My colleague Jamaica Observer columnist, Mark Wignall, for whom I have a great deal of respect as a commentator, went off course in the June 17 Sunday Observer when he rekindled the old false propaganda that the US Central Intelligence Agency supported the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the confrontation with the People's National Party (PNP) that took place in Jamaica between l976 and 1980.
He writes: "It is a fact that after the PNP lost the general elections in 1980, criminal gunmen, allied to the PNP who had committed murder at home, sought and were given refuge in Cuba. Why was this so? Quite possibly, because Cuba had seen the gun carnage in Jamaica in 1976 to 1980 as a straight fight between the 'progressive' forces (PNP) and what had to been seen as the 'reactionary' JLP supported by the CIA."
The whole allegation of the CIA's destabilisation of the PNP government began in 1975 at a meeting of the Inter-American Federation of Journalists in Mexico City, Mexico, where I led a delegation from the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ). The other members of the delegation were journalists Gloria Maragh and Ben Brodie. At the meeting, the Cuban delegation moved a resolution that the JLP in conspiracy with the CIA was creating violence in Jamaica so that the PNP would not win the 1976 general elections. I opposed the resolution on the grounds that there was no evidence to support this statement. After an intense struggle with the Cubans and other "progressive" forces at the meeting, the PAJ's position prevailed.
At the time I was secretary of the Press Association of Jamaica and editor of the Editorial Division of the government Jamaica Information Service (JIS). When the delegation returned home, I was severely punished for the stand I had taken. A hard-line communist was immediately brought in to replace me and I was shifted to the Public Relations Department as chief public relations officer under director of public relations, PNP George Lee, who is now mayor of Portmore.
Of course, the CIA was operating in Jamaica at the time, it was said, collecting political information and watching if the PNP would march from democratic socialism to orthodox socialism or communism with the backing of Cuba. There were a host of Cuban agents in Jamaica between 1975 and 1980, some unofficially advising the JIS. I knew the CIA's station chief, only whose first name I will mention. His name is Jack and he was quite popular in political circles. He bore a striking resemblance to the late Clark Gable, the famous American movie actor.
For a long period the communists at the JIS and JBC regarded me as a reactionary, and put me under severe pressure which ended only after Prime Minister Michael Manley and Minister of National Secretary Keeble Munn made it clear that the CIA was never involved in the destabilisation of Jamaica. In a statement last Wednesday, in response to Wignall's piece, Edward Seaga who was Opposition Leader said that the CIA played no role in the JLP victory in the 1976 and l980 general elections.
National Reserve and Jamaica
The Third Battalion of the Jamaica Regiment (National Reserve), which comprised mostly of volunteers, served Jamaica well during its 50 years as part of the Jamaica Defence Force. The National Reserve, apart from its contribution to national security, recruited young men and brushed them into disciplined soldiers and citizens, imbuing in them respect for others and loyalty to country. It is my belief that more young people should be members of the military, including the Jamaica Combined Cadet Force, as well as the Police Cadet, Boys Scouts and St John's Ambulance Brigade. Government should increase the grants to these organisations to meet the increase in membership. It will pay off in the end.
I am proud to have been a pioneer of the National Reserve, being among the first to respond to Premier Norman Manley's call for recruits in 1961 at the age of 31. I had no previous training and found it convenient to join as I was living near Up Park Camp. Also, the stipend was helpful, but I did not like the tag "part-time soldier". This term has practically disappeared because the National Reserve has been developed into an effective force, carrying out important national duties, especially in activities like the State of Emergency and curfews. I knew many of the officers because the Jamaica Defence Force was my beat as a journalist .
The panel which interviewed me included Major Dunstan Robinson, later promoted to Brigadier. I enlisted as a private and believed that with hard training I would move up the promotional ladder. But there was a problem because of my profession. I missed too many training exercises. In the Third Battalion as in the other battalions you have to earn your promotion. Whatever exercises I was able to participate in, I enjoyed them immensely. Once I wrote an article on the National Reserve for my newspaper The Jamaica Times Weekly about a training exercise in the hills of Ferry, St Andrew, which seemed to impress some officers, the officer in charge of my company told me they were not looking for a journalist but a soldier. Nevertheless, because of my writing skill, I was assigned to take notes on the progress of "battles" in the hills. Once my company came under heavy gunfire from the "enemy" on top of a hill, and we charged up the hill. At the debriefing, we were told by Major Albright of the British Army who was assigned to the National Reserve as training officer that that move was wrong. We should have withdrawn and circled the "enemy". I loved my self-loading rifle (SLR), but preferred my machine gun mounted on a tripod.
This brings me to an incident in the Second World War. A United States Regiment came under heavy bombardment from a German attack and had to pull back. An officer mentioned the word "retreat". The commanding officer, a general, shouted: "Retreat, hell, we are advancing in another direction."
I remember Major Paul Miller. He was a firm but pleasant officer. Drill instructor, Sergeant Haynes, was well respected, although he put us through some hard drills. The commanding officers over the years served with distinction. I do not remember everyone
And I could not get a list from the National Reserves Headquarters, but Lieutenant Colonel Reggie Chin who served a long period was outstanding. Serving in the National Reserve was an unforgettable experience and I would do it again, but age rules me out. To all the officers and men I say, "A happy 50th anniversary". May you continue to serve with distinction. Like those of us in the National Reserve who were awarded medals on Independence Day 1962, I am suggesting that a medal be awarded to mark the 50th anniversary.