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Jamaican - Cuban Relations

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Jamaican – Cuban Societies and Relations

SOC 300


I have often wondered about the relationship of Jamaica and Cuba. Two island countries so close to one another with different ways of governing, how and why did Jamaica not chose the socialism route, in doing my research I found that Jamaica had come very close to doing just that. How would have Jamaica been affected if they did follow in Cuba’s footsteps? Their economy relies heavily on U.S. tourism. Was that a factor in their choice not to follow Castro’s ways?
The ties that bind Cuba and Jamaica run deep, according to Brian Meeks, Professor of Social and Political Change at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. The interconnections stem from several episodes in their shared history, Meeks said in a recent lecture, as well as from past migrations of people between the two countries. His talk, “Cuba from Due South: An Anglo-Caribbean Perspective,” launched the Center for Latin American Studies’ (CLAS's) new thematic focus on Cuba.
An academic, journalist, novelist, and poet, Meeks commenced the talk with a reading of self-penned poem, “Cuba One,” written during the height of Jamaican political turmoil in 1975. “In 1962 a blue//mountain peak showed//a green horizon//to the unsuspecting eye.//standing spyglassed//staring blindly,//thought I'd see a dull grey line//tinged with red and barbed around//the picture framing//captive portraits//hiding from the sunlight//ideologically bound.”
Building on the themes in his verse, Meeks recounted his experience as a middle-class youngster at the dawn of Jamaican independence, an event that came just a year after the failure of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion by armed Cuban exiles and the United States. At the time, “there was little sympathy in Jamaica for Fidel’s movement – or so it seemed,” Meeks said.
Norman & Michael Manley
Political parties established by the 1940’s were clearly divided by social and class lines with the JLP representing the poor black majority, the PNP representing the middle class “mixed” population and the JDP representing upper class whites
In the early 1960’s Norman Manley began to question the political direction of the PNP as the evidence of inequality grew ever more apparent. Problems with unemployment and poverty contrating with growing affluence of the top 5-10 percent of the population lead him to revisit the earlier direction of socilailism “Throughout the Manley period, the aspects of the government’s foreign policy that created the most problems were its relations with socialist and communist countries, especially Cuba”
The first 2 ½ years the Manley govt introduced programs and policies geared at greater economic self reliance, more equal wealth distribution a, social ownership, greater economic and political independence from western capitalism
Michael Manley of the PNP (People’s National Party), provides important insight into the political climate of Jamaica: during the 1970‘s and early 1980‘s, the nation’s problems, and attempts by the government to rectify them. After Michael Manley replaced his father in 1969 and defeated the JLP (Jamaica Labor Party) there were great changes made to domestic and foreign policy. Like his father Manley saw Cuba and the Cuban model as having much to offer both Jamaica and the world.
Manley and his party were concerned with establishing a framework for society, which would allow Jamaicans to free themselves from the psychology of dependence, the damaging legacy of colonialism, and slavery. (Floyd, 1979)
Michael Manley's People's Socialist National Party (PNP), represented the have-nots fighting to hold ground against Edward Seaga's conservative Jamaican Labor Party (JLP), representing the haves.
One of the "several eras" that deserves some amount of reflection at this time is the decade of the 1970s. This period marked a qualitative deepening of the relations between Jamaica and Cuba at several levels - state, party and personal level. To a large extent the deepening of these relations was significantly influenced by the personal relationship that developed between the two leaders of that decade - Michael Manley and Fidel Castro. They met for the first time in 1973. Fidel had invited Michael and other Caribbean leaders to accompany him on his aircraft to the fourth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to be held in Algiers.
When Manley was sworn in as prime minister of Jamaica in March 1972, he had not yet visited Cuba. Prior to that, persons who visited or attempted to visit Cuba, in the period between the 'Triumph of the Revolution' on January 1, 1959, and the early 1970s, had their passports taken away. Documents, books, periodicals, newspapers which referred to revolution, socialism, communism or Black Power were considered to be subversive literature in Jamaica. Persons found with them were brought before the courts. They faced jail terms if convicted.
One PNP leader, Dudley Thompson, the future minister of foreign affairs, stood out as a frequent visitor to Cuba. His relationship with Fidel and "several" progressive African leaders in the 1960s would serve Manley and the PNP well in the 1970s.
By the time the sixth summit of the NAM was held in Havana in September 1979, Manley described Castro in glowing terms, "... our hemisphere has had a movement and a man, a catalyst and a rock: and the movement is the Cuban Revolution and the man is Fidel Castro."
These were fighting words from the Jamaican leader, who had been directly pressured by US emissaries not to attend the conference in Cuba. These words rallied the 'reactionary forces' to defeat the Michael Manley government one year later on October 30, 1980.
Many believed Michael Manley lead Jamaica at the perfect time, he helped Jamaica get up from out of the shadow of the UK. Just as Jamaicans believed Michael Manley had his time they also believed Edward Seaga’s came at the right time as well. Michael Manley was becoming very unpopular with the U.S. by becoming so close to Fidel Castro, In 1980, Edward Seaga’s was voted in to break those ties and to renew Jamaica’s relationship with the United States. Many Jamaicans believe if they could combine the two leaders they would have a very valuable and able leader, Although, they both were good leaders in their own right and time. Today, U.S. relations with Jamaica are close, and are characterized by significant economic linkages and cooperation on bilateral and transnational issues. Some 10,000 Americans, many dual nationals, live in Jamaica, and nearly 2,000,00 American tourists visited Jamaica in 2010, accounting for over 70% of tourist arrivals.

How would Jamaica have fared if it continued on Michael Manley path? Cuba has gotten along pretty well without U.S. tourism, could Jamaica? You have to consider Cuba’s many exports compared to Jamaica’s dwindling bauxite exports with which the UK receives much of the benefit.


Sun Sentinel. (1992). Michael Manley: End Of An Era (online) (copyright 2010). Caribbean Islands-The Cuban Presence (online)

Young, S. (2001). Relations with the United States, Britain, and Canada (online) Boyne, I. (2010). The enigmatic Seaga speaks (online)

Wynter, M (2011). WHITHER U.S. RELATIONS? (online)

Floyd, Berry. (1979). Jamaica- an Island Microcosm. New York: Saint Peters Press.…...

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