Articles by Premier of British Guiana (1961-1964)
Speech by Dr. Cheddi Jagan at the Queen’s College Dinner Organized by the Citizens Committee to Honour his Election as Premier, 16 September 1961
(Printed in Thunder, 23 September 1961)
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends:
Justice Wills said a moment ago that I must indeed be a very happy man. I want certainly to admit that I am indeed a very happy man this evening.
On the 21st of August when the results were declared that was the first joy. Now when I see so many of you here this evening on this wonderful occasion this indeed has stopped the joy which I feel not only for myself but all those who have struggled to make this day possible for our country.
I feel a deep sense of pride this evening not only for myself but for all my comrades who fought diligently, indeed with a great deal of sacrifice over the last number of years. Some are here with us this evening, others unfortunately are not with us this evening. Some have suffered, some have lost their jobs, they have been victimised and so forth.
I am happy that I am able to speak for them all this evening to say how very pleased and how very proud we are that we at that function this evening are being honoured by the citizens of this country.
I feel proud also on behalf of my parents who made tremendous sacrifices and who had the foresight to make sacrifices so that this day has become possible that I have been elevated to become the first Citizen of British Guiana.
I feel proud also for the barefoot, the dispossessed, the exploited and the hungry who see in me the embodiment of their hopes, their wishes and their aspirations.
I am very deeply conscious of the heavy and great task which is facing me and my colleagues. I accept with all humility the great responsibility which has been placed on our shoulders. I am conscious and deeply so that we alone cannot do the great task which is ahead of us. I want the support of one and all in British Guiana.
Someone said some moment ago about talent. I have been to universities abroad, I have been to international conferences and I have seen Guianese at work and at play and, believe me, they are a match with any in any part of the world, and I have no doubt that if the same spirit which we see evinced here this evening prevails in the immediate future that the country is definitely on the high road of progress.
We are aware, unfortunately, of a few pebbles in the way. Some who seek to disrupt our national unity. I feel that at this important junction of our country's history, national unity is more important than anything else.
We must strive with every fibre in our body to achieve this national unity so that we can obtain our objectives of political and economic independence.
Some may say why talk about politics, why talk about political independence. I would like to utter the words of the famous leader Jomo Kenyatta who said that independence is not handed on a platter, it has to be fought for. It has to be wrested and with your help we hope that before a year is out we would have wrested our political independence also.
Colonialism is antagonistic to progress, to a balanced agricultural and industrial economy. Colonies have traditionally been used as a source of raw materials and foods and a market for their industrial goods from the metropolitan country or countries.
We have to break this vicious circle if we are to improve the lot of our people.
Then you have to help us to industrialise so that we could provide the jobs for the many hungry mouths in our country. This is why independence is not [just] something a chimera which we are always talking about and dreaming about.
This is something which is a vital necessity and I do hope that all would join in this struggle for national independence, political independence, and that it will he attained very shortly so that we can take our place with all the nations in the world.
Another thing which can be said in favour of political independence is the fact that it releases the energies of our people. There is no doubt about this. We have seen this in India, we have seen this in Ghana, we have seen this elsewhere where progress after independence has come forward in leaps and bounds, greatly exceeding what has been done in several years before independence.
Let us not divert and dissipate this wonderful energy by having internal struggles and strife. I know that my opponents, our opponents, have been very critical of us in the past. I noticed that many of them shifted their ground.
At one time it was communism, now it is racialism. Jagan and other leaders of the PPP were communists. Now suddenly we have now become racialists. Those who know anything about politics can at least say this that one cannot be a communist and a racialist at the same time.
My friends, this is a country in which many races have lived amicably for years, for generations, and there is no reason whatsoever that we should not continue to do so.
Indeed, it us imperative to that we must do so if we are to improve the lot of the masses of the people. For believe me development does not merely depend on the Government or Ministers.
If we are to have development it must come basically from the people; without the co‑operation of one and all there can be no development in any country.
I hope in the immediate period facing us that all of you those who are here and those who are not here will contribute whatever little they can and however much they can to the plans, to the formulation of policies, so that we can consider them and move to the policy which will be in the interest of all the Guianese people.
This brings me also to a point which I think needs to be mentioned here, and that is a sense of inferiority which some of us feel. A lack of pride in our own country and in our own goods. Housewives must begin to buy things Guianese. We must stop thinking that only things which have a foreign label are the best things in the world.
Let us start a campaign of buying Guianese. Let me, however, say that I do not want to be misunderstood. I do not want it to be said that I am preaching narrow nationalism, because I feel that we must today not only be Guianese citizens, hut we must be citizens of the world.
We who are socialists or who are simply good humans must recognise the fact that there are good human beings and humanitarians all over the world; and so far as I am concerned, and my Government is concerned, as long as an individual is willing to come and work with us, to live with us and to be one of us, we are prepared to welcome them and embrace them and regard them as our brothers in arms.
