early July, Jamaica made headlines. Before the repressive forces had restored
"order" more than 25 people lay dead. Some had been shot in the back of the
head, others at close range. One witness reported that he heard pleas for mercy
from inside one of the houses where the Jamaica Defense Force and police fired
at their supposed attackers. The victims were mostly young men from Tivoli
Gardens in West Kingston, an area that has served as the base for former Primer
Minister Edward Seaga and currently leader of the opposition Jamaican Labor
used gang violence as a political weapon in 1976 and 1980 when I was making
campaign films for the People’s National Party under Prime Minister Michael
Manley. I witnessed Seaga’s thugs use arson and gun terror as tactics to scare
and alienate voters from Manley. Seaga at this time in 1976 and 1980 also
enjoyed backing from the CIA. Manley strove, in vain, to forge a path of genuine
independence, which brought a hostile response from Washington. Manley announced
his neutrality in the Cold War, pushed the non-aligned nations groups and
pursued friendship to neighboring Cuba. Manley took the lead among the
Commonwealth nations in attacking the apartheid government in South Africa and
he backed Castro’s dispatch of troops to Angola to save its fragile independence
from attacking armies from South Africa and Zaire — policies that annoyed
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
home, he tried to make Jamaica as self sufficient in food as possible and to
limit oil imports. Using a levy on bauxite to finance some of the reforms, he
built housing for the poor and undertook a series of measures to bring the
bottom classes higher on the social ladder.
world financial elite retaliated against these "radical" polices. Jamaica’s
ability to get loans and credit suffered as Jamaica’s business elite
simultaneously withdrew their money from Jamaican banks and refused to invest.
By 1977, Manley reluctantly accepted International Monetarv Fund support. But
subsequently Manley’s government did not pass the IMF tests because he allocated
too large a part of Jamaica’s budget to reforms that IMF officials believed
maintained inflated wage levels. In this period, Jamaican leaders still behaved
as if they, and not the world financial elite, controlled the economy. But
without money they could not run the country, so they finally submitted to IMF
"discipline." The Jamaican currency was devalued, subsidies for the poor were
cut along with other government programs designed to help the poor and maintain
some food self sufficiency.
1980, Jamaicans suffered not only from the effects being IMF’d, but also from
the high oil and low sugar prices. By 1980 oil prices had risen from $8 to $32 a
barrel. Add to the economic hardships, the campaign of gun violence, which
reduced tourism in Jamaica and, predictably, Manley and his People’s National
Party lost the election.
21 years ago, I witnessed a near assassination attempt against Manley. I also
saw the results of the violence campaign: hundreds of dead, almost all poor
people. In one case, thugs torched a residential community and shot people as
they tried to escape the flames.
People’s National Party used its own gangs as well and often narco-trafficking
and gang violence became hopelessly confused. From 1980 on, possessing state
power in Jamaica meant rewarding friends and relatives. It ceased mattering
which Party won elections because control of the nation’s economic policy lay in
the hands of foreign banks and corporations and international lending agencies.
The gangs from both parties continued to thrive, however. But unlike the Manley
years, gang violence now had little to do with political differences. Gangs
dealt in drugs and other illicit activities, but the police and military
slaughter of civilians in early July had little to do with policy differences.
Rather, it exemplifies a situation common in the third world where the military
and police massacre rival armed gangs who might compete with them for control.
Prime Minister Patterson, the People’s National Party now runs the Jamaican
State, but the corporate globalizers control its economy. The military and
police in Jamaica as in other third world nations enjoy a certain autonomy.
Operating under the façade of democracy, they establish their rules, one of
which is assuring their monopoly over the means of violence. Politics has ceased
to exist in anyn meaningful sense when the politicians lost control of the
recall visiting Michael Manley who won re-election in 1989 — now as a free
market promoter. I asked him what he planned to do.
"Either unblock the roads, clogged by Hurricane Andrew, or raise teacher’s pay
to keep schools operating," he said. "The current budget lacks money to do both
– or anything else," he sighed.
statement and the recent violence epitomize conditions in Jamaica and in much of
the third world, among the reasons that people demonstrate against this new
world order — wherever its leaders meet.