EDITOR, The Tribune
The Free National Movement administration of Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has extended condolences to the Jamaican people on the passing of their former Prime Minister and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Leader Edward Seaga, who succumbed to cancer in a Miami based hospital on May 28. Seaga was a contemporary of the late Sir Lynden O Pindling, having participated in the much heralded Commonwealth Heads of Government in October 1985 in Nassau. The one notable achievement of that particular meeting was the drafting of the Nassau Accord, which called on the white South African government to end apartheid and to release Nelson Mandela from prison. Whereas Pindling served in the House of Assembly for 41 years - the longest tenure in Bahamian history, Seaga served for 43 consecutive years as West Kingston MP between 1962 -- 2005; and 31 years as JLP leader between 1974-2005. And whereas Pindling served as prime minister for a quarter of a century, Seaga served as leader of Jamaica for only nine years between 1980-1989. Pindling achieved his ultimate political goal of becoming premier on January 10, 1967 with the assistance of Sir Randol Fawkes and Sir Alvin Braynen in amalgamating with the Progressive Liberal Party – a move which ended the stalemate with the ruling United Bahamian Party. It was a slim margin of victory. Conversely, Seaga’s JLP’s victory in October 1980 was massive. The JLP won 51 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives, which ended the late People’s National Party (PNP) Leader Michael Manley’s eight year reign as prime minister. He would become prime minister again in 1989.
Both Pindling and Seaga were born in 1930 -- with the latter out living the former by 19 years. Seaga attended the funeral service of his fallen political counterpart on September 4, 2000 at the Church of God of Prophecy on East Street. He spent the final 16 years of his tenure as JLP leader staving off attempted coups by JLP mucka mucks. Like Pindling, Seaga also played a pivotal role in helping to draft his country’s constitution prior to Jamaica’s August 6, 1962 independence from England. Pindling was responsible for the start up of National Insurance, the College of the Bahamas, ZNS TV13; the creation of the Bahamian middle-class and the construction of many schools throughout The Bahamas at a period when educational opportunities for Bahamians were severely limited. Seaga is credited with the formation of the Jamaica Stock Exchange, the Students’ Loan Bureau, the National Development Bank, Ex-Im Bank, JAMPRO, Urban Development Corporation, HEART-Trust/NTA, Jamaican Festival and National Heritage Week. Seaga played a significant part in United Negro Improvement Association founder Marcus Garvey becoming the first national hero of Jamaica. Considered a political protege of JLP founder Alexander Bustamante, Seaga spearheaded major developments at Montego Bay and Ocho Rios -- two popular tourist spots on the Caribbean island. He also was responsible for the construction of the National Arena in Kingston. Seaga appeared in the 2018 Netflix documentary on the attempted assassination of reggae icon Bob Marley on December 3, 1976, titled Who Shot the Sheriff? As to be expected, he denied that the JLP had anything to do with the attempted hit on Marley at his Tuff Gong Studio at his 56 Hope Road palatial mansion in suburban Kingston, near the prime minister’s residence. The mansion was previously owned by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell -- who played a pivotal role in introducing Bob Marley and the Wailers to an international audience. Marley and the Wailers were slated to perform at the highly publicised Smile Jamaica concert on December 5, with the aim of promoting national unity at a time when the political violence between JLP and PNP gang rivals had submerged Kingston and the remaining 13 parishes in blood. In the lead up to the hotly contested 1980 general election, over 800 Jamaicans were murdered by gangs rumoured to have been affiliated with the two main political organisations. This was just two years before both Manley and Seaga were on stage at the One Love concert with Marley holding hands as a gesture of truce. Both men looked uncomfortable. Tensions were obviously high. Seaga missed a grand opportunity to foster peace in an otherwise hostile environment.
Historians have long held the view that the dangerous gangs in Jamaica were supplied with guns by powerful political operatives and were routinely given impunity from prosecution because of their political connections. Marley’s rumoured association with the Manley led PNP administration had enraged JLP operatives, who misinterpreted the Smile Jamaica concert as a political event aimed at assisting Manley in being re-elected. Thankfully, Manley and his wife, Rita, and manager Don Taylor, all miraculously survived the attempted assassination. Making matters worse for the Wailers was the announcement of the date of the general election to be held on December 15 -- a mere ten days after the concert, which once again gave the impression to Seaga and the JLP that Marley and the Wailers were in collusion with the PNP. I admire Seaga for his pro-capitalist and pro-western civilisation policies, as opposed to the democratic socialist platform of Manley, which included becoming a political bedfellow with Fidel Castro at a time President Ronald Reagan and the Americans were engaged in the Cold War with communist Russia. Manley’s socialist platform brought Jamaica to its knees. Having said that, Seaga, I believe, could’ve used his massive political influence in preventing much of the wanton violence and bloodletting in Jamaica during the 1970s. To get an idea of just how dangerous Jamaica is, some 1,287 murders were committed on that island in 2018, while 1,641 were committed in 2017. The politicians handed out guns like candy during the 1970s. Unfortunately, the gangs have forgotten to turn them in once the JLP achieved its objective in 1980. While we will laud the many contributions of Seaga to Jamaica and the wider Caribbean community during his 43 years in frontline politics, his party’s alleged role in fostering political violence during the turbulent 1970s should not be swept under the rug by our Bahamian political leaders.
June 2, 2019