Wed | Aug 12, 2020

Winston Dawes | Greenwashing history - Holness wrong about Manley’s contribution to Jamaica and the world

Published:Wednesday | July 15, 2020 | 12:17 AMWinston Dawes Jr/Guest Columnist
Michael Manley (left) greets Nelson Mandela during his visit to Jamaica on July 24, 1991.
Michael Manley (left) greets Nelson Mandela during his visit to Jamaica on July 24, 1991.

In reading the Gleaner article ‘Holness: Ja still paying dearly for Manley’s misadventure’, on July 10, 2020, I feel compelled to respond.

In a speech to launch the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Education Fund scholarships recently, Prime Minister Andrew Holness sought to characterise the administrative years 1972-1980 as a misadventure, and a series of missteps, which have irreparably damaged the future of Jamaica. This is a dangerous, albeit miscalculated, move by Holness to greenwash a period seen by many as the beginning of social independence in Jamaica.

For many Jamaicans, the post-1962 years became a period of disillusionment, where the euphoria of self-governance quickly wore off, as people were still generally unable to enjoy the freedoms and upward social mobility they felt was now guaranteed to them after Independence. Even though, on paper, things appeared to be thriving, so much so that our system was used as a template for other nations to copy, there was turmoil and unrest across Jamaica.

Workers were striking for better pay and working conditions, students demonstrated against the established social order, in tandem with the civil rights upheaval taking place worldwide, and the Rastafarians were fighting against persecution from a Babylon system.

It was this turbulent time that created a new paradigm in Jamaica, one that called for a leader who could personify the changing ideology of the people. The person who filled that role was Michael Norman Manley. Manley came to power in 1972 in a wave of charisma and a promise of change – and change was sorely needed.

MANLEY BROUGHT CHANGE

Change did happen in the years that followed, that much is agreed upon by all, but the debate arises based on how each individual viewed that change.

Those who loved him saw Manley as a saviour of the people, while those who hated him saw him as a communist devil, come to wreck the country. There was very little middle ground in the equation.

Whatever your opinions on his domestic policies, there is no doubt that Michael Manley changed the landscape of Jamaica forever. He allowed many Jamaicans access to tertiary education, he introduced equal pay for equal work, worked to end the persecution of Rastas, and legislated the owning of so-called illegitimate children by their fathers.

During that time, he was also an international voice against the system of apartheid in South Africa, as well as the neocolonialist practices of industrialised nations that served to keep countries like Jamaica deeply ensconced in the Third World designation. Some say it may have been this that led to his eventual undoing. Manley began speaking of the need for non-industrialised countries to form their own alliances so that they might trade as a bloc, which no doubt ruffled many feathers.

When he declared Democratic Socialism in 1974, and supported the MPLA-led fight for independence in Angola the following year by assisting Cuban troops on their way to fight in Africa, the United States was prompted, by way of a visit from none other than Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, to instruct Manley to remain neutral. He did not, of course, and thus began a systematic plan to destabilise Manley’s economy, resulting in massive shortages and increasing violence. This may be, to many, the definition of the period 1972-1980, which ended with the bloodiest general election to date and capped off one of the bloodiest years in Jamaica’s history up to that time.

HE WAS NO ANGEL

I am not that naive to believe that Manley was an angel, to borrow from a popular phrase of the time. He may very well have been flirting with communism in spite of his denials of such. During the latter part of his tenure, notably during the now infamous state of emergency, many people were incarcerated and some were reported missing during this period.

Many of the policies put forward by Manley were simply unrealistic and unenforceable for a society such as Jamaica at the time.

Whatever your intentions may be, the independence of the masses should not seem to come at the sacrifice of the intelligentsia. I qualify that statement by acknowledging that there was an atmosphere of fear being generated at the time, and that many power brokers were also a part of creating this atmosphere, but that doesn’t excuse the “five flights a day” statement. Many persons fled the country because of this perception, real or imagined, and took their capital and expertise with them.

STILL MOST POPULAR PRIME MINISTER

At the end of the day, it is easy to criticise in hindsight, and mistakes were definitely made, but Michael Manley is still our most popular prime minister and much of his legacy lies between the years 1972 and 1980.

He has been quoted by many world leaders in subsequent years. Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan held him in high regard. Nelson Mandela, on release from prison in 1990, came to Jamaica the following year to meet with again-Prime Minister Manley in one of his first visits outside of Africa, praising him for his strident voice against apartheid.

Many Jamaicans also identify this period as our coming of age as a people, when we formed the identity (roots reggae, dreadlocks, etc.) that we are known for worldwide.

It is, therefore, incorrect to simply speak of this time as if it were a child’s outing that led to trouble, or an experiment that went horribly wrong. It sets a dangerous precedent that, if not properly addressed, may lead to a rewriting of history for future generations, all in the name of political manoeuvring.

I will go further to say that there have been 40 years since the end of that administration, with the last four years under the present one. Some would argue that this is a good enough time to learn from the mistakes of the past and try to move forward instead of trying to cast blame.

Winston Dawes Jr is a registered physiotherapist and former member of the National Workers Union’s National Executive Council. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and dawes.winston@gmail.com