Of world leaders and socialism
This is part two of Laura Tanna's interview with former Prime Minister Edward Seaga. It picks up where part one, published on February 7, left off.
In July 2005 Edward Seaga, having retired from politics, started writing his autobiography with the assistance of one researcher. In July 2007 he completed writing and, after a further year of providing photographs and editing, the first of two 350-page volumes was ready. Volume one was launched last week.
Says Seaga: "I started out with the intention of simply expressing what had happened in the course of my life. But it rapidly occurred to me that it wasn't my life that was the focus, because my life was so wrapped up in the developments and history of the country over that period. What I really had to deal with were those developments. So what has resulted is a historical work."
Some 500,000 pages of documents, known as the Seaga papers, have been scanned and digitalised. A retrieval system is being worked out for researchers to access this material.
Many young Jamaicans born in the last 25 years might not know the degree to which Jamaica featured in the Cold War struggles with the Soviet Union, on the one hand, and Britain and the United States (US) on the other, between totalitarianism and democracy, communism and capitalism, the state versus the individual, or versions thereof, depending on one's philosophy. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and collapse of communist governments, most vividly symbolised in the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, have been succeeded by new power alignments and ideological wars, but the story of Jamaicans in 1980 overwhelmingly voting out a socialist regime received international attention.
Seaga was reminded of that when he recently came across a photograph of a late 1980
cover featuring him as Man of the Year, with the inside story billed as his being one of those who struggled against socialism and headed a movement for its eventual demise.
under-recognised grenadian Revolution
A September 2009 by-product of Seaga's writing and research was
The Grenada Intervention: The Inside Story
, including the publication of documents discovered at the home of assassinated Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, which came into the possession of the Jamaica Defence Force. The 83-page book deals with the Caribbean and US troops' suppression of a 1983 coup attempt in Grenada and the restoration of democracy there. In that book, Seaga writes: "Among the captured documents were the terms of three secret military assistance agreements between the People's Revolutionary Government of Grenada and the Soviet Union, which noted that the USSR was to provide $25.6 million in war materiel. The treaty with North Korea indicated the North Koreans would provide $12 million in war materiel ... The Soviet treaties called for secret deliveries of arms to take place through Cuba."
Having read this book, I was astonished at how little reaction there was in the local media and asked if this surprised him.
"Yes! There was no response at all to the fact that it was the 25th anniversary of a landmark event, an historical event that has no precedent among the English-speaking Caribbean and one in which there was a threat to democracy which was overcome. It has not been recognised at all."
The number of weapons those documents revealed included 5.516 million rounds of ammunition, including 134,486 rounds of heavy ammunition; 2,174 grenades; 9,756 rifles; 359 machine guns; and 200 heavy weapons, including anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank weapons, mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Seaga tabled this information in
Ministry Paper 42
in November 1983.
He remembers: "I think most of the ones from North Korea had not been fully delivered, but it was an eye-opener. No question about it. It vindicated those of us who decided that something had to be done. Had that weaponry remained, then someone who had oversized ambitions would have wanted to use them, and the other little islands in the group of the Antilles were easy targets. Most of them had no army. They had small constabulary forces and it would be easy to overthrow them and take control. The ammunition alone - five million rounds - was more than all the people in the entire English-speaking Caribbean."
opinions on world leaders
But he said: "I don't think Central America was involved, because Nicaragua was there. You see, they were all spaced out. Nicaragua was the bastion of the movement in Central America, Grenada in the Caribbean and Cuba was virtually in charge of piloting those two."
I asked what he thought of world leaders he had dealt with, mentioning Eugenia Charles. Said Seaga: "She was quite a personality. She was very firm, certainly someone who knew her mind, what she wanted and she had the courage to fight for it. There is no question that she was an outstanding leader. We spent some time together. She came here and spent a little holiday with me at a later stage. She was one of the pivots in the region who allowed us to turn the whole slide towards socialism around."
And Margaret Thatcher? "Margaret Thatcher was of the mould of a person who was very determined in endeavouring to accomplish something new. She had ideas that were, in a sense, revolutionary in terms of freeing up the individual, for the individual initiative to work, rather than being captured by the state or any other group that would have used the individual for membership in some other purpose. She wanted to see the individual being the agent of activity and the agent of initiative. In whatever she did, she tried to give the individual the choice. It was the choice factor that accounted for a number of projects that allowed Britain to shed its own socialist status at the time."
