KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — The two houses of Jamaica's Parliament held a special joint sitting Tuesday to honor former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, a major player in national politics for decades and the only survivor of the leaders who drafted the constitution when the Caribbean island gained independence from Britain in 1962.
Seaga attended the session of tributes at Gordon House, the home of the legislature. The 82-year-old often appears at public events in Jamaica. A respected authority on local culture and a former record company owner, he's even putting out a four-CD box set of Jamaican music later this month.
"Edward Seaga is truly a founding father of modern Jamaica. His named is etched on almost every facet of Jamaican life," said Andrew Holness, the Jamaica Labor Party chief and Seaga protege who was prime minister for just over two months last year.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle paid tribute to Seaga, including Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, leader of the rival People's National Party.
The accolades to Seaga, who was prime minister from 1980 until 1989, are part of Jamaica's celebrations of its 50th anniversary of independence. Simpson-Miller's government said he was recognized for his role in creating Jamaica's post-independence landscape.
But Seaga, who argues that debt-shackled Jamaica has wasted too many opportunities to improve its chronically moribund economy, used the opportunity at Parliament's podium to urge the struggling country to get its act together.
"For more than two decades, I repeatedly voiced the mantra that — situated as we are virtually on the coastline of the world's richest economy — Jamaica has no reason to be poor," Seaga told lawmakers.
He urged the government to peg its sliding currency to the U.S. dollar, arguing that this would stop devaluation and restore economic growth.
Born in Boston to Lebanese-Jamaican parents, the Harvard-educated Seaga renounced his U.S. citizenship at a young age to show his loyalty to Jamaica.
As opposition leader in the 1970s, Seaga railed against the socialist agenda of then-Prime Minister Michael Manley. Seaga was swept in power in 1980, but bloody clashes between rival partisans killed nearly 800 people.
As prime minister, Seaga severed ties with communist Cuba and instituted a pro-U.S., free-market economy, but his party lost the 1989 election to Manley after he transformed into a centrist.
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