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The Impact Of Neoliberalism on Jamaica

      The economic history of Jamaica is comprised of a contradictory nature which has always undergone a variety of shifts and changes. From its independence in 1962 the island nation has attempted to realize her independence by breaking with what was perceived as her natural economic order ie: specialization in primary products. Under the governance of Norman Manley, Jamaica emerged from her old world status as a colonial possession of Britain, to establish herself as an independent self-sufficient government capable of total autonomy. The 60's to 70's was primarily dominated by the search for social unity and identity as Jamaica attempted a social experiment of of national rebuilding.

The 1970's

     The successor to Norman Manley in the 60's was his son Michael Manley who envisioned Jamaica to be a sovereign power which would rebuff the capitalist economies which existed at the time. Jamaica in the 1960's as stated by Michael Kaufman “was left with a economy more diversified and larger but also skewed between a few high wage sectors, a large number of low wage industries...and tens of thousands of people without wok altogether.” (Kaufman1985) The primary engine of the Jamaican economy was her bauxite production however this industry required few laborers and generally employment could only be found in the production of aluminum from bauxite. In such a climate of extremely low job growth and large social inequalities in which most businesses where controlled by foreign companies or rich land owners, it was only natural that the charismatic Manley appealed to the less fortunate. Michael Manley referred to capitalism as “the orgy of consumption of imported goods” (Manley 1976) and he proposed a system of democratic socialism to lessen the gap between the various levels of Jamaican society and her history of specialization in primary product exports. The economy of the 50's and 60's had been primarily dominated by raw material exports and the service industry in this case tourism, thus Jamaica was dependent on very basic economic linkages which increased the demand for Jamaica to import manufacturing machinery and other needed resources like fuel. At the heart of the democratic socialist movement of Manley were three essential points which today ironically can be viewed through the analysis of NIC countries like Taiwan and South Korea.

    1: Sovereignty over the national economy specifically:
  • a) Out natural resources
  • b) Our banking and other financial institutions and system
  • c) Foreign trading relations
    2: Social ownership and/or control of the means of production, distribution and exchange
    3: Full development of the productive forces (both public and private) specifically:
  • a) utilising our land to its fully capacity
  • b) Strengthening our industry - making it more efficient and self reliant
  • c) Optimising the use of our natural resources
  • d) Fully developing the capacity of all our people with the specific intention of eradicating unemployment
  • e) Harnessing our scientific skills and creativity in the adaptation of imported technology and in the development of our economic programmes. (PO: 22 – 4)

      In order to achieve these points the government began the social process of restructuring the entire social and economic systems of Jamaica. The government was now responsible for the overall running of the economy through a combination of direct and joint ownership of businesses and also offered private investors various incentives to stimulate growth. “Rising unemployment rates were kept in check by substantial job creation programmes like “The Special Employment Programme” or (IMPACT) programme”(Kaufman 1985). These massive job creation programmes along with various literacy programs allowed for 70,000 adults to receive basic rudimentary education and also helped to mobilize the peasantry through better access to basic education. In 1975 “The National Minimum Wage and the Equal Pay Law” was initiated to guarantee that workers received a fair days wage, the most significant part of the programme being the guarantee of real wages for women though their wages still languished behind men since they were mostly confined to service industry professions. Accompanying these programs was a massive land reform program aptly titled “Operation GROW (Growing and Reaping Our Wealth)” and also the encouragement of squatting and land captures which today occurs in Brazil though the efforts of Movimento Sem Terra(Green 2003). The land reform programs by the election of 1976 had distributed 45,000 acres of land to 23,000 peasants to provide them with a means of self reliance. (JA Ministry of Agriculture 1976).

