Michael Manley was one of the most remarkable personalities in the modern history of the Caribbean. During his service as the prime minister of Jamaica for three terms, he managed to set several policies regarding redistributing wealth and social stability. In addition, he was one of the founders of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). Manley was a charismatic leader and his defense of independence of ex-colonial countries made him an important international figure.
Michael Norman Manley was born on December 10, 1924. He attended the Jamaica College, but later, during the Second World War, he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. After the war, in 1945, he enrolled at the London School of Economics where he studied together with famous British socialist and political scientist Harold Laski. After graduation, he returned to Jamaica and worked as editor and journalist for leftist newspaper “Public Opinion”. At the same time, he became a member of the trade union movement.
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Ascending to the Post
Michael Manley did not want to get involved in the politics, because he thought that he would be capitalizing on his family name (his father, Norman Manley, was the premier of Jamaica and a national hero). However, in 1962, he accepted an appointment to the Senate of the Parliament of Jamaica. Later, in 1967, he won an election to the Jamaican House of Representatives. He was elected the leader of the People’s National Party (PNP) in 1969, replacing his father. In 1972, the party won in the general elections.
The PNP In Office
Manley won the post to become the fourth prime minister of Jamaica. In 1972, he conducted a series of socio-economic reforms that produced mixed results in the society. He established a minimum wage to all workers, and proposed free education from primary school to university. During Manley’s service, the voting age was lowered to 18 years, and an equal pay for women was introduced. However, his reforms proved to be financially disastrous, which lead to his defeat in the elections in 1980, preceded by several years of violence and numerous killings among the civil population.
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Manley established good relationships with several political leaders from Canada, Sweden, Tanzania and other countries. One of his close friends was Fidel Castro of Cuba, and since Cuba was very close to Jamaica, this relationship evolved, a fact that was not positively viewed by the United States. His close relationship with Castro lead to Jamaica’s loss of international foreign aid.
Opposition and Re-election
After his defeat in 1980 elections, Manley became a strong leader of the opposition, criticizing the newly established conservative administration. He traveled a lot during the 1980s, speaking to audiences around the world and holding several lectures at Columbia University in New York. Meanwhile, the failure of the then Jamaican Prime Minister, Edward Seaga, to respect his promises to foreign elections, together with devastating consequences of the Hurricane Gilbert, contributed to the re-election of Michael Manley in 1989.
After his re-election, he conducted more free-market policies, and privatized many state-owned companies, despite the fact that he still was claiming to be a socialist. He retired in 1992 because of health reasons. Following his retirement, PJ Patterson became leader of the PNP and Prime Minister, a post which he held for 18 years.
Family and Retirement
Michael Manley was married five times. His marriages brought him five children, three girls and two boys. After his retirement in 1992, he wrote several books. He died on March 6, 1997 of prostate cancer.
Michael Manley joins the Jamaican political hall of fame as one of the stalwarts of Jamaican politics. His policies, his ideas and the changes he effected undoubtedly went a long way in the shaping of modern Jamaica, a democratic and self-governed society.
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By Norvan Martin