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I am a special target of Mr Seaga. Having got me out of the JBC in 1962 he was determined

to shut me up as Editor of Public Opinion. Between himself and Victor Grant,

the Attorney General, there was a sedulous search for ways to silence me.



 Book by John Maxwell

How to Make Our Own News: A Primer for Environmentalist and Journalists

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Mr Seaga Departs

By John Maxwell


On his departure from Parliament after a record 46 years, 43 of them as MP for West Kingston, Mr Edward Seaga expressed regret that the country  remained divided between the haves and the have nots and that there had been  few if any gains in the areas of governance, justice, education and the economy. He thought both parties should share the blame for this lack of progress.

Over the last 46 years it has been Mr Seaga’s thesis  that the People’s National Party has been the principal  obstacle to progress in this country. To admit now  that the JLP may have to share some of the blame is a monumental concession.

I have known Mr Seaga since 1958. We met at one of the  weekly soirees then given by Vicky Noonan, the artist wife of US Consul for Public Affairs, Tom Noonan. A few months later, after the Federal Elections we had a public brawl  in print, over the meaning of the results, with me, perhaps unkindly, terming Seaga’s analysis “Pseudo-Scientific Balderdash”.

I have never been forgiven for that. Mr Seaga values his enemies and I am, for him, perhaps  the oldest and most pestilential.

We collided again in 1962, shortly before Independence, when with Sir Alexander Bustamante in tow, he demanded that the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation fire me because of a commentary I in which belittled the British government’s  farewell gifts to Jamaica: after 300 years “enough cash to run the government for 11 days and Up Park Camp, which they cannot take away” Bustamante and Seaga intimidated Mr L.A Henriques, chairman of the JBC  Board, who agreed that I should be dismissed. The rest of the Board, including Douglas Fletcher, O.T.Fairclough and Henry Fowler, decided that the Chairman was wrong and had exceeded his authority anyway,  and I was reinstated. The Chairman resigned.

A few weeks later Mr Seaga as Minister responsible for Broadcasting, dismissed the entire Board. The new Board in turn, dismissed me and began the process of destroying Norman Manley’s dream of a radio station which would be the prime exemplar of the nascent Jamaican culture. (The process was completed by Mr Patterson in 1997.)

On Independence Day 1962,  Mr Seaga did something which I cannot forget or forgive. When he saw Norman Manley, Leader of the Opposition, Father of Jamaican Independence in the “Royal Box” at the Stadium he asked the security people:   “What is that man doing here?”

Sir Alexander Bustamante quickly put him in his place and invited Manley to sit with him.

That was the start of a relentless polarisation of Jamaican politics which subverted community solidarity and the national consensus which had been building since 1938 and accelerated in Norman Manley's government of 1955 to 1962. It is this polarisation – or tribalisation – which  in my opinion, is responsible for most of the lack of progress Mr Seaga  now laments.

Seaga’s special wrath was reserved for Norman Manley. At the re-interment of Marcus Garvey’s body on the first National Heroes’ Day, Seaga received some scattered boos from a section of the crowd. His reaction was to threaten Manley and the PNP with   “Blood for Blood and Fire for Fire”  a quote from Paul Bogle from which he carefully omitted Bogle’s last line  – “skin for skin and colour for colour”. Seaga threatened to bring his people from West Kingston  to chase the PNP from the streets. It  led me to write an editorial in Public Opinion entitled “Sieg Heil, Heil Seaga”.

In 1986 when he was Prime Minister, Seaga  threatened to resign to allow the PNP to win the elections and then to chase them off the streets.

Seaga is famous for his sulks. In 1971 when he was Minister of Finance, he  sequestered himself , incommunicado, in Vale Royal because of aa dispute between himself and fellow ministers Robert Lightbourne and Wilton Hill. When the JLP lost the 1972 general elections and the 1974 municipal elections,  he complained that it was because his advice had not been taken. After the 1974 debacle he announced he would be  taking leave to write some books. The sabbatical did not last long. His obvious lack of support for Shearer quickly led to the demand from the monied backers of the party that Shearer should resign.

At a meeting at Victoria Park (now St. William Grant Park) Seaga had a Gethsamane moment : in a dramatic performance he pleaded before heaven that “this  Cup could should pass from me”.  Despite this he proceeded shortly to make it impossible for his rivals to remain within the JLP, disposing of Wilton Hill, Robert Lightbourne, Ronald Irvine, Ian Ramsay and Frank Phipps, to name only some of the most prominent before the Gang of Five and other divertissements.  

In the 1976 elections Seaga caused an international  scandal by disclosing the Government’s secret negotiating position with the IMF. He quoted documents  the government said had been taken from the Cabinet room by a Minister  and leaked to Seaga by a Permanent Secretary. In 1979, Trinidad’s Prime Minister,  Eric Williams,  berated him for his lack of patriotism in urging the IMF and World Bank  not to lend Jamaica money.

