They were places of contrast. Shortly before today's first anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Grenada, I visited the nearly bare Dupont Circle apartment of Grenada's former U.S. ambassador. Dessima Williams, 32, was angry and sad, but out of hiding and busy. Her phone rang constantly.
I wasn't invited to the White House Rose Garden yesterday, where the anniversary was celebrated with 60 of the American students who were there during the invasion. The ceremony was being used politically to highlight President Reagan's campaign theme of military might and "America is Back."
I'm struck by a bit of unsettling symbolism prompted by the contrast between the White House celebration and Williams' fall from diplomat to protester in exile. At one point, rifling through papers on the kitchen table-turned-desk, Williams' spotted a $20 bill she had lost beneath a sheaf of papers. "I haven't seen money in a week," she said with relief. By contrast, a powerful United States celebrated invading a tiny nation by spending thousands of dollars on politically-tinged celebrations. If Macho Man is flexing his muscles, the tiny ant he stepped on to proclaim himself king of the jungle is poor, but fighting.
To the conservative Right, the invasion rescued Grenada from Cuban and Soviet oppression. To the Left, the invasion violated Grenada's national sovereignty. Grenadians themselves are split between those who thank God for Reagan and those who are furious. But both reactions are clouded by the fact that, despite American hostility to Grenada, the execution of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop by leftist opponents within his own government provided the reason for the U.S. invasion that ousted the post-Bishop regime, citing the safety of American students as the reason.
But Williams, regally thin, and with hair braided and bound, is very clear. Her fury is divided between those "anarchists" within her old party who executed Bishop -- and the Americans.
Williams became a diplomat four years ago and earned the praise of some officials who viewed her as being effective despite her lack of experience and the fact that the United States refused to accept her credentials.
"It was a slow motion nightmare for me," Williams said, remembering the days before Bishop's death. Grenada's foreign minister told her about some "trouble" on the island, but she knew neither its extent nor that Grenada's own embassy had been infiltrated by coup supporters. "One night I got up to go to the bathroom and I saw an embassy security man patrolling my hall. I told him, 'you aren't needed up here.' "
Still unaware of impending disaster, she tolerated a break-in of her private office; being followed when she went to the 7-Eleven. She was unwilling to admit she was a hostage but knew deep within, "I had already lost power. I was dead."
When news of Bishop's death flashed on Oct. 12 last year, she finally grabbed "my passport and radio," escaped her "captors" at the embassy and went into hiding, her safety threatened by other Grenadians. By now in her tale, Williams is wiping away tears.
When 6,000 U.S. Marines landed in Grenada six days later, she was afraid of the Americans, and accepted Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto's invitation to go to Nicaragua. "The invasion changed me quantitatively. I got a new energy. I felt those of us who were free and alive could do something."
Grenadians today are suffering, she contends. "There is a visible decline in the social and economic life. Unemployment is 60 percent. A "60 Minutes" team found repairs to the psychiatric hospital the Americans bombed had hardly started. The largest hotels and best beaches are now occupied by the Americans. We had free education but our literacy campaign is dismantled. I hear stories about prostitution among a lot of young and middle-aged women as a consequence of economics.
"We got ourselves out of slavery, colonialism, and dictatorship. I'm confident we would have gotten ourselves out of military anarchy. If a big country is so scared of a small country with an alternative political and economic system, what is the threat?"
Leaving her, I tried to think of a ready answer to so complex a question. I had not found one by the time I passed the concrete barricades of the White House.