Originally titled 'The Destabilization Question' from 'Politics in Jamaica'

by Anthony J. Payne


The concept of destabilisation first entered the vocabulary of Jamaican politics early in 1976 when senior members of the PNP government, including the Prime Minister , began to allege that a systematic campaign was being waged by local and foreign forces against their very right to govern. According to Michael Manley, ‘destabilisation describes a situation where some source either inside or outside a country-or perhaps two sources working in concept , one outside and one inside -set out to create a situation of instability and panic by design.'[1]

The word had entered the lexicon of political analysis two or three years earlier because of events in Chile. As a result of a series of US senate investigations conducted in the cathartic atmosphere of Watergate , it had been clearly demonstrated that American multinational corporations had worked hand-in-hand with US governmental agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and with the Chilean military and other local reactionary elements first to destabilize, as the phrase had it, and then ultimately to overthrow the constitutionally elected socialist government of Salvador Allende.

At the time when the Chilean coup occurred in September 1973, US officials-from the Secretary of State Henry Kissinger downwards-denied complicity , little realizing how soon their involvement would be revealed by Congressional investigation. In that respect, at least, it was the same in Jamaica. In June 1976 Kissinger himself was quoted as telling PNP Foreign Affairs minister Dudley Thompson that he was ‘not aware of any action by the US government designed to weaken the government of Prime Minister Manley'; in the same month Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William Luers categorically denied before a house of Representatives committee that ‘the US government is doing anything to undermine or destabilize government of Jamaica'; and the US ambassador to Jamaica , summer Gerard , pointedly told group of Kingston businessmen that ‘allegations of US destabilisation are scurrilous and false.'[2]

Such denials were predictable and were given publicity by the Jamaican government , which wanted to avoid , if possible , getting into the position of having to accuse the US administration directly. Yet it manifestly was not convinced. Its real view was expressed in an overseas interview given by the Minister of National Security , Keble Munn, in defence of the declaration of a state of emergency which was the government's response to the alleged destabilisation campaign. ‘We've got all kinds of assurances from the United States government that they are not involved in destabilisation', he said, ‘and we would like to be in a position to take them at face value.' But, he went on, ‘everyone knows what happened in Chile , although no one could prove who was behind it until afterwards , when Watergate came along.'[3]

After the PNP won the general election of December 1976 other concerns, notably the International Monetary Fund (IMF), came to the forefront of political debate in Jamaica, and less was heard openly of destabilisation. Yet the question did not go away, and was forcefully resurrected by Manley himself in a subsequent account of his period in office in which he argued ‘that Jamaica was destabilised, as we have defined the word.' [4] Although claiming that the campaign was pursued consistently between 1976 and 1980, his focus was on 1976 as the critical year. Indeed, in an appendix , a ‘destabilisation diary' for 1876 was provided , itemizing the events which in his view formed part of the campaign.

Summary of the entries for just the one month of January gives the flavour and some of the detail of Manley's case.

January 2: The election year begins ominously when the Daily Gleaner published an editorial replete with lies, half-truths and malicious speculation , titled ‘If he fails...' The editor of the paper was Mr. Hector Wynter, a former chairman of and candidate for the JLP.

January 4: The Us secretary of State, Henry Kissinger , left Jamaica , unsuccessful in his mission to dissuade Manley from supporting the presence of Cuban troops in Angola. Despite this failure, he assured Manley that there was no CIA interference in Jamaica, but did not add that the CIA station in Kingston had just been strengthened by the arrival of a new chief, Norman Descoteaux, a man with recent field experience in Argentina and Ecuador where it was thought other destabilisation campaigns had previously taken place.

January 5 : As officials of the IMF and World Bank held meetings for a conference subsequently to be held in Kingston, violence erupted in the ghettoes of the western sector of the city, thus providing material for a number of sensational articles filed by the large corps of foreign journalists reporting the IMF meeting.

January 6 : The Minister of National Security announced the apprehension of 19 members of a group of gunmen being trained for operations against the government.

