Articles by Premier of British Guiana (1961-1964)
by Cheddi Jagan
[This article, specially written for Labour Monthly was printed in September, 1963)
THE second phase of the counter-revolutionary battle is over. The first phase began last year with the February disturbances. which ended up in rioting and looting and a large part of the commercial centre being destroyed by fire. In the smoke of battle the main issues became clouded. One heard of the Government's sinister intentions, of fears and suspicions, of racial strife. But the basic causes of the struggle were not brought to the forefront.
For some time, deliberate attempts have been made to subvert my Government. Subversion has now given way to open rebellion. Last year the budget, which was largely influenced by the Cambridge economist, Mr. Nicholas Kaldor, was the excuse for the rebellion. This year the excuse was the Labour Relations Bill.
At the very beginning of the 11-week strike I indicated that it was politically inspired. This was corroborated very early by Mr. Burnham, Leader of the Opposition, and later by Mr. Duncan Sandys. Mr. Burnham put it to me that the Labour Relations Bill was not the causa belli but the cases belli, not the cause of but the occasion for the rebellion.
The Trades Union Congress of British Guiana denied any political motivation. Note, however, that the Commonwealth Commission, which investigated the riots of February, 1962, sparked off by the T.U.C. and the political Opposition, had this to say of the T.U.C.:*
There is very little doubt that, despite the loud protestations of the trade union leaders to the contrary, political affinities and aspirations played a large part in shaping their policy and formulating their programme of offering resistance to the budget and making a determined effort to change the government in office.
It has been proved beyond all doubt that the three most important trade unionists, Mr. Ishmael, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sankar, were deeply involved in politics . . .
The story put forward before us was that the unbending and indeed provocative attitude of the government was the sole reason for the decision to call a general strike, or at any rate for precipitating that decision. We find it difficult to believe this version and we are of the opinion that the facts have been greatly distorted by the trade union leaders for the purpose of placing the responsibility of arousing the workers' hostility upon the government. (Paragraphs 63-4, 124)
The main purpose of these counter-revolutionary activities is to do one or more of three things:
(i) Suspension of the Constitution;
(ii) Indefinite delay of independence
(iii) Imposition of a constitutional and electoral formula which will bring the Opposition into power.
The Opposition has clearly stated that there shall be 'no independence under Jagan'. Using as an excuse a controversial but necessary budget, it fomented disturbances and riots in February, 1962. These disturbances were subsequently used by the British Government, first, to delay independence talks, and secondly, not to grant independence at all. Talks which were to be held in May, 1962, were postponed until October, 1962. Independence was denied in October, 1962, on the flimsy excuse that the Government and the Opposition could not agree; that my Government would not accede to immediate elections under a changed electoral system from the existing first-past-the-post to proportional representation.
Rather than grant independence, the British Government indicated at the conclusion of the talks that should social and economic conditions deteriorate it might have to consider the imposition of a solution. This is now the line which the Opposition is pursuing: to create enough havoc to give the British Government the excuse to suspend the constitution or impose a solution. This was clearly voiced by the Opposition Press during the strike. As to our so called free press, note that when the T.U.C. call for a general strike closed down the daily newspapers, the T.U.C. immediately ordered the printing workers back to work without even prior consultation with the Printing Workers' Union so that the Daily Chronicle and Evening Post could continue with their distortions and incitement.
Mr. Duncan Sandys, Secretary of State for the Colonies, on his departure after a four-day visit, proclaimed that the greatest problem in British Guiana was racial conflict. But what Mr. Sandys and others must note is that the spread of the disorders to the countryside and the racial conflict which ensued was due principally to the fact that Georgetown, predominantly Negro, was not pacified and Indians who were publicly battered and bludgeoned lost faith in the law-enforcing agencies and retaliated. Under the banner of passive resistance the Opposition squatted around government buildings and around government offices, riotously assembled in thousands in open breach of a proclamation prohibiting the assembly of more than five persons, looted stores, intimidated those who remained at work, particularly government employees, and brutally beat up government supporters, particularly Indians. Had the disorders been contained at the beginning and Georgetown pacified, there is absolutely no doubt that the racial conflict which subsequently occurred would have been prevented.
