Letter from Jamaica
Jamaica is at a cross road in political development. Just two years after since Manley’s massive victory at the polls, the political atmosphere here is tense. Can his government last out its allocated five years? This is the kind of question many people are asking; the majority who ask don’t think they can.
In 1974 Manley declared himself and his party ‘democratic socialist.’ Overnight socialism became a household word, particularly it became the language of the suffering poor. The speeches poured out from government ministers on their “socialist” policies. land distribution, setting up of cooperatives, establishment of food farms, passing a minimum wage law, ownership of the Bauxite industry, and various other reforms.
Since 1976 there have been widespread layoffs, swelling the ranks of the unemployed to something approaching 40 per cent of the work force. There has also been an increased exodus of skilled people, and capital, although the Government have set up an elaborate intelligence unit to prevent this. Foreign exchange is scare, resulting in constant shortages of essential items and a flourishing black market. To speak of “high” prices in Jamaica today is a polite understatement.
On the political front the main opposition party, the Jamaican Labour Party, has been very active. They have to be, seeing that there are so many issues. Their main contention however is their consistent stand for Electoral Reform. They have boycotted all by-elections since local government elections in early 1977, and have recently threatened to start a campaign of civil disobedience to dramatise their position. The JLP claim that they were robbed of victory in the 1976 general election by a massive, island wide, campaign of bogus voting. At present a commission is investigating government corruption, and the opposition is hoping to prove that the government used the state of emergency they imposed in June 1976 to lock up key opposition members thus causing their election defeat.
Violence, and violent crime, is very much a part of the Jamaican scene now. There is a dangerous army of gunmen who carry out daring heists anywhere that money is handled. Shoot-outs between cops and robbers have sent scores of youth on both sides to an early grave. Young people have learned their lesson well in this Caribbean paradise. If you don’t have anything you are nothing. They are out to get something whatever the price, one way or another.
Jamaicans, like workers all over the world, take politicians too seriously and pay little interest to politics itself.