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Michael Manley.

'The only imperative in my life has been egalitarianism.'

For decades, Michael Manley, former prime minister of Jamaica, has represented progressive social and democratic change not only for the Caribbean but also throughout the world. Son of Norman Manley, nationalist leader under the British colonial regime and founder of the People's National Party, he first came to power in 1972, a few years after taking over PNP leadership following the death of his father.

We spoke at length last fall about Jamaican politics and history, Caribbean relations with the United States, world leaders he has known, his thoughts on the future of democratic socialism and the future of the world. In April, the Caribbean Community--the association of former British colonies in the region--named him its ambassador at large. We spoke again in May, after Manley had had a chance to watch the early days of a new Administration in Washington.

My conversations were based on a personal friendship with Michael and a close relationship with the politics and people of Jamaica. In September 1983, U.S. Representative Ron V. Dellums asked me to be his emergency substitute as "international speaker" at the PNP's annual convention. I arrived for the first time at the humid Kingston airport, conspicuously dressed in a suit and tie. Whisked to a smoke-filled stadium to address thousands of PNP loyalists, I was introduced to the former Prime Minister only moments before we walked to the stage. Characteristically charming and at ease, he introduced me to the audience. A decade later, the PNP is back in power in Jamaica, and Manley claims to be in semi-retirement. But his political imagination and charismatic grace remain as potent as ever.

He recalls a time in 1961, on the eve of independence. "My father made a rather profound speech," Manley says, "stating that the attempt to follow the Puerto Rican model of development had failed in all the social objectives that were valid for him. It was a tremendous speech about the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and all the things we know are classically associated with the Munoz Marin boot-strap model of industrialization by invitation."

But the elder Manley lost the election that would have made him the first prime minister of independent Jamaica, and the younger Manley became part of a group of young intellectuals who would transform their nation's politics.

Q: One of the similarities between U.S. and Jamaican politics was the emergence of black-power protests in the late 1960s. What was the impact of black nationalism and radicalism upon your party?

Michael Manley: Tremendous. The very forces that led my dad in the late 1950s to begin sensing the social failure of a strategy are the forces that were creating greater and greater mass resentment--at last spilling out into the black consciousness.

I was determined to pick up where my father left off and rethink the whole question of ideology. The thing that had changed profoundly was that Third World consciousness was now a reality. The nonaligned movement had come into existence.

When my father was an activist, these things were just barely surfacing. But I worked within that later atmosphere, very much more determined that Jamaica must realize it cannot solve its problems alone.

By now, Malcolm X is happening. Tremendous things are happening in the United States and the world. The African liberation process is now a reality; there are independent nations. And all those things converged in an explosion of consciousness among young black intellectuals. They are partly reflective of the dynamics and also themselves influences on the dynamics of the time.

Q: How did those events affect or influence your own political development?

Manley: The only imperative in my life has been egalitarianism. Nothing else has really ever driven me. How do you create a world of equal opportunity? How do you create empowerment? That is what I have been about, even when I didn't yet know the phrase.

Q: So let's jump to today. What is your preliminary assessment of Bill Clinton, especially as he relates to international issues. Do you perceive a fundamental change in U.S. policy under President Clinton's guidance, or is his Administration more an extension of the policies of Presidents Reagan and Bush?

Manley: I don't see any departure yet, and I don't say that critically because, obviously, it is an Administration under tremendous pressure in the domestic arena, and with some crises it can't avoid in the international arena, situations where one really has to act internationally--as in South Africa, or Bosnia, or Somalia, or Haiti.

Q: With the assassination of Chris Hani in South Africa and the rapid successes of Jonas Savimbi and UNITA over the last few months in Angola--which took everyone by surprise-I wonder what your take is.

Manley: What is taking place in Angola is not surprising; Jonas Savimbi is just as vicious as I expected him to be. He is an adventurer and as far as I am concerned a totally corrupt man. Obviously, he is driven by the ambition for power. I think it's an outrage. There's an election which he agrees to honor, and he loses in circumstances held by the international community as being reasonably fair, and he promptly throws it aside.

I am really quite shocked that the international community is doing nothing.

