'Lady B backs me up'

Walters says Sir Alexander’s widow, biographer described hero’s penchant for violence

BY DESMOND ALLEN Executive Editor - Special Assignment

Tuesday, March 04, 2014    

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Stung by criticism of his soon-to-be published book, by three ex- prime ministers, Jamaican journalist Ewart Walters yesterday hit back that Lady Bustamante, as well as Sir Alexander's biographer, George Eaton, had described the National Hero's penchant for violent and dictatorial action.

Ewart, now based in Canada, also lashed Edward Seaga, Bruce Golding and Andrew Holness, three former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leaders, for jumping "recklessly and viscerally" to react to a news story about his book, We Come From Jamaica, that they have not read.

He suggested that his book "above all puts in glaring spotlight the absolute requirement for all our leaders to study our history deeply and speak truth to the people so that they do not perpetuate the mistakes of the past".

Excerpts from Walters' writings were reported in a lead story in the March 2, 2014 edition of the Sunday Observer. In it, Walters charged that Bustamante, the JLP founder, had split the national unity movement of the late 1930s when he left the People's National Party (PNP) and formed the JLP, thus setting back Jamaica.

He also quoted another writer as saying that "Bustamante unabashedly identified himself with the use of force...violent skirmishes and was a practitioner of the disruptive uses of violence to turn back political challenge".

Following is the full text of Walters' response to the three ex-prime ministers who rubbished the author's comments in yesterday's Observer":

Jamaica's national movement, which is the subject of my upcoming book We Come From Jamaica, was a quarter century of great change involving thousands of Jamaicans. It was also a time of some powerful contending forces and therefore contending stories and spin.

So when one goes about writing on a subject like this, given the personalities and the propaganda, one has to be sure of one's ground. The book is the result of 10 years of work; reading, researching, consultation, interviewing, digesting, writing and editing. Nor does it claim to be all things to all people.

It is therefore an interesting commentary on current practice that party leaders past and present have jumped so recklessly and viscerally to react to a news story about a book they have not read, because it is not yet off the press. But let me not forget to thank Messrs Holness, Golding and Seaga for catapulting the coming book into national prominence.

So let's deal first with the Observer's stories. In the first place, the description that I "launched a scathing attack on the national hero" is the Observer writer's opinion, backed up by the headline writer of Sunday's story. As the book will show, there was no "attack", scathing or otherwise. The book is a historical account with statements backed up by the published writings of others.

In Monday's Observer news story giving the reaction of the party leaders past and present, the Observer neglects to do what it correctly did in its Sunday front page lead story account, and that is to attribute not to me but to Obika Gray in his book Demeaned but Empowered, the following statement about Bustamante for the introduction of political violence in Jamaica.

"Bustamante unabashedly identified himself with the use of force... violent skirmishes and was a practitioner of the disruptive uses of violence to turn back political challenge," Gray was quoted by Walters as saying.

I stand guilty of quoting Mr Gray on Sir Alexander.

The responses quoted in today's (Monday) news story demonstrate the danger of knee-jerk reactions by otherwise responsible leaders, something former JLP prime ministers Hugh Lawson Shearer and Sir Donald Sangster would never do.

Indeed, the three leaders are reacting to a claim that has no basis in fact. For the book also quotes no less a person than Lady Bustamante as well as Sir Alexander's biographer, George Eaton, in describing Sir Alexander's penchant for violent and dictatorial action.

According to the Observer, Mr Golding dares Mr Walters to "cite a single incident in recorded history or utterance by Bustamante that can provide one iota of evidence or justification for this outrageous and ludicrous claim".

I hope therefore that when Mr Golding has a chance to read my book he will see that the accounts in the book are neither outrageous nor ludicrous, and he will publicly concede that his challenge has been met and his dare unfounded.

Politicians are always right to look at the timing of certain things but the question of timing to coincide with the naming of the West Kingston Commission of Inquiry raised by Mr Holness is, in this case, a matter of grasping at straws. The section of the book referenced by the Observer was written more than a year ago and the book is timed for release in mid-March. The Observer's timing of their news story is up to them.

And so to Mr Seaga.

The Observer story today (Monday) has Mr Seaga saying that I am giving the impression that the JLP initiated a split in the socialist political system. And then he goes off giving his own account of what really happened. Indeed, Mr Seaga is closer to the action than the others, but that proximity fails to assist him here.

Readers will see that when the split occurred there were only two entities on the Jamaican activist landscape: The PNP and the BITU — not the JLP, which only arrived (on the backs of the BITU) some years later. Unfortunately for the argument, Bustamante never claimed that he was forming the JLP in order to promote democracy or avoid a one-party state — and none of his biographers makes the claim either.

Indeed, the records do not show that there was ever any discussion about a one-party state, and when Norman Manley offered an opinion on Jamaica's governance, as he did several times, it was to commend the two-party system. But I should not give away too much.

What the reaction demonstrates vividly is, first, the need for a book like this and, secondly, the need to teach Jamaican history — complete with all its warts. Above all, it puts in glaring spotlight the absolute requirement for all our leaders to study our history deeply and speak truth to the people so that they do not perpetuate the mistakes of the past.





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