1976: All Quiet On the Western Front

      As with social experiments during this time period the eventuality of global intervention was unavoidable. The cold war between the USA and the USSR had continued the battles between various ideologies over what eventually would be the future shape of the world. In such a heated climate, the Jamaican government being under the control of a leftist leader, was looked down upon by the US Imperial machine, thus in 1975 when Jamaica defended Cuba in her support of Angola, who in 1975 had over 50,000 Cuban troops which had arrived to help the communist movement. Angola became independent in 1975. The Portuguese transferred power to the Marxist-inspired MPLA, which received support from the Soviet Union. Shortly after, a civil war broke out between MPLA, UNITA and FNLA. In 1976, the FNLA was defeated by a combination of MPLA and Cuban troops, leaving the Marxist MPLA and the western-backed UNITA to fight for power(Angola Wikipedia). In such a climate Jamaica's defense of Cuba awakened the sleeping dragon which had only exerted indirect influence over the small island through Jamaica's relationship with England. According to Kaufman “the first volley was fired by James Reston in the New York Times...and The Washington Post by Benjamin Welles charging that a number of Jamaican security personnel and soldiers were training in Cuba”(Kaufman 1985). &ldquoJamaica. In the late 1970s, Jamaica became a special target for Cuba. Fidel Castro and other Cuban officials developed close relations with important members of the People's National Party, which governed Jamaica from 1973 until 1980. Cuban security personnel trained Jamaican security officers in Cuba and Jamaica, including members of the security force of the office of the Prime Minister. Cuba also trained about 1,400 Jamaican youths in Cuba as construction workers through a "brigadista" program. Political indoctrination in Cuba formed part of this group's curriculum. A considerable number of these Jamaican youths received military training while in Cuba, including instruction in revolutionary tactics and use of arms.” (Special Report No. 90, Cuba's Renewed Support of Violence in Latin America, December 14, 1981, United States Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.) Obviously the effect of such sensationalism was quite detrimental to the tourism sector which began to collapse as Jamaica was ostracized by the United States. In keeping with US policy at the time the CIA began to intervene in the internal social order of Jamaica pumping some 10 million dollars into various counter government forces. (Kaufman 1985) In an attempt to dissuade Manley, Kissinger offered to Jamaica a $100 million trade credit which was refused. In order to destabilize the government the influx of US capital was mainly directed towards the opposition JLP party lead by Edward Seaga who thanks to US dollars was able to take out full page adds in the Jamaican Gleaner with headlines for example: “THE SOCIALISTS HAVE FAILED RURAL JAMAICA”(The Gleaner 1976) and various other inflammatory ads. The rich upper class saw themselves ruled by a leftist government and thus sided with the US while the workers and peasantry sided with Manley. In 1975, 75 % of the people had supported by Manley by 1976 thanks to riots, defamatory campaigns, economic isolation and various external pressures Manley's support stood at 57%.(JA Govt). Manley in his 1976 reelection speech stressed unity:

”For the first time, the people are not suffering, but struggling..We are struggling to build something new and we may suffer while we struggle, but the suffering that you endure when you struggle is worth enduring because you know what you are fighting to build and because you know where you are going..When you suffer for a cause it is not suffering, it is struggle.“ (Manley September 1976 Jamaica National Stadium)

     At the end of the elections the PNP emerged victorious however the economy had stagnated to such an extent that Manley began negotiations with the IMF. “A IMF loan would be granted on the condition of a large devaluation, a wage freeze and steps towards a balanced budget”(IMF 1976). In order to counter the IMF proposals Manley began to use the power of the state to prepare for the massive onslaught that being ostracized would have on the economy. The measures he proposed though quite radical were not able to combat the power of the US and IMF which stalled the Standby Agreement of 1977 in order to punish the weakened government for not complying with its demands. Eventhough crippled the IMF refused to honor its Standby Agreement until January of 1978 when Jamaica had “only enough foreign reserves which were equal to three weeks of imports“(Kaufman 1085). Thus Jamaica humbly accepted the IMF loans and in his New Years address of 1979 Manley stated “there are people in Jamaica who really believe that the IMF is the cause of our present difficulties, this is not so...is bound to be a tough year, calling for struggle sacrifice, for unity for discipline and above all patriotism”(Manley 1979). The IMF conditionalities ripped the very heart of the country to pieces causing deterioration in “social services...the flight of doctors and nurses...supply shortages,” capital flight and the crippling of a once robust economy(Kaufman 1985). The fund demanded a $150 million dollar cut in the state's current deficit however Manley refused to trim this amount and thus proposed a $100 million dollar cut or roughly 11,000 public sector jobs. In light of the impacts of the conditionalites on the country Manley decided to default on the IMF loans and announced early elections for October 1979. Manley would however go on to loose these elections winning 41% of the votes mainly from the workers, peasants and poor while the JLP leader Edward Seaga won 58.8% of the vote. Thus ended the PNP experiment in democratic socialism, Manley for his part would be tainted by these events and eventually step down as head of the PNP in 1992 when the party adopted the neoliberal mantra.

