A Caribbean breather over Thanksgiving celebrations

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In 1979, a Marxist group toppled Eric Gairy, the prime minister and brought Maurice Bishop to power.

During the short American occupation, which was welcomed by one group of Grenadians and opposed by another, Washington created the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) to stem communist or Marxist influence in the Caribbean. The American troops left the island in June 1985. Ever since Grenada does seem peaceful, open and quiet.

St George's town has a population of less than 6,000. Besides the university, which is private, it draws many tourists, mainly Americans and Europeans. Grenada is the second largest exporter of nutmeg in the world after Indonesia. It also produces bananas, other tropical fruits and fish. It is also famous for spices.

The university, which was founded in 1976 by an Act of Grenadian Parliament, has two campuses, one in St George's which I visited and the other in St Vincent. While at the campus, I was shown the memorial pavilion commemorating Reagan's visit and also to honour the American soldiers killed in the bloody episode during the fall of 1983.

The pavilion is one of the memorials and other reminders scattered around St George's to tell the people of the bloody autumn which resulted in 42 American soldiers killed and many more wounded. However, all 600 plus American medical students were safely evacuated. General Norman Schwarzkopf, the deputy commander of the invasion forces, who was later to become famous during the Desert Storm War in the Gulf, claimed 160 Grenadian rebels or revolutionary soldiers and 71 Cuban military advisors were killed and hundred others wounded, Grenadians as well as Cubans.

At the university, my wife and I met amongst others Prof Neil V. P. Fernando, 65, who formerly taught for 10 years at the University of Science Medical School in Kubang Kerian, Kota Baru.

He is St George's professor of pathology. He told me he loved Malaysia, and Kelantan, in particular. However he had to move on. The USMS could not renew his contract because of our retirement age restriction.

The university has international students from 55 countries - 30% of them are from seven nations headed by the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Sri Lanka Kuwait, Iceland and Venezuela. I was told Malaysian students were at St Vincent. Dr Reginald Abraham from Penang, now working as a physician in New York, is a graduate of St George's. He joined me in St George's on the second day my four-day trip.

In any event, I have visited many universities all over the world, and since taking up my present job 16 months ago, I have been to 24 universities (all American except St George's) and, I must tell you, St George's campus is one of the prettiest in the world. It is almost surrounded by water, with stunning views of the blue ocean. St George's medical school is American-run and funded, and is recognized by both the British Medical Council as well as the American Medical Council.

I am a great believer that parents, or governments for that matter, should not let the cost of a quality education stop our students seeking one whether at home or abroad.

We have 11,646 students in the United States, and a hundred, all doing medicine at the University of West Indies in Port of Spain, Trinidad-Tobago, about 163km south of Grenada. A good place to study, cheap, hospitable and few distractions.

Malaysians will not be strangers in the Caribbean whether in Trinidad, Grenada or Jamaica except that they will see more ethnic groups which are mainly of black African descent. There are Asian minorities Indians and Chinese, in particular. In Trinidad, of the 1.1 million 40% of the population is East Indian; 14% mixed, 43% black and one percent white!

The prime minister, Basdeo Panday (since 1995) whom I met last year when I accompanied Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad on a working visit during the 1996 Deepavali holidays, is of Indian origin.

I can see St George's University School of Medicine attracting more American and international students because it is cheaper than mainland America. Grenada is peaceful.

Tourism, the hospitality industry and the service sector, offshore banking and low taxation - foreign investors pay no personal income tax and Grenadians only if they earn more than US$ 20,000 (RM 74,000) a year - are expected to attract more visitors and foreign investors which Grenada needs to fuel its economic growth.

According to the prime minister, the American-educated Keith Mitchell (Washington's Howard University), a professor of mathematics before becoming a politician in 1984, the best thing that ever happened to Grenada was St George's University School of Medicine.

The weather in the Caribbean is not unlike ours, the food is not too unfamiliar, English is spoken even more widely than in Malaysia, so Malaysians will not feel too much they are in an alien territory. Perhaps, Malaysians will feel as I do that they are in a different decade in Grenada and the Caribbeans.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )