Reagan, Jamaica, and the third world

Last fall aides to Ronald Reagan hailed the election victory of Edward Seaga as prime minister of Jamaica. This week President Reagan followed through with promises of "moral and material" assistance as he gave Mr. Seaga the honor of being the first foreign head of government to be received since the inauguration.

We hope the gesture symbolizes not only support for one struggling democracy but recognition of the urgent and growing policy challenges presented by Caribbean, Latin American, and indeed other developing nations around the world. Their efforts toward advancement take place in a political and economic arena no more to be ignored in maintaining international order than the arena of military buildup. Great wisdom, sensitivity, and commitment will be required for the United States to play its proper role in aiding stability, freedom from foreign interference, and "peaceful political change," with which Mr. Reagan aligned the US during Mr. Seaga's visit.

Jamaica itself could become an exemplary case. As the prime minister notes, the voters there -- like those in several other Caribbean lands recently -- rejected a more left- leaning government. The bottom line, in his phrase, is whether their choices will prove themselves in terms of "economic betterment." If they do not, he warns, Cuba remains waiting in the wings to make gains again.

With Cuban influence apparently now in decline, there is a prime opportunity for the US government and private enterprise to help the Jamaicans and others prove that market economies can work for the good of the people. This does not mean an artificial propping up of local regimes or economies to maintain loyalty to the US or protect specific businesses. US and multilateral loans are already underway for Jamaica. But these can do only a small part in relation to what private US businesses can do in three channels stresed by Mr. Seaga: trade, investment, and technology.

This week Mr. Seaga recalled Jamaica's economic successes when he was previously in the government, though many Jamaican businessmen are said to have voted for Michael Manley as prime minister in 1972 because they though Mr. Seaga , then the finance minister, was too socialistic. Mr. Seaga's market-economy approach, of course, does not seem too socialistic in comparison with the Mr. Manley who went so far to the left as to be embraced by Cuba. Under Mr. Manley's policies the Jamaican economy seriously declined, and Mr. Seaga is on the right track in seeking the more dynamic, competitive capitalist solutions that have proved their superiority over socialism. At the same time, we trust that he will build on such Manley reforms as broadening political participation in a nation threatened by elitism.

Particularly welcome from a non-Marxist like Mr. Seaga was his confirmation of what many third-world leaders say: that it is a mistake always to place their situations in narrow terms of East-West conflict. It would certainly be a mistake for the US to see Caribbean nations in this way, though there is every reason to remain alert to efforts there by Moscow and its Cuban allies.

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