Patterson, P. J. 1936(?)–
P. J. Patterson 1936(?)–
Prime minister of Jamaica
P. J. Patterson, the prime minister of Jamaica, is the first son of two black parents ever elected to the top position in the government of that island nation. He won the prime ministership in March of 1993 after having been appointed to the job in 1992 by his predecessor, Michael Manley. Patterson could have delayed a popular election until 1994, but instead called for a vote in 1993 and won by a landslide. As Washington Post reporter Douglas Farah put it, the victory “was unexpectedly large and was interpreted as a personal triumph for Patterson, who emerged as a strong leader in his own right after years as a protege of longtime party leader Michael Manley.” The soft-spoken, genteel Patterson represents a departure from the dramatic and blustering leaders that have characterized Jamaican politics for the last two decades.
Patterson’s platform was not significantly different from that of his principal opponent, former prime minister Edward Seaga. Both men spoke of improving Jamaica’s dreadful economic woes through free market enterprise and decreased dependency on financial aid from the International Monetary Fund and other foreign sources of loaned capital. The primary difference between the candidates was one of personality: Patterson touted his humble island origins and called himself “one of the people,” a statement that bears weight in a country with a 75 percent black population. A correspondent for Economist magazine noted that Patterson drew his wide support “not only from the poor, but also from the rapidly expanding class of entrepreneurs and small investors who, in a booming stock market, have done well from his government’s version of popular capitalism.”
Patterson was born in a small village in western Jamaica in the 1930s. At that time the island was under the rule of Great Britain and had been for almost three hundred years. Patterson’s childhood years were a time of political foment in Jamaica, as members of the fledgling People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) sought independence from Britain and a form of true representative government for the nation. Independence was not in fact achieved until 1962, but by that time Jamaica’s two major political parties were well established, as was an elected parliament.
Patterson earned a law degree in London and returned to Jamaica to work for the PNP. He told Newsday: “I come from a rather different background than either of the two previous leaders [of Jamaica]. I reached the pinnacle of
Prime minister of Jamaica, 1992—. As member of People’s National Party, served Jamaican government in a variety of positions, 1970-92, including foreign minister, minister for foreign trade, minister of production and planning, and deputy prime minister, 1989-92; is currently chairman of majority party in Jamaican parliament.
Addresses: Office —Office of the Prime Minister, Kingston, Jamaica; or, c/o Jamaican Embassy, 1850 K. St. N.W., Suite 335, Washington, DC 20006.
leadership in the party having served at all levels: as organizer, as constituency chairman, as member of the party executive, as vice president of the party, as chairman of the party—and, indeed, I think I am the first person who has come up through the ranks of the party in this way. I think that many people would view that as a new phase, a new chapter in our political process.”
Patterson’s growing responsibility within the PNP inevitably brought him into contact with Michael Manley. The charismatic Manley’s mixed racial background led to his portrayal as “a ‘brown’ populist leader…who promised radical but vague changes in the condition of life faced by the masses, and was sympathetic to the cultural and racial aspirations and expressions of the black masses,” wrote Carl Stone in Class, Race and Political Behavior in Urban Jamaica. The son of the party’s founder, he was elected prime minister in 1972. Wildly popular among the Jamaican poor—who called him “Joshua” after the Old Testament liberator of the same name—Manley at first pursued a left-wing agenda. “Manley embodied the ideas of the Third World movement for independence from the centuries-old tyranny of empire,” wrote Robert Borosage and Saul Landau in Mother Jones. “His strategy for achieving an independent Jamaica…brought him to the forefront of the non-aligned movement and into an alliance with Cuba’s Fidel Castro [the revolutionary leader who oversaw his country’s development into a Communist state]. Manley’s policies indeed caused the national security elite of the United States to ‘vex themselves.’”
The Manley government was pioneering in its introduction of black executives into the uppermost circles of power. Patterson was one who benefited from this reversal of longstanding racist practices. Having proven his worth to the party from the grass roots level upwards, he was promoted both within PNP ranks and into the government as well. By the mid-1970s he held the important positions of foreign minister and minister for foreign trade. His duties took him to the United Nations and all over the world as Jamaica sought markets for its exports such as sugar, rum, bananas, coffee, and bauxite (the primary source of aluminum).