Let me say here also a word to those of us who are a little more fortunate. I want to advise that we should channel as much as possible of our savings into productive use. Our country has inherited many problems, but when we look around us we see some living in splendour, some living conspicuously, while others are wallowing in want.
Only today I went across the river with some photographers from foreign magazines, and I looked at some of the faces of the workers and there I saw symptoms of malnutrition and hunger.
Indeed at 1.30 this afternoon when I was leaving my office a lady was at my door at the Public Building asking with tears in her eyes, Please help me. My son has been thrown out of a job and he is at the point of committing suicide. This is indeed an alarming situation.
Let those of us who are little more fortunate remember that we have problems in our country and we have those who are not so well off, and let us remember to condition our ways of living, our way of thinking, so that we can think not only of ourselves, but we can think of all the people so that we can all progress at the same time.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank very sincerely the Citizens' Committee. I am sure that you will agree with me that they have done a wonderful job, but now that they have done this I do not want to be a taskmaster. But I feel that they could go on to doing something perhaps of greater importance and that is to rally the forces in our country so that we can demand on two fronts what is required in our country that is economic independence and financial aid from abroad.
The Citizens' Committee can play a great role mobilising as it has brought sections of our country to demand from Her Majesty's Government independence within the shortest possible time.
They could help us also in designing a national flag, in formulating a national anthem, and above all in deciding what the new name of our great country should be.
As regards aid we have had thrown up at the elections all kinds of figures. Mr. Macorquodale asked for a sense of proportions and for a sense of fragmentism. While I think the Citizens' Committee can certainly mobilise persons who have experience of all sectors of our country's life, and so come to some figure with the help of course of Ministers and technical experts, so that when I go abroad I can say that I have the sanction of the citizens of British Guiana.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to assure you, if any assurance is necessary, that you need have no fears so far as my Government is concerned. All your democratic rights or liberties or freedoms will be guaranteed and protected.
As regards the charge that we are racialists, let me say this, that if I were to be leader for one race then I will assure you that tomorrow I will retire from politics. I feel that we have a great task to perform. We have a glorious destiny. We must remember always that destiny a new nationhood One Nation, One People, One Destiny.
I thank you.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2000
Jagan Advocates: FEDERATION ALONG SOCIALIST LINES
Guiana’s Premier in a forthright statement on the results of the Jamaica referendum has reminded Guianese and WI politicians of his old stand on the issue of committing the territories to federation. He has also called upon Eric Williams and Grantley Adams, the Federal Prime Minister, to set up a federation with a strong centre which they advocated and to refashion the federal economy along real socialist lines.
Premier Jagan said:
The withdrawal of Jamaica provides both a challenge and an opportunity for the people of the West Indies. It is a pity that Jamaica has now voted to come out of the WI Federation. I have always maintained that the question of Federation should have been subjected to the test of a referendum in each territory well in advance of the setting up of the Federation As is well known, this has been for long my stand in British Guiana, and if this course had been followed the present unfortunate situation would not have arisen.
At this point some may tend to gloat; others to despair. I can well imagine the degree of anxiety of the peoples, particularly of the smaller units who have tied their hopes and aspirations to Federation. But this is a time neither for gloating nor despairing.
It is rather unfortunate in these days when there is a distinct trend for separate countries to get together politically and or economically for a regional unity, however tenuous, to be broken up.
One must realise, however, that the proposed independent federal constitution was so emasculated that it was hardly likely that the objectives of the WI peoples — economic well-being and higher living standards — could have been achieved. A weak federal Government would hardly have been able to go in for effective overall planning and balanced development for the region as a whole.
Sir Grantley Adams and Dr. Williams have always been in favour of a federal government with strong powers at the centre. They now have an opportunity to re-write the constitution and head a strong Eastern Caribbean group. But this obviously will not be enough. Jamaica’s exit will leave a big financial hole. The only way to raise living standards is to re-fashion the economy along real socialist lines and drastically slash the overgrown and expensive superstructure of the present Federation.
It should nevertheless be possible in spite of the projected political separation for wise statesmanship to work towards economic cooperation by formulating an economic plan for the area to include all Caribbean territories such as is envisaged by the Caribbean Organisation. In any event, we in Guiana will continue to regard with the same goodwill the peoples of Jamaica and the West Indies.
(Thunder 30 September 1961)
I am sure that all decent citizens have been profoundly shocked by the events of Thursday night. People irrespective of their political or religious beliefs are universally agreed that the burial of the dead is a time for reverence and respect. One can therefore only regard with horror the display by a large group of people Thursday afternoon, who made the occasion of the funeral of the Minister of Home Affairs into a riotous demonstration. Worse than that these same people organized themselves in roving gangs after the funeral and used violence on persons who had only gone to the funeral to pay their last respects to a friend or colleague. It did not stop there.
