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Realism versus reality

Published:Sunday | May 2, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - File photos
Karl Samuda, JLP general secretary

Robert Buddan, Contributor

Bruce Golding raised the heat in the deteriorating relations between Jamaica and the United States (US) by criticising the US over American-made guns in Jamaica in his Budget speech on April 20.

It came against the background of the Government's continued attempt, many believe, to shield a 'most wanted' political supporter from extradition to the US. It was more indication that so much of the Government's time and energy in domestic, regional and international affairs are devoted to protecting its political interest in this matter that there seems little chance it can devote the attention the economy and social sectors need.

The prime minister, in fact, seems to be embarking on a three-part political strategy that revolves around saving the Government and winning the next elections - getting through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with as little political harm as possible, and protecting Christopher Coke for as long and with as little political harm as it can. It is the Government's own security of power that ranks highest among these three.

It tried to drag out the IMF negotiations for as long as it could. By its denials of crisis and hopeful predictions that the Jamaican economy would recover quickly, it seemed to have felt that by playing for time it could avoid having to enter an agreement with the IMF. Unfortunately, the economy deteriorated badly and at great cost. Our debts jumped by an incredible 55 per cent in two-and-a-half years. When the Government could not delay any longer it went for a short-term shock-adjustment programme to get through the adjustment in 27 months in time for the next election.

It seems to be applying the same strategy to the Coke issue. It has pursued spurious legal grounds for refusing to extradite Mr Coke and is now pursuing a court case to ask the court what powers the attorney general can exercise on the basis of the evidence against Mr Coke. It is simply asking the court for advice, not for a judgment. That will buy it a few more months. It could conceivably eventually take this case all the way to the Privy Council. That could buy it a few more years and postpone the issue until after the next due elections. But it would ideally want to avoid having the scandal hanging over its head for all this time. So, it has been pursuing a political course to settle quickly by lobbying the US State Department. This is where, I think, the Brady-Manatt, Phelps and Phillips issue comes in.

Realism and Reality

There are parties like the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) with persons who believe the first rule must be to get power and keep it. JLP leaders spoke of getting their 18 years too when they won power. Some even spoke of 30 years. The Government's decisions to put certain persons in critical positions and dismiss others from similarly critical positions seem to have been part of this design.

The prime minister's refusal to have Stephen Vasciannie in the Attorney General's Department is now felt to have been taken in anticipation of current events. Then there is the firing of Derick Latibeaudiere. That, according to speculation, resulted from a difference over negotiating with the IMF with the Government's political interest in mind.

Those who put power first are called power-realists. Their model of politics is Machiavellian, so named for the Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, whose ideas captured their logic of thought.

Not all JLP leaders are Machiavellian. Some might be shocked by what they are seeing but too scared to do anything. This paralysis, however, has afflicted other countries with disastrous economic and human-rights consequences.

The problem for realists arises when they fail to read reality right. The presumption is that because they are realists they are able to read reality better than the moral-idealists who look, not so much at what people are like, but what they could become and then work to change them to be that.

The JLP is in a pickle because its leaders have read the situation wrong. They read the world and national economy wrong. The March 2010 report by the Economic Commission for Latin American and Caribbean shows that Jamaica's performance last year was one of the worst among the 34 countries of the hemisphere, despite the fact that all were hurt by the recession. The others read the crisis and responded better. We have entered a worse IMF agreement than we could have had. Again, we have read our economic realities wrong.

The JLP has read the Americans wrong on the Coke extradition too. It is being naive about America's foreign policy towards Jamaica if it thinks we still have a special relationship with the US, or if it felt that Europe would save us under the European Partnership Agreement (EPA) into which we rushed. Mr Golding recently visited Brazil to talk to President Lula. Lula is a friend of Jamaica but he is very different from Golding. If Mr Golding thinks he can get Lula and other critics of the US to join any crusade against the US in the United Nations, or in the forum of Latin America and the Caribbean, he should think again. He is reading reality wrongly.


Audley Shaw has offered an all-too-brief and vague explanation of why Jamaica opted for the kind of IMF agreement it did. Naturally, he left out the political reasons. Elections are due by the end of this agreement. Karl Samuda has been given the ugly task of explaining the Brady-Manatt, Phelps, Phillips (MPP) fiasco. His explanation obscures the politics behind the whole botched attempt at a political settlement of the extradition. It lacks credibility. I don't believe Harold Brady solicited and paid for the services of MPP in October and up until December when he and the solicitor general went to a meeting that was attended by representatives of MPP.

A major problem for power-realists is that the struggle for power often consumes them and their own projects. They fall apart internally. They never really trust each other. They deceive each other. It is probably not to be taken too innocently that with all that is happening in Jamaica at this time, the prime minister was off bird-shooting in Paraguay.

Power-realists pursue power the way they do because they are basically cynical people. They don't believe the truth is really important. They think people will believe anything, that people don't want to hear the truth, or even that the truth is dangerous and is not good for people, certainly not "the masses".

There is another way, the truthful way. There is a great difference between the two parties. Portia Simpson Miller is a moral-idealist. She believes people can be better and can do better. Moral-idealists, therefore, believe in people-centred politics. Jamaicans need to reassert the country's ideals and its moral mission. They need to demonstrate for decency in peaceful but very vocal ways.

Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, UWI, Mona campus. Email: or