420. Intelligence Memorandum1 2

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  • Jamaican Political Situation

1. The government of Prime Minister Hugh L. Shearer is stable and reasonably popular and there are no signs on the immediate horizon that indicate that Shearer’s government faces any serious threats. Shearer, however, does appear uncertain about his own longer range political prospects. In fact, available information indicates that he and his principal political opponent, Michael N. Manley would be quite evenly matched if elections were to be held soon.

2. Elections are not required, however, until 24 May 1972 but Shearer has the right to call elections at any time he believes he would win them. One event which Shearer has indicated might lead him to call early elections would be the death of 86 year old Sir Alexander Bustamante, founder of Shearer’s Jamaican Labor Party (JLP), and a national idol, who is reported to be in very poor health at present. Shearer’s hope would be to capitalize on any sympathy vote.

3. Should Bustamante linger on, there are no other issues now apparent that Shearer might exploit in hopes of scoring temporary tactical advantage over the rival People’s National Party (PNP) and its leader, Manley. Both parties are very similar in background, outlook, and appeal. Both have their roots in well-organized trade unions, and have dominated the Jamaican political scene since the advent of adult suffrage in 1944. Both are essentially moderate, although the PNP is slightly left of the JLP. The JLP currently controls 32 seats in the parliament, while the PNP holds 21.

4. In any electoral contest the JLP would have those advantages that any incumbent party would normally have. Also, the JLP’s record in government has been impressive. Cautious fiscal policies, including avoidance of deficit spending, have created a favorable climate for local and foreign entrepreneurs. The gross national product has been rising at an average annual rate of almost 5 percent in constant terms. Foreign investment has played a large part in this advance, particularly in the development of bauxite and the tourist industries.

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5. A disadvantage would be that the JLP has been in power for nearly nine years now, and presumably many people would be receptive to the idea of change. Also, the PNP has been gaining strength and maturity. The current leader of the PNP, Michael N. Manley, who assumed formal leadership on his father’s death in late 1969, appears to be a personable, popular, and effective leader who has matured. The PNP gave evidence of renewed vigor in local elections in March 1969, when it outpolled the JLP for the first time since 1959. The PNP is a strong contender for power in the future. It has traditionally drawn its strongest following from among the intellectual middle classes and those in government service. The 46 year old Manley (Shearer is 47) favors a pragmatic approach to the solution of Jamaica’s problems, and, unlike Shearer, is generally oriented toward Caribbean cooperation and hemispheric solidarity.

6. The current lack of well-defined election issues makes it difficult to predict the outcome of the next general elections, whenever they may be held. While there are no such issues now there may be some in the near future. Prime Minister Shearer recently told US Ambassador de Roulet that he would feel obliged to follow Guyanese Prime Minister Burnham’s lead in negotiations with foreign-owned bauxite companies aimed at securing majority interest in their operations. Should Burnham obtain control of the bauxite industry Guyana, the status of US and Canadian-owned bauxite companies in Jamaica could well become an important election issue. The government has expressed its concern over a continuing labor dispute at the Alcoa bauxite site that centers on a jurisdictional struggle between the country’s two major unions—the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), which is the labor arm of the prime minister’s party and the opposition National Worker’s Union (NWU). Prime Minister Shearer, who is also president of the BITU, has assumed a partisan role in the dispute. There has been speculation that a defeat of Shearer’s union would be a stinging political setback. It would be especially embarrassing to Shearer, whose parliamentary constituency is the site of the difficulties. The BITU has used strong-arm tactics in the struggle, apparently fearing a representational poll of the workers would favor the opposition NWU. The PNP may seek to use the [Page 3] governments handling of the dispute as an election issue. Always a continual problem that may lend itself to attack is the high crime rate in the Kingston area. It could easily become an election issue if it began to curtail the tourist trade.

7. In sum, at the moment it would appear to be a tossup as to which party would win the election. The telling factor may be the ability of either party to seize upon an issue that would turn the middle-roaders one way or the other.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 786, Country Files, Latin America, Jamaica, Vol. I. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. Forwarded to Haig under a December 11 covering memorandum from Helms. (Ibid.) The report of Shearer informing de Roulet that Jamaica would follow Guyana’s lead on bauxite is in telegram 3011 from Kingston, December 7. (Ibid.)
  2. Intelligence analysis of the Jamaican political situation suggested that foreign control of the Jamaican bauxite industry could become a major issue in the next elections.