Manley and Russia


Sunday, March 17, 2019

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The following is a transcript prepared by a former Soviet foreign ministry official who defected in July 1980 from his post as second secretary at the Soviet Embassy in Kingston.

Jamaica, under Michael Manley, while benefiting from assistance for social programmes, wanted fervently to become a Soviet client state like Cuba for economic and political reasons. How this interest was promoted with the Soviet Union is clearly illustrated by a most revealing secret document which came to hand: the verbatim record of a 40-year-old former Soviet foreign ministry official who defected in July 1980 from his post as second secretary at the Soviet Embassy in Kingston.

In the summer of June 1979 he was given reporting responsibilities for internal Jamaican political and economic development. His debriefing statement provides a most revealing insight into Jamaica's relation with the Soviet Union in the critical period of the 1970s. It is fully repeated below because of its startling revelations.

His report presents the Soviet perspective on Soviet-Jamaican relations which the “source” acquired as a second secretary at the Soviet Embassy in Kingston. Because of his close working relationship with the Soviet ambassador, “source” was able to gain a good understanding of Soviet-Jamaican connections as seen by the ambassador.

In their relations with the Soviet Union over the past two years, Jamaican interests have centred, to a considerable degree, around their need for economic assistance. The Soviets have been interested in developing good political relations with Jamaica and have looked with favour on Prime Minister Manley's position in the Non-Aligned Movement.

The Soviet attitude toward providing concrete assistance to the Manley Government has been one of extreme caution, however, and economic relations between the two countries have not gone particularly well. While the Soviet ambassador looks on Manley as a true socialist and thinks it important for the Soviet Union to help his Government survive, Moscow has had reservations about the likelihood of Manley being able to make a truly socialist state out of Jamaica.

Soviet-Jamaican diplomatic relations were established in 1975 as a direct consequence of Prime Minister Michael Manley's 1974 proclamation of developing democratic socialism in Jamaica. The Soviets opened an embassy in Kingston in April 1977 and the Soviet ambassador to Mexico was also accredited to Jamaica, although the Jamaicans had pressed the Soviets to send an ambassador to Kingston. Dmitri Musin was assigned in this capacity in May 1978.

That same month, May 1978, immediately upon Musin's arrival in Kingston, the Jamaican foreign ministry proposed that Manley visit Moscow. Moscow was not enthusiastic, however, and the Soviets procrastinated. Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Yakov Malik observed that the schedules of high-level Soviet officials were too tight. Musin, who very much favoured the visit, pressed Moscow on the matter, and Jamaica pressed Musin.

In October of that year, when “source” was being briefed by the foreign ministry's Caribbean section in preparation for his posting to Jamaica, the chief of the section, Mikhail Yemelyanov, told him that Musin was urging Moscow to agree to the Jamaican request for a Manley visit. The Caribbean section chief said that the Central Committee would ultimately have to make the decision, but that the request was currently blocked at the deputy minister level.

He instructed source to inform Musin that he, Musin, should provide Moscow with greater justification for the visit and that he should inform Manley that the Soviets were interested in a discussion of political problems and not to request financial and economic assistance.

In December 1978, Moscow finally agreed to a visit by Manley. The date was set for the first half of April 1979. Musin attributed this positive decision to his briefings on the need for such a visit of two Soviet Central Committee delegations which had visited Jamaica, one in September and the other in December. He also advised two Jamaican delegations to Moscow from the left-wing of the People's National Party (PNP) to stress with Soviet Party officials in Moscow the importance of the visit.

One of these Jamaican delegations was headed by Hugh Small, then minister of youth and sport, and the other by Minister of Information and Culture Arnold Bertram. Bertram met with politburo candidate member Petr Demichev.

The two sides agreed that the decision regarding the visit should be kept quiet because of expected negative reactions from the political Opposition in Jamaica — primarily the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The Opposition, however, did find out and published criticism of the visit about a week before the visit took place.

Manley visited the Soviet Union in April 1979 and met with Prime Minister Kosygin and other senior Soviet Government (but not party) officials. Manley asked to meet with President Brezhnev also but was told that Brezhnev was not well enough. Ambassador Musin was present during those Moscow meetings and later briefed his staff on what transpired. Following is source's recollection of briefing.

Manley told Kosygin that he was going to build socialism in Jamaica and wanted to rid the country of all vestiges of imperialism and influences of multinational corporations, but he couldn't do it alone. He stressed the importance of Jamaica in the Caribbean and said that the US was interfering in his efforts to create a bona fide socialist state. He stated that he could not afford to be a true proponent of socialism in public, but that Jamaica and the USSR were spiritually one. He realised that Soviet assistance to Jamaica would require a political decision — a decision by the Kremlin leadership — and he asked for such a decision.