As far as South Africa is concerned, I share everybody's hope that this negotiating will usher in a democratic constitution. One person, one vote. Of course, I share everybody's hope and prayer that that happens. I certainly maintain admiration for the enormous consistency in which Nelson Mandela is trying to pursue that strategy.

My own take on the situation, however, begins with the conviction that the National Party [the white party in power] will maneuver to end up in a situation where the African National Congress is isolated and is seen as incapable of giving responsible governance to the country. I remain absolutely convinced that the inner strategy is to find a way to unite the colored, the Indian, the Zulu, and the white in a big electoral alliance--not necessarily out of similarity of outlook but in a sort of "general feeling."

I don't know why Hani was killed, but it is quite possible Hani was killed as provocation--in the knowledge that removing this great symbol would provoke bitterness, anger, and even violence. The whole rest of the world wants the violence to stop, but I am not sure who among all the opponents of the ANC really want violence to stop--provided the violence doesn't take them.

Q: The only way the National Party can continue to leverage events is to develop a new type of political condominium with those constituencies, especially with the Zulu. If they are able to construct that coalition, they could actually win an election.

Manley: I've written an article to that effect. I have taken everybody through the numbers, the numbers of the different sectors of the South African population, and of the tremendous history of work by agents provocateurs that has gone on. You are looking at a complex process in which not everybody is sincere.

Q: What about Haiti?

Manley: This is one of those situations where one has to act internationally--where 60 per cent of the people vote for Jean-Baptiste Aristide, put him in power, and the army promptly kicks him out. One thing positive about the Clinton Administration is its activist attitude toward Haiti. This is a significant change. The things Clinton's people are trying are the same things I recommended to the United Nations and the Organization of American States last year. One still has a hope that it will work out.

And they may be on the verge. They have offered economic aid and are trying to mobilize the peacekeeping force that would give the competing factions a comfort zone. The army has once again indicated it would agree with what is worked out. If the matter of the peacekeeping force has to go to the United Nations to be authorized by the Security Council, I know the Caribbean states will be arguing very powerfully in the General Assembly in support.

Q: Let's cover a few events of your first administration in Jamaica in the 1970s. Among the most controversial was your state visit to Cuba in 1975. And then, two years later, Fidel Castro visited Jamaica. These visits are frequently cited as the pivotal reason for the deterioration of relations between the United States and Jamaica.

Manley: When I was a student at the London School of Economics, I sorted out once and for all what was my fundamental position in the political spectrum. And it is not subject to change in response to pressure or influence. I belong to that category of political-activist thinkers who are totally committed to the democratic process, in the widest involvement of people in decision-making.

Second, then, I rejected democratic centralism and any attempt to set up a bureaucratized centrally directed society. For my own good reasons, I thought: Wrong, that won't work. Third, I came to the conclusion that, while there is a tremendous role for state activity, the idea of eliminating private initiative and involvement in the economy is an error.

Now, those ideas were settled when I was a student. I just look with a bit of dismay at people who have since thought that because Castro is my friend, which he still is, that he could change my fundamental commitment about social, economic, and political organization. So let's just put that on the record.

Now about human revolution. I was one of many, many people who were horrified with Batista's Cuba, what Cuba had become, a stamping ground for the Mafia, for Murder, Inc., a breeding ground for other criminals. And I was very excited at the thought of this popular revolution. And I could not help but be impressed by one of the most extraordinary personalities of this century. So I began with this tremendous feeling--thank God somebody is going to rip this place apart and shake it up and give it a fresh start. Thank God somebody is going to talk to Cuban nationalism, Cuban pride, and all these things.

What remains is a bottom-line feeling I have about Castro. As he turned to his explicity communist position, I remember thinking with a certain regret, gosh, I wish he hadn't gone that way. But also I was feeling that other countries have to build their own routes for themselves--and feeling that there was massive popular support for what he was doing. And therefore, fine, if that is the way they go, that is their business. Then I watched what many have watched: his ability to mobilize a country, his ability to give a country pride, his ability to give young people a sense of place. Nothing can touch it. And I thought, boy, whatever his ideology, he is putting it to good purposes; he is really transforming a country.

