Michael Manley came to office as Jamaica’s prime minister a bare decade after the country’s 1962 independence from Mother England. “Discovered” by Columbus in 1494, ruled by Spain until 1655 and subsequently by England the next three hundred and seven years, Jamaica after great struggle and hardship had finally broken free from its European overlords. The fervor of the people’s hopes for a better life can scarcely be imagined.
Fulfilling this hope became Manley’s mission in life. Indeed, the central slogan of his election campaign was “better must come.” His fiery oratory his dedication he pushed programs in literacy, healthcare, housing, women’s rights and more, and significant progress was made. But a brick wall was soon hit.
The world oil crisis of 1973 had crippling effects. Worse, and more insidious, the economic masters of the universe didn’t appreciate upstart Jamaica raising its bauxite levy or hiking the minimum wage; nor did the political big wheels approve of Manley’s democratic socialism and buddying up to Fidel Castro.
Manley and Jamaica had run smack into a world system unkind to latecomers and supremely intolerant of any rippling of the waters. It didn’t help that Manley’s political adversary and “our man in Kingston,” Edward Seaga, besmirched him at every step as a communist and inept fool, doing much to stir up a “tribal war” between street gangs allied to Manley’s People’s National Party (PNP) and Seaga’s Jamaica Labor Party (JLP). Behind the scenes the CIA played an overarching role in destabilizing the Manley government.
Here was Jamaica, with its bananas and bauxite, trying to survive in the world’s marketplace with industrialized Western economies established over centuries and Asian Tigers roaring after World War II. Washington planned it all out: Jamaica and the so-called “developing countries” would supply needed raw materials and purchase First World manufacturing goods; if a few Jamaicans became rich and the vast majority stayed dirt poor, so much the better—the system could continue ad infinitum. Poverty and crime became the plight of the masses; even reggae icon Bob Marley and his wife Rita got shot in a gangland-style assassination attempt at Marley’s Kingston home.
The crown jewel of Manley's drive for better was the New International Economic Order (NIEO). To simplify, the NIEO called for the US and other rich nations to provide capital and technology to the poor ones, building their economy, promoting stability and strengthening their buying power as markets for American goods—a win-win situation, both sides benefiting over the long term. Manley was not the NIEO's creator but became perhaps its greatest champion.
Even with Jimmy Carter assuming the presidency in 1977, the project failed to win hearts and minds and was relegated to history's back pages. Jamaica and the developing world would have to flounder within the narrow boundaries of the neocolonial capitalist system. But there is nothing "natural" about this power arrangement.,
Noam Chomsky talks about the concerted effort by the corporate establishment to drive the humanity out of people—the genuine caring and sense of communal responsibility for others struggling with life’s hardships—and turn them into self-interested consumers above all else. As if excess accumulation, cutthroat competition, and bloody warfare were the most basic factors in human evolution, harkening back to Robert Ardrey’s long-since rejected hypothesis of human ascension from “killer apes.” As if a mother’s love, the family unit, clan unity, grouping into larger functioning societies, and evolutionary history rife with examples of prosocial behavior meant nothing. Yes, there have been wars but peaceful and longstanding trading relationships as well.
No, the human race faces an imminent reckoning in global warming (not to mention nuclear warfare and, increasingly, communicable diseases). If the infrastructure collapses, the ice sheets melt, drought and starvation spread everywhere and virus-laden beasts run rampant, those driven by consumption and wealth will not likely find a secret Shangri-La to live out their post-apocalyptic fantasies.
An immediate worldwide cooperative effort is required, all hands on deck, no screw unturned and all options considered. But cooperative action requires trust. Without the American Goliath owning up to its long history of scheming and brutality, which people in which savaged nations would ever trust Washington? Can a unified effort of such gravity be maintained with fear of getting stabbed in the back shaking its foundations at every step?
Can we save a habitable world in which to live, work, love and raise our children? If we follow Manley’s lead with the NIEO—end the Machiavellian manipulation and scheming, stop the immoral greed and power trips, cool out the false and arrogant “exceptionalism,” extend a hand of neighborly assistance to all nations, in particular the poor and struggling—we may do all this and more: We can regain our soul.
Evil empires don’t have souls. Bring humanity back in to fashion. Establish the new international order Michael Manley sought so desperately to achieve.