June 4, 2019
Tribute to Edward Seaga, former Prime Minister of Jamaica

by Sir James Mitchell

Eddie Seaga was a creative leader. Inspired by his Lebanese business background and early scholarly experience in Harvard, all directed him to his sensitive financial rectitude.

The formidable Sir Alexander Bustamente spotted his ability at the age of 29 and nominated him to the Jamaican legislature where he served for two years. For 43 years, he represented West Kingston in Parliament, including being Prime Minister and thus earned the recognition as the longest serving member of Parliament in Jamaica and our Caribbean, altogether 45 years.

His creativity in launching a music recording studio in the early days paved the way for Jamaica’s billion dollar music industry. And it is in music blended with politics that we are left with that enduring image in the National Stadium of the One Love concert, when Bob Marley brought on the handshake between Norman Manley and Eddie Seaga seeking to bring an end the factional violence with over 800 deaths. Now the tune ‘One Love’ is romance, not politics.

Before the Berlin wall fell, Eddie Seaga had steered Jamaica away from this socialist rhetoric of the time. Manley’s dictum that those of you who don’t like my socialism and links with Cuba, there are five flights a day to Miami, simply sent away the adventurous needed for economic prosperity.

The publication in 2009 by Edward Seaga: ‘Inside story of the Grenada Intervention’ and Pat Callender’s: ‘Flight paths and missing Connections’, add to the picture of our retreat from communist links.

Around the sidelines of a CARICOM Heads Meeting, Eddie organized a gathering of Eugenia Charles, John Compton, Kennedy Simmonds, Herbert Blaise and myself to discuss the “creation of a political institution among us”, and this is the genesis of The Caribbean Democrat Union with Eddie as Chairman. He steered us into affiliation with The International Democrat Union and linkage with conservative and centre parties.

The Adaneur Foundation assisted in training in democratic principles for the youth including a regional get together. I became Eddie’s successor as Chairman. My assignment by the International Democrat Union to be Co Chair observing elections in Nicaragua and Hungary after the fall of communism, and constructive discussions with colleagues from around the world gave me an understanding of failed policy.

Some personal stories may be appropriate. I invited Eddie and his wife Mitsy to lunch at the Frangipani. While travelling to Bequia on Coast Guard, Eddie fell ill with vomiting. Mitsy did not. So our Bequia trip became a cause celebre in future dinners.

When he discovered that I had secured grant funding for the Bequia airport from the European Union as a ‘Regional’ project, his thinking suddenly awoke. Housing students from other islands at Mona should be a regional project. I explained how the process worked.

One important idea of Eddie Seaga blazed a trail in the anti apartheid struggle. Sanctions on sporting and other links always occupied a whole day’s agenda, much of it repetitive. Eddie led the way with his fiscal sensitivity, proposing a ban on the purchase of South African Krugerrands, dominant as collectors’ pieces throughout the market.

I continue to surprise myself with the evolving scenario of the number of colleagues I outlive, but it is always fascinating to recall incidents that are really history.

Michael Manley and I developed a kind relationship in my early tenure in office. I was a bit surprised when he turned up latterly in the company of our private sector eminence Butch Stewart to promote his new airline in our region and the need to lengthen our Arnos Vale airport for safety and access for larger planes.

I could not resist a tease. When did he become a private sector advocate? What brought on his Damascene moment?

At one of our private sessions in Barbados without ministers or civil servants, Forbes Burnham of his Cooperative Republic of Guyana expressed his disgust with our students with scholarships who do not return. They should be sanctioned. “Imagine,” Forbes said, “I run into a Guyanese engineer on the streets of Toronto selling aloe vera cream.”

“Forbes,” I said, “That’s more a reflection of you than him.”

Eddie kicked me under the table and exclaimed “Touché”.

Rest In Peace my friend.