January 7: Two policemen were killed and three others injured in attacks by gunmen, provoking a stoppage of work at the police barracks until the men were personally persuaded to return to duty by Manley.

January 8: Deputy Prime Minister , David Coore, held a press conference for foreign journalists to try to counteract the exaggerated reporting of the violence which had already caused extensive tourist cancellations.

January 9: As the violence continued , Manley announced new legislation to revitalize the Gun Court: mandatory life imprisonment for illegal possession of a firearm

January 11: Against this background Manley announced his party's proposal to establish community self-defence groups to act as an unarmed warning service and was met with a barrage of criticism alleging , inter alia, that he planned to introduce the "Ton Ton Macoutes' to Jamaica.

January 12: An article in the Wall Street Journal claimed that the PNP government was the ‘most inept of al the Western governments that fancies itself democratic.' January 14: Revere Copper and Brass Inc. announced that its Jamaican subsidiary, Revere Ja. Ltd., was suing the Manley government over its bauxite levy.

January 15: The traditionally dormant middle-class , Soroptimist club of Kingston passed a resolution calling on women to withdraw their services from their employers and communities as well as their husbands and families to protest against political violence.

January 16 : Allan Issacs , Minister of Mining and Natural Resources was dismissed from the Cabinet for alleged leaking of government documents to the opposition and subsequently resigned from the PNP, alleging that the government was intent upon establishing Cuban style communism.

January 24 : 13 people died in the eastern parish of St. Thomas after eating flour subsequently found to have been contaminated with the poison parathion. [5]

And so the diary went of , charting the unfolding of events during the rest of 1976 in a similar vein. As can be seen, it tells a grim story of disruption and violence. Does it amount to destabilisation? Is the charge laid by Manley susceptible to proof? To answer these questions we need to assess to the available evidence as carefully and cooly as possible.


The main problem with what one might call the case for the prosecution , as outlined above , is that it ranges loosely over a variety of types of evidence and in doing so cannot but identify several different agents of destabilisation. Admittedly , part of the case is that a number of agencies work in collusion in such campaigns-each hand, as it were, not necessarily knowing in detail what the other is up to. Nevertheless , from an analytical point of view it makes sense to consider the activities of the alleged perpetrators of destabilisation agency by agency.

The bauxite companies.

There is no doubt that the multinational bauxite companies operating in Jamaica were disturbed by the implications of the production levy imposed by the PNP government in 1974. By tying the level of local taxation to the actual market price of aluminum rather than the arbitrary price at which the companies ‘transferred' Jamaican bauxite to their processing plants in North America , the agreement interfered with the traditional vertical integration of the industry under constant corporate control.

Although they could survive such a policy , the companies chose to fight back , initially by threatening to withdraw completely from their Jamaican mining operations (although this was not a likely option) and then by filing a suit with the World Bank's International Centre for the settlement of Investment Disputes contesting the legality of the government levy. More seriously from Jamaica's point of view , they also moved to cut back their production of both bauxite and alumina in the island , thereby undermining the government ‘s revenue expectations and adding to local unemployment.

While some of the reductions in production were caused by the recession in the international economy , it cannot be denied that Jamaica suffered disproportionately. According to one analysis , while US companies doubled their bauxite imports from African sources in Guinea in 1975, they cut their Jamaican imports by 30%.[6]

In addition the number of strikes in the industry in Jamaica doubled between 1974 and 1975, and doubled their again in 1976-an escalation of industrial action attributed by a number of local observers to deliberately provocative behaviour by a management bent on further disruption of the local economy.[7]

The effect was certainly damaging : the Jamaica Bauxite Institute estimated that an 81-day strike at Alcoa, a 43-day shut-down at Alpart and a 35-day strike at Alcan during the first 6 months of 1976 cost the industry over 400, 000 tonnes of Bauxite production.[8] The companies also conducted a US press campaign blaming Jamaica for the rising cost of aluminum , e.g. claiming that higher car prices were the result of action of the Manley government. As sherry Keith and Robert Girling pointed out, however, the truth was that price increases in the US market bore little, if any relation to the Jamaican levy and served mainly to boost corporate profits at a time of lower production worldwide.[9]

The US Government.

