Founder of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in opposition to the People’s National Party (PNP), winning the first Jamaican elections with widespread participation. He was the first prime minister in Jamaica after independence when the JLP won the elections of 1962, the year independence was achieved. Bustamante helped forge the agreement of April 10, 1962, that finally made Jamaica independent from Britain.

Alexander Bustamante was born on February 24, 1884, in the rural area of Blenheim, Hanover Parish. His given name was William Alexander Clarke. His father was Robert Constantine Clarke, a white Irishman who owned a plantation, and his mother was a black, working-class Jamaican woman named Mary Clarke (Nee Wilson). He was educated at the Cacoon and Dalmalley schools, and also obtained private tutoring, but because his family could not afford to pay for formal studies, he decided to seek his fortune abroad. In 1910, he married Mildred Edith Blanck in Jamaica, whom he had met in Panama while working as a customs inspector.

As a young man, he traveled the world, working in Cuba, Spain, Panama and the United States. When he returned to Jamaica in 1932, he found a society marked by injustice and inequality and he decided to work for social causes on behalf of the working class. In the struggle for workers’ rights, he was arrested in protests at the Kingston waterfront and became a national hero. While in Cuba he worked in the police force and later provided security for Presidents Alfredo Zayas and Gerardo Machado. In Spain, he joined the armed forces. He also worked as a customs inspector in Panama and, finally, as dietician in a hospital in New York City. He also earned a lot of money investing in the U.S. stock market.

In 1945, the queen of England awarded him the title of Knight Bachelor and he thus officially became Sir Alexander Bustamante. During his first term as prime minister he was also mayor of Kingston from 1947 to 1948. As head of government, Bustamante worked on Jamaica’s relationship with the United States and established agrarian reform programs.

In 1964, Sir Alexander Bustamante fell ill and named Donald Sangster as prime minister, thus retiring for good from active politics in 1967. In 1969, he was honored as a National Hero, Jamaica’s highest award. He died on August 6, 1977, at 93 years of age. His remains lie at the National Heroes Parkwhere a 30-foot monument was erected in his honor.

The Bustamante’s Industrial Trade Union, the largest labor union in Jamaica, survives as his legacy. His former home in Kingston is now a museum dedicated to his life and in honor of his memory. Also in his honor, his image appears on the Jamaican one dollar coin.

Author: Grupo Editorial
Published: June 11, 2012.

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