Forty Years Ago, the CIA Had Its Eye on Jamaica—and Bob Marley Got Shot

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Forty years ago, on Dec. 3, 1976, Bob Marley was shot in a gangland assassination attempt in the heat of a contentious Jamaican election campaign pitting the United States’ favorite (Edward Seaga) against the incumbent prime minister (Michael Manley). The shooting in Marley’s Kingston home—which also wounded his wife, Rita, and at least two others—occurred 12 days before the scheduled elections and two days before a free concert Marley had agreed to play in hopes of bringing the people together and cooling the violence that had been occurring.

The events surrounding the “Smile Jamaica” concert make it one of the 20th century’s key moments in developing countries of the Third World. There are indications that the United States was running a destabilization program against the democratic socialist administration of Michael Manley—Manley writes about it and former CIA case officers Philip Agee and John Stockwell have said explicitly that such a program existed. Agee even named the CIA case officers stationed in the U.S. Embassy in Kingston. (My novel “Stir It Up” comprehensively summarizes in narrative form the evidence for the destabilization program, including typical CIA methods described by Agee.)

Cuba, the United States’ archenemy in the Western Hemisphere, had been invaded with U.S. backing and subjected to a crippling embargo that would continue to the present moment. Now here was Manley buddying up to Fidel Castro and implementing socialist programs that were benefiting the Jamaican people rather than American companies and investors—interests to which Manley’s challenger, the Harvard-educated Seaga, was more favorably disposed.

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