The Transitional Period

      The period from 1979 until 1992 can be characterized as the golden period in Jamaican economic history. The JLP leader through his support of capitalism was allowed to do as he wished without US intervention. It was during this period that Jamaica was ranked third in the list of countries receiving US aid and thus Jamaica continued its fiscal austerity measures as she continued to pay dutifully her IMF loans. Without the external pressures Jamaica's Real GDP growth rate went from -0.9% in 1984 to 1.5% in 1992 and peaked at 6.0% in 1987. (Bank Of Jamaica)

The New PNP

      Fueled by the successes of the golden age as symbolized by conservative restructuring of the Jamaican economy, the neoliberal model was seen as savior because of its impressive ability to stablize the economy. With such success the US was seen by most Jamaicans as a utopia, a place where everyone was rich and powerful as was depicted in various 80's television programs. Roughly 323,625 Jamaicans emigrated from Jamaica during the period of 1981-1996 with 19,089 immigrants entering the US alone as neoliberal reforms were in full effect. (US INS Data) A survey conducted in 2001 found that 2/3 of Jamaicans would leave their country if given a chance and no wonder because since 1977 only 5% of total monies borrowed has stayed inside the country. In 2001 external deficit according the the US CIA was estimated at 5.2 billion dollars with 1.6 billion in exports and 3.1 billion in imports. GDP composition was 7% agriculture, 28% industry, and 65% services a marked difference in comparison to 1998 figures which were 21% agriculture 19% industry and 60% services. (CIA.gov) A more depressing was the 2000 budget for the government: revenues were at 2.23 billion while expenditures was 2.56 billion.(Govt of Jamaica: Ministry of Finance). If Jamaica were a US company she would have been liquidated immediately eventhough 60% of the budget had been ere marked for debt servicing. In 1995 Jamaica accepted a $102.7 million dollar loan from the World Bank and as had been the case in the past defaulted though the debt austerity measures continued. As is the case with such debt the people are often left to pay the price. The new PNP came to power with the dogma of right is might, she brought with her the rejection of socialism and the embrace of the American image,thus capitalism has perverted not only the economic markets but the Jamaican society as well.