One then looks at the huge pressures put on Cuba by the United States and, while understanding why they were doing that from their perspective, wondering how far they were driving Castro into an entrenched, radical position to survive. So you watched the dialectical process with a sort of dismay and horror, wondering how far he would have gone in that direction without that pressure.

Coming to office, I didn't have a particularly clear view of how Jamaica might relate to Cuba. But Cuba, I had noticed by then, was becoming quite a dynamic force in the nonaligned movement, was taking strong positions on Third World trade and economic issues. The relationship between us began when Castro invited me to fly with him and Forbes Burnham [then-president of Guyana] to the nonaligned summit in Algiers in 1973. I was very impressed by his huge intellect, his grasp of world affairs. What came across was a very real humanistic concern for poverty, and a sense of humor, an enormous sophistication. People with a mind interest me.

Our relationship started then, and was restricted to common positions on international issues and common positions in the nonaligned movement. The United States didn't like that, and I constantly tried to explain to them that we are not communist. We are not involved in that aspect, but surely we have a right to make common cause on such things as sugar prices.

Q: As a sovereign nation?

Manley: Yes, as a sovereign nation. But I'll tell you what really caused the trouble between the United States and ourselves. It had nothing to do with my going to Cuba.

To me, the anti-apartheid struggle is sacred. There is nothing that Michael Manley would not do to help in that struggle. We watched the emergence of the front-line states. We watched how South Africa began the destabilization program that virtually wrecked--and continues to wreck--Mozambique, that put Zambia to the sword or my great friends in Tanzania. All have suffered at South Africa's hands. Come South West Africa and the beginnings of the Namibian independence movement, and comes the moment when South African troops strike north from Namibia to smash Angola, because it is very important to them strategically to try to destroy the legitimate but leftist government of Angola.

So Cuba is invited by Agostinho Neto to come to Angola's defense in 1975, because Castro was already helping them a little bit, with the education and training of Neto's guerrilla forces, to turn them into a regular army.

In a historic decision, one in which history is going to absolve him, mark my words, Castro agreed and sent his army into Angola. He did not go at Moscow's request. In fact, Moscow was mad as hell about it. Moscow was into nothing about black independence. Castro brought Moscow into supporting his troops by saying, "You really can't let me down. I am your prized exhibit in the West for communism."

Henry Kissinger asked me personally not to support Cuba's presence in Angola when it came to a vote in the United Nations. He sat in Government House in Jamaica, where I had him to lunch, and I remember explaining to Kissinger that I could not give such an understanding, because our interpretation was that Castro was defending Angola from South African troops. And because that whole dynamic of the liberation struggle in southern Africa was very important.

Q: And it has been shown that UNITA was simply a front for South Africa.

Manley: A stooge! An animal! You know Jonas Savimbi is just a traitor, a mercenary. But I told Kissinger that we would investigate afresh. I sent my foreign minister all over Africa. We attended the famous meeting of the Organization of African Unity when every African state supported Cuba. And I sent a message to Kissinger saying I am sorry, we are voting for Cuba, but please, it is not an act of hostility toward America. It is a pursuit of a duty to the anti-apartheid struggle.

Within fourteen days, the number of CIA operatives in Jamaica was doubled. Within fourteen days, James Reston, who was Kissinger's famous stalking horse in The New York Times, had me down as a wild-eyed, dangerous stooge of Castro's. I was transformed! When did I become so important? From this little island?

That is when it all began. I was punished for supporting Cuba in Angola; that is what really caused it. And if I had it to do tomorrow, I'd do it again, but I might not bother to send the message. After that, until Jimmy Carter came to office, it was grief. We were negotiating a $100 million line of credit with Washington, with good prospects. It just disappeared. To say that they got us is an understatement.

In my own case, being of a rather defiant nature, and with my trade-union background, I didn't take it lying down. I think I was wrong to allow that explicit hostility to provoke me into responses.

Q: But what happened with that decision is that you underwent, in the West, literally a character assassination. There was a real, concerted effort to distort who you were, to distort your ideology and identify you with a political movement--communism--with which you were not identified at all. It was a massive historical distortion.

