Bob Marley assassination attempt
Michael Manley, son of former Prime Minister Norman Manley, was elected Prime Minister of Jamaica in 1972. To address growing inequality in Jamaican society, Manley embarked on several democratic socialist reforms of the state, including land ownership reform, free education from primary to university, and nationalization of certain industries. Such policies had massive popularity among many people in Jamaica, but there were others who either saw the reforms as contrary to their businesses or as a high precursor to a Cuban-style communist government. Beginning in 1974, he was also opposed by the more conservative Edward Seaga of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The JLP used the threat of socialism to build support among property owners and churchgoers, attracting more middle-class support. By 1976 the two politicians hired local gangsters to help them increase their hold on power.
The 1976 elections marked the beginning of a period of political violence in Jamaica. A State of Emergency was declared by Manley's party the PNP in June and 500 people, including some prominent members of the JLP, were accused of trying to overthrow the government and were detained, without charges, in the South Camp Prison at the Up-Park Camp military headquarters.
Reggae musician Bob Marley announced plans to hold a concert in an attempt to quell the violence. Politicians from both parties were hoping to capitalize on Marley's support. While Marley remained neutral, many viewed him as tacitly supporting Manley and the PNP.
Involvement of the United States and CIA
In 1972, Michael Manley assumed leadership under the People's National Party (PNP) as Prime Minister of Jamaica, where he maintained leadership until 1980. Upon entering office, the Democratic-Socialist prime minister immediately angered US officials by recognizing the Cuban government of Fidel Castro, nationalizing bauxite production, and recognizing the MPLA government of Angola, that was supported by the Soviet Union and opposed by guerillas supported by apartheid South Africa and the United States. In September 1975, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited Jamaica to meet with Prime Minister Manley. During the meeting, Kissinger asked Manley to remain neutral and withdraw support for Cuban troops sent to Angola to fight against the CIA-backed apartheid regime of South Africa. The day after meeting Kissinger, much to the dismay of the United States, Manley issued a speech strongly supporting Cuban intervention in Angola.
Manley’s opposition, Edward Seaga of the Jamaica Labour Party, was seen by US policymakers as a viable alternative to Manley, reflecting US interests. Seaga experienced a great deal of support from neighborhoods in Kingston such as Tivoli Gardens, home to the Shower Posse, a group known to have smuggled drugs and guns into the country and the United States with the help of the CIA. In many accounts, the Shower Posse would serve as a key player in the CIA’s destabilization strategy in Jamaica. Former CIA agent Philip Agee revealed that “the CIA was using the JLP as its instrument in the campaign against the Michael Manely government, I’d say most of the violence was coming from the JLP, and behind them was the CIA in terms of getting weapons in and getting money in.”  Leading up to the 1976 presidential elections, violence between rival gangs in Kingston loyal to JLP and PNP increased dramatically. Michael Manley declared a national State of Emergency on June 19, 1976. The State of Emergency lasted until June of 1977, almost a year in full. Michael Manley and the PNP began insinuating that the CIA had an active destabilization plan for Jamaica. “I cannot prove in a court of law that the CIA is here… strange things are happening in Jamaica that we have not seen before.” Through information obtained by PNP spy Albert Robinson, Manley claimed that the Jamaican Police had uncovered a JLP and CIA joint plot to overthrow the government. Allegations of being involved in the organization of a coup in Jamaica have been denied by the CIA. However, According to Manley, the police discovered documents outlining Operation Werewolf, which referenced 23 trained men, 200 rifles, 100 submachine guns, two barrels of gunpowder, and 50,000 anti-government pamphlets, outlining a plot to overthrow the government. In 1977, two reporters uncovered a “destabilization program” against Manley’s PNP government, allegedly organized by the CIA’s Jamaican station chief, Norman Descoteaux. According to Gary Webb’s book Dark Alliance, “The campaign included covert shipments of arms to Manley’s opponents, the use of selective violence, bombings, and assassinations, covert financial aid to the conservative Jamaica Labour Party, the fomenting of extensive labor unrest, and bribery.” One of the CIA agents who would later play a key role in the Contra project, Luis Posada Carriles, a Bay of Pigs invasion and Operation Condor veteran, was spotted in Jamaica near the scene of one of the bombings.
1976 Smile Jamaica Peace Concert
The Smile Jamaica Concert was held on December 5, 1976 at National Heroes Park, Kingston, Jamaica. Bob Marley & The Wailers agreed to headline the peace concert. Bob Marley claimed to not be involved in Jamaican politics and had originally agreed to play one song at the concert on the condition that the concert wasn’t political. However, after Manley moved the elections up to within ten days of the concert, those loyal to both parties considered Marley’s “Smile Jamaica” song and concert to be an endorsement for the PNP.
56 Hope Road: Assassination Attempt on Bob Marley
At 8:30 pm, on December 3, 1976, two days before the Smile Jamaica concert, seven men with guns raided Marley’s house at 56 Hope Road. Marley and his band were on break from rehearsal. Marley’s wife, Rita, was shot in the head in her car in the driveway. The gunmen shot Marley in the chest and arm. His manager, Don Taylor, was shot in the legs and torso. Band employee, Louis Griffiths took a bullet to his torso as well. Astonishingly, there were no fatalities.
Laurie Gunst, author of Born Fi’ Dead, claims that chairman of the 1978 Peace Concert Trevor Philips was told by Marley that Lester “Jim Brown” Coke, Seaga’s bodyguard, was involved in the shooting. Nancy Burke, Marley’s neighbor and friend, recalled hearing the Wailer’s percussionist Alvin Patterson, say “Is Seaga men! Dem come fi kill Bob!” After the shooting, numerous reports indicated that the gunmen returned to Tivoli Gardens, a neighborhood loyal to the JLP and home to the notorious Shower Posse.
After the shooting, the American Embassy sent a cable titled Reggae Star Shot: Motive probably political. In the cable, Ambassador Gerard wrote:
- "Some see the incident as an attempt by JLP gunmen to halt the concert, which would feature the “politically progressive” music of Marley and other reggae stars. Others see it as a deep-laid plot to create a progressive, youthful Jamaican martyr to benefit of the PNP. Those holding the latter view note that the four persons shot, three of them including Marley, only suffered minor wounds."
Timothy White, the author of Catch a Fire, claimed that information he received from JLP and PNP officials as well as US law enforcement officials led him to believe that Carl Byah “Mitchell,” a JLP gunman, was contracted by the CIA to organize the Marley shooting and that Lester Coke, aka Jim Brown, led the charge on Hope Road.
Don Taylor, Marley’s manager, claimed that both he and Marley were present at a ghetto court in which the gunmen who shot Marley were tried and executed. According to Taylor, before one of the shooters was killed, he admitted the job was done for the CIA in exchange for cocaine and guns.
- The Daily Gleaner, Monday, 6 July 1986, p. 14.
- "Why Marley's performance at Smile Jamaica matters MIDNIGHT RAVER". MIDNIGHT RAVER. 5 December 2014.
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- Gane-McCalla, Casey (2016). Inside The CIA's Secret War In Jamaica. Los Angeles, CA: Over The Edge Books. ISBN 978-1-944082-07-9.
- Webb, Gary (1999). Dark Alliance. New York, New York: Steven Stories Press. ISBN 978-1-60980-621-7.
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- White, Timothy (2006). Catch A Fire. Holt Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0805080865.
- Taylor, Don (1995). Marley And Me: The Real Bob Marley Story (1st ed.). Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books. ISBN 978-1569800447.