Jamaican Meddling | Sojourners

Jamaican Meddling

While many of us were distressed at the choices, or lack of them, facing us in our presidential election, another election held just four days before our own put at stake very real issues concerning the well-being of the poor and the distribution of the world's power and resources. In the Jamaican parliamentary election, democratic socialist Prime Minister Michael Manley's People's National Party (PNP) was defeated by the conservative Jamaica Labor Party led by Edward Seaga. An analysis of the Jamaican election can tell us more about the U.S. and its role in the world than all the attempts to read the entrails of our own electoral process.

Manley came to power in 1972 as a result of the poor majority's frustration with the growing disparities between poverty and privilege on their island. He tried to address these problems by raising the levy on bauxite (the ore used to make aluminum) taken out of the country, using the money to fund literacy programs, health care, jobs, and land reform measures. He also started to deal with the structural causes of Jamaica's poverty by having the government buy controlling interest in some of the largest mining companies and initiating the International Bauxite Association, modeled on OPEC, to give Jamaica and other producing countries more leverage in setting the prices for their ore.

These programs achieved some remarkable successes. Land reform doubled the percentage of land held by small farmers, the literacy program taught 200,000 adults to read and write, and for the first time, free education was available to all the children of Jamaica.

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