Manley: It really was. I was promoting democratic processes, private-sector development. At the very time they were doing it, we were drafting laws to guarantee the security of foreign investments in Jamaica. It teaches you what I learned, I suppose, too late in life: the difference in politics between perception and reality, that what people perceive in politics is sometimes far more important than reality.

Q: During the late 1970s, your relationship with the International Monetary Fund got a great deal of play in the United States and in the Western media. Could you briefly recapitulate the basic problems you encountered and your negotiations? I recall that in April 1977, you accepted very harsh terms for addressing the balance-of-payments situation. Then later there was a revesal of your position vis-a-vis the IMF. How would you characterize those murky and complicated negotiations?

Manley: I don't know that I had a reversal of position with the IMF, but I certainly learned that it was a waste of time to attack them too consistently, because sometimes they would just tighten the screws on you. If you have no alternative, that is just silly.

The criticism I still have of the IMF is that, starting with its monetarist ideological position, it confuses two things constantly. On the one hand, it is correct to insist on financial prudence and care that you cannot live indefinitely with budget deficits. No one except an idiot any longer questions that. But the first time it hits you, you go into a sense of shock at what the IMF is demanding that you do in return for the foreign exchange your country needs.

We dealt with them because we had got to a point where we were finding it hard to finance penicillin for hospitals. That can concentrate the mind wondrously, if you can't put penicillin in your hospitals! We had no choice but to deal with them; there is nowhere else to turn.

But they try to compress the process of adjustment into so tight a time frame that your economy can't respond. Very often a compression of a deficit sucks demand out of society. It dries up working capital. Then you say to an economy: You must find a way to grow with less means within one year, or at most two. You are in Catch-22.

What they should do is be iron-hard on fiscal discipline but say, if you will be truly disciplined, take a five-year period to work through your development programs, and we will support you with the resources you need as a reward for your discipline. But they don't do that. So what they have is a series of failures. You are still in a crisis because you can't produce your way out of it, so you go 'round and 'round and 'round.

The great error I made was I grossly overestimated what the state could do, how I could use the state as an economic machine, as a form of shortcut to development. I learned that I was wrong, and I'm never afraid to say so. The other thing I did was to fail to make an adequate connection between perceptional problems arising from the ideology of concern for the masses, for poverty, equality, and foreign policy, and its effect on the mind of the private sector. When working with the private sector, I am almost begging them to invest and produce and I am assuring them that we see them as a critical part of the engine of development. But they looked at the state activity and saw a threat. They looked at the egalitarian ideology and perceived a threat. They looked at the foreign policy and perceived a threat. And so they became part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

Q: It was, in effect, a kind of capital strike.

Manley: It was like a capital strike. And as one accustomed to strikes from the other side, I understood that.

My God, I thought, you really have to rethink this. If you really pull this out for the state, then you might regard the private sector as marginal, but you don't want them to be marginal because they are part of your philosophy of a mixed economy. So the second time around, I changed to a total strategy that would not frighten the private sector and not overly rely on the state for development. And I learned that this all has to do with the future of socialism. I don't think socialism is going to have a future until it commits itself to a reinterpretation of its ideals in action.

Q: What do you mean?

Manley: What is socialism about? Socialism is about equality. Period.

For a long time, we thought the only way to transform power relations in society was state activity, the state intervening in the economy. More and more, the way I found my mind working was to go back to another root of my thinking, which is participatory democracy.

Q: What advice would you give Fidel Castro's government or the Cuban people in the current emergency situation? What role, if any, should the United States play in supporting the process of democracy in Cuba?

Manley: I don't accept that as the heart of the issue. I think the heart of the issue isn't that at all. I think the heart of the issue is that the U.S. embargo is a gross and immoral international act. The embargo is a wrongly conceived and wrongly applied attempt to interfere in the sovereignty of a country. That is where I start.

Having said that, to me the real issue about Cuba is this: Our region, the Caribbean, is embarked upon our critical exercise in survival, the economic integration process. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is going ahead quickly to develop internal investment and trade links. The Central American group is proceeding. The major nations of Latin America, including Colombia and Venezuela, are beginning to cooperate and are working closely with Mexico as NAFTA approaches.