Kosygin took much time to educate Manley about Soviet revolutionary experience and cautioned him that this change to socialism could not be done quickly — it needs planning. He noted that Lenin had criticised leftist extremists in the Soviet Union. Kosygin said that he did not think a quick break with the US and traditional partners was wise or reasonable. He also commented on Allende's experience in Chile and the mistakes, he Allende, had made, as well as the importance of Cuba as an example of step-by-step development. He expressed understanding of the need for Jamaica to get rid of the US yoke and of a good life for the Jamaican people but then returned again to advising a prudent approach to revolutionary changes.

(“Source” comments that the leadership in Moscow understood that if a quick change were to take place in Jamaica, Moscow would have to supply aid, and it was not in a position to do so. It was not that they objected to quick change per se. Kosygin stressed the importance of and Soviet appreciation for Manley's anti-imperialist stance and his position in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and especially his personal role in the NAM).

Musin (and according to Musin — the foreign ministry Caribbean Section chief) thought Manley made a good impression in Moscow. He came through as charismatic, progressive, socialist-minded and adaptable/flexible, that is, he did not press the Soviets in those political and economic areas where they were unwilling to give. For example, when middle-level Jamaican foreign ministry members of the delegation were balking over wording in the proposed joint communique concerning the Middle East, China, and South-East Asia, Manley gave them instructions to accommodate the Soviets in order not to spoil the visit.

During the visit, economic negotiations were conducted by Minister of Foreign Trade Nikolay Patolichev and First Deputy Chairman of the state committee of foreign economic relations (GKES) Vitaliy Moroz on the Soviet side, and Derek Heaven, Ministry of Industry and Commerce, and Horace Clarke, minister of mining, energy and natural resources, among others, on the Jamaican side. Based on Musin's briefing and information obtained from the Soviet trade representative in Kingston, Venedikt Permyakov, who was present during the negotiations, source provided the following insights into these talks:

The Jamaican side wanted to sell the USSR 50,000 - 60,000 tons of Alumina in 1979 and to conclude a long-term agreement for the sale of 200,000 - 250,000 tons yearly, beginning in 1980. The 50,000 - 60,000 tons would come from the alumina given in lieu of taxes to the Jamaican Government by the foreign aluminium companies operating in Jamaica. In order to obtain the 200,000 - 250,000 tons they wished to sell under a long-term agreement, the Jamaicans hoped initially to utilise idle capacity of the Canadian Aluminium Company, ALCAN. In three to four years the alumina would come from a new plant scheduled to be built in Jamaica with Hungarian assistance (the Manchester Project).

The Soviet side was doubtful of the Jamaican ability to meet a commitment of 250,000 tons before the Manchester plant was completed. Further, the Soviets had purchased all the alumina they required for 1979. Therefore, the Soviets agreed only to purchase 50,000 — 60,000 tons for delivery at the beginning of 1980, with details to be worked out in negotiations to be held in August 1979. Prices were to be competitive with world market prices. The Soviets said they might purchase the same amount in 1981.

The Soviets agreed in principle to buy 250,000 tons of Alumina starting in 1984 when the Manchester plant would be operating. Any consideration of purchasing as much as 200,000 - 250,000 tons in the 1981-83 period, however, would depend on Soviet experience with the Jamaicans as alumina suppliers in 1980.

Since the Soviets were unable to provide the special ships needed for alumina shipments, the Jamaicans agreed to take care of the transportation. The Jamaicans were to use the money they received for their alumina to buy Soviet machinery and goods. Accounting for the alumina and machinery sales was to be in US dollars.

Later in the fall, around November, according to source's recollection, the Soviet foreign ministry reported to the embassy in Kingston that Jamaican Ambassador Clare in Moscow had called on one of the (Soviet) deputy foreign ministers on behalf of Manley and had proposed that the two countries should establish closer ties, especially in the economic field. “Source” does not recall for certain, but speculates that Clare may have proposed that closer ties be established with the USSR and other countries.

Clare also proposed that a high-level Jamaican delegation be sent to Moscow for negotiations. Moscow advised Ambassador Musin of Clare's approach and asked for more information on what the Jamaicans had in mind. “Source” recalls that the ministry cable stated that Jamaica's stance on international issues and in the NAM was highly evaluated and that Moscow was ready to cooperate. But he interpreted this as a general statement without any special significance.