Manley’s left-wing policies alienated his government from the United States. As Borosage and Landau explained, “Aid, credit, and loans to Jamaica slowed to a trickle, and assorted destabilization tactics surfaced from 1976 to 1980, including the outbreak of daily and deadly street violence.” Reluctantly, the government instituted austerity measures that weakened some of its progressive reform programs. As the 1980 elections approached, the violence increased; it is estimated that as many as 800 people died in politically-motivated slayings during a contest that retired Manley from power and introduced Edward Seaga to the prime ministership.
Seaga was the leader of the Jamaican Labor Party, the more conservative of the two major political divisions in Jamaica. Under Seaga, the island was brought into a close relationship with the administration of President Ronald Reagan in Washington, DC. Like many a conservative government elsewhere, the Seaga regime reduced government spending on social programs even as the inflow of capital from the United States and other sources increased. During these years, Manley and Patterson were top-ranking members of the “opposition”—namely, the People’s National Party. At various times during the 1980s, Patterson served as vice president and chairman of the party, offering a non-violent protest against the government’s policies and platforms.
Borosage and Landau noted that despite a massive influx of foreign loans, “Seaga ran aground. Debt doubled while productivity declined. And the expected private foreign capital never arrived [in Jamaica]. By late 1988, as Seaga’s tenure drew to a close, the Jamaican economy was producing less per capita than it had been ten years earlier under Manley. Unemployment had risen to an official rate of 25 percent.” Under these circumstances, Manley and the PNP were able to return to the fore and defeat Seaga by a wide margin in a 1989 popular election. After years with the “opposition,” Patterson returned to the government officially as deputy prime minister. He was given the onerous task of reforming the sagging Jamaican economy and instituting new policies destined to reduce the enormous national debt.
The Manley government of 1989 was more moderate in tone and less dedicated to socialist objectives, but even the dynamic Manley could not stave off massive inflation and the devaluation of Jamaican currency brought on by the country’s level of indebtedness. In 1991 alone, the island’s inflation rate hit 80 percent, and one American dollar was worth more than 20 Jamaican dollars. The government also continued a futile battle against Jamaica’s most lucrative export—illegal drugs, a $100 million industry in the nation’s farming districts. Tough times notwithstanding, both political parties agreed that the austerity measures instituted were absolutely essential for any preservation of a viable Jamaican economy.
Manley was stricken with cancer in 1991. By the following year he had become too ill to continue his duties as prime minister. He stepped down, and Patterson became prime minister in his place by appointment. Patterson took office in March of 1992 and did his best to stabilize the fluctuating currency values and reduce inflation.
Patterson’s reception by the poor in Jamaica is well reflected in a random comment recorded by Laurie Gunst in the Nation. A fish-seller in the coastal village of Belmont said she was happy about Patterson’s promotion. She added, however: “P. J. can’t help [us], really. We can’t buy food in the shops again. Chicken fly so high we only see its shadow. It goin’ to banquets elsewhere.” Indeed, the Los Angeles Times reported in May of 1992 that expatriate Jamaicans in the United States and Canada were sending record amounts of food, clothing, and other items through the mail to needy family members still on the island. Patterson had to continue to tackle these economic woes without eroding his party’s popularity with the electorate.
Patterson might have taken two years without an election in order to wait until conditions improved. Instead, he ordered a general election for the spring of 1993. Seaga was his principal opponent from the opposition, and within his party he contended with an almost equally-popular candidate, Portia Simpson, the Minister for Welfare, Labor, and Sports. Perhaps recalling the extreme violence of the 1980 elections, Patterson announced his decision to hold a vote only three weeks before the balloting took place. Although the candidates attended the usual round of vociferous rallies, they all called for a peaceful election and took pains to appear cordial to one another in public.
The cordiality was not tried by any major platform differences. Both Seaga and Patterson agreed that a free market economy was the best course for Jamaica and that a reduction of national debt was essential. The campaign hinged on more personal matters. Patterson accented his rural Jamaican origins (Seaga was born in Boston) and, on occasion, used songs such as “Young, Gifted and Black,” “I Am a Born Jamaican, a Son of the Soil,” and “My Leader Born Ya,” at his rallies. Seaga, in turn, subtly tried to denigrate Patterson by comparing him to the young American television personality and rapper Will Smith, better known as the “Fresh Prince.” The comparison backfired when observers noted that the low-key, goateed Patterson was indeed “fresh,” with his decidedly different style of communication. As Farah commented in the Washington Post, the new prime minister “won praise for moving away from the strongman leadership style of both Manley and Seaga and making government more accessible to the people.”