Eventually, there was a riot through the surrounding streets and areas in which some fifty persons mostly of a particular race were injured. Several of them were severely injured. Last night I visited some of these at the Georgetown Public Hospital and was able to see the tremendous suffering which has been inflicted on innocent people. They were severely attacked while going about their normal business. Because they belonged to a particular racial group, they were singled for attack. In a few cases where members of other races, horrified by what was happening, intervened to help, they were also subjected to violence. A report by the Commissioner of Police to me states in part the following:
"In all 50 civilians were injured 42 of them being East Indians, 6 Africans and 2 Portuguese. 20 of these detained in hospital, 3 of them being considered as seriously hurt. 3 Policemen were injured none of them seriously.
28 Persons were arrested by the Police for varying offences.
3 cars were damaged and 1 shop was broken into. There were 20 reports of larceny from the person but most of these involved the injured persons mentioned in the preceding paragraph.
Many shops owned by East Indians businessmen were stoned and windows broken. There were no reports of actual looting."
Following this report, more information has come to me indicating an even more alarming picture which shows that persons were not only attacked in the streets but also in their homes.
These events are the result of the prolonged incitement of people by political and trade union leaders and by sections of the Press. For example, I am appalled to find that the Press yesterday failed to condemn the horrible events. One paper even went further and attempted to set people against the Police. Let me assure you that such acts will be met with all the necessary force required to maintain law and order. I want to issue a clear warning to the Press that any further attempts at incitement will be met with immediate steps for cessation of publication.
These outbreaks of violence are beginning to be too regular a feature of our society. It is a cancerous growth which if not removed surgically, will spread throughout the country. We have therefore decided, in the light of these events to take as a first step, the following action.
The Greater Georgetown area has been proclaimed and all processions and public meetings of more than five persons are prohibited unless authorized in writing by the Commissioner of Police.
I am aware that there are a number of persons who regard these outbreaks of violence with pleasure because they are directed against this Government and their supporters. To these persons, I say, take heed. Violence like fire is no respecter of persons, and once it takes root in society, all will suffer irrespective of their race or religious or political persuasion. And those who have the most to lose will lose most.
There can be no doubt that the General Strike called by the T.U.C is creating a situation which will inevitably lead to increasing disorder. It will no longer do for leaders to go on making statements about peaceful intentions and "week of Sundays", while at the same time the participants are clearly defying law and order. Several trade union and political leaders have made statements which can only inflame and incite. Thus one prominent trade unionist has recently made statements of a racial character which are calculated to increase tension and to predispose people to violence such as happened on Thursday. Another leading trade unionist under the guise of "Passive resistance" is openly advocating with the support of a section of the press, courses of action which is leading to violence. Similarly in a recent T.U.C broadcast a leading political figure explained the lines along which people might with impunity break the Emergency Order. And yesterday the President of the T.U.C gave a biased account of the arrangement for the distribution of food which is calculated to arouse bitterness and hatred in sections of the community.
When the talks with the T.U.C broke down on May 7, there was three main points of difference. As we were still anxious to reach agreement, the Government proposed a working party consisting of representatives of the T.U.C and C.A.G.I with the Commissioner of Labour representing Government as Chairman, which should explore the possibilities of finding a way out of the deadlock on the Labour Relations Bill. These three points were the composition of the Board, the method of application to the Board of a Union seeking recognition and the basis for the certification of a Union. After some nine meetings, the working party forwarded to me a letter dated May 23 in which certain recommendations were made and on the basis of which it was felt full discussions could be resumed.
I accordingly met representatives of the T.U.C and C.A.G.I on Friday, May 24 and again on Monday and Wednesday of this week. After full and fresh discussions, agreement was reached on the three main points. I had hoped that with agreement reached on these three major points, and in view of Governments assurances not to proceed with the Bill until the talks have concluded the strike would have been called off. But unfortunately I was told that discussions must continue on minor points and on terms of resumption. Government is prepared to discuss these minor points preferably to start with the tripartite Working party. The Government is also prepared to discuss resumption of work terms in respect of those unions in which it is in a position of Employer. We are now waiting to hear from the T.U.C.
There should be no great difficulty in arriving at resumption of work terms. The T.U.C has repeatedly declared that this is an industrial strike. The principles for resumption of work in the case of industrial strikes are well established and there should be no great difficulty in applying them to our own situation.
There is no doubt that the general strike is endangering public safety and order and creating conditions in which tempers run higher each day and there is increasing bitterness of feeling between groups. The shameful events which occurred on Thursday is a blot on the good name of this country and the sooner the general strike is called off, the better. I appeal to all decent-minded citizens to join me in openly expressing their abhorrence of what is taking place in our once peaceful country.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2000