The Right Coast

September 29, 2005
Eugenia Charles
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Eugenia Charles, the long-time Prime Minister of Dominica, has died at 86. The Economist has an obit that is mostly both affectionate and perceptive. Dominica is a tiny Caribbean island nation, with a population of only 71,000. Eugenia Charles' moment on the world stage was in 1983, when the neighbouring island of Grenada was taken over by a Cuban-backed Communist gang. Here is the Economist:
THE press photographs did no justice to how Eugenia Charles felt as she stood beside Ronald Reagan, at the White House, in October 1983. They showed a rather grim and melancholy woman, in a white cravat and executive striped suit. Only a vestigial twinkle in Reagan's eye suggested the truth: that Miss Charles was having the time of her life. “Mr President,” she told him afterwards in her lilting basso profundo, “you have big balls!”

She had just invited him to invade Grenada, and he had done so secretly, at once. That island, in the same chain as her own state of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean, had been taken over by Cuban-backed thugs and the moderate prime minister murdered. Miss Charles had raised the spectre of Cuban infiltration all over the region; Reagan, ever ready to wage clandestine war against Commies, had gallantly responded. A navy flotilla with marines had been diverted from its voyage to Lebanon to carry out her wishes and liberate the island.
(The Euro-sneer at Reagan and the "Commies" reflects not on Reagan but on the Economist, which is usually -- although by no means always -- better than that sort of thing. The sneer mars an otherwise appealing obit.)

Eugenia Charles' father, with whom she lived till he died at 107, was probably the biggest influence on her, says the Economist, believably enough. Her upbringing and outlook indeed had much in common with Margaret Thatcher's.

I remember Eugenia Charles speaking out forcefully and publicly -- both in Washington and at the UN -- about the need to take action in Grenada. She spoke eloquently, elegantly, and altogether impressively. At the time, a little snobbishly, I thought she spoke far better than Reagan did: she the Prime Minister of an island of 70,000 souls, he the President of the United States. But they each had their work cut out for them; and they each did what was needed. Rest in peace, both.