The old-school trap PM Holness fell into on Manley
Race, not communism, behind CIA's destabilisation of 1970s Jamaica, declassified US documents showMonday, August 03, 2020
Prime Minister Andrew Holness unwittingly fell into an old-school trap when he recently blamed the Michael Manley Administration's “misadventure” for wasting Jamaica's post-Independence gains made by Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administrations of the 1960s.
The prime minister regurgitated an old, but effective propaganda that was manufactured by the US State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in their extensive and sophisticated covert destabilisation campaign that successfully drove Manley's Government from power in 1980.
Since the 1970s this propaganda has led to the construction of a false narrative of our history that depicts the JLP as the party that saved free market capitalism and the Jamaican people from the bondage of communism — ideologies, according to the prime minister, that were “foreign to us and did not serve us well”.
But this propaganda has warped our history and has hidden the truth from generations of Jamaicans who were born after the tumultuous years of the 1970s. It is time that they, and others, know the truth about how US covert intervention, aided and abetted by the JLP and other prominent local actors in Jamaica, violated the country's independence as a sovereign nation.
While this concocted propaganda of the 1970s is still being regurgitated in 2020 to blame all of Jamaica's problems on Manley, it was also the policy of the US State Department, as instructed by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, to deny the very existence of the CIA's covert operations in Jamaica and the larger Caribbean. This propaganda, which was effective in discrediting the Manley Government during the 1970s, is now being reactivated by Holness in 2020, accusing Manley of working with Cuban and Soviet communists to take over Jamaica. This is the so-called “misadventure” and foreign “ideologies” that the prime minister is alluding to. It is now time to purge this false narrative from our national consciousness.
CIA, FBI and NSC documents on Jamaica
So, what is the truth about what happened to Jamaica in the 1970s? The truth emerges from a mountain of empirical evidence, made possible by the recent declassification of documents from the US State Department, the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the Kissinger Papers, memoranda of the National Security Council (NSC), declassified documents from the former Soviet Union, as well as months of interviews with a former member of US President Jimmy Carter's foreign policy establishment and former members of Manley's Government, many of whom were unaware of the various manoeuvres of the CIA's covert operation against Manley's Government.
The CIA's covert operation, which started in 1975 under Secretary Kissinger, was continued and expanded by Zbigniew Brzezinksi, President Carter's assistant for national security affairs. Of the many declassified documents that chronicle the sophistication and the various tools and actors in the CIA's covert operation against Manley's Government, one document, dated July 21, 1980, from NSC staff member Robert Pastor to Zbigniew Brzezinksi, summarised all the CIA's co-conspirators in Jamaica who worked to put an end to the Manley Government.
Pastor describes the CIA's covert campaign to include financing the following actors — areas in media; funding the Opposition JLP; assist the JLP in providing strategic guidance to the leader; funding the Jamaican military and police; and publicly condemning Manley's ties to the Cubans and the Soviets through an international network of covert assets.
Race, class and destabilisation of black Jamaicans
Holness also asserts that the Manley Administration, in his words, “had a flirtation with ideologies [communism] that were foreign to us and did not serve us well”. This begs the question: Was Manley a communist and were the Americans really fearful of the spread of communism in Jamaica and the Caribbean? Or was this another falsehood?
In their assessment of the spread of communism in the Caribbean and Jamaica, in particular, the State Department solicited a political profile of Prime Minister Manley from British intelligence, who referred to Manley as “a leader who is neither a Marxist nor a revolutionary”.
The CIA's own internal assessment of Cuban influence in the Caribbean stated: “In the Caribbean Basin, Cuba has faced greater obstacles and met with less success than in South America. For instance, in the English-speaking Caribbean (Cuban influence) was never strong ... Anti-Cuban attitudes prevailed throughout much of the basin.”
Declassified documents from the archives of the former Soviet Union also show that the Soviets had no interest in cultivating ideological or political-military ties with Manley to use him as a communist surrogate against American interests in the Caribbean.
Nor did they have much interest in cultivating meaningful ideological and political relationships with Trevor Munroe's Workers Party of Jamaica. The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, in its own internal assessment of Soviet influence over Manley's Government, concluded that, “Manley's defeat in Jamaica came as no surprise to the Soviets. As it was, they did not want to underwrite a regime which, however friendly, had been unable to attract enough economic assistance from non-communist sources to sustain itself. The Soviets had made it clear that they would not take on the Jamaican burden.”
The allegation that Manley was a communist and that Jamaica embraced communism was undiluted US State Department and CIA propaganda, manufactured for Jamaican consumption — and after 40 years reactivated by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Class distinctions and empowerment of black Jamaicans
So, if communism did not motivate US policymakers to covertly oppose Manley, what was the source of their hatred for his Government? The declassified documents show that American policymakers in the State Department were concerned about how Manley's democratic socialism in Jamaica highlighted class distinctions and empowered black people on the island, which they feared could spread to the rest of the Caribbean.
And this 'problem', according to the US embassy, could remain long after Manley was gone. Therefore, the anti-communist narrative became a convenient cover to kill off the long-term threat that black empowerment represented to US policymakers in the region.
These documents also highlight the State Department's concern that “because of its size, population, and aggressive confidence, Jamaica under any type of regime would be a power factor in the English-speaking Caribbean. It exercises a role and influence there and in the Third World disproportionate to its small size. As a beacon of influence... Jamaica could be an influential force for frustrating our external political goals”.
As a result, the State Department and the CIA actively sought ways to undermine Jamaica's political and cultural influence, especially the influence of Rastafarianism, in Africa, and the non-aligned developing world.
The unity of our nation should never be based on a cocktail of imported lies, but our reality should be anchored in the truth. Prime Minister Holness recent retraction of his divisive and propaganda-laden Manley comments further hides the truth about the violation of Jamaica's sovereignty in the 1970s. While this truth has left an indelible imprint on our national consciousness, it must, nevertheless, be embraced if we are to be truly free. We must reject the temptation to weaponise the truth of the 1970s for cheap, short-lived political gain. Instead, we must rise above the pettiness of our party politics and use the truth of the 1970s as a source for national reconciliation to ensure that no outside alien power will secure their objectives by pitting Jamaicans against each other in the future.
Horace Bartilow is Jamaican and a professor of international political economy at the University of Kentucky. He has been a member of the National Security Archives for over 25 years. His forthcoming book is entitled: Blood and Betrayal: The Intersectionality of Race and Cold War Politics in America's Destabilization of Social Democracy in Jamaica, 1972-1980. This column is a snippet of the vast information contained in the book that exposes for the first time the role that race played in America's covert intervention in Jamaica.
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