Seaga had a rather insightful comment to make about President Reagan, with whom he met five times.
"President Reagan was very special. He never failed
to be recognised as a very charming person. He was not looked at
as someone who had a wealth of learning, but he was someone who had a wealth of
understanding. He was ready to recognise situations and problems that were
discussed and very sympathetic. The fixed purpose in his career was to bring
down communism and he succeeded. Since I was fighting the socialist version
here, he was very interested in what was taking place and we exchanged a lot of
I asked if he'd ever had to deal with someone really disreputable
and, after a long pause, he replied with a chuckle: "I can't think off-hand of
anyone who would fall into that category. And I can understand why, because, if
they were, I wouldn't be dealing with them." What about someone just mildly
annoying? Seaga responded:
"Fidel Castro was not my favourite but I could respect the man for
his own thoughts, for his own beliefs and for what he was doing. I just said
don't export it. That's yours. Do what you want but don't export it to this
country because this country does not have the background to adopt it. It
doesn't have the discipline. It doesn't have the belief system that you have of
sacrificing yourself for the purpose of building the state, because people here
are very individualistic. Before even starting, socialism would be a failure and
the only reason why it didn't fail in the very beginning was because Manley gave
them a palliative of calling it love and then coating it with a number of
projects that carried money for little or no work and so on. People bought that
as what socialism was supposed to be. When the harsh part came, the system broke
down and shortages were there and all the other factors that made life
distressing then they really, truly understood. Castro was still a hero to them
because he was a revolutionary and Jamaicans do like people with that sort of
What about Raul Castro making some changes and then seeming not
to? "I guess everybody has a time table. The fact that he made these changes
early, I won't venture to say if it was a teaser that would have brought a
reaction from the US in a change of its own foreign policy, and that's about the
only way I can look at it. At the same time these changes were overdue and they
were harmless to the central basis of the revolution, so I don't think they were
giving up much and they were getting quite a bit in return."
Who did he admire the most of the world leaders he dealt with?
Without hesitation, Seaga replied: "I have to pick Lee Kuan Yew right up front.
I met him at the first conference that I went to of the Non-Aligned Movement in
New Delhi. We were in a time when socialism was very hot at that level. We found
ourselves sitting out in the little reception area chatting while everybody else
was inside because we both knew that whatever was being said in there, we had
heard it a dozen times before. It was just a matter of how much emphasis and in
what style of language was being used to put it across.
"So I got to know him fairly well. I met him another time and told
him I'd stopped in Singapore for a night, travelling to somewhere else. He said:
'Why didn't you call me? Why didn't you tell me?' and I said: 'Well, I didn't
want to worry you.' But he said: 'No, no I'd have been glad to have seen you.'
So we were not on close terms, because we didn't see each other, but we were
close in terms of having the same sort of outlook. On any basis that you take
it, he is one of the outstanding leaders of history. There's no question about
that. It's reflected in the whole calibre of the man."
development for people
In terms of outlook, what does Seaga like? "It may seem drab,
because the things that I like are not necessarily things that are entertaining
but things that are fulfilling. To me, what is fulfilling is the satisfaction of
accomplishing projects, the development of new concepts and new programmes. The
greatest satisfaction is that if you develop an idea for a project , then the
project must be one that has meaning and purpose and can provide help to people.
I'm not satisfied in developing it for myself. I'm satisfied in developing it
"My first ministerial position was minister of development. The
creation of the Urban Development Commision was one of my most satisfying
projects in the early stages of my development because of the expanse of
programmes involved: the development of the waterfront, of Ocho Rios, Negril,
etc. Those were projects I look at with pride, as having deep satisfaction for
Does he regret that downtown Kingston's development has not taken
place, as he hoped? "Yes, I do. Every time I drive through there, I think of
what it could have been. I don't think it has come to an end, but it has been
delayed so long. Downtown's development has been halted, not just by violence
that may be in the adjoining areas, but also by the complications of the layout
of the road structure of the city, Half-Way Tree and Cross Roads being two areas
in which there is a conflux of roads that deter traffic. New Kingston was
successful because it didn't have that traffic problem."
Next week: What might have