Time: Wed, 6 Jun 2007 18:09 UTC
¶1. (SBU) Poloff recently met with longtime People’s National Party (PNP) activist and organizer Karen Cross to discuss recent media reports of problems within the PNP which could impact the outcome of the upcoming elections (due by October 2007). During the meeting, Cross confirmed that there is still a strong cadre of Peter Phillips (Minister of National Security) supporters who are unhappy with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s (PSM) handpicked candidates in some constituencies. This, coupled with ongoing scandals (albeit minor ones) appears to have dampened overall levels of enthusiasm for the PNP. Cross also discussed PNP working-level dissatisfaction with PSM’s growing relationship with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, the growing distance between the U.S. and Jamaica, and possible cabinet changes should the PNP win the general election.
2 (C) PSM has spent the last year since her elevation to leader of the PNP attempting to mend fences with her strongest rival to leadership Peter Phillips. While publicly PSM and Phillips appear to have no animosity, the same can not be said for their supporters. In fact, several constituencies are showing the strain. In Central Manchester, PNP’s candidate Vando Palmer was given an ultimatum “to quit or be fired.” Palmer claims he was being “victimized” by Phillips’ supporters. The PNP counters that Palmer was given an ultimatum due to allegations of wife-beating. In South East St. Elizabeth, PSM replaced the popular MP Lenworth Blake with Norman Horne. PNP workers in this constituency remain upset about Blake’s removal. In South East St. Ann, Peter Bunting was rumored to be named as the PNP candidate. Longtime party stalwarts from that constituency believed he was an “outsider” who would not represent their interests. PSM’s rumored naming of Bunting also stopped a scheduled four-way contest for the candidacy originally scheduled for mid-April. Bunting was eventually named as a PNP candidate – but for Central Manchester.
Instead of rescheduling the run-off between the four presumptive candidates, however, PSM named a former Miss World with no discernable (sic) political background (except for her one-time marriage to a former Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) member) as the PNP candidate. South East St. Ann constituents remain unhappy. Cross noted that PSM is determined to make sure that candidates for all constituencies are loyal to her in order to avoid any intra-party fight for leadership following the general election (ref A).
Scandals and Lack of Enthusiasm Plague the PNP
¶3. (SBU) PSM’s tenure as Prime Minister has also been plagued by numerous scandals (ref B). Most recently, the son of the PNP candidate for East Central St. James was arrested and charged for helping the notorious head of the “Stone Crusher” gang attempt to elude the police. The PNP candidate’s son owned the alleged getaway vehicle and reportedly fired at police during the ensuing chase. The leader of the gang was killed, and the PNP quickly released talking points that suggested the father and son are estranged. Karl Samuda, General Secretary for the JLP stated in a recent meeting that, in fact, the car was owned by the PNP candidate himself. In North Central Clarendon, the PNP candidate (Ralph Thomas) recently admitted on radio that he is a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) of the United States. Cross stated categorically that this would not matter to the average voter. She quickly added, however, that JLP candidates have the same problem.
¶4. (C) More interestingly, Cross passed confidential reports from the late April PNP National Executive Council that report on the problems PNP organizers are having on the ground. The report notes that the PNP Youth Organization has not been effective “and in some instances non-existent.” Additionally, the PNP “enumeration” campaign has not been going well according to PNP canvassers and Cross (NOTE: Both political parties canvass their constituencies to identify likely PNP or likely JLP supporters. The parties employ a “1/20” system – 1 bus driver picks-up 20 previously identified PNP or JLP supporters to take them to the polling division. Obviously, a PNP driver would not pick-up a probable JLP voter and vice-versa. END NOTE). Canvassers have reported that enthusiasm for the PNP has ebbed in most constituencies; however, the reasons do vary. For example, in St. Andrew Southern, a high level of gun violence has displaced some constituents who have moved to other parts of the island, while in South Saint Catherine the wildly unpopular Portmore Toll Road (which is used by commuters from Portmore into Kingston daily) has turned the most loyal supporters of the PNP against the party.
