Michael Manley and the international link

Michael Manley and the international link

Stephen Vasciannie

Sunday, May 24, 2020

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No doubt, Michael Manley carried special sophistication and eloquence to Jamaica's foreign policy initiatives in the decade of the 1970s and beyond. As noted by Carlton Davis, former permanent secretary, in his Michael Manley Lecture in 2010 (Some Visions that Still Remain Relevant, in Delano Franklin, ed, Michael Manley, Putting People First), Manley's initiatives included, among other items, the following:

(a) Support for liberation in Southern Africa;

(b) Promotion of the bid to have the headquarters of the International Seabed Authority located in Jamaica;

(c) Fostering greater Caricom integration; and

(d) Advancement of the cause of the New International Economic Order.

Allies and adversaries

In the course of his efforts, Manley was to cultivate both allies and adversaries. Among the allies was, of course, Fidel Castro in Cuba, a fact which inevitably prompted negative reactions on the part of the USA. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, the USA was disinclined to embrace hikers on the march to any kind of socialist mountaintop.

But, in truth, Manley's international friends came from different parts of the ideological spectrum. So, for example, Helmut Kohl (Germany), Sekou Toure (Guinea), Malcolm Fraser (Australia), Indira Gandhi (India), and Pierre Trudeau (Canada) were among leaders appropriately respectful of Manley's leadership role as a link among countries, both aligned and non-aligned.

Seabed Authority

Manley's leadership role — built on the premise of self-reliance — led to tangible benefits for Jamaica. With regard to the International Seabed Authority, Judge Patrick Robinson of the International Court of Justice has humorously noted some of Jamaica's strategies in the race for Seabed support. But beyond diplomatic efforts, Jamaica's international standing among developing countries and Manley's reputation were key factors in our famous law of the sea victory.

Southern Africa

Likewise, Manley's policy towards liberation in Southern Africa listed us up in the eyes of much of the Third World. This policy, which saw Jamaica fiercely opposing racist entities in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, and Namibia, was popular in Jamaica. Supporters relished the idea that our foreign policy was constructed on a foundation of concern for the oppressed, and adherence to principles of self-determination. This policy also underlined Jamaica's solidarity with pan-Africanist perspectives, and registered echoes of Marcus Garvey's “Africa for Africans at home and abroad.”

But there were naysayers too. One line of criticism, associated with pacifist sentiment, suggested that the use of force by, and in support of, liberation movements, should be discouraged because one man's freedom fighter is another's terrorist. Manley would have none of this. For him, the moral issue was clear: the oppressed and the oppressors were readily identifiable; if force was necessary, then so be it. As he put the matter in The Politics of Change: A Jamaican testament, “where one is faced with tyranny like that of South Africa, one is forced to concede that there is not the remotest possibility that non-violent methods would lead to either the overthrow of that regime or even its substantial modification” (page 160).


A second line of criticism concerned costs. Jamaica, it was argued, simply could not afford to offer aid to liberation movements. In response, this is an issue of prioritisation – the Government of Jamaica opted to contribute to the heroic process of overthrowing apartheid and racial oppression, even if this involved some degree of sacrifice from the national budget. That vase was easily broken.

And, thirdly, the democratic prospects of post-liberation societies in Africa were subject to question. So, for instance, Norman Tebbit of the British Conservative Party was heard to say that majority rule in Southern Africa would undermine democracy, for it would come to mean “one man, one vote, one time”. Manley, in reply, focused generally on the righteousness of the liberation efforts, not on its costs or on its prospects. Again in The Politics of Change, he wrote: “where wars of liberation for the purpose of establishing national freedom are being fought, the objective of freedom legitimises them and commands unswerving support” (page 131).


Closer to home, Manley was a strong defender of regional integration efforts, signing the Treaty of Chaguaramas on behalf of Jamaica to bring Caricom into being. Even today, regional cooperation is built on the historical associations and close ties among Caribbean States. It is also premised on the idea — supported by Manley — that Caricom provides a larger market for individual member States than would be the case in the absence of the regional group.

