U.S. policy analysts listened intently when Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley addressed the summit of nonaligned nations in Havana last September. Belying the name of the movement, it is in such forums that the superpowers look for clues as to "which way" a Third World country is leaning.
As usual, however, Manley provided grist for everybody's mill, leaving listeners from both East and West with what they wanted, or expected to hear. l
He chastised the movement for believing too much of its own rhetoric and blaming everyone but themselves for their economic problems. But Manley noted that the "struggle against imperialism" was stronger than ever "because our hemisphere has had a movement and a man, a catalyst and a rock; the movement is the Cuban revolution, and the man is Fidel Castro."
In eight years in office, Manley has jumped countless times back and forth on the lists of those the United States considers its friends and enemies. At one point, he was touted as the U.S. "bridge" to move radical Third World states because he seemed on equally good terms with them and with U.S. officials. Jamaica strongly supported the United States in recent United Nations votes on Iran and Afghanistan.
Yet Manley has strongly denounced the United States given similar opportunities and he blames the Western economic and political system for much of Jamaica's troubles.
In the past year, relations between the two countries have worsened, and the United States has grown increasingly worried about Manley's leftism, it is no secret that Washington would not be sorry to see him lose to a more conservative candidate in elections scheduled for late October.
Each side has sought to bring the United States into the electoral battle, Manley has charged that the CIA actively sought to destabilize Jamaica and prevent his reelection in 1976, although he has refrained from joining his supporters in making similar charges this time. His opponent, Edward Seaga, charges that the United States has not been strong enough in its opposition to Manley. While he stops short of publicly advocating destabilization, he notes that Washington could show more "concern" about conditions here. "That's as far as I can go, but it needs no imagination to know what they can do or say," he says.
Despite current U.S. displeasure with his government, the United States appears still to recognize that Manley is a pivotal figure in the battle for influence in the Caribbean, not least because he has tried, in Jamaica, to promote a leftist ideology within what remains a two-party, electoral framework. He has appealed to the anticolonial strains throughout the region while attempting to spare its democratic sensibilities.
Manley's country is in a unique position as the Caribbean nation with the longest close relationship with Cuba and, at least among the English-speaking islands, the one with the most ties with the United States. eHe says he believes the latter has "an almost hysterical preoccupation" with the former that may ensure the very thing it seeks to avoid in the region -- a Cuban takeover.
"I think it is dangerous nonsense to talk about any threat to the security interests in the United States in this hemisphere." Manley said in an interview aboard a flight carrying him to address the United Nations last month.
"There is no threat. What is happening is that Third World countries generally are experiencing enormous difficulty at this time. A lot of countries in this region . . . are only recently independent. They have started out on a new phase of their history and they are obviously experimenting.
"I get the feeling that U.S. policy tends to vary its judgment of the dynamics that are taking place in the Caribbean in accordance to the extent to which they think Cuba may or may not be connected."
Jamaica's relationship with Cuba, Manley said, is "an interesting case in point. It rests on a number of objective realities -- proximity, a common concern for the liberation struggles in southern Africa, a very deep common attachment to the new international economic order. There is a tremendous range of commonality in the way Cuba looks at problems and the way we look at problems.
"There are enormous differences. One is a communist country pursuing a very strict, clear socialist view; one is a pluralistic society with pluralistic democracy experimenting with a kind of democratic socialism."
"Yet," he went on, "the U.S. perception of this is really nothing short of tragic. It's suspended somewhere between tragedy and comedy . . . a devil theory of history, in which all sorts of wild imaginings go on that have nothing to do with reality at all."
On the advisability of close relations with Cuba, Manley said, "Maybe Uncle Sam knows best for himself, and maybe sometimes he knows best for the world, but that's really not the point. . . . We don't believe that a little island can necessarily always have the same interest as a great, big, highly developed industrialized society like the United States. So sometimes we have to struggle for different things."
These differences, he said, "could perhaps be sensibly accommodated within the U.S. understanding of objective reality." But "they become clouded with this hysterical confusion about Cuba, until in the end one doesn't know how much the United States is responding to what we stand for, how much they're responding to Cuba, or how much they are responding to a mixture of the two."