Jamaican rethinks past tenure, hopes reelection will follow

Michael Manley seems chastened. The once and probably future prime minister of Jamaica readily admits he made mistakes during his 1972-80 tenure as leader of this regionally influential Caribbean island. He tried to do too much too fast, he says. And Mr. Manley concedes that he allowed disagreements with the private sector at home and with Washington to mushroom into hostility.

Now he is ready to run his country again. And, if opinion polls hold steady, Manley will get that chance in elections expected for later this year. In the meantime, the lanky, regal-looking leader of the opposition People's National Party has been busy mending fences in the United States. The question, State Department and Capitol Hill observers say of Jamaican politics, is whether this dedicated social democrat has become as pragmatic, as he claims - or whether he is just saying what people want to hear.

In a meeting of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and in a separate interview here, Manley spoke about Jamaica's social problems, drugs, Cuba, and the Caribbean.

``We made a very serious mistake in allowing a sort of anger with US pressure'' to build up over Jamaica's relationship with Cuba, Manley says. ``An important part of my strategy that was not perceived by Washington was economic relations with the region - and that included Cuba.''

If elected, Manley says he plans to restore diplomatic ties to Cuba, but will keep them lower-profile. In other words, we probably won't see Cuban construction brigades building Jamaican schools, as happened during his earlier watch.

During his years out of office, during which he wrote a lengthy volume on cricket and has served as vice-president of the Socialist International, he traveled frequently to the States.

Now his relations with bankers and government officials here are ``infinitely better,'' he says.

Manley is also prepared for a more constructive relationship with the Jamaican private sector, which will include efforts to promote small business. His failed attempt to create state communal farms will remain a memory.

``You scratch every Jamaican under the skin and you'll find an entrepreneur dying to get out,'' he says. ``It took us [social democrats] a long time to understand this.''

One lucrative line of business he doesn't plan to promote, however, is marijuana production and cocaine trafficking. Though Jamaica's cooperation with regionwide US drug-eradication programs has contributed to Prime Minister Edward Seaga's decline in popularity, Manley says he won't ease up in the struggle against drugs, which are ``the dagger at the throat of any attempt of the Caribbean to develop.''

He does repeat the oft-heard refrain of small, poor, drug-producing nations that the ``enormous suction of US society for drugs'' needs to be stopped as well.

Ironically, it is Prime Minister Seaga's austerity program - which was producing promising results, with unemployment down, tourism booming, and economic growth up - that will likely push Seaga out of office. Social services, such as education and health care, have suffered under Seaga's budget cuts. Manley hopes to improve services by making better use of the resources available, and through the use of technology.

What does he want from the new US administration?

``To give us the benefit of the doubt,'' responds Manley instantly, still conscious of his reputation as a hot-headed leftist.

Manley is enthusiastic about legislation proposed by Rep. George Crockett (D) of Michigan. It is designed to invigorate President Reagan's Caribbean Basin Initiative, which has so far provided only minimal gains for the region. The bill calls for a US economic aid program for the Caribbean promoting:

Greater self-sufficiency in food production.

Rural development, so that people will want to stay in the country, not overcrowded cities.

Small and mid-sized cooperative and community-based agricultural industries for processing locally produced food.

Financial credit for farms and manufacturers.

Expanded tourism.

Greater the role of women in development.

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