Road to October 30, 1980

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, November 04, 2018

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A child who does not listen to the rules of his parents will listen to the rules of the vultures. — Setswana proverb, Botswana

On October 5, 1980, when Michael Manley announced the date of Jamaica's ninth parliamentary election at a rally in Sam Sharpe Square, in Montego Bay, St James, Manley and most in the People's National Party (PNP) were so drunk on the political Kool-Aid of democratic socialism that they could not see the obvious political avalanche heading straight for them.

“It was the biggest crowd I have ever seen. I thought a third of the electorate was there,” remarked veteran journalist, the late John Maxwell in a 2009 interview with The Gleaner.

“One hundred and fifty thousand strong can't be wrong!” Manley said. He and rest of the PNP were not only wrong, they were dead wrong.

The day before the rally in Montego Bay, The University of the West Indies, Mona, social scientist and pollster, the late Professor Carl Stone had indicated a landslide victory for the Edward Seaga-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Stone said the JLP would win as many as 40 seats.

Democratic socialism had been on the political ropes by 1977. Manley, when pressed to explain what democratic socialism meant, retorted: “Socialism is love.”

By 1978 Jamaica's economy had all but flatlined. The monster of crime stalked the land like a ravenous beast, inflation galloped like a train out of control, most of Jamaica's primary infrastructure had fallen into near ruins, and hope was hanging by a thread.

The Economist magazine, in March 1997, gave a glimpse of the disaster wrought upon Jamaicans by the People's National Party Government and democratic socialism: “Not all of Jamaica's poverty was Mr Manley's fault. Oil prices jumped, sugar prices did not. But he deserved much of the blame. In 1980, at the end of Mr Manley's first eight years as prime minister, the tourist hotels were almost empty, and so were the supermarket shelves. Much of the middle class had moved to Miami or Toronto. Almost 900 people had been killed in the run-up to the election, partly as a result of warfare between gangs allied to political parties.” ( The Economist, March 1997).

Manley and his chief lieutenants were largely insulated from the results of their political actions. The full brunt and burden of the crippling consequences of the PNP's brand of democratic socialism were placed upon the heads of ordinary Jamaicans in every aspect of daily life, since they had very little in the way of alternatives. But what were some of the deadly results of the PNP's experiment?

• The Bank of Jamaica had to print money for the country to survive after the treasury was drained.

• Michael Manley used most of the increased bauxite levy to finance 'free education'.

• This left little to finance several other social make-work projects that were announced by Government under the 'socialism is love' explanation given to the people. Most of the schemes collapsed from lack of funds.

• Unemployment increased to a record 27 per cent, aided by the fallout of the make-work projects.

• When Jamaicans saw what was happening, they converted their money to US dollars through banks and the black market and moved their savings and other funds to US banks.

• Soon, the Bank of Jamaica ran out of reserves in foreign exchange, for the first time, and had to use funds set aside for paying debt.

• The Bank of Jamaica could not supply the amount of foreign exchange to the banks, which were under pressure by business clients and others to pay bills for goods ordered by companies and to meet other demands for foreign exchange. In addition, there was a growing flight of capital.

• This resulted in a severe reduction of imports of raw materials and spare parts, closing down of factories and increasing unemployment.

• Oil supplies were short, resulting in frequent blackouts and loss of factory time.

• Imported food items were so short that riots erupted at supermarkets when goods arrived.

• Small shops — some 14,000 of them — either closed or kept one window open mostly to sell aerated water (soda), Foska oats and toilet tissue.

• The value of the total production of the economy (gross domestic product [GDP]) in 1980 was 17.5 per cent less than in 1972, after decreasing every year but one.

• Inflation increased by 250 per cent, peaking at 49.4 per cent in 1978.

• While revenue remained almost constant over the period, expenditure increased by 66 per cent.

• The budget deficit, as a consequence, increased from 3.9 per cent to 17.5 per cent; one of, if not the highest, of any country not at war.

• The total public debt, as a percentage of GDP, increased nearly 500 per cent, creating a crushing burden in debt service.

• The level of investment collapsed by 40 per cent of GDP, and savings by 53 per cent.

• Foreign exchange reserves were wiped out, plunging from positive US$239 million to negative US$549 million.

• Economic growth was negative in seven of the eight years and less than one per cent in the eighth year. ( The Gleaner, October 23, 2016)

Manley made the critical political error of thinking that people would, over the long term, submerge their physiological needs on the altar of ideology. Jamaica is still recovering from debilitating rhetoric and activities of the PNP between 1972 and October 30, 1980.

However, well before October 1980, the vast majority of the Jamaican people had already decided that they could not afford another Manley Administration. In the midst of the stinging economic realities the JLP's message of “Deliverance is near” found very fertile political ground and germinated very quickly.

Manley's promise to “go to the mountaintop” with the communist leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro, justifiably frightened the daylights out of a people, who then — and even more so today — prized freedom of expression. The real danger of Jamaica becoming a one-party State weighed heavily on the minds of Jamaican citizens.

In previous articles I have provided incontrovertible evidence of the threats and attacks by Manley and members of his regime upon Radio Jamaica Limited (RJR), and The Gleaner in general, and more specifically journalists like Wilmot “Motty” Perkins, Ken Jones, David DaCosta, Hector Wynter, Morris Cargill, and John Hearne.

