A born-again politician

March 9 1987

A born-again politician

March 9 1987

A born-again politician


As Jamaica ’s prime minister from 1972 to 1980, Michael Manley generated controversy because of his anti-Americanism and his policy of state intervention in the economy. In 1980 Manley’s People’s National Party (PNP) was soundly defeated by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) of Edward Seaga, who promised free market deregulation and reduced government spending. Since then the quality of Jamaica’s health and education has reportedly declined, and in January, in the shadow of a mounting $ Li-billion foreign debt, the Seaga government completed loan negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) timt will restrict national spending. Manley, who claims to have tempered his radical policies, is gearing up for a national election expected this year or next. Maclean’s correspondent Mark Kurlansky recently spoke to Manley in his Kingston home.

Maclean’s: Is the Michael Manley of today different from the Michael Manley of seven years ago?

Manley: Enormously. I have learned so much and done a lot of thinking about

all the things we went through. I tried many things that I believe are still right, but we made a lot of mistakes. When we saw a problem that the private sector was not dealing with, we tended to say, ‘Let’s just have the government do it.’ But governments are just not good

71 takes two to tango.

If Seaga wants to tango next time, there is not even one stone that needs to be thrown ’

at doing some of the things we tried to do. And the greatest pity was that at the end we got into a shouting match with the private sector. What made it a pity is that we are committed to the private sector and believe in it as a very dynamic part of any possibility of economic development in Jamaica.

Maclean’s: If you were to become prime minister this year, what would the possi-

bility be of good relations with the Reagan administration?

Manley: Obviously President Reagan is personally very committed to Seaga. And obviously he would not be as pleased to have me there. But what he will have to face is that we cannot get into power except through an impeccably free and fair electoral process. In our past relations with the United States, I think there was some fault on both sides. We now have very clear and strong relations with many parts of the state department and with substantial areas of Congress because we have worked very hard to be understood. I think the real way to put it is, what are the chances of a good relationship with Washington? I predict that we are going to have a very good relationship with Washington.

Maclean’s: What kind of relations would you hope to have with Cuba?

Manley: We are not Communist. We are not Marxist. We are not Leninist. Cuba is. But we respect the Cubans’ right to be what they are as long as they act in a principled manner internationally—and our impression is that they respect our right to be what we are as long as we act in a principled way. As members of this hemisphere we feel that Cuba has a right to exist and be recognized. We think it is very bad for the region to isolate one country and create constant tension and

trouble. When we were in power the situation escalated into a sort of test of sovereignty for us, and in the face of American pressure one almost felt defiantly compelled to have more of a relationship with Cuba than was necessary. If an offer was made we would say, ‘We have a right to accept this,’ so we would. But now we would not bring Cubans here to build a school and things of that sort. It is misunderstood by Washington and causes tension. But we do insist on our right to allow Cuba to reopen an embassy here, and we have been very up front with Washington about this.

Maclean’s: Will you increase social spending?

Manley: Increasing social spending can bring you into a very technical issue. In view of the IMF budget limits, taxation and so on, I would not like to answer that. But let me put it this way. We are going to work tremendously hard to deal with social problems. I think we are going to make a tremendous drive in education. And I have no doubt that we will spend more on education than the JLP, although we may have to cut corners and find other ways to achieve savings to do it. But we intend to build economic activity into the school system—a huge challenge to social engineering in countries like Jamaica. It is a question of developing a sense that life is about work, not about reading poet-

ry—although that is the embroidery of life that makes it worthwhile. But you first have to produce. I want to build a whole new social psychology.

Maclean’s: What about health care? Manley: It will really have to come from better community mobilization, because you cannot spend your way out of the crisis.

Maclean’s: After your party won a major local election victory last July, you said you intended to pressure the Seaga government for an early national election. To what degree have you succeeded in doing that?

Manley: We have not really started yet because we have no desire to upset the tourist season, which is the life and death of Jamaica. And we are never going to be into violence. But I might remind you that people like Martin Luther King taught the world that there are many ways within the law and peace in which you can make your statement. Maclean’s: How can violence, which has become a part of Jamaican political life, be contained in the next election? Manley: By Seaga meeting me and giving the orders all the way down the line: ‘Cool it, and let’s get it done in a peaceful way.’ We have always wanted to do it. It takes two to tango. If Seaga wants to tango next time, there is not even one stone that needs to be thrown.