Under Patterson’s leadership, inflation has stabilized and the Jamaican dollar is stronger. He told Black Enterprise that his country will move from a deficit to a surplus in foreign exchange reserves by 1994, and by 1995, will no longer require further assistance from the International Monetary Fund. “With creativity, discipline, determination and hard work,” he concluded, “we will enter the 21st century as a strong nation.”
Newsday contributor Douglas Century noted that despite its economic woes and its sporadic, politically-motivated violence, Jamaica “appears a model of regional stability” in the Caribbean. Patterson’s peaceful assumption of power as an elected official certainly heightens this sense of stability. Patterson himself told Newsday: “I think [Jamaicans] are remarkable in that between 1944 and now we have changed governments solely by the democratic process. The way in which this has been done has established a tradition, and I think with time we have acquired political maturity and political sophistication.… Undoubtedly, there are always things which make for the possibility of social tension. Those have to be faced very squarely, and certainly in our case we think it is very important to keep in close touch with the people at all times, to give them an understanding of the difficulties we face and why and how we’re seeking to overcome them. We have to keep the people a part of the solution, so that they do not feel that the government is the problem and they have no contribution in finding ways and means of overcoming these problems.”
Brown, Aggrey, Color, Class and Politics in Jamaica, Transaction, 1980.
Payne, Anthony, Politics in Jamaica, St. Martin’s, 1988.
Black Enterprise, December 1992, p. 22.
Economist, March 21, 1992, p. 48; March 27, 1993, p. 47.
Emerge, June 1993, p. 18.
Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1992, p. 27.
Mother Jones, March/April 1991, p. 26-29.
Nation, July 13, 1992, p. 48-51.
Newsday, October 5, 1992, p. 37; October 15, 1992, p. 33.
New York Times, March 29, 1992, p. L-3.
Washington Post, March 30, 1993, p. A-16; March 31, 1993, p. A-22.
—Anne Janette Johnson
Patterson, P. J. 1935–
P. J. Patterson 1935–
Prime minister of Jamaica
A successful leader in a troubled Caribbean country with a tradition of white political leadership, P. J. Patterson is the first prime minister of Jamaica to have been born of two black parents. Implementing the free-market reforms that swept the region and much of the Third World during the 1990s, he proved to be a skillful and steady chief executive, bringing new prosperity to an island nation that, despite its well-known tourist industry, has suffered considerable economic difficulties since gaining independence in 1962. Groomed to be prime minister by his charismatic predecessor Michael Manley in 1992, Patterson, as leader of the People’s National Party (PNP), won Jamaica’s 1993 elections and led the party to victory once again in 1997 even after the imposition of austerity measures designed to put the economy on a firmer footing.
Percival Noel James Patterson was born in 1935 in St. Andrew, Jamaica, the son of a farmer in the island’s rural western region. He excelled as a student in primary and high schools and earned an honors degree in English at the University of the West Indies. While still a student he became politically active in the then British colony that had a history of colorful and contentious politics.
He worked for the PNP, which in the 1960s and 1970s supported socialist programs aimed at improving the quality of life of the impoverished Jamaican masses through government control over industry, and forged ties with such leaders as Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Patterson, a newly minted college graduate, decided to continue his education in London, England. After obtaining a law degree in 1963, he passed the bar in Britain and Jamaica. When he returned to Jamaica, he found that his education made him a valuable asset to the PNP, which was struggling for ascendancy over its longtime rival, the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), in the wake of independence from Britain.
Patterson rose through the ranks of the PNP, becoming a party vice president from 1969 to 1982, campaign director for the general elections of 1972, 1976, and 1989, and chairman, winning election to the Jamaican parliament, and assuming leadership of various government ministries in the 1970s and 1980s. He began to work increasingly closely with Manley, a natural leader
At a Glance…
Born Percival Noel James Patterson in St. Andrew, Jamaica in 1935, the son of a farmer. Divorced, two children. Education: Graduated with honors degree in English, University of the West Indies, 1959; bachelor of law degree, London School of Economics, 1963; passed bar in Britain and Jamaica.
Career: Prime minister of Jamaica, 1992s attorney and lifelong political organizer and politician. Party organizer, People’s National Party of Jamaica, 1958–60; party vice president, 1969–82; party chairman, 1983-; member, Jamaican senate, 1967–70; member, Jamaican House of Representatives, 1970s and 1980s; minister of industry, foreign trade, and tourism, Government of Jamaica, beginning in 1972; deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, 1979–80, 1989–90; deputy prime minister and minister of development, planning, and production, 1990–91, resigned, 1992; elected prime minister of Jamaica, 1992 in special election caused by the death of Prime Minsiter Michael Manley; reelected 1993, 1997.
