Thu | Nov 26, 2020

The 1980s Historian | Memories of turbulent and volatile Jamaica

Published:Sunday | November 15, 2020 | 12:06 AM
The Gleaner Archives
On election day, October 30, Labour Party armed bands burst into polling stations and shot at Manley supporters. Shown here are members of these bands – one holding a rifle – operating in a street in west Kingston. Two people were
The Gleaner Archives On election day, October 30, Labour Party armed bands burst into polling stations and shot at Manley supporters. Shown here are members of these bands – one holding a rifle – operating in a street in west Kingston. Two people were killed and several others wounded on that day.
Prime Minister and PNP Leader Michael Manley greets supporters in the Half Way Tree Square on Saturday for a “Gone Clear” Rally.
Prime Minister and PNP Leader Michael Manley greets supporters in the Half Way Tree Square on Saturday for a “Gone Clear” Rally.
Opposition leader Edward Seaga arriving at the Denham Town Secondary School on Nomination Day. He is escorted by security officers who are making way through the jubilant throng of Western Kingston
Opposition leader Edward Seaga arriving at the Denham Town Secondary School on Nomination Day. He is escorted by security officers who are making way through the jubilant throng of Western Kingston
In this November 1980 file photo, National Security Minister Winston Spaulding (third right) oversees the clearing of a road block on Gold Street in Central Kingston in the aftermath of the bloody 1980 general election campaign. A policeman (left) carries
In this November 1980 file photo, National Security Minister Winston Spaulding (third right) oversees the clearing of a road block on Gold Street in Central Kingston in the aftermath of the bloody 1980 general election campaign. A policeman (left) carries the recently introduced M16 rifle.
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Over these recent weeks, the news media have stirred a pot that has brought back to the top of mind several awful memories that relate to the period of 1976 to 1980 in Jamaica, a volatile and interesting period.

I was a teenager at that time and mature enough to understand the daily politics of what was happening in that era. I want to share my brief recollection along with some thoughts and observations of that turbulent period. Many Jamaicans were so frightened by a creeping fear as they perceived a fast disappearance of personal freedoms and safety.

The result was an exodus of the business class to the United States, Canada, and England for both economic reasons and political fears. During that period, many people endured long lines at the foreign embassies, hoping to exit Jamaica at any cost and becoming inventive smugglers to get their money out of Jamaica.

I share a somewhat limited personal view through my direct exposure to some of the characters who were involved in that concerted effort during the late 1980s to create and impose a socialist/communist philosophy and government on our country. At that time, many well-thinking Jamaicans believed that these individuals and their agenda – would lead to the destruction of Jamaica, ruining our cherished freedoms and hard-fought independence since 1962.

At that time, the imposing Tony “Trench Town Rock” Spaulding, D.K. Duncan, Roy McGann, Arnold “Scree” Bertram, Trevor Munroe, and others from The University of the West Indies, using today’s language – were highly radicalised. They were thought to be among the most politically dangerous and powerful actors in Jamaica during this period. The advent of this clique of ultra-active, far-left radicals resulted in frequent clashes among the supporters on the ground. As the politics heated up, the entry of high-powered weapons into our politics – birthed and spawned during this period – resulted in an unending continuum of violence and death trails into this 21st century. These injuries still ooze painfully forty years later – even into today.

ENDURE THIS HEAVY PRICE

We continue to endure this heavy price for these historic sins. Jamaica continues to grapple with this prevailing culture of gun crime and violence – watered, nurtured, and sunk deeply into our psyche during that violent period in the 1980s. These roots remain underground and alive.

The 1980s were highly volatile times, further inflamed by that infamous speech when Prime Minister Seaga roared “Fire for fire, and blood for blood”. This fuel fanned the flames further, hotter and even more dangerously, as the rhetoric exploded and the key players reacted. Jamaica became a heated battleground with Cuba and the US getting actively involved in Jamaican politics. The battles between the Trench Town and Tivoli camps and their proxies boiled over constantly.

All well-thinkers today must be happy that this terrible period is now distantly behind us, and hopefully, will never to return. Jamaica’s current path is now very clearly guided by a political system that while not yet perfected, ­is best for us in the west.

We must strengthen our resolve to maintain these hard-fought freedoms while radically improving our own justice systems, especially as we now see and witness well-recognised bastions of freedom stumbling woefully before us today in mature and well-established democracies.

The real joy of this story is that many, if not al, of our left-leaning friends have now logged on. They have built profitable businesses that have made them very wealthy and are strong contributors to our continuing growth, social development, and economic advances.

Old wounds have long healed yet history remains as a permanent reminder such that we are forced to remember and reflect that we were once on the near brink of a total collapse and rescued from the brink. Thankfully, we were given a second chance.

APPLY THESE LESSONS

This is an opportunity for our political leadership to apply these valuable lessons learned through Jamaica’s experiences since Independence. We must continue to strengthen and build on our proud democracy. We and our grandchildren to come will reap the benefits to be derived as we Jamaicans improve and create sustainable foundations.

Improving our democratic framework, its equity, and Jamaica’s resiliency is critical. We are now recognised by our friends and allies across the globe who see us as a positively unified country in our clear intents and in our honourable purposes.

A ‘‘command and control’ environment could never and will never work in Jamaica. We are a nation of ‘ boasy’ independent-minded individuals who are proud kings and queens ruling within our domain and circumstances – no matter how humble!

As we move forward confidently in this 21st century, I believe Jamaica will grow faster under leadership that is ethical, communicative, and knowledgeable. We must wilfully develop young, inspired leaders at all levels throughout the country as we root out the bad eggs that retard our progress and replace them without malice, as is our right as Jamaican citizens.

Amen.