Seaga brings new tone to Jamaica; anti-US talk gone
Four months after taking office, Prime Minister Edward Seaga has clearly brought a new tone to Jamaican life -- and the United States as a result is breathing easier not only about his island, but also the Caribbean as a whole.
Gone is the heavy anti-US rhetoric of the past decade. Gone also are the sometimes contentious attitudes that were so much a part of former Prime Minister Michael Manley's government. Likewise, Jamaica's, and Mr. Manley's flirtations with Cuba are a thing of the past.
Replacing all this is the friendly posture of Prime Minister Seaga, who was President Reagan's first official foreign visitor after his inauguration.
In many ways, the US toward the end of the Carter administration, and now certainly under Mr. Reagan, has come to view Jamaica as the spearhead of a new wave of friendly governments in the Caribbean.
Earlier this month, a high-level US business group, headed by Chase Manhattan Bank chairman David Rockefeller, was here to discuss ways to stimulate new investment, trade, and employment on the island during what Mr. Seaga terms "the critical period of national economic recovery."
Jamaica needs all the help it can get. Mr. Seaga inherited an empty treasury from the Manley government when he assumed office nov. 1. Moreover, he is faced with a $400 million budget deficit, a $1 million trade deficit, and a high unemployment rate.
The US businessmen did not come up with any magical formulas -- nor were they expected to. But it was enough, in the eyes of Seaga associates, that the business group came and saw.
The visit was given a lot of ballyhoo. In some measure, this will take the onus off the expected austerity measures that Mr. Seaga will soon announce in order to comply with International Monetary Fund requirements for printingg the economy.
"If Jamaicans can realize that we are likely to get outside investment," said a commentator on RJR Radio, "then perhaps the austerity will not be as bitter."
But austerity is necessary "to get the economic wheels rolling again," as a Seaga associate puts it. The Seaga government hopes, however, that some new foreign investment will whittle away at the current high unemployment tally and absorb any new unemployment resulting from the austerity measures.
At the moment, Mr. Seaga seems to be riding the crest of a wave of popularity. His Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) again demonstrated its ability at the polls this month -- this time in municipal elections.
Voters gave the JLP a massive sweep in the elections, repeating the JLP's landslide win in national elections last October. In fact, the latest vote was even more of a landslide, with the JLP polling 228 out of the 253 seats decided at this writing. Only nine seats were still being contended.
For Mr. Manley's People's National Party, the vote was a bitter defeat and no amount of PNP charges of election skulduggery by the JLP can mask the party's plight. Mr. Manley is enjoying a little leisure these days, saying to the press , "I enjoy the change."
But most observers expect him to soon take up the political cudgels again -- this time as leader of the opposition --and Mr. Seaga is not expected to have an entirely easy time of it in Parliament.
Mr. Seaga says he is prepared for the political fray. He notes that he has had plenty of experience in political battles over the years that he was leader of the opposition.
The new prime minister notes that his biggest battles in the days ahead will be economic. He admits that all is not smooth sailing in his effortsd to get US and Canadian aluminum companies to boost their operations. Such an increase would provide greater employment and more foreign exchange revenue for the Jamaican government.
Aluminum companies drastically cut their mining and refining operations five years ago after Mr. Manley's government boosted the country's levy on bauxite. The companies are wary about restoring operations. But success for Mr. Seaga on this front would be a major victory and would help him in his future economic battles.