I have been charged by CARICOM to act as a sort of Ambassador Extraodinary. I am shortly to be meeting all the Latin American presidents, having already met every one of the prime ministers of the Caribbean, to see how to put together what we are planning to call the Association of Caribbean States which, for the first time, would create an institutional link across the English, Spanish, French, and Dutch-speaking divide. All for the purpose of creating this wider area of economic cooperation, leading to the capacity to survive in a globalizing economy and with NAFTA.

Cuba is an indispensable component of that process. Cuba has a government that is now actively engaging foreign capital, which it treats with scrupulous respect. The government is encouraging major developments in the tourist industry and in many other areas of the Cuban economy. This is absolutely correct strategically. A lot of Jamaican capital has already moved, with my active encouragement, into Cuba, building an integrated economic process for today and for the future.

What the embargo does is to interrupt this process with this tired, ancient, and scarcely relevant quarrel of the past, to make it difficult for us to do what we need to do.

Now, let me take the democracy and human-rights thing. The election that was organized in Cuba recently is not what we call a traditional election, but it had extraordinary features. One, the selection of candidates was genuinely democratic. Two, more than 200 foreign observers watched that election and were unanimous in the view that there was a genuine secret-ballot process--no intimidation, no fear, no problem. The campaigning was vigorous and open and not dominated by any security forces; the people were free to vote.

Look at the result. The Western observers predicted that hard-pressed, battered, and supposedly unhappy Cuba would vote at least 30 per cent negative. The result was completely different: 88 per cent voted, in secret ballot, in support of the government and 12 per cent voted no. Not one of that 12 per cent has been interfered with. What is more, foreign journalists observed people like Castro himself, without security, were going to areas that were supposed to be hostile. They watched hundreds of people pour out of their homes to hug him, to embrace him, to kiss him, to touch his beard. This myth that the Cuban people are in general oppression has been exploded by what took place.

Also, I feel the human-rights argument is exaggerated. You tell me which regime in the world allows anybody to actually plan to arrange its violent overthrow. Does your Administration allow that? Your Administration doesn't even allow a bunch of religious kooks to maintain arms in a barn!

I don't doubt for one instant that there are tremendous problems in Cuba. Of course, we would all love to see Cuba join the family of nations with traditional democratic forms. But I don't see that adding up to a situation where one really has to act internationally.

In the meantime, our legitimate interest is being made extremely difficult; we are being told if there's an investment in Cuba, we are running afoul of American laws. Let me make an important distinction. Nobody is asking that Cuba be granted most-favored-nation status; that is America's right to withhold. Nobody is asking that Cuba be the beneficiary of one dollar of U.S. aid. Nobody is asking any American Administration to ask capital to move to Cuba.

I am making a totally different, simple, minimal point. To make it a breach of law to deal with a sovereign country in that way is not a correct use of power. It is very damaging to the interest of the rest of us.

Obviously, you don't agree with me.

Q: No. No. I do agree with you, and progressive in the United States basically share your views. We also take the view that the best way to accelerate a democratization process in Cuba is to eradicate the embargo and let the American people have full access to the island of Cuba and vice versa.

Manley: That is the way we should go. In fact, Castro is very much part of our family. He is going to be included in the Association of Caribbean States. He is already actively with us in our Caribbean tourism organization and many other forums. Those are the contacts that are really bringing the relaxation in Cuba that everybody wants, where the action is not being forced upon them but grows naturally out of friendly relations.

Q: I have a short list of people who were politically influential in the Caribbean or in U.S. policy or European policy, in the 1970s and early 1980s. Can you give me your impressions of them? The first we've already talked about. Summarize you relationship with Henry Kissinger.

Manley: He was a person with a very strong view, going back to Machiavelli. He saw the world in the hands of big battalions that moved around like the queen on a chess board, or perhaps the castle. And we are pawns and we must know our place.

This is a highly able, brilliant man, with an enormously agile mind and a strong grasp of the world and a powerful and clear philosophy about how he thought it should work. And what angered him about Cuba is: Here was this arrogant little pawn moving across the Atlantic--not only on a rectangular path, but on a diagonal path. He nearly went crazy. Before he can do anything, this pawn starts to move like a queen. Where is all the order in the world?

Kissinger to me is a very humorous and charming man.

Q: Charming?