Race is merely superficial and skin-deep. Commenting on the question of race, the Commonwealth Commission said of the disturbances of February, 1962:
We found little evidence of any racial segregation in the social life of the country and in Georgetown. East Indians and Africans seemed to mix and associate with one another on terms of the greatest cordiality, though it was clear that the recent disturbances and the racial twist given to them by some of the unprincipled and self-seeking politicians had introduced slight, but it is hoped, transient over-tones of doubt and reserve. Among the inhabitants of Georgetown there is, of course, always present the danger that hostile and anti-racial sentiments may be aroused by a clash of the hopes and ambitions of rival politicians. We draw attention to this possibility because there have been indications of such friction in the past, although, as will appear in the course of this report, the disturbances of February 16th did not originate in a racial conflict, nor did they develop into a trial of strength between the East Indians and the Africans.
. . . we are merely drawing attention to the circumstances mentioned above in order to show that there is no clear-cut division between the races and that although, broadly speaking, Dr. Jagan's supporters are for the most part East Indians and the supporters of PNC are drawn mostly from the African races, the difference is not really racial, but economic and vocational. (Paragraphs 28, 50.)
Race has never been a serious problem in Guiana. Indians and Africans have for many, many years played, worked and lived amicably together. Underlying the superficiality of racialism is the basic problem of the class struggle and the struggle for land and jobs. Prior to the 1955 split in the People's Progressive Party, the Africans and Indians, who constitute the backbone of the working class and peasantry, were united in their struggles against the capitalists and landlords. On every front - sugar plantations, water front, mines, mills, quarries - the workers battled for improved wages and working conditions. Since 1953, however, this militancy has been dulled. And this is due principally to the 'terror' rule which followed the 1953 suspension of the Constitution, the 1955 Burnham-engineered split in the PPP and the subsequent alliance of Mr. Burnham and his working class supporters with those reactionary elements who were opposed to the PPP before the 1953 suspension.
The Indians support the PPP mainly because of its socialist beliefs and objectives and because it has always led their struggles against landlords, mostly Indian and sugar plantation capitalists. But the PPP’s support does not come only from Indians. Because it is the most advanced party ideologically, it attracts the more politically conscious, particularly the youth, students and intellectuals of all races. This accounts for the notable shift of young Africans towards the PPP., and consequently for the racialist (Negro as opposed to Indian) appeal of the People's National Congress. This has been noted by the Riot Commission and such observers as Professor Peter Newman and Dr. Raymond Smith of the University of the West Indies.
In paragraph 50 of its Report, the Riot Commission said:
The political professions of the PNC were somewhat vague and amorphous. There was a tendency to give a racial tinge to its policy. Mr. Burnham expressed the opinion that it was Dr. Jagan who was responsible for this unfortunate development....
. . . We do not, however, think that there is much substance in the contention of Mr. Burnham and it seems to us that whatever racial differences existed were brought about by political propaganda.
Professor Peter Newman in an article entitled 'Racial Tension in British Guiana' said:
. . . Not surprisingly, this attention to a unified African front led to a need for a common enemy, a role which was filled by the East Indians. Operating within the restricted social and economic framework that I have discussed, the main animus of the party (PNC) was focussed on the racial issue, and even official party pronouncements began to take on a racial tinge. Since the PPP continued to maintain a public image of non-partisanship (although its local support was often less unbiased), many African intellectuals, especially among the younger group, began to feel dissatisfied with the racial policies of the PNC Except in a few cases, this did not lead them to the PPP, but it did cause them to withhold active participation from the African party; partly as a result, the second rank leadership of the PNC is distinctly less able than the corresponding echelons of Jagan's party.
British Guiana is the acid test of western pronouncements and intentions. The West, particularly U.S., and Great Britain, has always proclaimed its belief in freedom and democracy, in free and fair elections, in constitutionalism and the rule of law. President Kennedy, for example, during his interview with the Editor of Izvestia in early 1962, attacked the Communists for subversion and condemned Dr. Fidel Castro for denying freedom and not holding elections. In the same interview he said:
. . . the United States supports the idea that every people should have the right to make a free choice of the kind of Government they want.... Mr. Jagan who was recently elected Prime Minister in British Guiana is a Marxist, but the United States doesn't object because that choice was made by honest election, which he won.