The US government also played a part in exerting economic pressure on Jamaica as a response to the bauxite levy. The Treasury Department , in particular , wanted to stop new official lending to the country , arguing that it would give the wrong signal to provide aid to a regime which was in dispute with several US corporations.[10]

A small US AID rural development loan was cancelled , and agreement was reached within the administration that no new capital assistance should be provided while the legality of the levy was still being tested. The State Department acquiesced in these moves , although apparently with some reluctance.[11]

Manley has reported that he had an affable meeting with Kissinger in 1974 at which he believed that he had forestalled any US hostility to the levy.[12] He may indeed have been right , for it is difficult to imagine that the US government's reaction could have been considerably more vigorous than it actually was. Time was to demonstrate this, especially once the Jamaican government had begun to establish closer diplomatic links with Cuba. For example, Manley has also described a very different meeting with Kissinger during a short vacation the secretary of State spent in Jamaica towards the end of 1975.

‘Suddenly he raised the question of Angola and said he would appreciate it if Jamaica would at least remain neutral on the subject of the Cuban army presence in Angola. I told him that I could make no promises but would pay the utmost attention to his request.'[13]

Kissinger then apparently brought up the separate matter of a Jamaican request for US$100 million trade credit. ‘He said they were looking at it, and let the comment hang in the room for a moment. I had the feeling that he was sending me message.'[14]

In Manley's mind the linkage was clear, but nevertheless five days later he publically announced Jamaica's support for Cuban involvement in Angola. The result was that US economic aid to Jamaica was embargoed till the end of the Ford administration. This had increasingly serious effects on the level of activity within the Jamaican economy during the course of 1976, although it should immediately be added that the advent of the Carter administration at the beginning of 1977 quickly brought a new , albeit temporary , warmth to US-Jamaican relations and the resumption of aid flows.


Although obviously an agency of the US government , the CIA needs to be considered separately because of the presumption that its activities will remain clandestine? It is possible for US administration to adopt covertly a different policy towards a particular country from the one to which it is publically committed. Was this the case with Jamaica in 1976?

Several observers have claimed that this was precisely the situation , the most significant of them being Philip Agee.

After twelve years working as a CIA agent in Latin America, Agee resigned in 1969 and devoted himself to exposing his former employer's operations around the world. He arrived in Jamaica in September 1976 as a guest of the Jamaican Council for Human rights and during his two-week stay spoke at a number of packed meetings , stirring up great controversy as he proceeded.

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.

His accusations were given renewed publicity by an article in the December 1977 issue of Penthouse magazine[15]-an unusual medium-which reported that at the end of 1975 Kissinger had agreed to the implementation of such a campaign against the Manley regime and that early in 1976 the CIA station in the island had been reorganized, bringing in Deccoteaux as the new chief with a budget of US$10 million to spend on various covert activities.

Detailed description of these apparent activities subsequently appeared regularly in the pages of specialist American magazines like Counterspy.

The US Press One of Agee's claims was that the CIA was able to inspire articles in the US press which would have the effect of undermining and eventually destroying the reputation of a particular government in the minds of the US public. Again , a number commentators have claimed that this is what occurred over Jamaica in 1976. For example, Manley's own account notes that, shortly after news broke that Jamaica was supporting Cuba in the Angola conflict, James Reston of the New York Times wrote ‘a vicious and utterly inaccurate article'[16] about Jamaica , which seemed to start off a chain reaction in the US pres.

