Manley Winning US Kudos

JAMAICA has one of the highest foreign debts per capita in the world. More and more, South American drugs flow through this Caribbean nation on their way to the United States and Europe. Cocaine abuse among Jamaicans is on the rise. But as far as Washington is concerned, Prime Minister Michael Manley could not be doing better.

Not long ago Mr. Manley was decried here as a wild-eyed socialist with one arm around Fidel Castro. But now he has had nine years to think about what went wrong with his last administration. ``He's more mature, more pragmatic,'' says a State Department official. Even Manley's plan to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba does not unduly concern the US. At least it was not his first act after regaining leadership, US officials say.

Manley is fulfilling campaign promises: He is continuing his conservative predecessor's economic reform (privatization, cutting price subsidies). He is continuing to eradicate marijuana, the island's main cash crop. He has heightened surveillance of ships and planes that stop in Jamaica. But Manley is quick to say, ``I'm not fighting drugs because the State Department tells me to. I'm doing it to save my country.''

At home, the charismatic leader is still on his postelection honeymoon. Only three months into his term, he can still blame former Prime Minister Edward Seaga for current economic troubles. He is also the beneficiary of a $500 million in emergency aid from Hurricane Gilbert. But sooner or later, the people will demand results. That's why Manley is a frequent visitor here, talking to his creditors at the multilateral banks and wooing Congress, which is considering an update of the Caribbean Basin Initiative that would boost area exports.

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