Addresses: Office — Office of the Prime Minister, 1 Devon Road, Kingston 10, Jamaica; c/o Jamaican Embassy, 1850 K. St NW, Suite 335, Washington, DC 20006.
of mixed-race background whose populist rhetoric led the PNP to victory in several 1970s elections. When the Jamaica Labor Party, a rightward-tilting party that cultivated a close relationship with the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, came to power in the 1980s, Patterson emerged as a leader of the opposition, resisting the cuts in social programs pushed by the JLP and its leader, Edward Seaga.
Manley, Patterson, and the PNP returned to power in 1989, by which time the steam had gone out of the international socialist movement, and Patterson was named deputy prime minister and finance minister. He assumed the unenviable task of rescuing the Jamaican economy from the inflation and national debt that had accumulated when the foreign investment Seaga had courted failed to materialize. The government took the step of devaluing the country’s currency, a move that pleased international financiers but wreaked havoc on ordinary Jamaicans, who often depended on the contributions of relatives who had emigrated to the United States or Canada.
Patterson resigned from his posts in a 1991 scandal involving the improper granting of tax relief to the multinational Shell Oil Company. But the allegations did little damage politically, and when Manley announced his resignation due to ill health on March 15, 1992, Patterson was widely viewed as a strong candidate to succeed him. He won election as party leader (in Jamaican’s parliamentary system, modeled on that of Great Britain, the leader of the majority party in Parliament become prime minister), and was sworn in as prime minister on March 30.
Although the nation’s economy was in crisis, Patterson confidently predicted a rapid improvement in Jamaican’s fortunes. He could have remained in office until 1994, but instead sought a mandate by calling elections for March of 1993. With Seaga as Patterson’s opponent, the campaign took on some racial overtones (Seaga was born in Boston and was of Lebanese-Jamaican ancestry), but also turned on economic issues; in the words of the Economist, “[Mr.] Patterson draws support not only from the poor, but also from the rapidly expanding class of entrepreneurs and small investors who, in a booming stock market, have done well from his government’s version of popular capitalism.” Patterson and the PNP easily won re-election, taking 61 percent of the popular vote and 54 seats in the 60-member House of Representatives.
Dubbed the “Fresh Prince” after American star Will Smith, Patterson met with success even though Jamaica’s economy lagged behind those of other Western countries in the early and middle 1990s. Through a devaluation that impelled Patterson to appeal for aid from expatriate Jamaicans, the currency was stabilized, and Patterson won praise for what the Economist called a “consultative brand of politics” that stood in dramatic contrast to the rough-and-tumble governing styles of Jamaica’s past leaders. Some attributed this welcome change to Patterson’s rural background, and to the fact that he had risen to power outside of the culture of political violence that plagued the city of Kingston, the nation’s capital and largest city.
Indeed, election-related violence emerged as an issue in Patterson’s 1997 campaign; he seemed to represent for many Jamaicans a new stability in the country’s leadership. After his convincing victory, he was quoted in Jet as saying, “I regard this (victory) as a clear signal to all who are too blind to see that the country wants an end to political violence.” The election was monitored by an international team of peacekeeper-observers, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the Jamaican-descended U.S. general Colin Powell, and Patterson’s victory gave the PNP an unprecedented third term in power.
By 1998 Patterson seemed to be in a position where he could continue to improve the lives of ordinary Jamaicans. He listed education, improved water, electricity, and sanitation services, and new roads as priorities for his upcoming term. “It is also very critical to win the fight against crime and the scourge of drugs,” he was quoted assaying, again in Jet. The leader whom the Economist called “a reticent man in a loud-mouthed country” had emerged as a respected black leader for the 1990s and beyond.
Current Leaders of Nations, Gale, 1998.
Black Enterprise, December 1992, p. 22.
Economist, March 21, 1992, p. 48; March 27, 1993, p. 47.
Financial Times, April 7, 1993, p. 4.
Jet, April 4, 1994, p. 6; January 12, 1998, p. 8.
Facts on File World News CD-ROM, Country Profile: Jamaica; also issues of January 9, 1992, April 2, 1992, and April 8, 1993.
—James M. Manheim