In the course of 1976 a series of articles appeared in such influential papers and magazines as the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, Time and Newsweek, many of which gave the distinct impression that there had been a virtual Cuban military takeover in Jamaica. Violence was highlighted and often used in politically biassed ways. One striking example was a story in the New York Times in 1976, printed under the headline ‘Jamaican Opposition Leader is Shot at from Office of Ruling Party but Escapes Injury.' It was given great prominence, but later found to be utterly untrue; only a short correction was then published.[17]

Moreover, academic analysis shows that such a distorted interpretation of events was not at all untypical. Marlene Cuthbert and Verone Sparkes studied the coverage of Jamaica in the US press in 1976 and concluded that a preponderance of articles took an overwhelmingly negative view of Jamaica , emphasising political tensions and often employing crude Cold War language in the presentation of events. [18] The effect of this type of reporting on the tourist trade remains controversial . That the number of visitors coming to Jamaica fell dramatically in 1976 and again in 1977 is certain,[19] something which many have attributed to the generally violent image presented of Jamaica despite the fact that the killings were largely confined to the Kingston area , far from the tourist enclaves on the north coast.

Yet Cuthbert and Sparkes demonstrate that , although the coverage of Jamaica in the US and Canada was equally negative, the Canadian public demonstrated a significantly greater willingness to continue holidaying in Jamaica. They speculate that the difference could well stem from the role of travel agents , the American ones they interviewed generally being readier to believe the press stories.[20]

For those who think in conspiracy terms, the evil hand of the CIA can thus be made to appear as effectively infiltrating the US travel industry. Jamaican Opposition Jamaican participants have also been identified by destabilisation theorists. They include local businessmen , JLP politicians and the owners and writers of the Daily Gleaner. It is certainly true that by 1976 Jamaican capitalists no longer had the confidence that some of them had initially places in Manley. The declaration of socialism was more than they could tolerate , especially in circumstances of increasing economic contraction.

Factories began to close and energy was put into smuggling wealth out of the island to Miami and other parts of the North American continent, all of which further damaged the economy.

As soon as Seaga took over the leadership, the JLP also began to campaign vigorously throughout the island against the PNP's vision of socialism , engaging in such an extensive and costly range of meetings and propaganda activities as to arouse suspicion that it was drawing on resources beyond the means of its local backers. Its pitch was simplistically anti-communist, echoing much of the US press coverage and some US government opinion, but it was no less effective for that. It was also able to draw on the unstinting support of the Daily Gleaner , which of course was owned by one of Jamaica's richest capitalist families. Beginning at the end of 1975, it launched an astonishing barrage of vituperation against the PNP and Manley in particular.

Its favourite themes were the familiar areas of the communist threat and the Cuban link. The Gleaner has always been a conservative newspaper, but it has traditionally worn and air of sober and serious respectability. Its abandonment of these values prompted the accusation that it too was playing a role on behalf of external interests. For example Fred Landis , who had been a consultant to the US Senate sub-committee which had investigated the CIA's covert action in Chile, prepared a pamphlet for the Press Association of Jamaica. This unhesitatingly compared the Gleaner's role with that played in helping to overthrow the Allende regime by the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, which had consistently and scurrilously attacked Allende and his colleagues and was shown subsequently to have received CIA finance and encouragement to do so.[21]


What is to be made of all this evidence? In some areas, the facts appear very plain. Despite the mildness of the move, the bauxite companies did punish the Manley government for its institution of the levy; the US government under Kissinger and Ford did become increasingly unsupportive; the press was always imprecise and often hysterical in its reporting of events in Jamaica; and the PNP's opponents in the country were frequently vicious and unfair in their attacks on the government.

In other areas , as one would expect, the evidence is less categoric. In particular, the involvement of the CIA has not been proved, which is to say it has not been admitted by official US government spokesmen. On the other hand, the circumstantial evidence that its agents were active in Jamaica in 1976 is strong-too strong , finally, to be ignored.

Even so, the problem remains of what all this adds up to. For the issue at stake is really a matter of definition. What does destabilisation mean? One should distinguish between a ‘narrow' and a ‘broad' definition. Understood in the broadest terms , as is often is, the concept too easily becomes a misleading shorthand expression for the fact that the world which radical governments take on is generally hostile to their aims.

Opposition is generated by policies of change because powerful vested interests feel threatened , and they react.

This should not be considered surprising or beyond the capacity of radical leaders to anticipate. For example, the bauxite companies pursued in connection with Jamaica nothing other than their corporate interests, as these are conventionally interpreted by big business. The US government , like any other government , does not have to feel well disposed towards the government of every country with which it has relations, let alone assist it with aid and credit.

