Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix I Segment 15/15
Previous segment | Next chapter | Contents | Overview | Archive

U.S. actions in earlier years to undermine the government of Maurice Bishop were barely reported.58 The large-scale military operations simulating an invasion of "Amber and the Amberdines," clearly intended to intimidate the government of Grenada and the Grenadines, passed without mention in the New York Times. The only hint was a tiny item noting Grenada's charge that it was the target of "an imminent attack" by the United States, dismissed by the State Department as "ridiculous," with no further details or inquiry.59 There was no report of the refusal of the Carter administration to provide aid when 40 percent of Grenada's banana crop was destroyed by a hurricane in August 1980, and Carter's further condition that Grenada be excluded from rehabilitation aid provided to affected countries through the West Indian Banana Exporting Association (the Association refused the condition, and no U.S. aid was forthcoming).60 There was also no report of the termination of U.S. aid and pressures on the Common Market to terminate aid in early 1981. Also unreported were the other measures pursued to abort progress and development under a government now conceded to have been popular and relatively successful in early efforts. The media thus ensured that few would comprehend what took place in October 1983, when Bishop was assassinated and the invasion was launched, and the significant U.S. background role.

Turning to the invasion itself, the government role in censorship was the least of the story. Far more important is the fact that the most crucial information about the invasion was largely suppressed by media choice, even while the media were denouncing government censorship.

The invasion of Grenada took place on the morning of October 25. Various conflicting justifications were offered that we need not review. The tale on which the government finally settled was that U.S. troops on a "rescue mission" were fighting a bitter battle against Cuban military forces struggling to maintain this outpost of Soviet imperialism. The media gave enormous coverage to the events, basically keeping to this version while raising questions about the motives for the invasion and deploring the censorship. Prominent reports featured battles with Cuban forces, efforts to put down Cuban resistance, the exploits of the U.S. military, and so on. But there is more to the story.

As the U.S. invaded, Cuba released a series of official documents to the press. According to these documents, when the murder of Maurice Bishop was reported on October 20, the government of Cuba declared that it was "deeply embittered" by the murder and rendered "deep tribute" to the assassinated leader. The same official statement reported instructions to Cubans in Grenada that "they should abstain absolutely from any involvement in the internal affairs of the Party and of Grenada," while attempting to maintain the "technical and economic collaboration that could affect essential services and vital economic assistance for the Grenadian people." On October 22, Castro sent a message to Cuban representatives in Grenada, stressing that they should take no action in the event of a U.S. invasion unless they are "directly attacked." If U.S. forces "land on the runway section [of the airport that Cubans were constructing with British assistance] near the university or on its surroundings to evacuate their citizens," Cubans were ordered "to fully refrain from interfering." The military rulers of Grenada were informed that "sending reinforcements is impossible and unthinkable" because of the actions in Grenada that Cuba and the Grenadan people deplore, and Cuba urged them to provide "total guarantees and facilities for the security and evacuation of U.S., English and other nationals." The message was repeated on October 23, stating that reinforcement would be politically wrong and "morally impossible before our people and the world" after the Bishop assassination. On October 24, Cuba again informed the Grenadan regime that Cubans would only defend themselves if attacked, and advised that the airport runway be cleared of military personnel.

Surely Washington was aware of these communications, barring colossal incompetence. But we need not speculate on this matter. On October 22, Cuba sent a message to Washington explaining its policy "of not interfering in the internal affairs" of Grenada and suggesting that the U.S. and Cuba "keep in touch on this matter, so as to contribute to a favorable solution of any difficulty that may arise or action that may be taken relating to the security of [U.S. or other foreign nationals in Grenada], without violence or intervention in that country." There was no response to this message until October 25, well after the U.S. had invaded and attacked Cuban personnel. At that point, the U.S. stated that it "agrees to the Cuban proposal of October 22 to maintain contact concerning the safety of the personnel of each side." Several hours later, the U.S. delivered a message to Cuba stating its "regret" for the armed clashes and attributing them to "confusion and accidents." Cuba responded at once, calling again for cooperation to resolve the problems "without violence or intervention."61

These facts were known to the media at once, and even received some mention, though they were relegated to obscurity and did not interfere with pursuit of the patriotic agenda. Knight-Ridder news service reported Castro's October 26 statement that Cuba had rejected Grenada's request for reinforcements and had offered "Cuban cooperation to guarantee the safety of 1000 Americans on the island," though Washington had not responded until "90 minutes after U.S. troops had invaded Grenada and had begun fighting against Cubans on the island." On October 26, Alma Guillermoprieto reported in the Washington Post that at a "post-midnight news conference" with "almost 100 foreign and local journalists," Castro "released texts of what he said were diplomatic communications among Cuba, Grenada and the United States," giving the essential facts. U.S. sources "confirmed the exchange of messages," she added, but said they could not respond to Cuba at once because the telephone lines of the U.S. interest section in Havana were down from the evening of October 23 to late at night on October 24; how unfortunate that the U.S. government, so lacking in technical facilities, could not find some way to respond to the message of October 22, perhaps by carrier pigeon, thus rendering the invasion unnecessary (according to the government-media justification for it) and ensuring that there would be no clash with Cubans. White House spokesman Larry Speakes, she reported, said that "the U.S. disregarded Cuban and Grenadan assurances that U.S. citizens in Grenada would be safe because, `it was a floating crap game and we didn't know who was in charge'." The readers of the New York Times could learn the facts from an advertisement of the government of Cuba on November 20, placed, no doubt, in a vain effort to overcome media self-censorship. The facts were accurately reported by Alan Berger in the Boston Globe on the same day.62

In short, the story of Cuban resistance to the U.S. "rescue mission" was mere deception, and this fact was known from the start. The media, however, kept to the official line, with only bare recognition of the actual facts, which was quickly shelved. Cuban officials were sometimes cited accusing the United States of "manipulating information," but without reference to these crucial facts (Jo Thomas, New York Times). Editorials raised various questions about the "Orwellian arguments" offered by the Reagan administration, avoiding, however, the revelations that exposed the entire operation as a public relations fraud.63 The pattern was pervasive.

There are hardly serious grounds for accusing the U.S. government of censorship when the media themselves proved so adept in the process, without instruction or pressure -- as in other examples, so common as to be fairly called the norm.

Go to the next chapter.

58 Information here is from the Times Database.

59 NYT, March 29, 1983.

60 Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Washington Report on the Hemisphere, Nov. 23, 1988; the context is Washington's refusal to provide assistance to Nicaragua after the devastating hurricane of October 1988.

61 Center for Cuban Studies, New York, Oct. 28, 1983.

62 Knight-Ridder Service, BG, Oct. 27; WP, Oct. 27; NYT, BG, Nov. 20. Also Latin America Regional Reports Caribbean, Nov. 4, 1983; Michael Massing, Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 1884, two sentences on an inside page.

63 Thomas, NYT, Nov. 1; editorial, NYT, Nov. 10, 1983.