From cold war to cold feet?

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From cold war to cold feet?

Friday, January 08, 2021

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From the inception of Jamaica's home-grown politics involv ing the People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in the late 1930s to early 40s there has always been an ideological divide. At the annual conference of the party in 1940, Norman Manley declared that the PNP was a socialist organisation, while assuring his adherents that they were not being committed either to revolution or godlessness.

It must be borne in mind, however, that there was a radical left wing in the PNP who felt that the labour movement, at the time, was in need of a political ideology. Perhaps it was this scenario which led Alexander Bustamante, head of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), which he founded, to leave the PNP after he had participated on the platform of the PNP's launch at the Ward Theatre.

So, while Bustamante sought to marry labour and capital, the PNP was skilfully outsmarted by him as he painted Manley's party as a wolf in sheep's clothing — socialism disguised as communism. And, despite Manley's protestations, which saw his going as far as to expel the 4Hs (Ken and Frank Hill, Richard Hart, Arthur Henry), who were designated as a communist cell in the PNP, the “red label” was made to stick by JLP propaganda that has haunted the PNP up to this day.

All of this occurred against the backdrop of the Cold War which emerged after World War II. Interestingly, despite the fact that both the USA and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) fought as allies during World War II, the Americans saw the Soviets as a threat to their capitalist/democratic way of life. One US diplomat George Kennan put it bluntly as the American authorities embarked on what was dubbed a policy of containment. He stated that the Soviet Union was a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with the US there can be no permanent modus vivendi (agreement between parties that disagree). “As a result, America's only choice was the long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies,” he said. He went on to state that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by outside pressures. This set the stage for the Cold War to evolve, as well as shaped American foreign policy to this day.

The term “cold war” was first used in 1945 by English writer George Orwell in an article entitled 'You and the Atomic Bomb'. In this context, many small, developing states — once dubbed underdeveloped — like Jamaica, have been caught in a vice as they have had to depend on much aid and support from the “big guns” such as the USA, Russia, and China.

Jamaica's close proximity to the USA has proven to be a distinct advantage as well as disadvantage. Indeed, when Bustamante was once quizzed as to what was his JLP Government's foreign policy, he gave a most cryptic response, “We are with the West.” Readers will recall that the West geopolitically takes in the USA and its European allies, while the East was primarily seen in relation to what was also known as the communist bloc, including Russia, China, then Eastern Germany, and a number of satellite states influenced by the communist ideology.

Interestingly, the “communist bogey” was allegedly used by the JLP in a general election to whip the PNP when on the eve of the people going out to vote a Russian ship was seen docked in Kingston Harbour. The ideological war was to intensify in the 1970s when the Michael Manley-led PNP declared itself wrapped in the cloak of democratic socialism, which again saw a radical cabal in the party holding sway and influencing the party in the direction of courting close relations with the communist bloc — much to the disgust of the American State Department. Things got from bad to worse when Michael “Joshua” Manley intimated that he would walk to the mountaintop with Cuban rebel leader Fidel Castro.

The devastating defeat that the PNP received from an Edward Seaga-led JLP in 1980, after much bloodletting and economic fallout, was a culmination of a Jamaican mini-cold war in which the socialists were crushed and America's influence was fully restored. Newly sworn in Prime Minister Edward Seaga was the toast of Washington when he was invited to the White House by President Ronald Reagan. He also played a crucial role in the crushing of the Cuban-influenced Grenadian Revolution which saw the assassination of its leader Maurice Bishop. In this vein, it must be mentioned that historically and ideologically the PNP has been aligned to the Democratic Party, while the JLP has been aligned to the Republican Party.

However, when the PNP returned to power in 1989, tensions between the USA and Jamaica resurfaced as Manley's close relationship with Venezuela's Carlos Andres Perez, which led to the San Jose Accord and subsequently the PetroCaribe deal extended by Hugo Chavez irritated Washington.

In this regard, former Prime Minister P J Patterson noted in his book My Political Journey, “Since our Independence we have been in the vanguard of strategies to redress the North-South divide.” Of course, every PNP Administration has continued fraternal relations with Cuba, a country — though small and with limited resources— that has rendered much assistance to Jamaica, notwithstanding America's frowning on that dalliance.

In the meantime, the JLP has softened its stance towards Cuba, but has done so cautiously, always looking over its shoulder to see if Uncle Sam might crack the whip. Only recently we have seen the Andrew Holness-led Administration refusing to accept vaccine help from that country in our fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic.

So, despite the end of the Cold War when the Berlin Wall came down in Germany in 1989, followed by the dismantling of the Soviet bloc, small island developing states, such as Jamaica, continue to be caught between a rock and a hard place in terms of how it traverses a foreign policy environment laced with landmines that can affect us in various deleterious ways.

Meanwhile, a “hot war” is developing between the USA and China, and Jamaica — like a minnow — has to be bobbing and weaving while the sharks thrash about like elephants trampling the jungle. United States Ambassador to Jamaica Donald Tapia has been flexing his country's muscles, firing shots across the bow. A potent question is, for example, if the US and China should be at war, which side would Jamaica take? Then again, come January 20, the Republican Party, the JLP's ally, will no longer rule the roost. Will this make a difference or, as we say in Jamaican parlance, “same difference” as far as how Jamaica relates to Uncle Sam?

The sad truth is that, even as we wrestle with the prolonged issue of moving towards republican status and cutting the umbilical cord that links us to “Missis Queen”, Jamaica's vulnerable and nebulous position on the world stage has left this fledgling democracy and fragile nation with very cold feet.

Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 44 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.


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