Foreign Correspondent: Jamaica's Socialist Conversion


Kingston. As recently as 1972, Jamaica was regarded internationally as a very stable, developing island that outstripped many larger countries in racial harmony, economic advancement and expansion, and upward social mobility in terms of such factors as education and standard of living. The largest English-speaking territory in the Caribbean was a functioning democracy that reflected the will of the people through a Parliament modeled on the Westminster System, bequeathed to the nation by Britain.

Once independence was granted in 1962, the island entered its first 10 years of sovereign statehood under the guidance of the Jamaica Labor Party, the country's conservative party. The economic policy was one of firm commitment to the free enterprise system. Government incentives for trade, commerce, manufacturing, agriculture, and mining resulted in rapid expansion of those sectors, and hence a throbbing economy. Per capita income soared from approximately $180 in 1962 to $800 in 1972. Reinvestment of earnings and a low tax ceiling fired consumer-oriented industries such as furnishing, food-preserving, housing, and garment manufacturing. Mining of bauxite and its conversion to alumina attracted all the major United States producers, who invested billions of dollars to expand the mining industry. Jamaica now supplies the United States with approximately 65 percent of its annual aluminium requirements.

In 1972, the People's National Party, the socialist party (then presumed to be mildly socialist), was elected to government under the leadership of Michael Manley. Economically the country was in a sound state, politically stable, and internationally respected for its impartiality in the U.N. and its commitment to democracy and individual freedom. The Manley government inherited a Treasury with $157 million net foreign exchange reserves, a tax imposition of only $20 million in 10 years, per capita tax contribution of only 14 percent, gross national debt of only $342 million and debt service charges of only $27 million per annum. True, unemployment was at an undesirable high of 20 percent; but programmes were being instituted to convert a large portion of the unemployed into employables as the society converted from agrarian to mixed-industrial.

In 1974 Michael Manley and Guyana's Forbes Burnham were the personal guests of Fidel Castro, journeying with him to Algeria to the Third World Conference. Upon his return, Manley declared that democratic socialism was to be the nation's new goal. In 1975 he paid an official visit to Cuba, and returned to state publicly that he was committed to go hand in hand with Castro so that Jamaica and Cuba might "share a common destiny."

Hence, the government under his direction proceeded to dismantle the country's previous political, economic and social institutions. Nationalization of industries proceeded at break-neck pace. Prohibitions of private endeavours became the order of the day. The free enterprise system was to be wiped out. Minimum wages were introduced, and taxation mounted as government sought to buy popularity amongst various groups of party cadres employed to carry out the plans and realize the ambitions of creating a socialist utopia.

By 1976 Jamaica, by all admission, had become a bankrupt country. Net foreign exchange was reversed to a deficit of over $150 million. Government expenditure rose from $627 million in 1971 to $1.5 billion resulting in a revenue deficit of $556 million. Tax imposition has grown by an increase of $180 million or 44 percent per capita. Debt service charges have spiralled to $117 million per annum.

Chaos in the economy led to widespread reduction in business activity, due to firms going bankrupt. Inflation is uncontrollable at a present rate of nearly 25 percent. Unemployment now stands at 35 percent—or 45 percent if 60,000 high school graduates now forced into mandatory National Youth Service are counted in those figures.

In 1974 gun control laws were passed, virtually banning possession of firearms by the citizenry. A Gun Court of singular significance was created, in which acts committed under the Gun Control Law are tried "in camera" with mandatory life imprisonment as the sentence. Thus began the programme of abridgement of individual rights. By late 1974 it was made mandatory for Jamaican citizens to declare their foreign assets to the government.

Public outcry and the weight of objection disturbed the government. This was exacerbated by the misery of a declining economy and rising unemployment. The Opposition was poised for a successful campaign. Then, in June 1976, the government invoked a "State of Emergency," removing all the rights of the citizens, clamping a rein on the media and on open criticism, and striking terror in the population by placing nearly 600, mostly members of the Opposition, into military detention. The majority have not been charged with any offence. The handful brought to trial have been found guilty of misdemeanours. Nearly 400 are still being held. Eleven have been exiled, and a number of them placed under house arrest or restrictive movement. In this atmosphere the government found it timely to hold general elections.

Wholesale gerrymandering and other blatant breaches of fair election practices resulted in the socialists' re-election by a wide margin last December. The new government has since circumvented Parliamentary process by pretending to practice democracy, but in fact has followed the Russian model by setting up a Council of Ministers, meaning Cabinet Members and Party Officials, vested with the power to formulate policies and administer the government. Parliament is now a mere archival institution. Michael Manley has, in addition, advised of the creation of a people's militia of 20,000 of which 10,000 have already been recruited and trained.

Today, Jamaican society is a ghost of its former self. Bands of youthful government supporters storm the towns and countryside, wreaking havoc and spreading terror against those who would object to incursions on their rights and property. They capture property in the name of the Socialist Revolution. Satraps and high officials alike shout anti-American slogans and deface empty walls with "Yankee, go home." The real enemies being themselves, they slaughter supporters of the opposition party, sometimes more than 30 per week in Kingston. Hate is the language of the militant young members of the Socialist League, youth arm of the People's National Party, and racism and classism are preached to fire the war-cry for destruction of individuality.

The rule of law has become a mockery. Specially trained members of the police force are now subject to orders from politicians within the government, and lead assaults against citizens rather than defending them. Even judges are being countermanded by members of this special force.

Tens of thousands of Jamaicans have fled this terror to refuge in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere, adding to the tragedy by taking a great deal of the skill, expertise, entrepreneurship, and professionalism that combined to create what was a prosperous nation in the budding.

Supporting this wholesale conversion to socialism has been a contingent of Cuban operatives within the island, numbering in the thousands. Recently the Russians have begun to move in and the programme for total socialization is to be concluded in 1977. Hundreds of Jamaicans are being trained in Guyana, Cuba, and the Soviet Union, and there is open consorting between Burnham of Guyana, Torrijos of Panama, Castro of Cuba and Manley of Jamaica.

The conversion of 4500 square miles and 2.5 million people within 600 miles of the United States to Marxist, socialist communism might not seem personally alarming to Americans. But consider this. Passing the control of the present major source of U.S. aluminium supplies to those who strive to join hands across the Atlantic through Africa to Eastern Europe in the name of universal Marxism and socialism should be cause for concern and closer scrutiny.

(The author of this special report, a Jamaican, has asked that his name be withheld to protect the safety of himself and his family.)