Manley won the region but Bustamante took Jamaica in Federation war

Independence Perspectives

By Lance Neita

Thursday, August 02, 2012    

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The Federal Elections to establish the first West Indies Parliament took place on March 25, 1958. The candidates around the islands contested under the banner of the West Indies Federal Labour Party (WIFLP) led by Norman Manley, and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) led by Alexander Bustamante.

The two cousins were at it again, this time taking their campaigns in and outside of Jamaica, and battling over growing political dissension on the likely impact that Federation would have on Jamaica.

Taking a distinct anti-Federal line, Busta used the theme: "if you vote for Manley, he is going to sell you out to the small islands."

The Opposition Leader was stoking a growing disenchantment with Federation in Jamaica to feed sentiments against the Union as well as to isolate his arch rival who was being touted as the Caribbean's favourite choice as the first Federal prime minister.

Manley side-stepped that tactic by announcing, on January 15, 1958, that with the elections for the first Federal Parliament due that year, he would stay in Jamaica rather than seek to become the first prime minister of the West Indies. A big disappointment for Busta who probably thought he had the next scheduled general elections in Jamaica in the bag with Manley outside of his home territory.

Unlike his cousin, Busta held short thrift for the Eastern Caribbean leaders, and following Manley's announcement he painted a dismal picture of Caribbean leadership in the event of Grantley Adams as the next likely prime minister.

"Adams has ruled over abject poverty for long years in Barbados without visible improvement. How can he, who lacks sufficient imagination, do any good for the 10 states of the Caribbean?"

The potshots taken at his Caribbean neighbours did not win any popularity for Bustamante. Manley, on the other hand, was a brilliant barrister who could get along comfortably with fellow Oxonians Adams and Williams, and easily found common ground in their intellectual discussions on West Indies statehood.

The Federal Election results in Jamaica proved to be a shocker. Bustamante's party captured 12 of the 17 federal seats, and secured 54 per cent to Manley's 46 per cent of the votesl.

Conversely, it was Manley's WIFLP that won the majority Caribbean vote and formed the first government, headquartered at Chaguaramas in Trinidad, with Sir Grantley Adams installed as prime minister.

No doubt Busta, at 73 years old and almost written off following his 1955 Jamaican election loss, thought that the 1958 local victory in Jamaica would be sufficient to ride back to power. He was disappointed by the results, but continued to 'turn up the thing' against Federation, helped considerably by the choice of Trinidad for the capital which was anathematic to Jamaicans, and a move by Sir Grantley to empower the Federal Government to levy its own income tax on the provinces and make it retroactive.

Busta went to town with this one. "You are reported as saying...the Federation can levy its own income tax and make it retroactive", he cabled Adams. "You would only carry out that threat to Jamaica if Manley won the elections."

He then accused Manley of misleading the Jamaican public on the implications to Jamaica of a Caribbean Federation, and in a newspaper advertisement on November 5, 1958, made the first call for Jamaica's secession from Federation "if certain conditions were not met".

Now plainly on the defensive, and upset by Adams' action, Manley publicly agreed that Jamaica would withdraw if the Constitution was not revised "to suit the development of Jamaica" among other clauses.

Busta, now fully on the warpath, went as far as to invite Manley in January 1959 to join the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to overthrow the Adams Government. The Premiere responded calmly, appealing to his cousin "to allow Jamaica to present a united front on this issue".

In a reversal of his election fortunes he defeated the JLP 29-16 in the 1959 Jamaican elections, and Adams, who was obviously following the results keenly, breathed a sigh of relief. "The West Indies have to say 'Thank God'."

Busta would not let up, however, as he sensed that the Federation issue was still unpopular in Jamaica. The pressure was kept up, with the JLP's D C Tavares proposing in the House of Representatives on November 3, 1959, that "a referendum should be held to provide the opportunity for Jamaicans to express whether or not Jamaica should remain in the Federation".

The motion was rejected, but by early 1960 the JLP had reached the end of its tether. Bustamante made a dramatic declaration on the night of May 30 that the JLP would not be contesting a Federal by-election in St Thomas to fill the seat vacated earlier by Robert Lightbourne. According to Edward Seaga who was present at the standing committee meeting, Busta was resolute in his stance. "I never liked this damn Federation," he told the party's standing committee. "I am going to pull Jamaica out of it."

Argument done.

Tomorrow: Manley's response.

Pics: Lance Neita logo; Bustamante; NW Manley





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