Sir Alexander Bustamante, 94, a flamboyant leader in the cause of Jamaican independence who because the first prime minister of his island nation and a legend throughout the Caribbean, died yesterday after a long illness.
The government - owned Jamaican Broadcasting Corp. said in Kingston, the capital, that Sir Alexander dies at the Irish Town Hospital with his wife at his bedside.
Known in his prime as a fiery orator, whose 6 - foot - 2 frame, imposing features and crown of wavy white hair enhanced the power f his presence, Sir Alexander had been forced into retirement in 1967 by ill health after five years as prime minister.
He was succeeded by Donald Sangster, who died shortly afterward, then by Hugh L. Shearer, and in 1972 by the incumbent, Michael Norman Manley.
Although the charismatic Sir Alexander rose to political prominence as the leader of turbulent labor demonstrations in a period of disorder and unrest in the years before World War II, his Jamaica Labor Party later was regarded as rather conservative.
In early campaigns against the rival People's National Party, now headed by Manley and regarded as more socialistic in tendency, the party of Sir Alexander received the support not only of workers but also of conservative newspapers, sugar interests and large property owners.
"When I led the workers against exploitation by employers," he once said in an interview, " I indicated capital must learn to work fairly with labor must give a fair day's work for a fair day'spay.'
In addition, Sir Alexander was a strong supporter of the United States and an outspoken foe of Carribean communism. After becoming prime minister in 1962, he did not hesitate to proclaim his determination to protect and expand U. S. investments in his country.
By all accounts, Sir Alexander was well suited by character and background to take his place in the gallery of robust and romantic explorers and adventures whose exploits have colored the ploycultural history of the Caribbean.
One writer described him as 'the most flamboyant character to boss Jamaica since Henry Morgan retired as a pirate to become head man here three centuries ago.'
In his oritorical prime. Sir Alexander would tell constituents that he was 25 per cent Irish, 25 per cent English, 25 per cent German, 25 per cent Arawak Indian and 25 per cent African.
To skeptics who protested that this amalgam added up to 125 per cent, he replied that he was 25 per cent better than any other man.
Sir Alexander was born to a mother of Indian and African blood and a father named Clarke who emigrated from Dublin.
Sir Alexander took the name Bustamante from a Spanish sailor who adopted him when he was 15.
Much of the available information about Sir Alexander's early life is described as difficult to authenticate.
It has been reported that after schooling in Jamaica and in Spain, Sir Alexander served with the Spanish army in campaign in Morrocco against the Rifts. It also is reported that he worked from 1923 to 1932 as a dietician at a hospital in New York'sa Harlem.
By some accounts, shrewd investment of his meager savings after the stock market crash of 1929 enabled him to open a prosperous loan business.
With the profits, enough to assure his financial independence, he returned in 1932 to Jamaica - then a British crown colony - where he became moved by the plight of workers, according to the accounts.
Soon he became active in the labor movement, and played a leading role in the 1938 demonstrations that plunged the 4,232 - square - mile island into chaos.
'I want the governor to know that Alexander Bustamante is prepared to fight and that he has 100,000 people behind him,' he shouted during a protest for better pay and housing.
He was jailed on a sedition charge, later withdrawn. After release he founded the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and called an island - wide strike, under defense regulations. When the ban was lifted, he renewed agitation and was interned for 17 months.
Meanwhile, a British study commission, prompted by the 1938 disorders, issued a report that put Jamaica on the road to self - government.
Sir Alexander's Labor Party, which he organized in 1943, won the island's first parliamentary election in 1944. He served as chief minister of the colonial government for 10 years.
His party lost elections in 1955 and 1959 but, in 1961, his stand against Jamaica's inclusion in the West Indies federation won a referendum. This paved the way for independence and dominion status in the British Commonwealth.
His first wife, whom he married in 1910, died in the 1930s. He remarried in 1962.