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No stomach for another national hero

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The sporadic calls for Mr Michael Manley to be made a national hero since his death in March 1997 have become more serious with the launch of a petition seeking to give effect to that mission by the New York-based Jamaica Progressive League (JPL).

A long-standing affiliate of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP), the JPL is one of the more active organisations in the US supporting Jamaica by mobilising financial and resource assistance, especially in times of disaster at home.

We don't suspect that the petition will get the attention it would otherwise have received had Jamaicans at home not been so engrossed with the novel coronavirus pandemic, and in the anti-climax of a general election in which only 37 per cent of the electorate participated. But we could be wrong.

We have said in the past that the debate about naming Mr Manley a national hero would be over even before it begins if Mr Edward Seaga were also named at the same time; thus short-circuiting what would otherwise be a vitriolic and hugely divisive campaign against either.

The first hurdle is likely to be what are the criteria for being nominated national hero? An examination of the current seven national heroes would no doubt leave questions about the yardstick used in arriving at those decisions.

It is not far-fetched to suggest that the seventh and last to be named hero — Nanny of the Maroons, who was named by then Prime Minister Michael Manley in the heady days of the 1970s — escaped the heat of nasty debate because of her gender and the fact the she's the only woman among them.

There are bound to be serious inconsistencies in the criteria for selecting the other six heroes — Messrs Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, George William Gordon, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Norman Washington Manley, and Sir Alexander Bustamante.

If the criteria are not clear and credible, any such debate will inevitably descend into a bitter political war of words that would render the exercise worthless and defeat the very purpose of honouring the men and women who have most impacted the destiny of this land.

Indeed, if we are looking for a perfect man or woman, we best forget the enterprise.

For the supporters of the charismatic Mr Michael “Joshua” Manley, there will be no other like unto him.

As prime minister from 1972 to 1980, the firebrand democratic socialist will be remembered for a plethora of social programmes — literacy, free education, homeownership, equal pay for women, banning bastardy, among others — that appealed to the hearts of the Jamaican masses.

But his tight embrace of Mr Fidel Castro's socialist Cuba eventually gave way to his description as an apostle of free-market economics by then US President George H W Bush at a 1990 private dinner at the White House.

Mr Edward “Uncle Eddie” Seaga was the king of institution-building and a leading pioneer of cultural development who was known widely for his exceptional deeds of kindness and rendering of practical assistance to the poor and needy.

But while he was credited with the transformation of depressed inner-city areas within his Kingston Western constituency into vibrant communities, he crafted it into a zone of exclusion that earned it the unflattering moniker “mother of all garrisons”.

To the JPL, we say, good luck with that petition.