Hugo Chavez Not Impressing Working-Level PNP Members
¶5. (C) Poloff asked Cross whether Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has impacted the PNP (refs C through G). Cross reported that rank-and-file PNP members as well as PNP organizers are “not happy” about Chavez’ attempts to influence either the outcome of the election or the PNP. Cross noted that PSM has been “gullible” when it comes to Chavez. She also noted that “the PNP decided to abandon socialism a long time ago. We’re a capitalist nation. But, there are some senior PNP leaders who are still ‘true believers’ and whisper in Portia’s ear.” Cross did not identify who those “true believers” are. Cross did report, however, at the last meeting between Chavez and PSM, Finance Minister Omar Davies was present and “dressed down” Chavez for his speech at the UN which attacked the U.S. and President Bush. After that meeting, Cross reported that Chavez has insisted he will only meet with PSM in private.
Jamaica and the U.S. – Friendly, but Chilly
¶6. (SBU) Cross lamented what she describes as a “chilling” of Jamaica-U.S. relations over the last 18 years. She puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson. Patterson, Cross claims, made a decision to “put in” with CARICOM and angle Jamaica to be its strongest member. Thus, he actively positioned Jamaica in opposition to the U.S. in order to project Jamaica as a force that would “stand-up” against the U.S. Cross noted that since that time, the Embassy which, according to her, used to be “a force” on the island for positive change has been marginalized. Cross also lamented that one of the results has been that Jamaica rarely votes with the U.S. in the UN. Cross feels that this “chill” will take years to repair.
PNP Victory and Possible Cabinet Changes
¶7. (C) Omar Davies, current Minister of Finance, is not expected to remain in that position should the PNP win the general election. Cross (a longtime Davies supporter) confirmed the rumor; however, Cross suggested that Davies would stay in politics, but take a different cabinet position. Peter Phillips, disliked by the less-than-upstanding “comrades” of the PNP for his efforts to root-out corruption will also likely stay on as Minister of National Security. Despite those close to PSM who would like to see him leave, Cross noted it would be “suicide” on PSM’s part to try to remove him. Phillip Paulwell, Minister of Industry, Technology, Energy and Commerce, will stay in the cabinet despite his rumored links to crime and corruption. Cross noted that Paulwell is a trusted and loyal advisor to PSM and refers to her as “his blue-eyed baby girl.” Senator Colin Campbell, who was moved from the Cabinet to the Senate following his involvement in the Trafigura scandal, (ref H) will remain in the Senate. Cross said that Campbell was “always the first person PSM spoke with in the morning and the last person she spoke with in the evening.”
¶8. (C) The PNP appears in disarray. PSM’s insistence on personal loyalty to her – not the PNP – has impacted the choice of PNP candidates. PSM seems blissfully unaware that her choices, while professing their admiration for her, may very well cost the PNP numerous constituencies as well as the general election. The much-lauded PNP campaign machine, however, has yet to be unleashed on Jamaica. In the meantime, the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) under PNP leadership has decided to address two issues popular with PNP rank-and-file members: changing the constitution to remove the Queen as head of State and replace her with a President and decriminalizing marijuana for personal use. While the promise to change the constitution has been floating around for 15 years (and generally makes an appearance prior to an election), decriminalization of marijuana is a relatively new issue. PSM has surrounded herself with personally-loyal, law-abiding-challenged individuals who stand to profit from the decriminalization.
¶9. (C) While the election date has yet to be called, and most Jamaicans believe that July is the month, Donald Buchanan (MP and PNP General Secretary) may have committed the ultimate political gaffe by speaking the truth. In response to questions about whether there is enough time to debate and pass the marijuana legalization bill and calls to debate sector budgets before general elections are called, Buchanan responded, “We still have another four months to go and there are no signs that I have seen which would indicate anything that would say we are going to truncate that period.” Four months from now, the Parliament must be dissolved in accordance with the constitution which states that Parliament can only sit for a maximum of five years.
¶10. (C) If the PNP can pass marijuana legalization and get an agreement with the JLP on changing the constitution, the PNP faithful may put aside their displeasure with the scandals, the lackluster PNP candidates, and the sense that after 18 years in power, the PNP has accomplished very little – other than escalating crime rates, crumbling infrastructure, and rampant corruption. Of course, if marijuana is decriminalized prior to the election, the PNP may need to offer brownies or other “munchies” to ensure their party faithful actually show up at the polls.