Between Self-Determination and Dependency: Jamaica's Foreign Relations 1972-1989

By Kopka, Matthew | Caribbean Quarterly, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Between Self-Determination and Dependency: Jamaica's Foreign Relations 1972-1989


Kopka, Matthew, Caribbean Quarterly


Between Self-Détermination and Dependency: Jamaica's Foreign Relations 1972-1989. Holger Henke. The University of the West Indies Press, 2000,206 pp.

There is among Jamaicans a widespread consciousness of the substance and meanings of their history, more comprehensive than that possessed by my fellow US citizens about their own. But to what degree does this consciousness extend to recent Jamaican history, in which-after the briefest of feints toward socialism in the 1970s-Jamaicans were made hostage to a debt, and an international system of unequal trade, whose present conditions cannot be overcome? The true character of Jamaica's devilment, after all, lies in the detailed workings of that system.

The distant past, of course, can be rendered so vague and glorious as to threaten no one. To the degree that recent history, on the other hand, is examined and contested there is hope Jamaicans may begin to discern the true nature of their "dependency" (even if the first world is far more dependent on Jamaica's wealth and resources than the reverse). While the details of this process remain the province of the privileged-of policy elites or pundits of both of the country's major political parties, now equally invested in maintenance of the status quo-there is only the daily struggle for survival for Jamaica's poor people, no "usable past" at all.

That contest does persist, if in attenuated form, in discussion of the 1970s, when the Jamaican people were most ideologically divided. Increasingly, however, the period is served up as a kind of cautionary fable, told in the way that fairy tales are often used to frighten and discipline children. High on the list of these pseudo-narratives, introduced whenever the need for real economic change is broached, is the story that between 1972 and 1980 the Michael Manley government, in an access of ideological fervor, drove Jamaica quite close to civil war.

One contribution of the book under review lies in its portrayal of how this particular tale-this ur-narrative of modern Jamaican development-has been shaped, and how limited the terms of Jamaican political discourse have become. From the end of the first Michael Manley government, Holger Henke argues, a new "discursive dependency" began to obtain in Jamaica (7). Growing control over the terms of national debate was imposed by the Edward Seaga government that replaced Manley's, by a cooperative press and emboldened bourgeoisie. The change took place under the watchful gaze and increasing influence of the US, whose Cold War stance toward the Caribbean had been renewed, in part, through the connivance of the Jamaican ruling class.

Henke seeks to determine what real autonomy Jamaica's elected leaders had in the historic circumstance, both under Manley and Seaga. And-another signal contribution of the book-he does it by setting forth the political and economic context in which those decisions were taken (or-the question of agency being paramount-under which those actors were constrained to take them).

As a US citizen who became absorbed in the drama of the Michael Manley government as it first unfolded, I often find myself returning in wonder to that pivotal moment, that aporia-as it i& tempting to call it-in which Manley, on the apparent verge of a wholesale reorientation of Jamaica's economy, instead embraced the International Monetary Fund. If one were writing a mainstream historical account of the period, it might only remain to decide whether, in the conjuncture, Manley made a tragic decision from which Jamaica still suffers or (instead) underwent some saving moment of clarity; was defeated by worsening political and economic circumstances; or bravely faced an emerging global reality.

The moment becomes less enigmatic when one learns from Henke that even as Manley was giving his famous 1977 "We are not for sale; we know where we're going" speech to Kingston supporters-proclaiming Jamaicans' sovereignty over their own affairs-the decision had been taken. …

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