But what is the reality?
Dean Rusk, U.S. Secretary of State is reported last July to have urged the Macmillan Government to suspend our Constitution or to hold a referendum on a new system of voting. Simultaneously, U.S. citizens, agencies and institutions - the American Institute for Free Labour Development, the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, the International Congress of Free Trades Unions (I.C.F.T.U.) and its Latin-American Regional Committee (O.R.I.T.)—have been actively engaged in subversion. Without the funds supplied by these organizations, the strike would have collapsed in a couple of weeks.
British Guiana may well decide whether the road to the future will be peaceful or violent. For many years, long before the advent of Premier Khrushchov, the People's Progressive Party has been advocating the peaceful parliamentary road to socialism. The dilemma of the imperialists is that it advocates constitutionalism but cannot defeat the People's Progressive Party by its own rules at free and fair elections. It remains to be seen what the final outcome will be. Will the British Government, goaded by the United States, change the electoral system merely to defeat the People's Progressive Party? This in effect would be rigging the elections. If this is done in British Guiana, will it be done elsewhere - wherever Communist, socialist and radical parties, either alone or in alliance, are likely to win elections? Does it mean that the capitalists and their allies will permit elections only so long as they can win? If the West is sincere in its pronouncements, it must demonstrate it by granting unconditional independence immediately. Only independence can permit of rapid social and economic progress and the removal of doubts and suspicions of our intentions. What happens in Guiana may very well indicate whether there will be peace in the world.
*report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Disturbances in British Guiana in February 1962 H.M.S.O. Colonial 354, October 1962
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2000
The Racialists of Guiana
by Cheddi Jagan
On 31 October 1963, the Secretary of State for Commonwealth and Colonial Affairs Duncan Sandys, said to the reconvened British Guiana Independence Conference:
"British Guiana faces many difficulties but all that you have told me at this conference and all that I saw during my visit to your country last July have convinced me that there is one problem which transcends all others - namely the growth of racialism. That is the curse of British Guiana today; the whole life of the country is poisoned and weakened by mutual suspicion and fear between the two predominant racial groups, the Indians and the Africans.
This state of tension has become acute in the last few years and has led to racial murder, arson and violence. Last summer it reached the point where law and order could not be maintained without the assistance of two battalions of British soldiers."
Writing in a British Journal - the London Weekly- on 19 March 1927, Mr. H. Snell, a member of the Wilson-Snell Constitution Commission, said on the same subject:
"That the colony has been able to reduce these complexities to something like a working plan and succeeded in creating a basis of unity in the common love of their country on the part of Africans, Hindus and Chinese alike is itself a great achievement, and one that offers bright promise for the future. These separate races do, in fact, live side by side with each other, respect each other's ideals and prejudices, acknowledge allegiance to communal laws and work together to for the good of the Colony. Upon a basis of this kind the Colony can build for the future without fear and without failure."
While Mr Snell was saying this to British readers, he was saying something else "officially" as we will see.
However, the span between Mr Sandys' and Mr Snell's statements is less than two generations and it is necessary for us to ask and answer certain questions: How did the change in race relations come about and when did the trouble all start? Also, who are the racialists responsible for the situation described by Mr Sandys?
In 1927, the British government wanted to alter the constitution of British Guiana. The Constitution then in force gave legislative control of financial matters to the elected members of the Legislature or "Combined Court" as it was called. At that time, the elected members of the Legislature were the following: Eustace G. Woolford, RV Evan-Wong, N Cannon.
It will be seen from the composition of the Legislature that control was in the hands of local people of divers races and that the expatriate representatives of overseas capital had almost been wiped out as a political force in the Legislature.
The Wilson-Snell Commission explained the position in the following words:
"It is a general phenomenon in tropical colonies that the extension of the electorate and the greater frequency of contests makes it extremely and increasingly difficult for anyone who is not able and prepared to embark more or less whole time on the career of a politician to enter the Legislature by the avenue of the constituencies. The result is the loss to public life of no inconsiderable proportion of those who are best qualified for it, or, in other words, of the small but extremely important European class which still controls the principal agricultural and commercial activities of the Colony."
It is important to realize that Mr Snell who remarked on the racial harmony prevailing in British Guiana in the extract quoted from the London Weekly, was the same Mr Snell who lamented the loss to public life of the "European class." The problem in 1927 was not one of disunity among Guianese, it was one of loss of influence and power in Guiana by the "European class."
The British government decided that for the "good" of British Guiana, the Constitution should be amended to give the Governor power to create a Legislature which he could control.
In this way, representatives of the "European class" became nominated members along with other willing local people and the power of the Planters was re-established.
Needless to say, none of the promised developments that were to follow the new Constitution took place.
After the introduction of the new Crown Colony Constitution in 1928, the "European class" in British Guiana regained and maintained control of the Legislature, the Executive, and the Civil Service until 1953, when pressure from the People's Progressive Party, which had been formed in 1950, and the logic of world developments, forced the granting of a "liberal" Constitution based on universal adult suffrage.
With the granting of the vote to every adult in British Guiana, the "European class" could no longer hope to retain control of the Legislature and, as things turned out, they also lost control of the Executive and were in danger of losing the support of the bulk of the Civil Service and the Police. They had hoped to retain control of the Executive after the election in 1953 by exploiting, as they had done in earlier times, differences between individual elected members since they did not expect any single party to win a majority. Also, they expected that, in the absence of a majority by any party in the Legislature, there would have to be some sort of "coalition" to ensure a general policy which took account of the expatriate interests of the "European class" as the primary concern of any government.
Things turned out differently however, and at the first election held under adult suffrage in 1953, a single party, the People's Progressive Party, won a majority of seats and became the "Government" of the day. This meant that a single party representing Guianese interests was able to administer the government through its majority in the Executive Council and make the laws it conceived best for the Guianese inhabitants of Guiana without having to obtain the consent of the expatriate "European class."
This is how the resultant situation was described in 1954 by the Robertson Commission which was appointed to justify the suspension of the Constitution in 1953:
"The other elements in the community - of Portuguese, Chinese and United Kingdom origin - are much smaller in numbers, though their influence is great. Members of the last-named community are anxious at the way in which the Indian and African sections have now obtained virtual domination through universal adult suffrage. In common with the Portuguese and Chinese they have no particular enthusiasm for socialist policies, but many members of all three communities have a real understanding of the aspirations of the poorer people. They realize the folly of trying to resist the trend of the times, but they are not unnaturally fearful of the more extreme policies of the People's Progressive Party. We are convinced that, in a country where leaders are needed, they could play a more valuable part than they do."
In 1954, as in 1927, a British Commission was speaking of the loss to the government of the country of the people of "United Kingdom origin" - the "European class" of 1927 - and their great influence.
The Commission's comment about people of "United Kingdom origin" was further explained by the following statement:
"But, except for the Europeans, the PPP could count on a substantial number of supporters among all races and all classes in British Guiana, with the bulk of its supporters naturally to be found among the ordinary working people."
Here, the Robertson Commission commented on and conceded the same unity of the races which Mr Snell had found in 1927 and had commented on as "a great achievement, and one that offers bright promise for the future." The Robertson Commission, however, did not find this unity encouraging since it made the people of "United Kingdom origin" anxious.
The Commission set out to lay the foundations for suspicion and animosity between the Indian and African races who had attained "virtual domination through universal adult suffrage."
The Robertson Commission served their poison in these words:
"Education is now eagerly sought by Indian parents for their children; many Indians have important shares in the economic and commercial life of the colony; the rice trade is largely in their hands from production to marketing. Their very success in these spheres has begun to awaken the fears of the African section of the population, and it cannot be denied that since India received her independence in 1947 there has been a marked self-assertiveness amongst Indians in British Guiana. Guianese of African extraction were not afraid to tell us that many Indians in British Guiana looked forward to the day when British Guiana would be a part not of the British Commonwealth but of an East Indian Empire. The result has been a tendency for racial tension to increase and we have reluctantly reached the conclusion that the amity "with which", as the Waddington Report said, "people of all races live side by side in the villages" existed more in the past; today the relationships are strained; they present an outward appearance which masks feelings of suspicion and distrust. We do not altogether share the confidence of the Waddington Commission that a comprehensive loyalty to British Guiana can be stimulated among peoples of such diverse origins."
Following upon the publication of the Robertson Commission's Report, the British took other direct steps to exploit the "fears of the African section of the population." Notable British ecclesiastical and political figures were invited to British Guiana to meet the leaders of the People's Progressive Party and try to persuade the "moderate" elements to split off from the others. This was necessary because the Commission had concluded that:
"We are, therefore, driven to the conclusion that so long as the PPP retains its present leadership and policies there is no way in which any real measure of responsible government can be restored without the certainty that the country will again be subjected to constitutional crisis."
This was another way of saying that the People's Progressive Party could not be expected to govern British Guiana in the interests of the "European class."
Among the many who visited British Guiana to try and split the Party into two or more parts were West Indian leaders including some who have since passed into the limbo of forgotten men.
Also, a leading expatriate firm employed in a high executive office a man who, with his wife, had had considerable experience in the British Secret Service. Eventually as we all know, the split was accomplished and the basis laid for the present Sandys' plan.
After the split in the People's Progressive Party, the British held new elections under an altered Constitution and on the basis of constituencies which were rigged to ensure defeat of the People's Progressive Party. Indeed, when Dr Jagan protested to the Chief Secretary of British Guiana about this, he was told that the constituencies were, in fact, constituted as they were in order to secure the defeat of the People's Progressive Party.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2000
In this article, written in April 1964, Dr Jagan examined the racial problematic in Guyana and argued that the root cause had to do with the machinations and intrigues of the plantocracy in active collaboration with the Colonial Office to "divide and rule."
Dr Jagan was passionate on the question of racial unity. He firmly believed that for Guyana to move forward, there must be unity at the political and ethnic levels. He took issue with the Robertson Commission in trying to reduce Guyana's problem to one of ethnic determinism.
The installation of the PNC/UF regime in 1964 did little to bridge the ethnic divide due mainly to a combination of force and fraud intended to deny the PPP political office.
Supporters of the PPP were effectively disenfranchised through massively rigged elections, which, coupled with the PNC's discriminatory employment practices, did very little to improve ethnic relations in Guyana.
In 1992, under pressure from the United States and other donor institutions, the PNC was forced to agree to the holding of free and fair elections that saw the PPP (along with its Civic component) returned to office, and winning successive general elections since then.
Broadcast on the 30th May, 1964
by Dr. Cheddi Jagan Premier of British Guiana
Last week when I spoke to you, I said that I was speaking with a heavy heart. This week you can imagine the deep intensity of my feeling. I know that all of you share my grief for the events this week at Wismar which will not easily be forgotten by decent minded people.
The fire in 1962 was child's play compared with the inferno at Wismar. 1962 was a great disaster but 1964 is a national catastrophe. One would have thought that our experiences in 1962 and 1963, which brought so much personal suffering, would not likely have been repeated, but instead of things improving, they are definitely getting worse. The events of the last few weeks in West and East Demerara have been grim enough, but at Wismar, human relations have sunk to an all time low. Fifteen hundred people have been uprooted from a place which they had made their home; their life savings have been lost; they had to run for their lives, hide in bushes and in canals. They see a bleak future in terms of economic security - they will not easily forget the nightmare which they have gone through.
What can we hope to achieve by all this? Where is this leading us – we who have always prided ourselves with being six ethnic groups living peacefully together? Surely this must come to an end! We cannot go on like this from one disaster to another. In recrimination and retaliation lies the downhill path to chaos. Our country can get nowhere if we live in fear, if we spend our nights watching when we should be sleeping, and sleeping when we should be working. Nor should we think that the use of foreign troops is the answer to our problems. Foreign troops can certainly help but they are not a cure. And don't forget that to police adequately vast areas of British Guiana will take thousands of troops which are obviously not available.
It seems to me, and I know you must feel this way, that we must call a halt to every form of violence, intimidation and threat. There are many now who go around spreading wild rumours. I have seen little slips of paper handed to peaceful, innocent people advising them to dismantle their homes and leave within twenty-four hours. The recipients are warned not to report to the police and that if they did not leave they would be burnt down. Our job now is not only to end violence but to fight fear itself.
I know you will agree with me when I say that we must all try to repair the damaged human relations. The various ethnic groups in British Guiana have all a role to play in our country. We are interdependent like the various parts of the body. If we are to progress and make Guiana the place which will offer adequate living standards and security for all, we have to make a fresh beginning. We have to put aside hate, put aside violence and put aside fear. We can certainly take a lesson from the big nations which armed with their nuclear bombs and other means of mass destruction are today moving to settle their problems around a conference table by negotiation and discussion. If they cannot afford to blow up each other then surely we can’t. I know how some of you who have suffered feel. Your first reaction is to hit back. But where would this lead us?
This is a question we must all ask now. It is obviously a time to be led not only by the heart but by the head. We have to get around the conference table to talk not only in Georgetown, but all over the country.
The political leaders have unfortunately not been able so far to reach agreement, but political leaders are not the ones who are suffering today; it is you the poor people who have lost property, who have lost sleep, and who live in fear. Individually and collectively you must act now. It is clear now if leaders are not willing to reconcile differences in the interests of the country on the basis of what is right and just, then you must either individually or through your organizations come out and put pressure on your leaders.
As I see it there are three major grounds for dispute at the moment - on industrial front, the political front and security front.
My Government is doing everything possible to bring a settlement to the strike in the sugar industry. Over the past week I have talked to several individuals and organizations exploring avenues for a possible settlement on the political front which will lead to peace in our country. I hope that out of all these discussions which are continuing something fruitful will materialise. I shall be most pleased to hear any views which you may have which may help to bring solutions on the various fronts so that we can ease tension and have lasting peace.
And now may I say a word about the registration of voters, which is now in progress. I wish to urge all of you to register. There is only one week left. You know my views about proportional representation. The Government of British Guiana is opposed to it. It is a crooked, rigged system which has been imposed with the object of removing my Government from office, even before the expiry of its normal term. But I have no doubt that in the end justice will prevail. All of you decent minded people, I know, abhor the crude methods being used in the name of democracy. However, we must take one step at a time. Register now. If you do not register, you not be able to vote.
In conclusion I wish to appeal once again to one and all to put an end to violence and intimidation in all their forms and to cooperate as fully as possible with the Security Forces. A solution to our problems must be found. The alternative is national extinction. We cannot go on year after year from disaster to disaster with the situation each year growing worse in geometric progression. You have in your hands the power to reverse this process. It is still not too late to turn back the wheels on the road to independence and progress for all.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2000
Broadcast by Dr. Cheddi Jagan, Premier of British Guiana on December 5, 1964 – Eve of 1964 Election
There was once a man named Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep for twenty years. He fell asleep in colonial days - this was in America - and he woke up after the Revolution. King George was out; George Washington was in. And so many other changes had taken place that Rip didn't know where he was.
A Guianese Rip Van Winkle waking up today after a sleep of twenty years would also see enormous changes - changes which are very obvious. And yet there are politicians who claim they cannot see anything. You know why? These fellows, unlike Rip Van Winkle, are still asleep. They are living in the past and so they are incapable of seeing what changes have taken place and what changes must yet come. In their blindness, they dare to ask where are the changes.
Let me remind you of these changes which they ask about. Let me take you back to 1943, the year I returned to British Guiana after spending seven years in the United States of America. I found I had returned to a country in which hardly anything had changed for the better. The old wrongs, the terrible injustices - if they can forget them so easily - I knew them all too well. I saw daily the abuses and misery of the people. I felt these and took them as my own and I will never forget them. I am mindful of what great changes have taken place just as I am mindful of the changes that are still absolute necessities for the people of Guiana and I am aware of these things because I look at them with the eyes of the people and not with the prejudiced eyes of the privileged few who have always had things easy and so did not want a change.
In 1943 British Guiana was still a backward out-post of colonialism just as it had been for centuries. A powerful group of sugar planters and expatriate Civil Servants dominated and controlled the Legislature, the economy and everything else. It was, said with justification, that laws were not made in the Legislative Council but over rum swizzles at the Georgetown Club which the planters and Colonial Office officials frequented. Our people had little means of redress for their grievances and so there was a pattern of rebellion and riot on the plantations, in the villages and in Georgetown. But although so many lives had been lost things remained as they were - unchanged.
The vast hinterland remained bottled up to ensure an abundant supply of cheap coastal labour. Drainage and irrigation except for the sugar estates, were non-existent. Development of new industries was discouraged. Nearly one-fifth of our population lived in dilapidated barrack-type logies from the days of slavery. Malaria was a scourge and few really enjoyed good health.
Hospitals and qualified doctors were few and far between. Treatment available depended upon ability to pay. How well I remember the standard treatment at the Port Mourant Hospital for any ailment - quinine, cough mixture, epsom salts or castor oil. Drinking water came from trenches often stagnant and polluted, Poor health and nutritional standards resulted in high infant and general mortality rates.
Let us look at education. Primary schools were almost all under-staffed, under-equipped and over-crowded. Secondary education was limited and tailored to suit the colonial straitjacket. And in the face of such horrible conditions our people were denied the only weapons which might have been used to improve their lot - the right to vote and the right to organize. The right to be registered as a voter was then limited to a very few with education and money. Everything was done to discourage trade unionism and victimization was widely practiced. In Water Street and in the Civil Service, unionism was virtually non-existent and you could only get even the lowest paid job if you had a godfather. And remember too, that except for the lowest paid jobs, no person of colour could find a job in Water Street or the Civil Service. Those were the conditions our people had known for decades and which I found when I came back from America in 1943.
Today, twenty-one years later, the picture is profoundly changed. The sugar kings have been partially dethroned; no longer do they make the laws. Universal adult suffrage, the cornerstone of progress, has been won and the Legislature is in the hands of elected Guianese members. Though it has been tampered with, internal self-government has been won and though there have been obstacles placed in our way by forces from without and within, we are on the threshold of complete independence. The expatriates, as a colony, have departed forever. Discrimination, whether because of colour or creed, has almost disappeared and any qualified Guyanese can now enter the Civil Service, the commercial houses, and now to an increasing degree, even that last stronghold - the commercial banks.
The health of our people has improved enormously. Nowadays, we expect our babies to live. You can be sure that your children will grow up in health around you. Motherhood is no longer the risk it used to be. Mothers and babies now have ready attention at the network of health centres and cottage hospitals throughout the country. And the old scourges of malaria and typhoid and other diseases are things of the past.
The aged now have better pensions. In most villages, a supply of pure water is available and in some villages the supply is piped into homes.
Today, free secondary education is within the reach of everyone. And soon thousands will get university education at very little cost to themselves.
Our standards of living have improved enormously although we still have a long way to go. But gone are the days when the best jobs and the best schools and the best medical treatment were reserved for a few because of their colour or position, while the rest of us struggled in the dreadful stranglehold of poverty.
And in spite of opposition, both from within and without, we have made a good start in freeing our economy. No longer are farmers dependent on the whims of the sugar planters for their land. They have their own well-drained land and drainage is now provided by the Government and not left to the planters. Our agricultural policy has resulted in an abundance of locally produced foods which has helped to hold down the cost-of-living for the working class and will provide the raw materials for our industries. We have begun to replace imports by products of our own industries. And the stage has been set for large-scale industrialization.
The whole pattern of our trade has been changed to the advantage of consumers. Products can now be imported from any source resulting in cheaper goods. We have developed new markets for our exports. The rice producers now control their own marketing. Our airways, once foreign-owned, is now owned by you, the people. The electricity supply, on which so much economic development depends, is no longer foreign-owned but is owned by you, the people. Rural electrification is now becoming a reality. And the anticipated $60 million net profits in twenty years will remain right here for future development.
We have made a start in reforming our monetary system so as to ensure that the flow of money for credit and investment is easier than it is now. All this we have done and yet our opponents say that our policies were aimed at helping only one section of our community.
Even more important, the dignity which we now have, No longer must anyone tremble or kow-tow to the few. We have won the priceless possession of the vote and now have in large measure the right to organize in unions without much fear of victimization. No longer is colour or origin a bar to merited positions in the Civil Service and even in Water Street, the position has changed a great deal. This is the record. Only the prejudiced can be blind to these changes.
I know that there is still a great deal more to be done. You have been told that our international credit is low. This is not wholly true. Where it is so, it is because of the smear campaign which the opposition has waged overseas. This has prevented us from getting money for development. A campaign of disruption was mounted to get the United Kingdom and the United States Governments to remove us from office so that the opposition could rule and it is you who have been harmed. It is you who have suffered because there was less money than we needed. You, who are unemployed, can thank the opposition that we did not have more money to create more jobs. Today, we would have had $25 to $30 million more had the 1962 budget been passed as originally presented. The United States Kennedy Government offer of aid was wrecked by the antics of an irresponsible opposition. And the denial of independence, engineered by foreigners and supported by the opposition, prevented us from accepting attractive offers of factories from the East. Ask yourself this question: Do these men have your interest at heart or their own?
And remember too, that the changes for the better did not come about by accident or because the privileged and vested interests had twinges of conscience They came about because changes were wrested from theme because of the activities and existence of the People's Progressive Party.
Of course, they will not tell you this. They will speak of the new look in big business or of that latest slogan "people's capitalism" and how their only anxiety is to hand over to the people of this country the management of their own affairs as soon as possible. But do not believe them. As you have seen for yourself, our present divisions and differences have given them a chance to bring back some of the old ways5 including Government by edict. Once again you are being pushed around.
In 1953, we stood together for the first time and the old brigade shivered in their shoes. Can you not remember how you held your heads high in those days? The winds of change blew strongly then and even though we were removed from office after only 133 days, the rulers were forced into concessions and changes which would have been undreamt of before the shock of 1955. If we had stayed together, what might not have been achieved? Instead we have had growing divisions. And mark you - only one set of people stand to benefit from such divisions and it is not you.
There is only one Party which has consistently fought for changes and for independence and it is the People's Progressive Party. I and a handful of others began the long struggle for independence long before there was any chance of holding office or of forming a government. We who fought them, and fight now, have not changed. If we had changed (yes, ask yourself this question), would the old privileged groups go on attacking us as they do? All that has happened is that the old groups now have new allies from among some of those who once claimed to fight for you. Today, there are many who speak of what they will do when in office but when I began my long struggle, the prospect in view was not of holding office but of going to jail. Where were these people then?
Today they come not in one opposition party as in 1953, but in several fronts so that they can come to you with their separate racial and religious appeals and the more easily try to fool you.
What saddens me is that the working class should be divided and more so because it is cleft by the terrible sword of racial prejudice. I have done everything to bring about unity in 1957, in 1961 and again recently. But very overture on my part for re-uniting the Guyanese liberation movement has been rejected, even a coalition government based on parity which, at one time, the opposition leader advocated. He has betrayed the working class by dividing it. He is allowing ambition and the desire for personal power to cloud his vision and keep our liberation movement divided. It is time to turn decisively away from leaders who divide us for their personal gain and who refuse to work for unity. Maybe then they will wake up. Maybe then they will see again the need for a re-united national movement. So far as I am concerned, I do not cherish or harbour any ideas of racial superiority or inferiority. My Party will continue to work for racial harmony and national unity.
For me personally, election on Monday is only another stage in my struggle to help win freedom and progress for our country. Although the election is being held under a system designed to throw me out this cannot happen unless you, the people, desert me and I do not for a moment believe this will happen. We have been through terrible times together and we have never, even in the worst crises, deserted each other or deserted the cause of the masses of people in Guiana. I know that many of you have been subjected to threats but you must vote because if attacks on you are possible now because of what you stand for, even while I am in office, what would happen if I were not?
When you go to vote on Monday the question will be - will you give me and the People's Progressive Party support to continue the struggle that I and the small group of pioneers began so long ago, or will you turn to those who now walk with the old brigade? Of this you can be sure - whether in office or out, come what may, whether in jail or detention or worse, I will never give up so long as our country remains poor and our nation in bondage. It may be that the way ahead is difficult, but if we stand together now, the future will be for all of us, a future in which we can reshape our country so as to make it truly our own Guiana, a country in which all of our children, irrespective of race or creed, can grow up together in freedom and dignity and lift their heads high in the certainty of the good life ahead which they deserve.
We are struggling today to construct tomorrow . To this task, I re-dedicate myself - not for power but for progress, not for politics but for the people, not for the domination of Guiana, but for her free and brighter future.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2000