Our Great Chief Will Forever Be Honoured At Timehri's Sacred Ground
Following is the full text of a speech by Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Vibert DeSouza, in the National Assembly of Guyana on Monday, May 12, 1997, on the designation of the Airport at Timehri, as the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
I rise to give my full support to the renaming of the airport at Timehri, the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
Such a move will be the most fitting tribute that the Guyanese people can give to the memory of this Great Son of the soil. The late President of this country, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, spent almost his entire life struggling for the freedom and unity of all Guyanese, regardless of their ethnic differences - whether East Indians, Afro-Guyanese, Amerindians, Portuguese, Chinese or European-mixed. His total dedication and commitment to this cause remains unparalleled to those who lived and died before him.
Mr. Speaker, as Minister of Amerindian Affairs, I can testify to the complete dedication and commitment of the late Dr. Jagan to all our people, especially to the Amerindians of Guyana. It was under his presidency that Amerindians were honoured with the creation of a Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. I became, in the name of Amerindians, the first-ever Minister of Amerindian Affairs in the history of Guyana.
Timehri, an Amerindian name for 'paintings and drawings on the rock,' did not bring about any significant changes in the lives of Amerindians. If it did, we the people would have been given equal status and recognition as any Guyanese. Since 1969, when the airport was changed from Atkinson to Timehri International, the lives of the Amerindian people of this country remained unchanged. It was simply lip service, a gimmick. Consultations with Amerindians were minimal, if any. Over the years, international and especially national air services deteriorated. So too were the entire building and other facilities at the airport.
Mr. Speaker, air services to the interior before the PPP/Civic Government came into office in 1992 had dwindled to only three locations. The Amerindian people, most of whom live in the distant, remote areas of Guyana, were simply cut off from the rest of the Guyanese people living on the coast. Is this respect and concern for the Amerindian people? As far as I am concerned, this is gross disrespect for and neglect of our people, forgotten as they were by the former PNC regime.
Mr. Speaker, this PPP/Civic Government has introduced since October 5, 1992, flights to more than 18 locations of the interior and all originating from Timehri. For example, to Lethem, the border town with Brazil, daily flights link the coastland with Guyana's most distant hinterland region. Very soon, more areas will be receiving this vital air service.
It was Dr. Cheddi Jagan who made these extended facilities for Amerindians possible. Additionally, an Amerindian not even from the ruling party, Mr. Anthony Abrams, has, for the fifth year now, been elected by this Government to sit on the Board of Directors of the Guyana Airways Corporation. It was under Dr. Jagan's leadership that GAC first employed an Amerindian girl as an air hostess.
Mr. Speaker, the late President of this beautiful country on the rise was the only Head of State to have visited several Amerindian villages in the Northwest, Pakaraimas, Mazaruni, Berbice, and Rupununi regions. Of course, he had to travel by air to the more centrally located airstrips in the interior and then continue his journey by river and land, which was very arduous. Nevertheless, he visited willingly and faithfully.
Dr. Cheddi Jagan was a caring President who spared no sacrifices to sit with Amerindians in the remotest of villages to share his dreams and visions with them, to play with their babies, to eat their food, and to rest in their hammocks. Today he lives in the hearts of Amerindians whose lives have been touched by his selflessness and concern for Amerindian welfare, and for whom he has now become a great spirit of inspiration.
Mr. Speaker, we have seen in the past four years how our airport at Timehri has been transformed into a respectable gateway to international and national destinations. All Guyanese are proud of this transformation taking place at our international airport. Efficient systems have been introduced there - so much so that one can even request an airliner ten minutes in flight after take-off to return and be given VIP treatment on board, something no one ever dreamed could take place in our country.
Mr. Speaker, a massive new wing has been added to the airport under Dr. Jagan's leadership and a fast-lane highway, the Timehri-Georgetown Highway, will soon be completed. Soon we may even have a 48-seater air-plane traversing such places as Lethem, Mahdia or international connections, all from the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
Timehri will forever remain Timehri and what it stands for.
Mr. Speaker, the late Dr. Jagan in life stood up like a champion for the just cause of all Guyanese, and so in death he continues to be a witness for this great cause. My Amerindian brothers and sisters have enjoyed attention, respect, and recognition they never before enjoyed.
In 1992 as at other elections Dr. Jagan promised accelerated development for Amerindian communities. Mr. Speaker, look around this Parliament, Sir. On this side of the House alone, there are six Members of Parliament representing Amerindians. For this, we thank the great Cheddi Jagan. Today we have, besides a Minister, a Parliamentary Secretary for Amerindian Affairs. She is the only Parliamentary Secretary of this Government and the first Amerindian woman in Guyana ever to become a Parliamentary Secretary, thanks, again, to our Hero, Dr. Cheddi Jagan.
Under Dr. Jagan's guidance, an Amerindian Advisory Committee was formed and is representative of the views of Amerindians. Under our administration, free, fair and transparent elections have been restored for electing Amerindian captains and councillors at the insistence of Dr. Jagan. The role of Amerindian captains has been recognized and stipends for them have been increased.
The authority of our Amerindian captains has also been restored and they have now been appointed by the Guyana Police Force as Rural Constables. Who, Mr. Speaker, should we be grateful to, if not to Dr. Jagan and the PPP/Civic Government, for restoring the dignity of my people and their leaders? In return, Sir, we willingly endorse renaming the airport the Cheddi Jagan International Airport in gratitude to our late Chief.
We must remember, Sir, that this dignity was restored when the late President Jagan designated the 10th of September Amerindian Heritage Day and the whole of September Amerindian Heritage Month. We may recall our nationwide celebrations at the reconstructed Umana Yana, the renovated Amerindian Hostel, and elsewhere, in celebration of Amerindian culture, artistry and craft.
Only those who are petty and ungrateful would refuse to recognize the great advances in Amerindian life under Dr. Jagan. Sir, may I remind this Parliament that it was under Dr. Jagan, who approved the establishment of a special Fund for Amerindian Development, that every community has benefitted in one form or the other - from schools and health centres and wells to tractors and trailers, outboard engines, chain saws, mobile rice mills, radio communication sets and farmers' tools, et cetera. With the coming on stream of the road from Lethem to Georgetown and the Moco Moco Hydropower Project, Lethem could easily become a new development zone.
Mr. Speaker, the condition of Amerindians from Orealla to Point Playa, to Rupununi can never totally be enhanced without the proper and final demarcation of Amerindian land titles. It was Dr. Jagan who advanced this process after the historic Paramakatoi Conference in February of 1996. Today a special Task Force for this purpose has been commissioned.
Mr. Speaker, in his lifetime Dr. Jagan did all he could for my people. I look around with pride and I see Amerindians coming into their own as policemen, as forest rangers, as medical technicians, as educationists, as politicians and as leaders.
For us now, only the sky is the limit. And we shall look up there to find our Guiding Star, Cheddi Jagan. Therefore, Sir, it is only the beginning of out tribute to Dr. Jagan.
The Timehri issue reminds me of the episode in the Bible, an issue which the wise Solomon in his wisdom was able to solve. Mr. Speaker, let me quote the passage. I quote in 1st King chapter 3, verses 23 to 28:
"The king Solomon said, 'each of you claims that the living child is hers, and that the dead child belongs to the other one.' He sent for a sword and when it was brought, he said 'cut the living child in two and give each woman half of it.' The real mother, her heart full of love for her son, said to the king, 'please, your majesty, don't kill the child; give it to her.' But the other woman said 'don't give it to either of us. Go on and cut it in two.' Then Solomon said, 'don't kill the child, give it to the first woman. She is its real mother.' When the people of Israel heard of Solomon's decision, they were all filled with deep respect for him because they knew then that God had given him the wisdom to settle disputes fairly."
Mr. Speaker, what I'd like to draw from this story is that wisdom and judgement are applied fairly and that such judgement will be so manifested today.
Mr. Speaker, Timehri may be described as a sacred ground. Our Hero, out Warrior, our Champion, our Great Chief - his name Cheddi Jagan - will be forever honoured on this sacred ground. The name Cheddi Jagan is here to stay. Long live the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.