Crossing Reagan

As a Computer Specialist with USAID, I took a few problem-solving trips abroad and always to the capitals.  The first was to Tegucigalpa where in 1983 we first installed the USAID Mission Accounting and Control System for which I and three co-workers received USAID’S highest award for serving staff – The Superior Honor Award.  It was, I think I can say, both a near-perfect transition from paper-based to automated financial data capture and reporting and an unusual project in that what was scheduled for at least year of shake-down in Tecgucigalpa was delivered to all USAID missions after only two months.

Next in line were Bridgetown, Manila, Singapore, and Vienna and each had it’s high and low points.  Looking back, I’d have to say the time I remember most fondly was my trip to Bridgetown, not only because that’s where I married in 1986 in historic St. John’s Parish Church, but because of a couple of little side-trips I took.  One was to Petrópolis, the summer residence of the Brazilian Emperors and aristocrats in the 19th century and one-time capital of the state of Rio de Janeiro, where I first met my bride-to-be.

The other side-trip was to the island of Grenada, which the US invaded in 1983 in an action which was sold to the American public as chiefly a mission to rescue then endangered American citizens studying medicine at St. George’s University, but was actually to effect regime change – Then self-proclaimed Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was wandering into the sphere of USSR  influence and the existing airfield was being modified to accept commercial jet traffic,  which the US DoD deemed to be for military purposes, such as a refueling stop for Cuban and Soviet aircraft loaded with weapons destined for Central American communist insurgents.  And there was some concern that critical shipping lanes from South America to North America were also in easy reach.

When I went there in 1986, the modified airstrip, which is sloped and in fact not particularly well-suited to military use, was becoming well-used and the island’s people had turned their attention back to cultivation of nutmeg and mace and to the opportunities presented by a burgeoning tourist industry.

Here’s the thing.

Because it’s a sister agency to the Department of State, USAID automation was subject to the Department’s contract with Wang Laboratories (a contract which in itself is quite a tale) and we had highly proprietary (and therefore troublesome) but capable Wang word processors, Wang Office Information Systems, and Wang single-user minicomputers all the Hell over the place.  But parts delivery could be slow and we frequently found ourselves cannibalizing various models in order to repair seemingly, but not necessarily actually, similar models and I was sent over to Grenada to see if I could repair one of the office’s three minicomputers.

As I was rummaging around for parts in an empty office serving as a storage area where dead equipment was, I came upon a couple of cardboard boxes full of absolutely amazing stuff.  One box was full of posters and another was stuffed with crime scene barrier-type white plastic ribbons with letters in red print.  And all of it dated to Ronald Reagan’s four-hour stay on the island on February 20 1986, where he delivered a speech and took part in a ceremony at the monument to the 19 US troops who died in the October 1983 invasion.

There must have been twenty or thirty absolutely pristine and highly collectible posters in the one box and I don’t know how many rolls of tape in the other.  All the posters were one or the other of two types of 4′ X 3′  head shots of Ronald Reagan.  Some bore only his image with his name beneath and some with the message “Come Help Welcome Ronald Reagan To Grenada” and my reaction was what we today would characterize by the letters WTF.  And I damn near fainted when I opened the box of tape – Each and every one of them was in fact a white band bearing a caption in red letters, such as “New School Constructed by USAID” and “Nutmeg Processing Plant Restored By USAID”.

Can ya dig it?  Our President on a drive-by tour of captioned buildings on a yet again conquered Caribbean paradise…