Chocolate and the Revolution
"Chocolate-loving tourists could visit Grenada in the same way as wine lovers tour the vineyards and wine cellars of France and California."
This week we were very privileged to meet Samuel Brathwaite from the Cocoa Growers Association who has agreed to be interviewed for our podcast, which will be published this week. Not only was Samuel super informative about Grenada’s chocolate and cocoa industry, but he was also a member of the New Jewel Movement that brought about the revolution in Grenada in 1979.
We were put in touch with Samuel by his nephew Jevon who had given us a lift from the boatyard to the bus stop one day. We met at the dock near where we are anchored as Samuel lives close by, in Woburn in Southern Grenada. However, he works all the way in the north of the island at the Diamond Chocolate factory which produces chocolate bars under the brand name Jouvay. Jouvay comes from the French word j’ouvert, which means ‘dawning of a new day’ and is Caribbean patois for the opening day of carnival. We hadn’t known it, but this was the brand of chocolate we had been buying in Carriacou - now we were going to see not only where the bars are produced, but also where the cocoa trees are grown. Samuel works for the Cocoa Growers Association, which all cocoa farmers must belong to. As he told us, individual farmers cannot just make export deals with foreign chocolatiers, they must go through the association. This centralised control allows them to protect the farmers and ensure a fair price. The fact that many cocoa growers and chocolate companies here are cooperatives, with the workers owning the majority stake in the company is a case in point. The association is also ambitious for its members. They want to increase the number of cocoa growers and chocolate companies here. Rather than seeing this as competition for the existing growers, they see an opportunity for everyone. By increasing the number of chocolate producers, they can make it a key part of Grenada’s tourism if it becomes a centre of chocolate. Grenada’s cocoa beans are of the complex flavoured trinitario variety and as Samuel explains, the different trees which grow here, such as nutmeg and mango, influence the flavours. Chocolate-loving tourists could visit Grenada in the same way as wine lovers tour the vineyards and wine cellars of France and California. And as Samuel points out, Switzerland makes more than £1.4 billion from the manufacture of chocolate alone, (SWI, 2022) which doesn’t include the indirect money from tourists attracted to Switzerland by their reputation as fine chocolatiers.
The embedding of this culture of protection and equality for farmers in Grenada is partly a legacy of the 1979 New Jewel Movement, which introduced a Marketing and National Import Board. Samuel himself was a part of the movement, risking his life to print thousands of pro-revolutionary pamphlets in favour of the left-wing revolution. As Samuel explains, the revolutionaries were ideologically a broad church, united in opposition to the authoritarian government of Eric Gairy. Samuel himself was a Marxist at the time and spent time in Moscow training in Marxist theory. He explained that the revolutionaries saw themselves as part of a pan-American freedom movement led by Cuba. However, he feels strongly that the charisma of leader Maurice Bishop and the fact that Grenada was English speaking meant that Grenada was distinct in its own right. Bernard Coard, one of the leaders of the 1979 Revolution points to the 1795 Fédon’s Rebellion as a source of inspiration for the 1979 movement. (Grenade, 2015, p. 62) Fédon’s Rebellion pitted French people, and the enslaved against the British colonials, hoping to oust British rule in favour of French republican rule, which at the time had abolished slavery. The rebellion, led by the mixed race freed man Julien Fédon lasted fifteen months (Martin, 2017, pp. 2-4) and was one of many anti-slavery rebellions that collectively put enormous pressure on Britain’s ability to maintain the institution of slavery. Many of those in the New Jewel Movement saw their revolutionary ambitions in the same vein as that anticolonial, antislavery rebellion. (Martin, 2017, p. 2). This looking to past national inspiration in galvanising the movement is similar to Castro’s invocation of the anti-imperialist Cuban nationalist José Martí from Cuba’s revolutionary wars in the late nineteenth century. As this Cuban hero was used as the personification of revolutionary spirit to overcome a violent, even sadistic oppressor, so was Fédon an inspiration to those hopeful in the Grenada of 1979. However, they were also inspired by the Haitian Revolution, as well as the contemporary wave of African independence movements from the mid twentieth century onwards.(Grenade, 2015, p62)
The New Jewel Movement led by the charismatic Maurice Bishop brought about a successful revolution in 1979. But it only lasted for four and a half years. Bishop was assassinated by a faction loyal to the deputy Bernard Coard. The assassination led to the invasion by America and the ushering in of democracy. Our cruising pilot book in its introduction to Grenada explains, “At this point, the US, along with Grenada’s eastern Caribbean neighbours launched a “rescue mission” and were welcomed with open arms…Grenada has experienced the best, most democratic and most productive years since it was founded”. (Doyle and Fisher, 2022, p. 344) This is a similar summary to what you will find anywhere online, but I was curious about how Grenadians themselves view the aftermath - after all, it was their revolution.
Samuel is not enamoured of the current state of democracy in Grenada. A superficial outsiders’ view suggests a very high degree of political engagement amongst the general population. It is election week in Grenada and we saw masses of the yellow-clad opposition party supporters gathering for their rally as we were driven by Samuel back from the chocolate factory. Before that we had only seen supporters of the current governing party, who wear green. Scholar Wendy C. Grenade explains that the governing New National Party was an artificially formulated coalition of five political parties by the invading US and Caribbean forces. Grenade argues that in the immediate aftermath of the revolution in 1983, the United States took great interest in Grenada’s fledgling democracy, but within a few years backed out as the Caribbean reduced in strategic importance in the Cold War context. However, she maintains that the dominance of neoliberal economic principles remained embedded in the New National Party and this flourished with the advent of globalisation. The sudden adoption of a market based economy from the revolution era centrally planned economy contributed to a tax deficit, large cuts in public sector workers and this is when the opposition NDC broke away from the NNP. (Grenade, 2015, p242-245)
However, after forming a coalition government in 1990, the NDC did not initially fare any better than the NNP and had to go to the International Monetary Fund. The IMF allowed Grenada to implement its own economic plan, which was successful, but this was effectively a self-imposed economic straitjacket. (Grenade, 2015, 246-247) Perhaps this is why Samuel described the NDC as a centre right party indistinguishable from the NNP. Perhaps this perception is a feature of his lived experiences - that of a country where a radically different economic system was possible in the brief years after the revolution succeeded. On the contrary, for those of us in our early forties and younger (and I say this from a very western perspective), all of our adult life has been lived in the post Cold War World of the neoliberal consensus. A world where the market is king, growth is all and capitalism won the Cold War. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ostracism of socialist regimes, such as Cuba, it has been difficult to see alternative systems in action in the real world.
The Cold War, despite its prominent ideological battle between two superpowers, in some ways gave the tiny islands of the Caribbean a visibility on the world stage as proud independent nations with power wielded, or at least gained by their people. It’s perhaps hard for some children of the Grenadian revolution not to be despondent at how short lived their ideals were, of what might have been. But the legacy of cooperatives in Grenada is an advantage to workers and the people unparalleled in many other countries; this is partly a legacy of the 1979 revolution, but also has longer roots. Scholar Caroline Shenaz Hossein (2021, p. 177) emphasises the significant influence of African cooperative systems, such as Susu, that were passed down from the slavery period, a form of localised self-empowerment that was sustained as a reaction to slavery and colonialism. The niche of chocolate tourism that this ‘Spice Isle’ has the potential to unleash, as outlined by Samuel, and the role of cooperatives and the Cocoa Growers Association in this, does not only build on the legacy of the revolution, but is the essence of Grenadian people, land and history.
Doyle, C. and Fisher, L., 2022. 2021-2022 Sailors Guide to the Windward Islands. 20th ed. Chris Doyle Publishing.
Grenade, W., 2015. A Retrospective View from Richmond Hill: An Interview with Bernard Coard. In: W. Grenade, ed., The Grenada Revolution Reflections and Lessons. [online] University Press of Mississippi, pp.59-86. Available at: <http://file:///Users/scooke/Downloads/WendyCGrenade2015GrenadaRevolutionReflectionsandLessonsChapters14and11%20(1).pdf> [Accessed 20 June 2022].
Grenade, W., 2015. Exploring Transitions in Party Politics in Grenada, 1984-2013. In: W. Grenade, ed., The Grenada Revolution Reflections and Lessons. [online] University Press of Mississippi, pp.241-263. Available at: <http://file:///Users/scooke/Downloads/WendyCGrenade2015GrenadaRevolutionReflectionsandLessonsChapters14and11.pdf> [Accessed 20 June 2022].
Hossein, C., 2021. The Legacy of Cooperatives among the African Diaspora. National Review of Black Politics, 2(3-4), pp.171-194.
Martin, J., 2017. Citizens and Comrades in Arms: The Congruence of Fédon's Rebellion and the Grenada Revolution. In: N. Phillip-Dowe and J. Martin, ed., Perspectives on the Grenada Revolution, 1979-1983. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp.1-17.
SWI swissinfo.ch. 2022. Swiss chocolate sales pick up again. [online] Available at: <https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss-chocolate-sales-pick-up-again/47473814> [Accessed 20 June 2022].
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