Douglas Vaz's actions made a difference

Samuda gives teary remembrance of his close friend and colleague

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

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There is no doubt that former Minister of Industry and Commerce Douglas Vaz played a huge role in the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP's) stunning 51-9 seat victory in the decisive 1980 General Elections.

However, it was an election that Edward Seaga, the then leader of the party, always recalled as his greatest political achievement and none of his gifted lieutenants, including Vaz, ever considered depriving him of that claim.

But yesterday, dozens of Members of Parliament (MPs), from both sides of Parliament, as well as influential business leaders, professionals, political supporters and social and economic experts turned up at Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church in St Andrew to pay tribute to the man who bravely held industry and commerce together, despite the lure of five flights a day to Miami, which was critical to the JLP's victory in 1980.

His colleague and close friend Karl Samuda, in a remembrance during which he paused on occasion to shed a few tears, felt that Vaz's contribution to the JLP's victory over the then People's National Party (PNP) Government in 1980 was evidence that “one man's actions could make a difference”.

“I know from being upfront and close for over 40 years, how much you all loved him,” Samuda, who is currently the leader of the House of Representatives and Cabinet minister in charge of Education, Youth and Information, told the congregation.

He noted that after the 1976 General Election, which was held in the midst of a state of emergency, life for Vaz was never the same as before because he became fully immersed in politics.

“And he gave his all in helping to secure a landmark victory for the JLP in 1980. This involved enormous personal and family sacrifices, including great physical danger,” Samuda noted.

Samuda pointed out that, originally, Vaz was considered a slick businessman, “ill-suited” for the perceived rough and tumble of political life. However, after a new family business on Ashenheim Road, Kingston, was burnt to the ground during the turbulent 1970s, and after being teargassed in the streets at demonstrations, stoned, cursed and shot at, he still maintained a determined spirit and a positive, optimistic outlook.

“His behaviour brought strength and encouragement to the entire party,” Samuda noted. “Up to 1974, I never saw in Douglas the slightest interest in politics. Then came three events in reasonably rapid succession that had a profound impact on him.”

The first was the establishment of the Gun Court in 1974, and the arrest and charging of his boyhood friend, Tony McKenzie, for possession of a .22 sporting rifle for which he was jailed on indefinite detention.

The second was an announcement by the then Government that Cuban President Fidel Castro was being invited to Jamaica, which raised extraordinary concern within the local private sector.

Samuda said that Vaz, who was then president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, convened a special emergency meeting of business interests at the then Sheraton Hotel in New Kingston, which rejected the idea.

The third issue was the declaration of a state of emergency in June 1976 by then Prime Minister Michael Manley.

“For Douglas, that was the last straw, and he immediately joined the Jamaica Labour Party and accepted the invitation to contest a seat in the general election,” Samuda stated.

He also noted that Vaz assembled “one of the most impressive management teams seen in Jamaica” and, determined to stand in the breach, chose to run in the St Andrew North Central seat which he won between 1976 and 1989, and the St Andrew North Eastern seat which he won in 1989, but lost in 1993.

Samuda also pointed out that the entire Northern St Andrew area, which was eventually divided into three seats North West, North Central and North East has been represented by JLP candidates only since then.

Rev Monsignor Michael J Palud, who delivered the homily, praised Vaz's commitment to his family and his country.

“He was obviously a passionate man in his service to the nation, and he took care of those who were entrusted to him with unwavering strength and dedication,” he said.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness was among the mourners who packed the church, which also included Speaker of the House of Representatives Pearnel Charles; President of the Senate Thomas Tavares Finson; Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang; Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw; Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett; Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck; Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Fayval Williams; Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte; Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams; former Prime Minister Bruce Golding; Opposition MPs Dr Wykeham McNeill, Robert Pickersgill, Anthony Hylton, and Dr Morais Guy.

Also among those who filled the church were: Vaz's long-time friend Jamaica Observer/Appliance Traders Limited Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart; National Commercial Bank Chairman Michael Lee Chin; Lasco Chairman Lascelles Chin; Montego Bay businessman Robert Russell; former Senator and Tourism Minister Hugh Hart; and entertainment magnate Joseph Bogdanovich.


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