Published On: Tue, Mar 27th, 2012

SIR ALEXANDER BUSTAMANTE – FIRST PRIME MINISTER OF JAMAICA

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The Right Excellent Sir William Clarke Bustamante – the first prime minister of Jamaica – was christened William Alexander Clarke. He was born to Robert Constantine (an Irish Roman Catholic Planter) and his wife Mary (nee Wilson). His reason for changing his name was out of honour for an Iberian sea captain who was more than a childhood friend to him. His mother (who was of a mixed race) gave birth to him on February 24, 1884.

He was known to be a man always itching for action and as soon as he could, he set his mind on exploring the world.  One of his stops was in Cuba where he was enlisted as a policeman. He also worked as a dietician in a New York hospital before returning to Jamaica in 1932 when he made his is approval against colonial rule known.  This anti-colonial stance eventually led him to secure a granting of universal suffrage in Jamaica.

Bustamante soon distinguished himself as a leader against this system of rule. As his letters began to pour into the editorial department of the Gleaner Company he could not escape the attention of a large majority of those who supported his cause. Around this time, there was a labour activist called Allan G.S. Coombs who founded the Jamaica’s Workers Union (JWU). In his bid to support Coombs in his tireless efforts to champion the cause of the Jamaican workers, Bustamante soon joined this union. When the workers decided to strike in 1938, he emerged their spokesman.

After this workers’ revolt, Bustamante was affectionately labeled the Chief and the JWU later became the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU). He later was to spearhead some subversive activities which were to groom him for the status of National Hero. These subversive activities which landed him in prison, took place in 1940.

Bustamante spent three years in prison for his involvement in the uprising. However, two years prior to his incarceration (1938) his cousin (Norman Washington Manley) founded the People’s National Party (PNP) and he joined up with him. However, after leaving prison, he founded the Jamaica Labour Party (1940). The universal suffrage elected Jamaica’s first House Of Representatives and when the elections were run he garnered 22 of the 32 seats which were up for grabs in this House of Representatives. This made Bustamante the unofficial government leader until the post of Chief Minister was set up. Just before assuming this position, he was the Minister for Communications. He was also the mayor of Kingston (1947 to 1948). Bustamante continued as the Chief Minister of Jamaica until 1955 after the JLP was defeated in the 1955 polls.

Even in opposition, Bustamante continued to be a creative force and paved the way for Jamaica’s independence when he began to wage a stiff opposition to the Federation of the West Indies though once a staunch supporter of this federal parliament. He refused to contest a by election to the federal parliament. As a result of Bustamante’s agitation for an independent state, the ruling party, led by Premier Manley, was thus forced to call a referendum in 1961 for the people to decide if they wanted to stick with it (i.e. the federation) or break away. The latter was voted on and Jamaica broke away thus clearing the way for Independence and elections a year later (i.e. 1962). Bustamante thus became not only the first prime minister of Jamaica but the first for independent Jamaica. By in 1965, failing health took him away from the public’s eye and it was his deputy Donald Sangster who held the reigns of real power.

By the time the next elections were due in 1967, Bustamante had to clear a way for Sangster who led the Labour party back to power. By 1969, a proclamation was issued which declared Bustamante, along with his cousin Manley, the two leaders of the Morant Bay Rebellion, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, and black liberationist Marcus Garvey as national heroes.

The Children’s Hospital located on Arthur Wint Drive in St. Andrew, Jamaica, West Indies was named after him.

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