervention in Grenada must again be revised - just as US figures on the numbers of Cuban soldiers in Grenada and the size of the Grenadian Army have been revised.
The issue of the Cuban death toll has become one more point of contention in a growing dispute between the international press and the US government over both the accuracy of US statistics and their role in the Reagan administration's justification for the Grenada intervention.
Most journalists here feel the otherwise minor disparity over numbers of Cuban dead is part of a long string of significant inaccuracies the US government has put out in its eagerness to emphasize the importance of the Cuban role in Grenada.
These inaccuracies, the press feels, range from overestimating the numbers of the Cubans and Soviet advisers to misjudging the size of Cuban arm caches.
Although some journalists say the US government may have a strong case for intervention, most say they have come to seriously question the accuracy of facts the US cites for the invasion.
In the first week of the intervention, President Reagan and other administration officials went on TV to tell the American public that the Cuban and East-bloc presence, both in terms of the number of men on the island and the quantity and quality of the arms uncovered, was significantly larger and more important than originally thought.
They said that instead of the 600 to 700 Cuban civilians they expected to find on the island, there were at least 1,200 and probably more, most of them soldiers. Privately, government sources told the press they eventually expected to find some 2,000 men.
But recently US officials admitted that Cuban government figures, which stated that there were between 750 and 800 Cubans on the island, were probably correct.
US State Department and military officials now also admit that the great majority of Cubans were only construction workers who have militia training. Only 100 to 150 of the Cubans could conceivably have been professional soldiers, the officials acknowledge.
President Reagan, in his Oct. 27 televised speech, said that US troops found enormous Cuban arms caches in Grenada. He indicated that the quantity and quality of these arms clearly showed that they could never possibly have all been intended for Grenadian forces, but were, in large part, weapons that eventually would support a Cuban military base on the island. The base, he intimated, would be used to spread subversion throughout the Caribbean.
But most journalists who have seen the arms caches doubt the administration's interpretation of their significance. Administration officials had said there were enough Cuban arms in Grenada to maintain a 14,000-to-17,000 man expeditionary force. The arms, they said, included thousands of Soviet-made Kalashnikov rifles. Many journalists say the US government's own figures released last week on the island do not bear its contention.
Those figures show: 6,323 rifles, 13 antiaircraft guns, 111 machine guns, 68 RPGs (shoulder rocket launchers), and 12 Soviet-made army personnel carriers.
Journalists who viewed the weapons estimate that of the 6,000-odd rifles, only 400 to 800 were reasonably modern Kalashnikovs and the rest were considerably older, less efficient equipment, including many ''antiques.''
Most of these journalists also believe that the quantity and quality of the arms cache would tend to support the view that the arms were intended to supply Grenadian militiamen, not a 17,000-man Cuban expeditionary force. Slain Prime Minister Maurice Bishop reportedly had intended to build up a Grenadian militia.
During the first week of the invasion, the administration also said at least 30 Soviet military advisers were in Grenada, as well as an unspecified number of East German military personnel. None of these advisers has materialized.
Additionally, the latest US figures on the size of the Grenadian army (PRA) show that US figures released in the first week of the invasion were exaggerated. Initially the US estimated the PRA had more than 1,000 men. But the commanders of the Jamaican component of the Caribbean peacekeeping forces said over the weekend that the Grenadian army numbered some 700 to 900 men - a figure the US has not challenged.
Finally, the issue of the Cuban death toll has cast doubt on the US argument. The US had said 41 Cubans were killed in action in Grenada. But if the 14 bodies being returned by Cuba to St. George's are Grenadian, then it appears there were just 28 Cubans killed in Grenada. The Grenadian death toll would rise to 35.
By using questionable statistics for a hard-sell effort to justify and drum up support for its intervention, the administration appears to have weakened its case, especially among the European and third-world press.
Most observers agree the administration could have made a strong case for the intervention without attempting to exaggerate the East-bloc's role.
The short-lived regime of former deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, who overthrew Maurice Bishop, lacked support among Grenadians, and its legal claim to power was tenuous. Most Grenadians do consider the invasion as a ''rescue operation.'' Grenada's neighbors urged the US to intervene.
And it is possible that the pro-Soviet Coard would, once he was finally in power, have moved the country fully into the Eastern bloc - with all the economic, political, and military changes such a shift would entail.
However, most Grenadian and independent international observers on the island feel that instead of making these points simply and clearly, the Reagan administration attempted to make too much ideological hay out of international communist participation.