Freedom in the World
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In July 2008, Tillman Thomas of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was sworn in as prime minister following an upset electoral victory over the long-serving incumbent, Keith Mitchell of the New National Party (NNP). The NDC captured 11 seats in the 15-member House of Representatives, whereas the NNP was left with only 4. Meanwhile, leaders stepped up efforts to manage the country’s external debt and to counter money laundering.
Grenada gained independence from Britain in 1974. Maurice Bishop’s Marxist New Jewel Movement seized power in 1979, creating a People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG). In 1983, Bishop was murdered by New Jewel hard-liners Bernard Coard and Hudson Austin, who took control of the country. However, a joint U.S.-Caribbean military intervention quickly removed the PRG and set the country on a path toward new elections. In 1986, Coard and 18 others were sentenced to death; subsequently, 2 of the 19 were pardoned, and the rest—who became known as the Grenada 17—had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. In December 2006, an additional 4 of the 17 were released. The London-based Privy Council ruled in February 2007 that the same findings that had invalidated the death sentences also rendered the life sentences unconstitutional. The 13 remaining inmates received reduced sentences in June 2007; 3 were released immediately, and the other 10, resentenced to 40 years in prison, would become eligible for release by the turn of the decade.
Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of the New National Party (NNP) ruled Grenada from 1995 to 2008, when his party lost parliamentary elections to the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC). Tillman Thomas, the NDC leader, was sworn in as prime minister in July. The NDC captured 11 seats in the 15-member House of Representatives, leaving the NNP with just 4. Thomas named a 17-member cabinet and established a special debt management unit to help deal with the country’s external debt. Grenada also moved quickly to establish measures against money laundering in an effort to avoid being blacklisted by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force.
In 2004, Grenada was struck by Hurricane Ivan, which caused nearly US$900 million in damage, more than twice the country’s annual gross domestic product. By 2008, the recovery process had made great strides, but the global economic downturn threatened to plunge the island back into economic crisis after several years of strong growth.
Grenada is an electoral democracy. The 2008 parliamentary elections were considered generally free and fair, although there were allegations of voter-list manipulation. The bicameral Parliament consists of thedirectly elected, 15-seat House of Representatives, whose members serve five-year terms, and the 13-seat Senate, to which the prime minister appoints 10 members and the opposition leader names 3. The prime minister is typically the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives and is appointed by the governor-general, who represents the British monarch as head of state. Grenada’s main political parties are the NDC, the NNP, the Grenada United Labor Party (GULP), and the People’s Labor Movement (PLM).
Corruption remains a contentious political issue in Grenada, and the country compares unfavorably with several of its neighbors.Grenada was ranked 79 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index. It was not ranked in the 2008 index due to lack of data.
The right to free expression is generally respected. The media, including three weekly newspapers and several other publications, are independent and freely criticize the government. A private corporation, with a minority stake owned by the government, operates the principal radio and television stations. There are also nine privately owned radio stations, one privately owned television station, and a privately owned cable company. Media advocacy groups criticized the NNP government in 2008 for efforts to smear critical journalists and for expelling a Jamaican journalist, which officials later admitted was inappropriate. In December 2008, Prime Minister Thomas pledged to introduce a Freedom of Information Act to insure greater government transparency. Access to the internet is unrestricted.
Citizens of Grenada generally enjoy the free exercise of religious beliefs, and there are no official restrictions on academic freedom.
Constitutional guarantees regarding freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Grenada has a robust civil society that participates actively in domestic and international discussions, although limited resources hamper its effectiveness. In 2008, nongovernmental organizations such as press watchdogs, church groups, and civic action organizations operated freely and played an important role in promoting political debate.
Workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Independent labor unions represent an estimated 20 to 25 percent of the workforce. All unions belong to the Grenada Trades Union Council (GTUC). A 1993 law allowed the government to establish tribunals to make “binding and final” rulings when a labor dispute is considered to be of vital interest to the state; the GTUC claimed that the law was an infringement on the right to strike.
The authority of Grenada’s independent and prestigious judiciary is generally respected by the Royal Grenada Police Force. There are no military courts. In 1991, Grenada rejoined the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States court system, with the right of appeal to the Privy Council in London. Grenada is a charter member of Caribbean Court of Justice, which was inaugurated in Trinidad and Tobago in 2005, but the country still relies on the Privy Council as its final court of appeal. Detainees and defendants are guaranteed a range of legal rights, which the government respects in practice. However, a lack of judges and facilities has led to a backlog of six months to one year for cases involving serious offenses. In addition, the highly publicized case of the Grenada 13 has been repeatedly criticized due to perceived political manipulation by the government. Amnesty International classified the 13 as political prisoners, and 10 of them remain in prison.
There was no marked increase in violence in 2008, but crime remained a concern. Grenada’s prison conditions, though poor, meet minimum international standards, and the government allows visits by human rights monitors. Flogging is still legal but employed rarely, primarily as a punishment for sex crimes and theft. In June 2006, the government opened a military-style camp for juveniles convicted of minor offenses.
While Grenada has few significant problems involving discrimination against minorities, some incidents involving the mistreatment of homosexuals have been reported. Women are represented in the government, including both houses of parliament and the cabinet. Women generally earn less than men for equal work. Domestic violence against women is common, and most instances of abuse go unreported or are settled out of court.