Looking back, looking forward

Michael Burke

Thursday, January 11, 2018

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In December, there was a resolution at the United Nations that deplored United States President Donald Trump for recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Jamaica abstained. Was it because of the threat by Trump to deny aid to any country that voted for the resolution? Perhaps!

The last time that Jamaica was denied aid for not supporting the US was in 1975, when Gerald Ford was its president and Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State. The difference is that Kissinger did it with very smooth diplomacy. This time around, Donald Trump abandoned any pretence at diplomacy, perhaps because it is an art that he does not understand at all.

So the Andrew Holness-led Government played it safe. He would not stand up to the dangerous combination of Trump's attitude and power. And with Jamaica's financial arrangements with the International Monetary Fund largely controlled by the USA, he was certainly not taking any chances.

Truth be told, had there been any fallout from that vote at the UN, many of whom would congratulate Holness for standing up to the USA would turn against him when the food shortages started to take hold when the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) stopped assisting.

It was at Meribah when the Israelites were hungry that they complained that when they were slaves in Egypt they were better off because at least they had meat. This was before the manna came down from heaven. There was the actual Palm Sunday itself, when palms were put at the feet of Jesus Christ when he entered Jerusalem. But by the Friday of the same week (Good Friday), Jesus Christ was crucified.

Democratic socialism, which was shelved by the People's National Party (PNP) for a time, was revived and announced at a PNP conference in 1974. It got a positive 'yes' vote in 1976 with the second-term landslide given to the Michael Manley-led PNP. But the PNP fell in defeat to the Edward Seaga-led Jamaica Labour Party in 1980 — a party that supported traditional capitalism.

In his book Jamaica: Struggle in the Periphery, Michael Manley listed the reasons the Jamaican economy had some serious challenges during the 1970s when he was prime minister. There was the oil crisis which occurred after Michael Manley had announced free education and already had in place some social programmes that drew heavily on the national revenue. The bauxite levy, introduced in 1974 would finance free education, but other problems occurred.

On page 112 of Struggle in the Periphery, Michael Manley, after listing the difficulties Cuba faced in responding to Angola's request on the previous pages, wrote: “You have to go back to the days of Alexander the Great to find a parallel, where so small a country by feat of arms has affected so profoundly the balance of forces on a continent.” Alexander the Great, who died in 323 BC, was king of relatively small Macedonia, but his army conquered Persia.

Manley further wrote on page 113 at a time when the Cold War had not ended and the Soviet Union was one of two dominant world powers the other being the USA, “ home in a world dominated by US And Soviet power, a master of the game plan in which the big pieces dominate the chessboard of human history, Kissinger's sense of order was outraged. How dare a little foot soldier on the world's military stage transport troops thousands of miles as if it were a world power?”

Henry Kissinger tried to enlist the disapproval of Caribbean nations, but Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, and Guyana all voted to support Cuba. That was the end of the proposed US foreign aid, which hurt Jamaica at a time when we were reeling from the oil crisis.

But the lack of USAID also drove the Michael Manley-led Government to seek even more aid from Cuba and the Soviet bloc. So we had the Cuban schools, the Cuban doctors, educational opportunities both in Cuba and the Soviet Union, as well as a barter arrangement of cars for raw bauxite dirt with the Soviet Union. But the unexplained violence coupled with the sabotage of removing food from the shelves were factors that Michael Manley could not surmount in time for the general elections of 1980 which he lost.

The only head of a Jamaica Labour Party Government that has ever stood up to the USA is Bruce Golding when the USA wanted Christopher “Dudus” Coke. Where I disagreed with Golding was when it was revealed that taxpayers' money would be used to pay for Coke's lawyers.

It was Sir Alexander Bustamante who said, “We are with the west.” It is safe to say that he was advised on such issues by his deputy, Sir Donald Sangster, who did not 'rock the boat' when he was acting prime minister for more than two years. Sangster was finally prime minister in 1967, but died after only 48 days.

Hugh Shearer was described by former US Ambassador Vincent de Roulet as “a well-dressed Negro who knows his place”. And Edward Seaga was described by former US President Ronald Reagan as “our man in the Caribbean”.

But in politics there is 'Palm Sunday' and there is also 'Good Friday'. When Michael Manley was standing up to the USA (remember that he declared a US ambassador, Vincent de Roulet, persona non grata) he was cheered on. But when the food was no longer on the shelves — mostly by sabotage, not only because of the oil crisis, lack of USAID, or by mismanagement — the electorate turned against him.

In terms of looking forward, will Jamaica ever reach the stage again when we are brave enough to stand up to the world? Can we ever dare to do what Cuba did in Angola or anything near a feat as Alexander the Great performed some 2,300 years ago? We have done it in music and in sports.

I recall the Commonwealth Games of 1966 when Jamaica came last or second-to-last in just about every race. Who would believe that 10 years later we would have Donald Quarrie as a gold medallist? Who would believe that we could produce Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell some decades later? We always talk about Singapore. One day Jamaica might be just as great or more.




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