Much of the Western press is also sadly sensationalist in its interpretation of political events all over the world , not merely in Jamaica. As for the alleged treachery of the local opposition , the anxieties of Jamaican business men in the face of the Manley regime's stridently socialist rhetoric in 1976 are surely not difficult to explain. In terms of thee business ethic, it made good sense to shift investment out of Jamaica. The JAP , for its part, certainly exceeded some of the boundaries traditionally imposed on an opposition by the Westminster system, but politics in the third world is a rough game and Jamaica is no exception.

In other words, there were all factors which the PAP should have been prepared to deal with.

There is not really much to be gained by grouping them all together and claiming that they represent destabilisation. If that is so, every radical government must face destabilisation , simply because the system it is pledged to attack still exists and will fight back.

At this point the argument becomes unprofitable and is best abandoned.

However, the concept of destabilisation can take on new force when it is understood in narrower terms. It would refer specifically to a deliberate and coordinated campaign instigated from outside a particular country and designed to undermine support for the government of tat country.

The tactics of such a campaign typically include covert support for opposition political groupings by a foreign power , their promotion of hostile propaganda in the press locally and internationally, the encouragement of violence and terrorism , the disruption of industrial relations , economic sabotage and indeed any form of action which generates turmoil and strife likely to have an adverse political effect on the government in question.

Defined in this way, the charge that a destabilisation campaign was waged against the Manley government in 1976 is easier to substantiate. A ‘smoking gun' was found , but the weight of evidence makes it likely that the CIA was at work, in league with the JLP, the Daily Gleaner, and opposition businessmen and trade unionists, to undermine the elected government in Jamaica. More than that one cannot plausibly say.

As Manley himself put it, ‘there have been no Senate Committee hearings into the case of Jamaica and consequently no disclosures at that level.'[22]

Yet , even as it stands, the statement is serious : the meaning of sovereignty and statehood for independent Caribbean countries has to be reassessed . To obtain some perspective , however, it is important to note that the PNP won the elections with which the year of destabilisation culminated by huge margin! It gained all but 13 of the 60 seats in the Jamaican parliament.

By this test destabilisation , narrowly defined , does not seem to have had much effect. In the longer run, the violence and the propaganda took their toll, but what really damaged the Manley regime beyond repair was the decline of the Jamaican economy after 1976.

For this phenomenon explanations have to be sought beyond destabilisation.



1. Michael Manley, Jamaica: Struggle in the Periphery ( London, 1982), p.138

2. Quoted in ibid., p.223

3. The Guardian, 18 July 1976

4. Manley, op.cit,p.213

5. Summarized from ibid., pp.225-9

6. Sherry Keith and Robert Girling, 'Caribbean Conflict: Jamaica and the US', NACLA report on the Americas, xii (1978), p.21

7. Interviews with Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) personnel, July 1985

8. JBI Digest, 1, 3(1976), p.2

9. Keith and Girling, op.cit.,p.29

10. J.Daniel O' Flaherty, 'Finding Jamaica's Way', Foreign Policy, xxxi (1978), p.154

11. Ibid.

12. Manley, op.cit., pp.100-1

13. Ibid., p.116

14. Ibid.

15. Ernst volkman and John cummings, ' murder as Usual', Penthouse. Dec.1977, pp.112-14, 182-90

16. Manley, op. cit., p.117

17. Quoted in Michael Kaufman, Jamaica under Manley: Dilemmas of Socialism and Democracy (London, 1985), p.121

18. Marlene Cuthbert and Vernone Sparkes, 'Coverage of Jamaica in the US and Canadian Press in 1976: A study of Press Bias and Effect', Social and Economic Studies, 27,2 (1978), pp212-13

19. See figures in Kaufman,. cit., App.9.

20.Cuthbert and Sparkes, op.cit., pp.216-18

21. Press Association of Jamaica, Psychological Warfare in the Media: The Case of Jamaica (Kingston, n.d.).

22. Manley, op.cit., p.237