1992 to Present

      The difference between a Jamaican of today and those of the past is as simple as the style of dress and the drastic change of music which has marginalized reggae the national music of Jamaica. Gone are the Bob Marley's, the Peter Tosh and the Mutabaruka of the 1970's to mid 80's. These groups having been replaced by rappers like 50 Cent or dancehall singers like Lady Saw. Indeed Jamaica has transformed itself into a mini America with its ghettos no longer referred to as ghettos or in patois “russia” but now called hoods to better situate its identity in the American vernacular. Indeed little America has sprung up across the landscape as multinationals and the tourist industry have subverted and now dominate the landscape with the ubiquitously bright colored houses and shops and the latest modern fast food conveniences. Take for example the lyrics from a Lady Saw song: “Mi have mi light bill fi pay man haffi mind mi, Man haffi buy mi everything before dem wine mi...Me waan go a Bahamas pon Sunday, An come back to mi husband Monday, But'tis a fool mi a look fi nyam out him bank book” Indeed materialism is now in full force as the struggle of the Buffalo Soldiers sang by Bob Marley has no redeeming value to a society which is now addicted to the latest American fads. The perversion of Jamaican society is at such a high level that the very government has now adopted the American governmental and political structure as Jamaica rejects her Parliamentary roots. Primary school education once accessible to alls via government subsidies have now become too expensive as children must now work to supplement the family income. In such a climate crime has taken over as the city of Kingston alone is ranked 109/100,000 countries in terms of violence, such a situation was more than evident in the fuel riots of 98 and 99.(UN). The low unemployment combined with the abolishment of basic health care has hit the Jamaican people extremely hard these factors coupled with the floating of the dollar in 1993 devalued savings and job security.(ECLAC) In such a climate women have now become the bread winners of the household with 48% of Jamaicans families being controlled by the matriarch, one of the highest in the world even when compared to Brazil which has a rate of 20%(ECLAC). As Gillian Lindsay Nanton The UNDP representative for Jamaica has stated “a shift to these sectors will require a labor force that is more skilled and knowledge oriented..capable of adopting these new technologies...a massive basic education programme of the Jamaican labor force is needed for the long term economic development of the country”(UNDP). As was depicted in the documentary “Life and Debt,” the Jamaican dairy, meat and all economically linked sectors were flooded by cheap foreign imports. From 1987 to 1992 the milk industry grew to 30 million liters producing 25% of Jamaica's milk however in 1993 one year after trade liberalization the industry was sized down by 60% as local producers could not compete with US, EU, Australian and New Zealand beef, powdered milk and chicken parts.(Ja Govt). Until 2003 powdered milk generally referred to as “lasco” was the stable of the Jamaican diet as regular packaged milk was very scarce and only lasted 2 days before it would spoil. The reemergence of the milk and agrarian sector in recent years has been due to the mad cow epidemic which struck the USA however Jamaica still relies heavily on Australia to supply her massive import foodstuffs. The national dish of Achee & Saltfish (bacalao) has now been replace by hamburgers and KFC fried chicken. FDI investments in Jamaica lasted until 1997 when NAFTA was in fullforce, the once booming maquilladora plants which employed 10,000 flexibilized workers in the free trade zones have left for better pickings elsewhere, the banana industry collapsed at the end of the banana wars with the WTO ruling in favor of Chiquita, thus most of the bananas in the tropical island of Jamaica are imported from other flexibilized Latinamerican countries. (UNDP, JA Govt).


      The World Bank article Jamaica: Increased Competitiveness and Fiscal Sustainability Essential to Sustained Growth And Poverty Reduction, states that Jamaica needs to improve its international competitiveness and while also tackling urgent short term economic and social needs...the report recommends that tackling this debt burden and a sustainable fiscal solution be a top priority of the government.(World Bank 2004). Yet how can a country that has been so marginalized by external forces ever combat such a drastic economic situation and her adoration of American culture. Perhaps Bob Marley put it best in “Redemption Song”:

Old pirates, yes, they rob I;
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the 'and of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation
Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom? -
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look? Ooh!
Some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fullfil the book.

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom? -
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.

/Guitar break/

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our mind.
Wo! Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them-a can-a stop-a the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
Yes, some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fullfil the book.
Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom? -
'Cause all I ever had:
Redemption songs -
All I ever had:
Redemption songs:
These songs of freedom,
Songs of freedom.


Kaufman, Michael. Jamaica Under Manley: Dilemas of Socialism and Democracy, Lawrence Hill & Co.. Connecticut 1985.

Kaufam and Rizzini: Globalization and Children: Exploring Potentials for Enchancing Opportunities in the Lives of Children and Youth. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York. 2002

Green, Duncan: Silent Revolution: The Rise and Crisis of Market Economics in Latin America. Monthly Review Press 2003

Thomas Deborah: Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica. Duke University Press 2004

Prime Minister's Office 1976 “The Special Employment Programme” Minstry Paper No. 38

Redemption Song Bob Marley

Special Report No. 90, Cuba's Renewed Support of Violence in Latin America, December 14, 1981, United States Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, Washington, D.C. Presented to the Subcommittee by the Department of State, December 11, 1981.

Angola Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angola

Jamaica Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaica

Jamaica Information Service: http://www.jis.gov.jm/

The UNDP, UN, ECLAC aka Cepal

The WorldBank, WTO, IMF

The Jamaica Gleaner, The Jamaica Observer

The USA CIA (cia.gov), INS

Zmag www.zmag.org

The Jamaica Sustainable Development Network Ltd http://www.jsdnp.org.jm/

Film: Life + Debt a filmy by Stephanie Black http://www.lifeanddebt.org/