Manley: Yes. He has a sense of humor.

Q: What strikes me about Kissinger, consistently, is a radical separation between politics and morality. And what strikes me about your politics is the merger of the two.

Manley: Well, I wish I thought to put it that way myself. Thank you.

Q: What about Zbigniew Brzezinski?

Manley: I only met him briefly, very casually. I know he is the one who discouraged Carter from coming to a mini-summit I held in Jamaica about the new international economic order. Andrew Young tells me Carter might have come, but Brzezinski advised him not to.

I met him afterwards and had a TV discussion with him. And he said a very interesting thing. We were discussing whether there is going to be a place in history for Carter as the first American President who tried to come to terms with pluralism in the world--in a positive way in Africa and so forth. Brzezinski said he thought Carter had one of the finest minds and finest grasps of the world of any of his contemporaries. And that what he lacked was the capacity to communicate what he understood.

Q: What about your relations with Carter?

Manley: We get along pretty well now, because we really don't have Cuba between us any longer.

I find him an extremely engaging personality. There is a quiet modesty about him that is nice. I think he is a genuinely moral man. I was always struck by the fact that my great friend Julius Nyerere went and saw him once during the struggle with Ian Smith's Southern Rhodesia for the freedom of Zimbabwe. At a time when sanctions against Southern Rhodesia were very much the thing, Julius put into Carter's mind the simple understanding that what Zimbabwe was about wasn't power or economics but the right of one person to have a vote. And he saw the coin drop in Carter's mind. And when the U.S. Senate voted to lift sanctions, and Maggie Thatcher was off on her charter accepting a settlement, Carter vetoed it and held to the sanctions, because he never forgot one conversation with Nyerere about one person, one vote.

Q: What about Margaret Thatcher?

Manley: First of all you have to admit Margaret Thatcher is one of the most brilliant people in Twentieth Century politics. A sharp mind. A woman of fierce inner ideological conviction. She really was the philosopher of the radical Right; she cloaked Ronald Reagan in her own intellectual respectability. And so we have to give her that.

Where she parted company with any social ethics I can respect is that she had a total blind spot about workers. Workers were bad people to be kept in their place and kept down. Also, she was very negative about apartheid and not very honest about it. She sometimes played tricks in conferences, once in my presence, pretending that we are coming to accommodation on South Africa, because that will play well in the headlines back home.

Q: Finally, let me ask you about Maurice Bishop. A cottage industry has developed in England and the United States, assessing and reassessing the revolution in Grenada because of the role of the United States in ending it. When did you first meet Maurice Bishop?

Manley: I think it was one time when he came to our party conference in Jamaica; we have progressives from all over. I was very impressed with his intensity and his obvious sincerity. He made a good impression on me and became a friend, a person I liked very much. He had great courage, a great capacity to articulate defiance on the one hand and a concern for egalitarianism and for the masses and for people. I think he was sincere about those things.

And I think he deserved an awful lot better than the people around him. Talk about Marxist purity. They were pure radical, the Bernard Coard faction. The mental level of the executive that surrounded Maurice just beggars description. They were just into games. "Your tendencies are pretty bourgeois," you know these little phrases. Nonsense. The way they isolated him, their preoccupation with these nonsense issues in the last year, was one of the saddest things I ever heard. They were so inflexible.

I myself question whether any of this would have happened if Bishop had just held an election.

Q: If he had held an election any time in the first two years, he'd have won a landslide victory.

Manley: Landslide! And world history would have been different. How far he didn't hold an election because he was himself flirting with notions of democratic centralism or how far it was because they were flirting with that and wouldn't allow him to hold an election, I don't know. If it was Bishop, then I blame him for serious error of judgment.

Q: Does socialism have a future?

Manley: Absolutely! There is no question.

Q: Why are you convinced?

Manley: Because there has to be a place for human aspiration expressed in terms that incorporate everybody in mankind's dream. And the concept that there has to be a politics of activism for the realizing of our dream--that cannot die, will never die.

Socialism will be reborn in a new dynamic which I think will be very participatory, very much rooted in its greatest strength, which is democratic.
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Title Annotation:former prime minister of Jamaica
Author:Marable, Manning
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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