Our ninth parliamentary election was undoubtedly our most violent. These excerpts from an insightful article entitled 'The bloody general election that changed Jamaica', by H G Helps, editor-at-large for this newspaper, gives a vivid picture of the extent of social upheaval and violence that preceded the October 30, 1980 plebiscite.

“Manley's decision to sever ties with the IMF [International Monetary Fund] in March 1980 led to further hardships, including a struggle to pay public servants; 11,000 of whom, he said, would have to be chopped from the State payroll in order to shore up the $50-million budget for fiscal year 1980-81.

“This led to a strike by over 300 workers of the Government-run Jamaica Public Service Company that virtually plunged 70 per cent of Jamaica into darkness.

“Blood started to flow swifter than the river Nile as tension rose between JLP and PNP factions.

“The Eventide Home fire, in which 153 old women were burnt to a crisp, occurred May 21. Police said that the building for the old and indigent was torched by men from the St Andrew Southern constituency.

“An incident known as the 'Gold Street Massacre' resulted in five men being killed in the JLP enclave of Gold Street, Southside in central Kingston, in April, the same month in which the Hannah Town Police Station was attacked by gunmen, with one policeman and a civilian dying in the incident.

“As the political Administration of the day became increasingly jumpy about opposition to its policies, the Jamaica Defence Force detained 24 soldiers and three civilians for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Government. All 27 were later freed.

“Several persons were killed on National Heroes' Day, mere days before the election, and there was further bloodshed in the St Elizabeth south-eastern community of Top Hill when JLP and PNP supporters clashed.

“The Denham Town Police Station also came in for fierce attacks from gunmen.

“There were several confrontations in the street involving JLP people like Karl Samuda, Winston Spaulding, Douglas Vaz, and others,” [JLP politician Pearnel] Charles said.

“But we were determined that the PNP should not go back and we continued to convince the people.” ( Jamaica Observer, October 30, 2012)

Those who have the mistaken notion that they have a divine right to rule do not easily give up power. By way of official police statistics, 844 Jamaicans were murdered, leading up to our ninth general election. Helps notes that: “Almost 35 per cent of those killed were slaughtered in the constituency of St Andrew West Central, which had the JLP's Ferdinand Yap and the PNP's Carl “Russian'' Thompson as candidates.” ( Jamaica Observer, October 30, 2012)

Last Tuesday marked 38 years since the dreaded October 30, 1980 poll. Our country must never, ever go that bloody route again.

Edward Seaga and the Jamaica Labour Party rescued this country on October 30, 1980 from total economic catastrophe. The JLP won 51 of the 60 seats. PNP political heavyweights, including P J Patterson, Howard Cooke, John Junor, Clive Dobson, Dr Aston King, Desmond Leaky, Arnold Bertram, Sydney Pagon, Derrick Rochester, Winston Jones, Jack Stephenson, O D Ramtallie, Ruddy Lawson, Jim Thompson, and Derrick Heaven, all lost their seats.

The political trouncing the PNP got allowed the country to exhale the Manley Administration and its experiment with a cruel brand of democratic socialism. By the mid-1980s the economy started to see real growth, as evidenced in these numbers from the Planning Institute of Jamaica: 1981 (2.5 per cent); 1982 (1.2 per cent); 1983 (2.3 per cent); 1984 (-0.9 per cent); 1985 (-4.6 per cent); 1986 (1.8 per cent); 1987 (8.0 per cent); 1988 (2.2 per cent); and 1989 (7.0 per cent).

I have outlined in previous articles Seaga's exceptional record in institution-building, legislation, and the promotion of Jamaica's culture. Professor Carl Stone, in an article in The Gleaner of October 22, 1990, said this among other things:

“Seaga's dominance of the JLP is not just a reflection of his personality or leadership style. Seaga has revolutionised the JLP from being a 'ragtag', populist party with no clear ideological direction into an 'ideas party' that challenged PNP socialism in the 70s with a strong liberal-capitalist ideological and intellectual offensive. Under [Alexander] Bustamante the JLP was no intellectual match for the ideas party that the PNP was under Norman Manley. The ideas that drive the current JLP are the thoughts of Edward Seaga, and this gives him a level of intellectual dominance in the current JLP that has no parallel in the PNP or the earlier JLP.

“Seaga single-handedly won the ideological battle with Michael Manley and the PNP to the point where Manley and the PNP are now echoing and articulating Seaga's liberal-capitalist ideology. Any objective analysis of politics in this country over the last two decades has to acknowledge that Seaga, not Manley, has been the political personality who has had the most decisive influence on our country's policy and ideological direction.”

The former prime minister's work is recognised locally and internationally, which has seen him receiving a number of prestigious awards. These include the Dr Martin Luther King Jr Humanitarian Award in 1984; the Pan American Development Foundation Inter-American Man of the Year Development Award in 1983; and the Gleaner Honour Awards: Man of the Year for 1980 and 1981. Seaga was also conferred with several honorary degrees by the University of Technology, Jamaica; the University of Miami; and Boston University, among others.

Street light debt

This is a very important feather in the cap of the Administration. It is a shame that the debt was allowed to balloon and was left unpaid by previous administrations. Last week's Sunday Observer said, among other things:

“Government has cleared its debt owed to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) for street lights.

“In making the disclosure at a disaster preparedness and mitigation town hall in Douglas Castle near the St Ann/Clarendon border Thursday, Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie said the street light debt dates back several years and stood at over $7 billion.”

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. — Maya Angelou.

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or

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