Mon | Jul 6, 2020

Mark Wignall | Seaga and the Republican Party?

Published:Friday | June 29, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Edward Seaga (right) meeting with Ronald Reagan in 1981.

After a brutal and painfully long election campaign that was, in essence, armed conflict between urban and inner-city thugs allied to the JLP and the PNP, the Seaga-led JLP Opposition devastated the Manley-led PNP at the polls in October 1980.

The next month, Republican Ronald Reagan wiped out the Democrat Jimmy Carter, and immediately after Reagan's inauguration in January, the first foreign leader to visit Reagan was the new Jamaican Prime Minister, Edward Seaga.

Reagan, as a conservative mouthpiece, was a champion of capitalism and market-driven economy and one who saw socialism and communism as evils of the worst sort. US policy at that time of Cold War politics was, at its surface, a basically binary one.

The Soviet Union, as Russia and its communist satellites were then known, was the face of social and political evil. Capitalist societies like America were the shining cities on a hill where every human being had a shot at the good life as long as he was allowed the democratic freedoms to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.

At that time, America must have invested a lot in seeing the end of Michael Manley's democratic socialism experiment, and Jamaica, as a trendsetter in Caribbean socio-political matters, was at the apex of its geopolitical importance.

Seaga's win was seen as a major blow to Cuba and its communist influence in the Caribbean, and his January 1981 visit to the White House had to have been Reagan's way of saying to Seaga that the State Department had invested a lot in his win, and the fraternal bond between the JLP and the Republican Party was due for major strengthening.


More control


What Reagan and the big multinationals in the US that had lined up to assist Seaga in the most substantial aid package did not bargain for was Seaga's statist approach, that is, keeping much of Jamaica, with the State controlling the very same resources as in Manley's time while Seaga was only mouthing free-market catchphrases.

By 1986, the Reagan administration was seeing its investment in Seaga and the JLP as close to a lost cause. In a September 1986 article, Timothy Asby of the Heritage Foundation stated, " ... The main cause of today's economic woes is that Seaga's government has failed to create a fertile investment climate for foreign and local businessmen. The sad truth is that state control of Jamaica's economy has actually increased in some sectors since the JLP assumed power."

While Seaga was making an official visit to the US in 1986, the article stated: "This week, the Reagan administration must be a tough host when it greets Seaga. He must be told that continuation of US development assistance (which has averaged 30 per cent of the island's GDP since 1981) depends on rapid and genuine progress in the structural reforms essential to a free market economy."

The article concluded, "Because Edward Seaga is identified so closely with the Reagan administration, the failure of his economic revitalisation programme will be viewed internationally as a setback for US developmental and regional security policies. This could damage the credibility of the free enterprise model the US seeks to introduce to the developing world and could unravel the Reagan administration's carefully woven Caribbean strategy.

The US State Department and (US)AID must recognise that many of Seaga's promises have been empty.

"The time has come this week for the US to tell Seaga, as friend to friend, that the US cannot continue subsidising Jamaica's disastrous economic policies. Jamaica can still realise its great economic and human potential if Seaga begins to carry out a genuine free-market development strategy. The US remains Seaga's willing partner, but the final responsibility for his country's future rests on his shoulders alone."

Most of the powerful voices in the JLP administration are afraid to go on the record and state openly what they think of some of the policies of the Trump administration, especially those policies that have a built-in cruelty provision towards people of colour, that is, people like 95 per cent of Jamaica.

It was, therefore, pretty savvy of Dr Peter Phillips to have openly condemned the White House policy of snatching children from parents who were fleeing mass violence in their Central American homeland and seeking asylum in the 'home of the free and the land of the brave'.

Phillips knows that no official representative of the JLP administration can dare issue any statement condemning that cruel policy, which was only recently overturned and still remains mired in confusion. The JLP, as a party, has a fraternal alignment with the conservative Republican Party, even as those policies lurch dangerously close to fascistic.

The JLP, as a governmental administration, cannot dare openly criticise the strongman in the White House, especially as it is hoping that its close link with the GOP will render it some special favours as it attempts to salvage bits and pieces of Trump's scatterbrained policies on aluminium tariffs and Congress' sanctions on Oleg Deripaska, the owner of key bauxite-mining entities in Jamaica.

I must admit that the JLP administration has my sympathies in this. It has fraternal links to the GOP, but it knows that Trump probably believes that Jamaica is an island in the Mediterranean. If Trump should happen upon an aide and should he discover that Jamaica is a land mostly occupied by the sons and daughters of Africans who were kidnapped and traded, he may, after all, ask why we are not still being traded.

For now the members of the JLP Cabinet must remain silently ashamed that the Republican Party that Seaga cosied up to in 1981 while Reagan was its standard-bearer has now become the party of Trump and its governance is defined by Trump's latest temper tantrum.


Something odd about those work permits


Last Wednesday, The Gleaner carried an item of news titled 'Labour ministry approves nearly 95% of applications for work permits'. For 2017, a total of 5,702 applications were granted. The article states that 4,195 (73 per cent) were in the category of 'professional' and 'technicians'. Fair enough, but something doesn't quite add up.

Quoting, I assume, the figures given to it by the Ministry of Labour, the item states, 'The survey shows that the demand for work permits was mainly for the wholesale and retail, repair of motor vehicles (986), construction and installation (570), hotels and restaurant services (454)."

Repair of motor vehicles (17 per cent), construction and installation (10 per cent), and hotels and restaurants (eight per cent) account for 35 per cent of the lot.

If the demand for work permits was mainly for wholesale and retail, how, therefore, can it also be that professionals and technical accounted for 73 per cent of the total? Since when are 'professional' and 'technical' covered under wholesale and retail?

One suspects that many of those foreigners who applied under 'wholesale and retail' simply told the ministry that they were professionals and were versed in some technical discipline when, basically, all they wish to really do is open another wholesale in a small town or large urban centre.

It also appears that improper vetting and other matters that I shall not mention here were at play at the time these applications were made. I can appreciate that an investor arriving in Jamaica may carry with him a small crew of specialists, that he hopes to assist him in getting his investment off the ground. But the numbers are not showing that.Wholesale and retail cannot occupy the same category as technical and professional. Someone is pulling a whole lot of wool over many eyes and I think many of us know exactly what has taken place.

If Jamaica is short of computer specialists in AI, then I am all for granting work permits for those openings that our bright geeks cannot fill. The Ministry of Labour needs to explain this obvious conundrum.

- Mark Wignall is a public- and political-affairs commentator. Email feedback to and