Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller of the People’s National Party, recently reelected, stated that Jamaica would take steps to cut ties with the British monarchy and become a republic. Through this action Jamaica will replace its head of state, currently the Queen of England, with its own indigenous president.
At a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of independence from Britain, Prime Minister Miller, whose People’s National Party won in a landslide reelection on December 29th 2011, stated in her inaugural address:
“I love the Queen, she is a beautiful lady, and apart from being a beautiful lady she is a wise lady and a wonderful lady. But I think time come…As we celebrate our achievements as an independent nation, we now need to complete the circle of independence.” (1) (2)
Although Jamaica achieved independence from Britain in 1962 it still retains its colonial ties in an arbitrary monarchical system. Jamaica has both a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. As part of the Commonwealth Realm, Queen Elizabeth of Britain is the official head of state of Jamaica, and retains the title Queen of Jamaica. The government has a Governor-General which represents the British monarchy in the government of Jamaica. The Governor-General appoints the members of the Cabinet on the advice of the Prime Minister. The monarch and the Governor-General have ceremonial roles in the day-to-day operation of the government but have reserve power to dismiss the Prime Minister or Parliament.
The Jamaican military is also derived from its colonial predecessor. It descended from the British West India Regiment, used to police the colonies of the former Anglo empire.
Jamaica’s history has been one of colonialism and resistance. It was the former home to the Taino and Arawak peoples until it was claimed by Columbus in 1494 for Spain. It was captured by the British in 1655, who then converted the island into a sugar plantation heavily dependent on African slave labor. In a short time Blacks outnumbered Whites on the island.
After it achieved independence in 1962 it was led by conservative governments who retained power due to high economic growth. Jamaica became a major exporter of bauxite, used to make aluminum. Yet that economic growth did not spread to the entire population, especially among the urban poor who received few benefits from such neo-colonial ‘development.’
After independence, Jamaica was subject to further neo-colonial encroachment by the United States. The US government, multinational corporations and the CIA worked to destabilize the leftist government of Michael Manley and his People’s National Party in the 1970’s. Manley’s espousal of democratic socialism, friendly relations with Cuba and involvement with the Non-Aligned Movement made him a pariah of the United States. Former CIA operative Philip Agee detailed how the CIA operated in Jamaica, as described here:
“He claimed to be able to identify in Jamaica at the time all the typical CIA methods of destabilisation. These included spreading false information in the local and international press, funding opposition groupings , supplying arms to opponents of the government, and helping all manner of social disruption by means of arson, murder and industrial action. Agee also specifically named 11 US embassy personnel in Kingston as working for the CIA , three of whom immediately left the county in what was widely taken to be a tacit admission of guilt.” (3)
Jamaica was also subject to “structural adjustment programs” from international financial institutions like the IMF, influenced by the United States. The documentary film ‘Life and Debt’ uses Jamaica as a case study of how the IMF destabilizes and seizes control over Third World economies. The policies Jamaica was forced to accept had drastic effects on the majority of the people in the country, all for the benefit of international finance capital.(4)
The US is not content with leaving Jamaica alone. Recent Wikileaks cables reveal, after Miller lost an election in 2007, concerns over her rise to power. One cable talks about concerns they had over Miller’s populist rhetoric and support, her alleged socialist leanings (by referring to supporters as “comrades”) and alleged ties and support from Cuba and Venezuela.(5) Like its destabilization of the Manley-led government in the 70‘s, it does not look like the US will stand aside while Jamaica takes an independent course.
Today the people of Jamaica are affected by imperialist oppression. 43 percent of the population lives below the poverty level of $2.50 a day. There is vast unemployment, high crime and murder rates, large public debt, and an unhealthy economic dependence on Amerikan tourism.
The call for independence as a republic is a necessary one, but it is only a beginning. The people of Jamaica need to bring about revolutionary social change and build a transformative society, as do all the peoples of the Third World, to end imperialist exploitation. It must unite with all revolutionary peoples and nations to bring about a more liberatory world. Its calls for true political independence are a small, initial step in that broader struggle.