Walk Good Seaga, The National Enigma

Former Prime Minister of Jamaica, The Most Hon. Edward Seaga. Photo credit: The Jamaica Information Service (JIS)

For those suffering from naiveté, bewilderment, hatred and romanticism as they, mourn and or celebrate the death of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga (1980-1989), I am sorry for you. Mi nuh inna dat. I know I am going to pee off the political partisans but this column will not extol the perceived political and cultural virtues of Eddie, no, not all and neither will I falsely vilify him. I will however note up front, his legislative successes and misguided policies and utterances which are many. They are too many to note here, however, much have been recorded and documented for posterity given the fragility of memory in an age of political sensitization.

From this column’s perspective, while I won’t deny it, Seaga was more than a divisive personality, he was much more, and consequently, I must conclude he was an enigma. He was a nation builder and a perceived warmonger. He contributed lasting monuments to the nation but unfortunately, some of his own acerbic words and alleged misdeeds sundered those good intents and remain indelibly etched in the minds and psyche of many Jamaicans.

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He was outspoken, he was polemical, a hard hitter. Even in death, he is viewed paradoxically. In my interpretation of the man, he was more Machiavellian than Prince Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli; you either loved him or hated him with justifiable reasons. However, as a nation, we have benefited from his single-mindedness of purpose; likewise we have lost much as a result of his stubborn dogmatism and trenchancy.

We must acknowledge he was the driving force behind the creation of the National Insurance Scheme; he revamped the trade centres and created Heart Trust. He in conjunction with former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, rewrote a significant section on Jamaica’s human rights act which led to the current Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. Likewise, he has been credited with the establishment of the Jamaica Stock Exchange, the Students’ Loan Bureau, JAMPRO, Ex-Im Bank and the National Development Bank.

Make no mistake, I am not being hypocritical, whilst I enumerated his significant accomplishments, the politician and former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, was no saint and is without a doubt, Jamaica’s most maligned and conflict-ridden political figure both here in Jamaica and the Caribbean and justifiably so.

While some allegations against him might be what the Americans call urban legend, there are enough archived testimonials as to his heavy handedness. Sufficiently so, as to justify why some are maintaining he should have apologized to the nation before his death. Unfortunately, he did not apologize for his real and perceived misdeeds during the politically turbulent 1970s, thus does not deserve to be named a National Hero. For that, he will be consigned to the scrap heap of Jamaica’s history.

Those who lived in that cataclysmic period of alleged Seaga misdeeds have not forgotten, they have not forgiven him, and in his arrogance he did not find it politic or humane to apologize to the country for his noted misdeeds, sayings or some of the inhumane things he is alleged to have done. Thus that period should be contextualized if the ambivalence surrounding Seaga is to be understood.

In 1976, a flare up of untold and hitherto fore unseen violence and bloodletting across Jamaica led to the declaration of a Public State of Emergency in advance of the 1976 General Election. The current opposition and then government won that pivotal election which from whose socio-ideological spawns Jamaica has never recovered. After the SOE, the violence continued unabated and became more overt and an undeclared civil war ensued. Heavily armed thugs held sway in numerous communities across Jamaica.  

In 1978 the Jamaica Defence Force killed a number of JLP aligned young men who were lured to the JDF’s shooting range at Green Bay. The men had gone cross harbor by boats ostensibly meet with and pick up guns from white men, presumably the American C.I.A which was supporting the JLP in the proxy war between the USA and the USSR/Cuba. The heinous murders and barbarity on both sides included the 153 elderly women were killed in the May 20, 1980 Eventide Home fire.

In the Washington Post’s obituary to Seaga on May 29, 2019 they noted, in the 1960s, Mr. Seaga gained fame for bulldozing an infamous slum and building Tivoli Gardens, the island’s first public housing project, which he filled with Labour supporters. The politicized complex became a hotbed of what Jamaica calls “garrison politics,” where vote-rich slums become permanent power bases for one party. The Post went on to say, for some older Jamaicans, Mr. Seaga is forever linked with the state-sponsored political violence of that era, when Jamaica’s two major political factions used gun-toting gangsters to sway voters.

Following the deadly 1978 military ambush of gang members allied to Mr. Seaga’s conservative Labour Party, Jamaica’s leading reggae musicians took to the stage at a Kingston concert to support peace. It didn’t work; things only got bloodier. Clashes between partisans killed nearly 800 people before the 1980 election, a landslide victory for Mr. Seaga. He called it a “declaration against communism in Jamaica.”

Pollster and columnist Mark Wignal wrote the following in 2012, “It is a fact that after the PNP lost the general elections in 1980, criminal gunmen, allied to the PNP who had committed murder at home, sought and were given refuge in Cuba. Why was this so? Quite possibly, because Cuba had seen the gun carnage in Jamaica in 1976 to 1980 as a straight fight between the ‘progressive’ forces (PNP) and what had to been seen as the ‘reactionary’ JLP supported by the CIA.”

Who knows the truth of that allegation? By the way, in my research, I have not come across any evidence suggesting Mr.Seaga refuted that and other allegations.  According to Christopher Charles, a senior lecturer in political psychology at Jamaica’s University of the West Indies, “Mr. Seaga can be blamed for starting garrison politics but not for the genesis of political violence.”

As a child who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, I am acutely aware of the destabilization campaign of Jamaica by the Jimmy Carter and subsequent Ronald Reagan administrations. Mr. Seaga went on to become President Ronald Reagan’s closest Caribbean ally. I remember the hardships engendered by Edward Seaga’s alliance with both administrations, the CIA and most importantly, the IMF. Willingly or not, Seaga was an eager and acquiescent tool in the cold war between the USSR and the USA.

Fact, he went on to prove his bona fide and usefulness to the Americans when he spearheaded the American invasion of our CARICOM neighbor/partner Grenada and piloted their marijuana eradication program in the Caribbean and South America. Quite a number of small ganja farmers suffered from that misguided act, (Edward Seaga, Marijuana not a Jamaican staple crop Washington Post, February 1985).

To this date, questions continue to linger, as many small farmers affected then, continues to wonder why. U.S. Helps Pay for Crop Eradication : Village Economies Hurt in Jamaica’s War on ‘Ganja’ WILLIAM R. LONG Los Angeles Times Staff Writer August 18, 1986.Was he bullied because of his shadowy relationship with the Israeli drug dealers Eli and Ezra Tissona who operated from Spring Plains Farm in Clarendon?

Those travesties as perceived by this author aside, this was a man with a penchant for saying and  threatening awful things such as, “Locking down Jamaica tighter than a sardine can that not even rain can fall…” and “Blood for blood, fire for fire…”. Let’s not forget his war cry; “I will mark my X in PNP blood” which was the most chilling of his threatening utterances. Those words did not endear him to the majority of the people excepting those with a particular partisan bent. I do wonder for whom his 1993 black scandal bag utterance was meant for. If I had to bet, I’d bet that even die hard JLP supporters cringed and winced in fear at some of Seaga’s public and private diatribe.

Even as I disapprove of some of the current bitterness directed toward Seaga on social media, I dare say, the aforementioned quotes and other vitriolic utterances are responsible for the negative perception many people have of him. It’s not that he was not loved by a significant amount of Jamaicans and JLP adherents, he was. He was idolized by many and hated and feared by numerous others of a different political hue. Shucks, even nonpartisans feared him. Thus, even in death there will be no middle ground as he continues to be viewed as a highly trenchant and divisive figure. Walk good Blinks, only you and your maker knows the truth of you the national enigma. mocobarrett@yahoo.com.

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