Musin, as well as Moscow, was concerned about the possible significance of the word “ties” in Clare's approach. In the Soviet connotation this suggested that the Jamaicans wanted to bring their economy more closely in line with the Soviet system, which would mean actually changing the structure of the Jamaican Government. Musin remarked privately to his staff that Jamaica has a private economy and a Westminster/two-party system of Government and that the Jamaica Labour Party would resist any change in the political system. Any attempt to enforce a socialist economic system on Jamaica would lead to civil war. In addition, the US would not permit such a change — the Americans would surely intervene.

Musin discussed the matter with an official of the Central Committee's International Department (ID), Caribbean section — source thinks it was Nikolay Mostovets, who is chief of the US/English Caribbean sector of the ID — who was in Jamaican in early December. They agreed that Musin should discuss with Manley the kind of cooperation he had in mind and that the embassy should propose to Moscow that a Soviet delegation of working-level experts be sent to Jamaica to study just what Jamaica needed. The Soviet party official (Mostovets) agreed to convey Musin's views to Moscow on the subject.

The Soviet interpretation of Clare's term “ties” ultimately appeared to have been a misunderstanding, however. Source recalls that Musin later met with Manley and the latter made no reference to such (Soviet style) ties. Manley made only very specific proposals concerned with the sale of alumina and the Manchester project.

In his reply to Moscow, Musin remarked on the possibility of revolution if Manley imposed a socialist economy in Jamaica. He stressed the importance of some kind of assistance to the Manley Government, however, and reported that Manley wished to send a delegation to Moscow, headed by People's National Party (PNP) General Secretary DK Duncan, to discuss these matters. Moscow, in response, recommended a delegation of working-level experts instead — either a Soviet delegation to Jamaica or vice versa. In any event, no delegations in the end went to or from Moscow in this connection. In source's understanding this was because the matter was pushed to the back burner by the preoccupation of the various Jamaican officials with the internal Jamaican economic situation.

Despite Manley's expressed desire to develop closer economic relations with the USSR, the Soviets had numerous difficulties with the Jamaicans over economic matters. There were, for example, problems over the April 1979 agreement for the Soviets to buy alumina in exchange for the Jamaicans buying Soviets goods. Because the Jamaicans were losing on the shipping costs, at the beginning of 1980 the Soviets agreed to a request by Kingston for an adjustment in the terms of the alumina contract.

The quantity of alumina to be purchased in 1980 was increased to 100,000 tons and new prices were set. Source recalls that two shipments of alumina were delivered to the USSR. Jamaica, however, showed little interest in purchasing any Soviet goods as its part of the agreement. The only sale the Soviets made was 300 Lada automobiles.They tried, in addition, to sell small ships suitable for fishing and the tourist trade, aircraft such as the yak-40, tractors, and other machinery.

The Jamaican economy was mostly private, however, and the private sector was not interested in Soviet goods. “Source” recalls hearing of one exception where a Jamaican businessman wanted to buy some 1,200 Ladas but the Jamaican Government blocked the sale because the businessman was a JLP supporter. Source also recalls the Soviet trade representative and the economic counsellor going to Musin and asking him to complain to Manley about Jamaican failure to buy Soviet goods. Musin refused, however, saying they should deal at the Jamaican ministry level first, and he suggested to them that they weren't as good businessmen as the Americans.

There were other problems in the economic area. In connection with an agreement for the Soviets to build a cement plant in Jamaica (under the economic and technical agreement of November 1977), the Soviets made studies and proposals which the Jamaicans rejected. The Soviets were also to set up professional centres for teaching the Jamaicans technical skills. The Jamaicans wanted the Soviets to provide these centres as grants or for a token payment, but GKES would not agree. The Jamaicans also expressed interest in cooperation with the Soviets in rapid communications and negotiations were agreed to, but Kingston delayed in presenting specific proposals.

“Source” recalls hearing Musin describe a conversation he had with Ambassador Clare, who was back home in Kingston at the time, in the spring of 1980 shortly after the Jamaican decision to reject International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan conditions. Stating that he was acting on instructions from Manley, Clare said that his Government wanted assistance from the Soviets in the areas of food, tractors and trucks. Clare pointed out that such assistance was especially important now that Jamaica had taken such a sharp turn to the left by rejecting foreign aid from the IMF in order to lessen its dependence on the West.

Clare also passed along a request from Manley for the Soviets to donate some 50-70 Ladas for use in election campaign. (“Source” commented that the Soviet system would not be able to react quickly enough to get the vehicles to Manley in time to do him any good). “Source” is not aware of the Soviets providing any economic assistance either on the basis of Clare's approach to the foreign ministry in Moscow in the fall of 1979 or as a result of his talk with Musin in April in Kingston with one possible exception. “Source” did hear that some time in June 1980, Moscow agreed to more favourable terms than the Soviets had originally proposed (which were strict commercial terms) for Jamaican purchase of tractors, cars, and trucks.

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