Seaga had denounced  the PNP as Communist and prophesied dire consequences for Jamaica if they were to win the 1980 general elections.  Unfortunately for him, he  was soon compelled to go before his American backers, the Rockefeller Committee, to confess that there were no Communists in the PNP.

His American backers fell away, as chronicled in Timothy Ashby’s  1989 Heritage Foundation pamphlet in which Ashby asked whether Seaga was a 'statesman or a political conman'. Ashby raised other questions, including  about how USAID money had been spent in Jamaica. Ashby had been the Heritage Foundation’s liaison with Seaga.

Seaga has made some horrendous gaffes,:  In 1976 he became notorious for publicising  an alleged ‘prophecy’ of Marcus Garvey’s about “when the Four Sevens clash” i.e., that dreadful things would happen on 7/7/77.  The day passed uneventfully.

In 1980 he  grandly ordered the Cuban Ambassador out of Jamaica, getting  headlines around the world. Seaga then crawled to the Cubans, asking them would they please leave their doctors in Jamaica?  They were a vital part of the health delivery system, he said.

In 1995, faced with a popular rebellion in Tivoli Gardens, Seaga presented the Commissioner of Police  with a list of aliases of about 20 'outlaws' resident in Tivoli who he expected the police to scrape up. If the police were unable to deal with these men, Mr. Seaga promised or threatened to put a price on their heads!

Seaga treasures his enemies. There is a poignant  story in Friday’s Gleaner by Heather Robinson who relates how, on Seaga’s orders, she was prevented from working  in her government job for two years and turned to catering to survive.

I am a special target of Mr Seaga. Having got me out of the JBC in 1962 he was determined to shut me up as Editor of Public Opinion. Between himself and Victor Grant, the Attorney General, there was a sedulous search for ways to silence me. One of my contributors, Bill Carr, was threatened with deportation and I was threatened with prison or worse. Bustamante publicly  told me I should be shot, “but only in the leg”.  (Joke!!!)  

Finally, the government attacked in force. Civil servants were barred from having Public Opinion newspaper  in their possession. Government departments and any entities in receipt of any Government funds were forbidden to advertise in Public Opinion or to buy printing from its parent, City Printery Ltd. These entities  included the University and the Jamaica Agricultural Society, from which City Printery had recently won valuable contracts.

In one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the Jamaican press, the Press Association said that it could not agree that the government’s behaviour was a threat to freedom of the Press. The Government, like any business,  had a right to decide how to spent its money!

When I complained to the Inter American Press Association  then meeting in Montego Bay, they said they saw no reason to interfere. IAPA’s famous interventions on behalf of freedom of the Press clearly did not include attacks on Press Freedom from the Right.

There was a farcical debate in Parliament in which the de facto Prime Minister, Donald Sangster, defended his underlings’ actions.

Had I remained at Public Opinion it would have meant shutdown of City Printery and the pauperisation of forty families. I didn’t feel the struggle was worth that. I went to England where I worked with the BBC for the next five years.

I returned to Jamaica in 1970, at the invitation of Norman Manley who wanted me to write his biography. Sadly, before I arrived, Manley died. I came anyway, on a month’s  holiday Michael Manley one day said to me  that the PNP could find no one willing to run as PNP candidate in West Kingston. People were  too afraid.

I said, offhand, that if he still couldn’t find anyone by the time the election was imminent, I would run. About a year later, when I was still the only black editor  in the World Service Newsroom, I got a call about three o’clock in the morning.

“Come” said Michael Manley, “we need you”

I hadn’t the foggiest idea what he was talking about, but he soon put me wise. He said that the PNP knew (as I did) that it could not win in West Kingston. My presence on the ticket was simply to prevent Seaga being declared elected on nomination day. I decided that it was the least I could do for the memory of Norman Manley and the Jamaica he represented. In the unlikely event that I won I could not have taken my seat anyway because on Election Day, February 29, 1972, I was not qualified  to be a member of parliament.

Seaga regarded my running in West Kingston as a personal insult. In the 70s,  when I was doing the Public Eye talk show ,  platoons of Tivoli people were organised to  ring up and say outrageous thing after having carefully  identified their party loyalties. I used the broadcast delay switch to cut them off before their expletives were broadcast. Seaga’s story then was that I was simply denying freedom of speech to labourites. After the 1980 elections when I was trying to discover my National Housing Trust  status I tried to get my personal file from the JBC. There was a note in the filing cabinet that the file had been sent to Jamaica House and never returned.

Another file sent to Jamaica House produced happier results. As Chairman of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority   I fought successfully for the authority to declare the entire island of  Jamaica a protected watershed. The PNP  for two years did nothing about it.  Mr Seaga, as Prime Minister, must by some means have come across some NRCA files and realised that the resolution needed only a ministerial signature to become effective. He signed the order and Jamaica became  a Protected Watershed in 1981.

So between us, Seaga  and I have accomplished at least one good thing  for this country.  I really wish we  all could have done more together. Whoever leads the parties now, the paranoia level is bound to go down and the national  solidarity level may go up. Some things will change.

Copyright © 2005 John Maxwell   COMMON SENSE # 444

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