Before the 14th century, Grenada was settled by Caribs, who displaced the earlier population of Arawaks. Christopher Columbus visited the island in 1498 and named it ‘Concepcion’ (later being named by the Spaniards after their own city, Granada). European settlement was slow to follow, due to the fierce resistance of the warlike Caribs, although Britain and France in particular competed for control. A company of London merchants tried and failed to form a settlement in 1605. The French launched more concerted attacks until, by 1674, they had subdued the Caribs and gained control of the island. By 1753, Grenada was a flourishing French possession, with 100 sugar mills and 12,000 enslaved Africans working the industry. The Caribs had been exterminated.
Britain took over from France in 1763 under the Treaty of Paris and again (having meanwhile lost control) in 1783 under the Treaty of Versailles. Britain introduced the cultivation of cacao, cotton and nutmeg; by the time of the emancipation of slaves (1833), the slave population had reached 24,000.
National political consciousness developed through the labour movement, with the formation of the Grenada Manual and Mental Workers Union. In the new environment, a union organiser, Eric Matthew Gairy, formed the first political party, the pro-union, pro-independence Grenada United Labour Party (GULP). In 1951, GULP won the elections and Gairy became leader of the assembly. The Grenada National Party (GNP), led by Herbert Blaize held power between 1957–61 and 1962–67.
Grenada joined the Federation of the West Indies in 1958. When that was dissolved in 1962, it evolved first into an associated state with full internal self-government (1967), and then towards independence, the core of the GULP platform.
Independence was achieved in 1974; Grenada became a constitutional monarchy, with Gairy as prime minister, and Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, represented by a governor-general. Strikes during the independence preparations, which almost prevented the transition, were suppressed by, it was claimed,
‘Mongoose Gangs’ operating in the manner of Haiti’s ‘Tonton- Macoutes’.
In 1979, while absent in the USA, Gairy was deposed in a coup by opposition leader Maurice Bishop, who took the New Jewel Movement (NJM) into power as the People’s Revolutionary Government. The new government created state farms and industries, and forged links with the socialist world. With Cuba’s assistance, it began construction of the modern international airport at Point Salines.
In October 1983, after a military coup in which Bishop, two other ministers, two union leaders and 13 bystanders were killed, Bishop’s deputy, Bernard Coard, took control and set up a Revolutionary Military Council. At the request of OECS, in late 1983, the USA then invaded Grenada, supported by a token force of 300 police from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. The governor-general, Sir Paul Scoon, took control of an interim administration, (almost fully) reinstated the 1974 constitution and organised elections for a new government.
The New National Party (NNP), a four-party merger led by Herbert Blaize and supported by the neighbouring islands, easily defeated Gairy’s GULP at the December 1984 general election, and Blaize became prime minister.
In the elections in 1990 no single party gained an overall majority and another merger, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), formed the government under Nicholas Brathwaite.
The 1995 elections, contested by seven parties, were narrowly won by the NNP, now led by Dr Keith Mitchell, who became prime minister. The NNP gained eight seats, the NDC, now led by George Brizan, five and GULP, two.
Two no-confidence motions following the elections were unsuccessful. However, in May 1997, five opposition parties, including the NDC, GULP and the Democratic Labour Party formed an alliance to provide a common front against the NNP, leaving the government with a majority of one.