Why was the Honorable Michael Manley such a powerful leader and such a historic figure?
The late Honorable Michael Manley (1924-1997) was prime minister of his native Jamaica twice, first from 1972 to 1980, and again from 1989 to 1992, serving during a particularly turbulent period when ideological clashes threatened to tear the former British colony apart. Born into wealth and privilege, Manley would nevertheless emerge as a major champion of the poor and dispossessed, of which Jamaica was home to many. Inspired by his British education, where he was exposed to the liberal democratic socialism that still defines that country's Labor movement, Manley dedicated himself to advancing a social democratic agenda as he rose to the pinnacle of Jamaican politics.
Having lived through the era of British colonialism and witnessed the island-nation's transition to independence, Manley was dedicated to improving the welfare of the economically destitute, most of whom were of African-Caribbean heritage as opposed to the ruling class's identification with the British Commonwealth. Manley, however, did not confine his political agenda to Jamaica; rather, he emerged as a major global force in conversations about income gaps and the socially-destabilizing influence such gaps would inevitably have the futures of the world's 'have nots.'
The period of political and social turbulence referenced above occurred most prominently during the 1980s when then-Prime Minister Edward Seaga was in power, with Manley the leader of the opposition People's National Party. Seaga's Jamaican Labor Party and Manley's People's National Party squared off throughout that decade, with violent factions representing and fighting on behalf of each side turning Jamaica's capital, Kingston, into a veritable war zone.
Manley is remembered today for his ideals. Despite the tiny venue from which he spoke, his was a respected voice on the political left. Nobody questioned his sincerity or commitment to improving the poor of what was then still referred to as "the Third World."