Relations with the United States, Britain, and Canada

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Close ties with the United States, Britain, and Canada traditionally have been of prime importance and have existed at the political, commercial, and personal levels. After World War II, the United States, Britain, and Canada all provided economic assistance to Jamaica through international organizations, private investments, and encouragement of the idea of West Indian federation. By the 1950s, the United States and Canada had replaced the once-dominant British trade role. On August 7, 1962, the day after independence, Prime Minister Bustamante described Jamaica as pro-Western, Christian, and anticommunist, and he announced "the irrevocable decision that Jamaica stands with the West and the United States."

Independent Jamaica adopted Western models for internal development and external perspective. Jamaican leaders, recognizing the strong United States disapproval of Soviet influence in Cuba and British Guiana (present-day Guyana), rejected the Soviet alternative. As British influence in Jamaica eroded rapidly following independence, the United States began paying closer attention to political events on the island. Beginning with the seizure of power in Cuba by Fidel Castro, Jamaica's proximity to both Cuba and the United States raised Jamaica's profile in American foreign policy circles. Growing United States economic interest in Jamaica paralleled the former's increasing political interest. Jamaica sided frequently with the United States in its United Nations (UN) voting on cold war issues during the first few years of independence. The nation became visibly less pro-West in its UN voting beginning in 1965-66, however. Jamaica moved out of the United States orbit for the first time when it abstained on the 1971 vote to admit China into the UN. According to a survey by academic researchers, favorable attitudes toward Jamaica's alignment with Western nations declined from 71 percent in 1962 to 36 percent in 1974.

Nevertheless, during his visit to the United States in 1970, Prime Minister Shearer declared that his party, the JLP, had reoriented its foreign relations priority away from Britain to the United States. Relations between Jamaica and the United States, Canada, and Britain remained generally friendly. Tensions arose occasionally, however, over the dominance of foreign firms in the Jamaican economy in the 1970s, continuing colonial patterns of trade, racial antagonism, emigration of well-educated Jamaicans to the United States, and the nation's ambivalent attitude toward the United States as a global power.

Jamaica's foreign policy orientation shifted again under Michael Manley, who decided that Jamaicans, in order to solve their economic problems, needed to break out of their traditional reliance on the United States and the Commonwealth of Nations. Jamaican-United States relations were strained after the Manley government established diplomatic relations with Cuba in late 1972, at a time when a majority of the Organization of American States (OAS) had voted against such recognition. In July 1973, the Manley government declared the United States ambassador, who was a political appointee, persona non grata; the ambassador had claimed before a congressional committee that he had made a "deal" with Manley, promising American support of Manley's candidacy in the 1972 elections in exchange for his promise not to nationalize the bauxite industry. Also contributing to strained relations were the Manley government's imposition in mid-1974 of a production levy on companies producing bauxite in Jamaica and its move to acquire 51- percent control of the industry (see Role of Government, this ch.); however, subsequent negotiations largely overcame these issues. In the late 1970s, Jamaican-United States relations were aggravated further by Manley's anti-United States rhetoric in Third World forums, his government's close relations with Cuba, his staunch support for Cuban interventionism in Africa, and his defense of the placement of Soviet combat troops in Cuban bases.

After becoming prime minister in 1980, Seaga reversed Jamaica's pro-Cuban, Third World-oriented foreign policy and began close, cooperative relations with the United States administration of President Ronald Reagan. Seaga was the first foreign leader to visit Reagan following the latter's inauguration in January 1981. A Stone Poll conducted that month indicated that 85 percent of the Jamaican electorate supported Seaga's close ties to Reagan. That year United States aid to Jamaica increased fivefold; it averaged more than US$125 million a year during the 1981-86 period, but was cut by 40 percent in 1987 (see External Sector, this ch.). The Reagan administration made Jamaica the fulcrum of its Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), a program that Seaga helped to inspire (see Appendix D). Seaga met periodically with Reagan and other senior United States government officials, during 1980-87, and in April 1982, Reagan became the first United States President to visit Jamaica. In addition to its pro-CBI stance (see The Economy, this ch.), Jamaica adopted pro-United States positions on Grenada and relations with Cuba. The Seaga government favored a return to principles of dètente in hopes of ensuring the security of small states, and firmly supported nuclear weapons reductions with adequate verification. The Seaga government has disagreed strongly with the United States, however, on two issues in particular: South Africa and the Law of the Sea Treaty. Jamaica, example, disputed territorial water boundaries recognized by the United States.

Jamaica's international horizons remained limited mainly to the United States, Canada, and Britain, with the principal exception of the 1970s, when Manley's government maintained close relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba. Although twenty-seven countries had missions in Kingston in 1985, Jamaica maintained a minimal diplomatic presence in foreign capitals. Even its most important missions abroad--in London, Washington, Ottawa, and at the UN--were kept small. Jamaican ambassadors usually were accredited concurrently to several countries.

More about the Government and Politics of Jamaica.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress