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Neocolonialism in Jamaica:


History, practices, and resistance




                                                                                                                           Dori Borrelli

                                                                                                                           Speech 214



            “The imposition of structural adjustment programs in the Third World since the 1970s has been characterized as a war against the poor, a process of [neo] recolonization” (Turner, 1994: 37).  This statement is particularly applicable to the country of Jamaica.  The island has been susceptible to a variety of neocolonial acts including the presence of multinational corporations, structural adjustment programs, and loan organizations that have sucked Jamaica’s economy dry.  This neocolonial presence has devastated the population in more ways than one.  It is apparent that neocolonialism has had and continues to have a large impact on society as a whole in Jamaica.  This influence will be shown by presenting a historical portrayal, forms of neocolonialism in the country, and attempts to resist such domination.



            The history of Jamaica is crucial to understanding the country’s current situation.  Many of the problems today are results of neocolonial forces.  The roots of such concerns can be found within the country’s long legacy of colonialism extending 300 years in length before reaching independence.  “Jamaica was the meeting place of two expropriate populations: the Britisher uprooting himself in search of quick wealth through sugar; and the African uprooted by force from his environment to supply slave labor upon which his owner’s dream of wealth depended” (Manley, 1975: 12).

In 1494 Christopher Columbus arrived on the island to be followed by his son, Diego, in 1509.  Diego Columbus sent a delegation to the island thus supporting Spanish control in Jamaica until 1660. During the reign of the Spanish the colonizers managed to wipe out the entire population of native Arawaks, comprised of 60,000 people.  The Spanish had imported some slaves from Africa during this time but developed little of the island.  Profound development began in 1660 when, after a five-year struggle against the Spanish crown, the British won power.  There was a significant rise in population under British control.  Their system allowed the colony to prosper as they gave new European settlers land to cultivate sugar cane and cocoa.  “The European planter has been described as a machine for making money” (Waters, 1985: 22).  The purpose of this colonial economic system was to provide raw materials and goods for the Mother Country.  In addition, a general consumer market was developed to send wealth to Europe and allow for capital accumulation, all for the benefit of the colonizers.

Slavery represents an important part of Jamaican history and the cultivated dominant atmosphere.  For one, plantations highly depended on slave labor to maximize profit margins.  Between 1655 and 1808 one million slaves were forcefully brought to Jamaica (Waters, 1985: 21-23).  Persaud (2001: 72) suggests, “the plantation system, the totality of institutional arrangements surrounding the production and marketing of plantation crops, has seriously affected society in Jamaica”.  In other words, the slave mode of production was a crucial factor in the establishment of Jamaica’s structural society.  “Jamaica’s class structure today reflects its history as a colonial plantation society and its beginnings of industrial development characterized by a high rate of inequality and poverty” (Waters, 1985: 26).


            While the roots of domination and oppression can be found in Jamaican history so can the origin of resistance.  The Maroons are descendents of former Spanish slaves who escaped to the mountains of the island’s interior when the British took over.  They created an isolated community and lifestyle that re-embraced African customs they had been forced to reject as slaves.  Between 1663 and 1738 they attacked many planters’ estates in a form of rebellion and revenge.  They used guerilla warfare to consistently fight British planters.  The Maroons are a great example of the roots of resistance in Jamaican colonial history. 

The Sam Sharpe rebellion of 1831-1832 is also an important benchmark in Jamaica’s history.  The rebellion is named after a slave who sparked “one of the most extensive rebellions in Jamaican history” (Barrett, 1997: 39).  Barrett posits two causes of this slave revolt.  “Feelings of relative deprivation, when a segment of society is deprived of the wealth and status enjoyed by another segment because of race, religion, or sexual inferiority imposed by the privileged class” may lead to revolution (Barrett, 1997: 43).  However, in the case of Sam Sharpe, rebellion might have had more to do with feelings of heightened expectation because many slaves “had mentally, psychologically, and eschatologically ceased being slaves” (Barrett, 1997: 44).  Whatever the cause, this rebellion can be seen in the abolition of slavery in 1834.

            Resistance did not end with the abolition of slavery.  In 1846 the British adopted a free trade policy that added competition to sugar production.  This competition was heightened when former slaves did not want to participate in the labor force. Labor issues plus religious and political differences created tension resulting in the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865.  In the end, the Jamaican Assembly dropped the old constitution and the island became a crown colony of Britain.  This meant the establishment of a new constitution that laid decision-making in the hands of a governor and his cabinet, which controlled the legislative council.  “The new constitution stipulated that the success of the government would depend on a maintenance of reasonable economic and social conditions” (Barrett, 1997: 63). 

            Nearly a century later, in 1938, “violence acted as a breaking point when labor unrest came to a head in Westmoreland at the Tate and Lyle sugar factory, followed by more labor rebellion in Spanish Town and Kingston” (Barrett, 1997: 64).  On Serge Island and in St. Thomas 1,400 workers went on a violent strike for higher wages and shut down of the parish of St. Thomas.  This violence brought Jamaican conditions and workers’ rights to the attention of the imperial government.  The 1938 rebellion also sparked the voices of Norman W. Manley and Alexander Bustamante who started the Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) and the Peoples National Party (PNP), which still control Jamaican politics today.  History speaks for itself, the narrative demonstrates that the seeds of both, oppression and resistance, are deeply embedded within Jamaican society.  Such a legacy has paved the way for continued domination in the form of neocolonialism in addition to attempts to change this pattern of marginalization.


The transition from formal colonialism to one of constitutional independence did not end the poor’s struggle but instead enabled the British colonial rule to “reassess the local arrangements for supervising the colonial economy” (Campbell, 1987: 86). This reassessment provided for more colonial domination.  “The dilemma of Jamaica today arises from the island’s neocolonial status.  Freed from British dominion in 1962, Jamaica became an uncharted economic entity, with the responsibilities but not the means for true independence” (Nicholas, 1996: 18).  In essence, the term neocolonialism refers to the point when a nation shows the external signs of political independence yet remains economically dependent.  As Kwame Nkrumah explains, “the economic system and thus the political policy [in neo-colonies] is directed from the outside…Neocolonialism is the worst form of imperialism.  For those who practice it, it means power without responsibility and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress” (quoted in Nicholas, 1996: 18).  This section will explore the framework behind current neocolonialism in Jamaica, some examples of neocolonial activity and their effects, and the complicated situation created as a result.

The framework

“The confusions of a small country trying to grapple with changes in its political, economic, and social life are all taking place simultaneously…internal problems are further complicated by external pressure at both the regional and global levels” (Floyd, 1979: 154).  The Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) was largely responsible for Jamaica’s role in the international community.  The leader of the JLP, Bustamante, saw Jamaica as a ‘middle-income’ country in the Third World that had a stable democracy, relatively well-developed economic infrastructure, and ready for an industrial revolution. The true industrialization of the country, however, was more rooted in the plan of the U.S. to replace Britain as the dominant global power.  In the emerging worldview, free trade and foreign investment were key and Bustamante was extremely interested in the latter. In general, the leader was a strong proponent of the United States and Britain.

The mentality of the Jamaican government, with the influence of the U.S. and Britain as foreign investors, is quite complex.  A cursory glance at the fundamental roots of this power is essential in evaluating the power of these foreign forces.  During the time of Jamaica’s independence the JLP established the country’s presence in multilateral organizations.  Such organizations were created with post war planning and finalized at Bretton Woods, which installed a system for interference in the economies and societies of countries that were on the verge of independence.  “With the [Jamaican] government’s acceptance of American inspired ideas and institutions, the quest for economic resources was to be achieved through multi-nationals, international financial institutions, and/or bilateral relations with Western developed countries” (Persaud, 2001: 123). The established (white and wealthy) classes and the JLP influenced policy by promoting Britain and the U.S. as examples of “good governance”.  Both countries reflected an image of economic progress and equal opportunity.  “There is a sense in which Britain and America, but particularly America, formed a kind of founding myth through which the ruling class in Jamaica had imagined themselves and the Jamaica they wanted” (Persaud, 2001: 114). It is crucial to see that this “corporate colonial vision” is rooted in much ideological thought. 

Neocolonial industry

The true effects of neocolonialism on Jamaican society can be seen through simple examples.  The focus here will be on industry and investment.  Important models of economic dependence include the sugar plantations, bauxite mining, the marijuana market, and tourism.

The great plantations have not flourished on the island since the 1800s.  Now the few remaining plantation “Great Houses” have been turned into luxury hotels in the hills above Montego Bay to attract foreign tourists.  However, 10% of Jamaica’s working population still chops cane despite the fact that sugar no longer represents a worthwhile profit motive.  Once a popular foreign investment and regardless of inflated prices and favorable quotas the industry now has high production costs and low profits.  The British do not want to reinvest in the necessary mechanization that would make the sugar industry in Jamaica competitive with other nations.  (Boot and Thomas, 1976: 48-50) The Tate and Lyle factory still runs as a result of the “chronic unemployment and embarrassing cheap labor Jamaica provides, not slaves exactly but the next best thing” (Boot and Thomas, 1976: 50).  The implications of this are serious, “Jamaica is a black African society with a mercantile elite and a whiter-shade-of- middle class minority still inhibited by the pretensions of a white colonial plantocracy that does not even live there anymore” (Boot and Thomas, 1976: 54).

The discovery of bauxite on the island of Jamaica has significantly contributed to the fall of sugar production, the bauxite industry replaced sugar as the center of the economy representing 15% of the Gross National Product (GDP) and two-thirds of all exports (Campbell, 1987: 86).   Bauxite, the red ore from which one extracts aluminum, is precious because supplies are scarce in the world.  Foreign aluminum companies have invested in Jamaica as a result of rich deposits of bauxite, the supply of cheap labor, and the islands’ political stability. Between 1950 and 1957 Jamaica became the world’s largest producer of bauxite.  Canadian and U.S. companies such as Alcan, Reynolds, Kaiser Bauxite, and later, Alpart, Revere and Alcoa grasped the high-grade ore.

Ironically, the bauxite industry had a severe impact on Jamaican society in many ways. First, the companies did not want to reinvest in other sectors of the economy.   They even insisted on importing equipment to be used in mining.  Second, “though exploration of open-pit mining of bauxite never employed more than 10,000 workers at any one time, it displaced thousands from rural areas and increased the burden of unemployment” (Campbell, 1987: 86).  North American investors have been persuaded with legislation that allows them to exploit small farmers in order to maximize profits.  The bauxite multi-nationals ate up the already short supply of land on the island and bought out the land of small local farmers.  In 1976 foreign capitalists had acquired more than 191,000 acres and displaced 560,000 rural Jamaicans between 1943-1970 (Campbell, 1987: 86).

Many small farmers from St. Elizabeth and St. Ann, who had been uprooted by bauxite companies, watched helplessly as the transnational bulldozed their homes and small provision grounds to take out the red dirt from the ground, sending this dirt to the sea on conveyor belts, where ships could carry it to provide jobs in the aluminum industry in Europe and North America.  (Campbell, 1987: 88)


Two results of the bauxite industry include an outmigration to foreign countries

and migration to urban areas, the effects of which can still be seen today.  Approximately 163,000 small farmers, skilled and unskilled laborers, tradesmen and craftsmen were pressured off their land and left Jamaica for the UK.  A number also migrated to the U.S. and Canada.  Consequently, the total acreage under cultivation dropped 18% between 1945 and 1968 resulting in even more dependence on foreign food suppliers.  In addition, it became more difficult to effectively change public policy when it was most needed because the organized working class movement dissolved and relocated. (Campbell, 1987: 86-87)

            Evidence shows a correlation between the arrival and influence of bauxite companies and the cultivation of marijuana.  Ganja is the one high-yield cash crop existing in Jamaica and is second only to bauxite as a source of cash revenue. (Boot and Thomas, 1976: 57) Cultivation was to subsidize the income of the small farmer, particularly after the invasion of rural areas by the bauxite multi-nationals.  However, the ganja traffic soon fell into the hands of a few and the police began raiding and regarding ganja trade as criminal activity.  Despite the illegality, neocolonial forces even made their way into the marijuana realm as an alliance was established with capitalists in the U.S. to export the herb to the mainland.  Many cultivators emerged devoted to supplying the U.S. market with ganja.  “By the mid sixties the export of ganja to the U.S. was a multi-million dollar a year business, highly organized, with capitalist and potential get-rich-quick individuals arriving from the U.S. in Jamaica to take out tons of ganja” (Campbell, 1987: 111).  Over time the ganja market led to crime, violence, guns, and gangs within Jamaica.  While this is not an example of a specific multi-national corporation coming into the country or an overt agreement between Jamaica and some first world country, it does demonstrate the manipulative power of the U.S. and capitalist influences.

            In acknowledging the power of tourism in Jamaica, Stephanie Black’s film Life and Debt speaks well about the issue.  The documentary juxtaposes images of the happy, rich tourist getting drunk, lounging, and eating fruit labored over by the local populations with scenes of Trench Town and other slums in addition to local farmers and workers slaving to make some sort of living in a foreign controlled economy. (Black: 2001) The separation of tourist and local is extremely devastating.  “At the mercy of all that expensive pink flesh squeezed like blancmange into atrocious leisure wear, getting tanked on banana daiquiris are the local kids diving for pennies” (Boot and Thomas, 1976: 60).

The nationalists in the country, brainwashed by centuries of colonialism and the ideals of the domineering first world, invent mottos such as “Out of Many One People”. Some argue that this perpetuates racial stereotypes and images of the Black poor.  For example, “racist notions of a happy-go-lucky people have been recreated in glossy tourist brochures in the hot house effort to organize recreation for the international bourgeoisie” (Campbell, 1987: 87).  Policy has been drastically influenced by the motives to provide the proper infrastructure for a tourist economy along with friendly hospitality despite the fact that foreign countries own most of the expensive hotels.

The effects

            Foreign investment and multinational corporations, manifestations of first world interests, represent the power of neocolonialism in Jamaica.  The outcome of their presence on the island is unsettling and disturbing.  The impact they have had on society is self-evident.  The Jamaican nationalism in conjunction with the wealthy foreign minority separates most local Jamaicans from markets other than Europe and North America (e.g. the West Indian Federation).  This combination of regional and global forces allowed the state to become a puppet for foreign capitalism guaranteeing infrastructural support for industrial enterprises and consistent transfer of profits to corporate bases in the Western world.

 USAID in March of 1988 stated that the economic output of Jamaica was way below the level of 1972, despite all the foreign investment, structural adjustment programs, multinational corporations, and participation in the global market.  The distribution of wealth and income was extremely unequal with severe inadequacies in infrastructure and housing.  Shortages in medical and technical personnel were increasing in addition to physical decay and social violence of the country. (Chomsky: 1991, 235)  These levels have most likely risen since that time.  Nicholas (1996: 18) claims an unemployment rate of 40% with the remaining population in menial low paying service positions, benefiting the tourist industry and upper classes.  Some also work in bauxite mines and on sugar and banana plantations. 

The bauxite business, like banana and geriatric sugar business continues to prosper according to the classic formula of colonial exploitation, by which a basic raw material or staple luxury can be cheaply produced for a distant market at a profit, only at the expense of the economy and society, not to mention the entire state of mind, of the producing country. (Boot and Thomas, 1976: 63)


One should also recognize the complexity of the neocolonial situation in Jamaica.  Norman Girvan in Foreign Capital and Economic Underdevelopment supports the idea that multinational corporations perpetuate underdevelopment.  Jamaica shows certain shows signs of development and success seen in the first world such as traffic jams, supermarket chains, and resort hotels.  The contradiction is that units of housing are unacceptably low, water for the poor is inadequate and often non-existent, and too many people go without proper clothing. (Campbell, 1987: 87) In other words, the typical Jamaican is denied life’s basic necessities in large part due to foreign interests.  Adding to the complexity of life in Jamaica is the growing tension among the island’s different inhabitants.  Nicholas (1996: 19) explains that the Black masses dislike plantations and mining industries along with the tourist presence.  Similarly, the ruling elite and tourists looking down upon those same Black masses for being ‘poor and ignorant’.  The result is a never-ending circle of hate, miscommunication and lack of dialogue.  Recognition and discussion of these problems might lead to more understanding, acceptance, and compromise.

            Jamaica is stuck in between what is in the best interest of the majority and the forces controlling the economy.  The choice exists but the country remains “hung both ways.  As much as pride demands Jamaicans free themselves from the habits and attitudes of 400 years of dependence, their economic future is more and more dependent on overseas and mostly American investment”(Boot and Thomas, 1976: 60).  There exists “a vicious cycle of spiraling neocolonialism, and the average Jamaican is aware of a network of forces which interplay in controlling his or her life” (Nicholas, 1996: 19). Yet, “the big companies keep casually mentioning that they [Jamaicans] should count their blessings because they could always get the stuff somewhere else if it stopped being worth their while, which probably isn’t even true” (Boot and Thomas, 1976: 60).  The reality is that Jamaica never truly achieved independence nor did slavery and oppression ever end.  It continues today in a different and more discreet variety.


Since the 1970s we have seen the most rapid and sweeping institutional transformation in human history.  It is a conscious and intentional transformation in search of a new world economy, order in which business has no nationality and knows no borders.  It is driven by global dream of vast corporate empires, compliant governments, a globalized consumer monoculture, and a universal ideological commitment to corporate libertarianism.  To counter the economic, social, and environmental devastation being wrought nearly everywhere by the realization of this corporate colonial vision, we must learn to recognize its message and the methods of its propagation. (Korten, 1995: 121)


A third arena in which to examine the impact of neocolonialism in Jamaica is to illustrate the response to such domination.  While there have been many forms of resistance to neocolonialism the focus here is on the role of Michael Manley and the Rastafarians.

Michael Manley

            Prime Minister, Michael Manley of the PNP, provides important insight into the social situation of Jamaica, the nation’s problems, and attempts to resolve them.  A change in the historical structure of the PNP and politics, in general, on the island began in February 1969 when Norman Manley, former leader of the PNP, stepped down from his position.  Michael Manley replaced him and defeated the JLP.  Much of domestic and foreign policy was altered as a result.  Manley and his party were concerned with establishing a framework for society, which would allow Jamaicans to free themselves from the psychology of dependence, the damaging legacy of colonialism, and slavery. (Floyd, 1979: 154)

In the 1976 election, the PNP campaigned intensively against oppression, imperialism, and capitalism, all the things contributing to neocolonialism. Strong attempts were made to include the urban poor, blue-collar workers, students, youth, non-established workers (farmers and domestics), and the unemployed and underemployed in politics.  Manley has spoken and written about the disturbing conditions in Jamaica: 

The wind of change is blowing strongly.  It is like a presence in the political atmosphere and as its implications are sensed by the masses, that is, the workers, the small farmers struggling with marginal hillside land, the poor mothers in the slums, the youngsters, and even the children- there is a stirring of popular excitement and anticipation, a renewal of faith, a light in the eye of the disinherited who sense that their claim to a place in the national life is a dominant consideration in governmental and political action.  (Manley quoted in Floyd, 1979: 155)


Manley and the PNP offer hope, at least on the surface.  Manley, himself, seems to be a voice of the people and extremely empowering. 

            However, many, especially the western world, do not support the prime minister’s ideas and politics.  His democratic socialist views and anti-global suggestions are controversial and unique when given the context, history, and foreign influence in Jamaica.  “From day to day, Michael Manley walks the tightrope between the state of economic solvency (democratic socialism), which he hopes to bring the island, and open mutiny by the middle class, who fear some of the means -particularly Cuban assistance and other third world linkages- that might solve the inherent problems of Jamaica’s neocolonialism”(Nicholas, 1996: 19).  According to Manley, Jamaican foreign policy is based on the notion that the country is small and thus must depend on the Western economic system.  The consequence of such a mentality or belief is huge.  . 

Manley’s “mistake”

Despite Manley’s open dedication to his country much of the population has begun to question his activities and role in Jamaica.  This origin of disappointment involves the prime minister’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF has played a large political role in Jamaica, postponing troubles while only making them potentially worse.  The IMF demonstrates the implications of loans to developing nations and represents another element of neocolonialism.

The IMF was established after WWII by the United Nations to keep better order of exchange rates, smooth violent fluctuations, and help over critical situations.  The IMF is a moneylender to third world nations that agree to meet its conditions.  The Fund’s basic principles include, foreign companies have the freedom of choice to participate in any local market by importing goods or by establishing a local production facility, foreign firms should be governed by the same laws and have the same rights in any country as do domestic firms, and that foreign firms be allowed to undertake any activity in any country that is legally “permissible” for domestic firms (Korten, 1995: 123). 

However, in devoting its resources to debt problems, the IMF has seriously neglected its supposed intentions.  “Out of a hundred or so efforts, it would be hard to point to a single case in which they have come near fulfilling their purpose of improving the economy of the debtor as to make loans payable as written” (Wiarda, 1990: 200).   Wiarda argues that the IMF is a “one-sided agency” that has failed.  If it is to solve or alleviate debt it has operate properly as an intermediary and promote the interests of the debtors and loaners alike.  In sum, the Fund does not open markets, improve export prices, or decrease corruption. Furthermore, as will become evident the IMF represents the epitome of neocolonialism.

The case of Jamaica is interesting.  The crash in the economy during the 1970s damaged all sectors of Jamaica’s economic system.  In April 1977 Michael Manley responded to a variety of pressures, including the IMF, and proposed the People’s Plan in parliament.  This initiative included many elements of democratic socialism as it called for disengagement from international capitalism, socializing the means of production and exchange, increasing Jamaica’s self-reliance, and diversification of foreign economic relations.  However, the conservatives in the PNP were not supportive, “the combination of pressing economic problems; strength of moderates and conservatives in PNP leadership; and the election of Jimmy Carter as president of the U.S., led the PNP to turn to the IMF” (Persaud: 2001: 175).

  In June of 1977 the International Monetary Fund loaned Jamaica U.S.$75 million.  The stipulations of the IMF agreement included pension and wage control the removal of price controls, and a 40% cutback in the standard of living (Persaud, 2001: 178).  By 1978 cutbacks and hardships continued as Manley voiced concern that “negotiations are harrowing and ghastly”.  In addition, graffiti sprung up saying “IMF stands for ‘Is Manley Fault” (Waters, 1985: 203).  He admits the agreement was a mistake and explains,

The strategy was I am going to be an object of exploitation.  I am not going to have a position of my own, I am not going to raise my voice in the world…every time I perhaps deliver the right vote at the U.N., every time I do not cause any problems in the world, I will hope to get another million dollars.  (Manley quoted in Persaud, 2001: 169)


In Manley’s view, Jamaican foreign policy must be focused at changing the world, for it is only with this success that can change the problems in the country’s domestic sphere.  In the film “Life and Debt” Manley demands, “Give us back our markets!” (Black: 2001).

            By 1980 the economy in Jamaica was in worse condition than before the IMF loan.  Thirty percent of the island’s workforce was unemployed and the foreign exchange deficit was significantly higher that in 1977.  “The economic growth that the IMF program was designed to produce had not materialized…In March 1980 the PNP decided to break permanently with the IMF” (Waters, 1985: 203).  Noam Chomsky (1991: 234) explains that while the country has experienced some growth it is mostly due to filtered ganja money from the marijuana trade, increase in tourism earnings, lower fuel import costs, and raised price for bauxite and aluminum, “the rest was the usual catastrophe of capitalism including one of the highest per capita debts in the world, collapse of infrastructure, and general impoverishment”.

Stephanie Black’s documentary “Life and Debt” reveals much about the current situation in Jamaica and the long-lasting effects of the IMF loan.  Poverty and crime are unacceptably high.  Farmers are unable to compete with the international market.  Imported food and goods are cheaper than locally produced goods and food. Even for those who are employed life can be terrible.  As a result of the establishment of the Free Trade Zone, women are exploited and subjected to sweatshop conditions.  The free zone is located in Jamaica but owned by multinational corporations such as Hanes and other American clothing companies that operate worldwide.  These goods never step foot onto true Jamaican soil.  Wages are low and offer no guarantees.  When production becomes too expensive or can be done more cheaply somewhere else, by someone else, the companies get up and leave, often without even paying the Jamaican workers. In sum, this is an incredible film and in many instances excruciatingly truthful.  With the documentary Black makes a very necessary statement about the impact that debt and foreign loan have on Jamaican society. (Black: 2001) 

Whatever the outcome of shifts in power Jamaica remains the most politically dynamic and culturally diversified in the Caribbean…States of emergency and political dissent and unrest, while inconvenient and undesirable for the tourist industry, are signals of a struggling sovereignty’s attempt to settle age-old disputes of race, class, and color and to develop a productive, expansive way of life which will be equitable for all its citizens. (Nicholas, 1996: 19)


Rastafarians and reggae

            The shortsightedness of developed nations, insensitive to the hopes and aspirations of third world peoples, cause then to back the party or politicians who push foreign relations at the expense of the future.  The end to such leaders is inevitable. 

Whatever the outcome of shifts in power Jamaica remains the most politically dynamic and culturally diversified in the Caribbean…States of emergency and political dissent and unrest, while inconvenient and undesirable for the tourist industry, are signals of a struggling sovereignty’s attempt to settle age-old disputes of race, class, and color and to develop a productive, expansive way of life which will be equitable for all its citizens. (Nicholas, 1996: 19)


Barrett (1997: 263) insists that the Rastafarian population in Jamaica knows the chance of foreign infiltration exists.  On a general level, any pressure, including neocolonial forces, can count on resistance from the Rastas.  He explains further, “any party or politician choosing to be the instrument of foreign pressure may well receive the benefits of multinationals and other agents of the status quo but the social and economic problems that brought about the emergence of Rastafari will remain”. 

“It is clear that the post emancipation colonial state, the “two-party Westminster Parliamentary Adult Suffrage” system, Jamaica’s attainment of independence in 1962, and the country’s entry into the IMF have not alleviated Jamaica’s woes or freed its people from economic bondage” (Murrell, 1998: 394).  Something else is needed.

The Rastafarian community has the ability to fill that gap and bring relief to the struggling population.  During the 1960s culture everywhere was expanding and being recreated.  In Jamaica, the Rastafarians were progressing and shifting from an isolated sect or cult to one occupying more space in the society.  Reggae and I-talk became more popular and “a concerted oral war of position”.  Rastas are a strong force of resistance in part due to their oral culture.  Since slavery, orality has been the choice communicative methods of resistance.  The slave owners never realized the true meaning of their slaves’ singing and dancing.  This tradition continues today.  The Rastafarians represent a very promising movement capable of bringing about much needed change to the Jamaican people.  Barrett (1997: 265) outlines some unique contributory characteristics of this community including, the excitement they bring to life, an uninhibited way of expressing themselves, their capacity to absorb deviant behavior, and a love for their kind which creates a kind of therapeutic community.

In addition to exemplifying a powerful movement, the Rastafarians speak against neocolonialism and disproportionate forms of power in their country.  They denounce the Jamaican economic system and capitalism.  Much of Rastafarian thought and the desire to resist, specifically applicable to the topic of neocolonialism, is founded in their rejection of the Babylon system.  Babylon “constitutes oppression and exploitation of the black race and is therefore an evil system” (Murrell, 1998: 392).  It is synonymous with capitalism, which functions best when a dominant elite control and own the means of production that exploit the rest of the population, specifically the laborers.  In “Mr. Bigness Man” Navie Nabby sings,

Hey Mr. Bigness Man

Stop and Take a Look…

People working, have money flowing

But the rich get richer wile the poor get poorer. (World Sound ‘ave Power, 1994)


Rastas want to analyze, describe, and revolutionize Babylon.  Bob Marley’s music

is an excellent tool in materializing such desires.  In the song “Crazy Baldhead” Marley demands to “chase them crazy baldheads out of the town”.  A baldhead is a representative of the Babylon system who believes in it and tries to enforce its oppressive policies and ideals.  This song also speaks against capitalism.  “Marley muses about ‘I-an-I’ constructing the houses and raising the crops, only to have them appropriated by the profiteering capitalist interests” (Murrell, 1998: 27).  Similarly, commenting on the image of Jamaican and Western capitalist economies is “Pimper’s Paradise”.  The economic system validates the benefits of an elite at the expense of the majority.  “Rastas say that economic prostitutes sell themselves not so much for their own profit but for the benefit of their pimps-those who control the economic system” (Murrell, 1998: 27). 

Politics represent another element of the Babylon concept.  Rastas refuse to participate in politics because the practices in Jamaica and the West are really only “politricks”.  Politricks refers to the deceptive nature of Babylon’s political activity, “it is not the art of statecraft but the art of deception, machination, and manipulation” (Murrell: 1998, 28).  Politicians in both worlds pretend to represent the people but instead scheme to maintain their position of ‘privilege and to keep the populace downpressed’.  Buju Banton reveals a variety of truths in “Untold Stories”:

With all the hike in the price

Arm and leg we have to pay

While our leaders play…

I say who can afford to run will run

But what about that who can’t…they will stay

Opportunity is scare commodity…

It’s a competitive world for the low budget people…

Could go on and on the full has never been told  (Ultimate Collection, 2001)


The Babylon system denies basic human rights and freedom of Africans.   It is simple,


Jamaica, the West, and any other corrupt systems in the world form the evil empire.


The Rastafarian community has also responded to structural adjustment programs and loan agencies, such as the IMF, that represent neocolonial forms of Babylon.  The implications of Jamaica’s loan agreement and lasting effects are vocalized in reggae music.  Justifying the end to negotiations with the Fund, Neville Martin wrote

“No Mr. IMF, No”:  

   Oh No Mr. IMF no

               Your mountains we will no climb

               Oh No Mr. IMF no

               Everyone can see even the blind

Your terms it’s a shame I must say

Jamaicans won’t contribute this way

It ain’t no shame that we fail your test

Our Lord knows we tried our best

               Oh No Mr. IMF no…

            We must seek alternatives

            Ways that are true and more productive

            Oh no we ain’t making a new start

            We only taking a new part

               Oh No Mr. IMF no…

            Every step Jamaicans take forward

            There are ways that are pushing us backward

            Oh no we won’t go on no further

            They give us basket to carry water

               Oh No Mr. IMF no

               Your rivers we will not cross

               Oh No Mr. IMF no

               Our pride and dignity we don’t lost

            Every road that Jamaicans grow forward

            There are ways that are pushing us backward

            They won’t cooperate so we must separate

            We’re gonna show them Jamaicans are great

               Oh No Mr. IMF no…

            Let us stand up now on our feet

            Let us show them Jamaicans no weak

            And by God we will build country

               Oh No Mr. IMF no… (Quoted from Waters, 1985: 243-244)


Likewise, Sister Breeze responds to the debt situation in Jamaica.  Her work is more general than “No Mr. IMF no”.  She speaks powerfully about the impacts of neocolonialism in her song, “Aid Travels with a Bomb”:

            Aid travels with a bomb

            Look out

            Aid for countries in despair

            Aid for countries that have no share…

            They come; they work, they smile so pleased

            They leave and you discover a new disease…

            Aid travels with a bomb

            Look out  (World Sound ‘ave Power: 1994)


The realization about the Babylon system places Rastafarians in a unique position to influence the impact of neocolonialism on their society.  Rastas see themselves as agents of Babylon’s destruction.  Their technique of “beating down Babylon” consists of showing political dissonance and cultural resistance; developing a mentality of Blackness; destroying racism; rejecting bigotry, classism, and stereotypes; attacking social problems with the creation of music; and holding onto a messianic hope for the future.  Rastas view themselves as a necessary cultural means for world peace, racial harmony, and social, economic, and political reform. (Murrell, 1998: 4)

Reggae music is their weapon.  According to the Rastafarians, reggae restores people to self-awareness.  They are thus educated about the oppressive, deceptive, and divisive nature of the system they live in.  Quoting Linden F. Lewis, “reggae is the Rastafarian vehicle for political, cultural, moral, and religious purposes and protest because it sets the stage for a departure from Babylonian lifestyle and eventual demolition of its system” (Murrell, 1998: 29). Marley’s “Babylon System” while it comments specifically on the education system in Jamaica it does call for revolution in general.  This is extremely powerful when one hears Marley singing, “Rebel, rebel, rebel now” (Murrell, 1998: 29).  Reggae is also an instrument for “chanting down” or beating down the structure of Babylon.  Bob Marley in his song “Chant Down Babylon” repeats “Come we go chant down Babylon one more time” (Murrell, 1998: 10).  Such themes are voiced by a variety of reggae artists and many use the concept of chanting down Babylon to include their listeners or audience in a non-violent but empowering act of resistance.

All Rastafarians believe that Babylon will crumble and fall some day.  They have rejected a society full of multinational corporations and dependency on foreign markets.  Barrett (1997: 264) claims, “if there is one thing that the Rastas have taught Jamaica, it is that one must accept what one has and seek to make the best of it…No one can do for Jamaicans except Jamaicans”.  This is clear through reflecting on history in the country and seeing the people look to the outside ‘for the redeemer and for the cargo, which was to bring about miracle and plenty but in the end was only disenchanting’.  Finally, Barrett (1997: 264) insists, “the future growth of the Rastafarians into a well-respected community may in the long run mean more to Jamaican history as a people that all the multinational corporations in the world”.


            Neocolonialism is a very real and strong force in the country of Jamaica.  It has hit all realms of society.  The impact is severe and devastating.  This is an important issue that needs further consideration.  For the purposes here, some historical roots of neocolonialism have been discussed to provide the basis for present neocolonial forces on the island.  Many examples were given including a number of industries and loan agencies that contribute to a perpetuation of dependency and poverty.  The result of such forces has been resistance from both the government of Jamaica and the Rastafarian community.  It has been suggested that the government and political leaders of Jamaica have not met the needs of the people.  While the Rastas have isolated themselves in the past their voices are increasingly being heard, largely through the form of reggae music.  Thus the Rastafarians offer the best hope, potential for change, and alternatives to neocolonial forces in Jamaica.





























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