For Manley, too, Caricom, representing a unit committed to self-reliance and justice in international affairs, would strengthen the political potential of individual states. Fourteen countries acting together in international fora would have greater weight than disparate States working in an uncoordinated manner.

Manley's vision for Caricom carries the force of logic, but it has encountered well known difficulties at the level of implementation. Among other things, the Shanique Myrie case reminds us that not all Caricom nationals fully embrace the idea that we are all one people yearning for closer ties, based on our shared history. Also, difficulties faced by some businesses as their commodities cross national borders suggest that non-tariff barriers may still be in place in certain areas, contrary to the common or single market concept.


The Caricom vision has also faced both geographical and philosophical challenges. As to the former, Jamaica's distance from other member states and the traditional orientation of Caribbean air traffic routes (to North America moreso than to other Caribbean States) have served to limit economic expansion through regional linkages.

As to the latter, it is fair to suggest that, even today, Caricom in Jamaica rests under the long shadow of the failed federal experiment. Manley himself was forced, as prime minister, to deny that Caricom was an attempt to reintroduce federation “through the back door”. Similarly, one has the impression that some of the resistance to the Caribbean Court of Justice can be traced to a lingering anti-federal sentiment held by some policymakers.


In the 1970s, perhaps the high point of Manley's internationalism was his advocacy for the New International Economic Order (the NIEO). Manley, together with Julius Nyerere and other Third World leaders, maintained that the then-existing international trade and investment relations were biased against developing, primary-producing countries: these countries produced raw materials with no value added.

Developed countries added value, and ensured that the profits rested mainly in the value added. The result was that poor countries faced constantly increasing prices for, say, the metropolitan tractor, while sugar prices did not rise concomitantly. In other words, in the existing system, the terms of trade were skewed to the detriment of developing countries. Manley argued that this system worked unethically against developing countries, but was also inefficient from the perspective of developed countries.

At its core, therefore, the NIEO sought to balance the terms of trade between developing and developed States. By a process of international political management, prices for primary products would be stabilised or increased so that they would be kept in line with the prices of manufactured items.

In addition, the NIEO also promoted the transfer of technology to developing countries, and sought to introduce safeguards to protect developing countries in their investment relations with multinational corporations. It was proposed that some of these safeguards were to be placed in a United Nations Code of Conduct on Transnational Corporations.

Reagan's smile

The plans to establish the New International Economic Order did not succeed. In Manley's view, as stated in a Gleaner article, dated May 17, 1992 ('When Reagan killed with a smile'), the NIEO plans failed because they were “predicated on a fantasy — namely, that anyone in international politics will respond to an argument based on ethics”.

In Manley's view, the NIEO also failed because President Reagan of the USA killed it. In 'When Reagan killed with a smile', Manley wrote: “The idea [of the NIEO] was stillborn. Dead in the water. The ethical summons was not persuasive…(It) was formally buried at the supposed moment of its birth, at the North-South Summit at Cancun, Mexico, in 1981.”

Manley added: “Ronald Reagan, who had just been elected, killed it with a smile. He smiled at Julius Nyerere. He smiled at all of us and just said no. In two days, 20 years of international struggle went up in smoke.”

There endeth the chapter on the New International Economic Order. Manley was to pursue alternative methods of economic development for developing countries, but, arguably, much of his energy for change in economic matters was undermined by Reaganism, Thatcherism globalisation, and the collapse of collectivist models of development.

In the highly informative Truth Be Told: Michael Manley in Conversation, compiled by Glynne Manley, Manley reported: “It was a speech being made, if I recall, up at one of those halls in the university. I said, 'You remember the 70s with the New Economic Order… all those hopes that we could change the world by getting this New International Economic Order. But Comrades, let me tell you frankly, in the world of today, that agenda of the 70s is dead” (pages 24 to 25). Time and circumstances changed, and so did the philosophic Michael Manley.

Ambassador Stephen Vasciannie is Professor of International Law at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

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