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Tributes to Cheddi Jagan - Remembering CJ

The Charisma of Cheddi Jagan

by Dr. Frank C. S. Anthony

(A Tribute to Cheddi Jagan on the 7th Death Anniversary)

Time has slowly moved on, trying like a flood to drown the anguish and hurt that we felt seven years ago. Indeed the inevitable march of time does not mean the inevitable erasure of memory. But like the proverb that says " absence makes the heart grows fonder", so it is with us that we are fonder of Cheddi. Jagan, and we often reflect on how he would have done this or that.

I have asked several persons, especially young people what it is that they like about Cheddi Jagan. And they all said he had a multitude of excellent qualities and virtues that made him a charismatic leader.

It is ironic that the word Charisma is used to describe him. Because this word evolved from religion and has a modified meaning. In ancient times to how some people believed in gods and spirits but few have ever seen a miracle, a tangible display of divine power. During that time persons seemed possessed by a divine spirit, speaking in tongues, articulating visions – these men stood out as one whom the gods have singled out. Charisma in those early times was a sign of god’s favor.

In present day leaders hold power not by divine authority but by votes and competence and lots of hard work and sacrifice. But despite these well-labored principles some leaders just stood out, by the sheer radiance of their personality and character. Cheddi Jagan was a man who commanded attention when he spoke. He had to many of us a larger than life presence and many attributed that to Jagan’s Charisma.

So what made Cheddi Jagan a charismatic leader? Max Weber explained, "Charisma shall be understood to refer to an extraordinary quality of a person, regardless of whether this quality is actual, alleged or presumed." In fact Weber has written volumes on the subject of charisma. More recently Anton Allahar wrote a book called " Caribbean Charisma – Reflections on Leadership, Legitimacy and Populist Politics" and in that book a whole chapter is dedicated to the charismatic leadership of Dr. Cheddi Jagan.

I have tried to dissect the anatomy of his charisma, and confect the ingredients that made him charismatic. And I have succeeded in compiling a partial list of qualities and characteristics. Throughout tonight’s proceeding many others would add many, more, but such was the man’s of inexhaustible potential ready to be discovered.

Cheddi was - VISIONARY – he had the art of seeing things invisible. He was able to create, embody and communicate a vision. This is what inspired people to mobilize, to act and to move as a united organization and ultimately to a united country. His vision is the fabric that clothe us with our common identity.

"The four cornerstones of our present needs - racial harmony, national unity, national Independence and peace and progress. Without racial harmony there can be no national unity, and without racial unity there can be no national Independence and without Independence there can be no progress."

In the nineties as the cold war thawed, and inequalities and injustices prevailed he started an advocacy for a New Global Human Order as a solution to relive the poor countries from this plight.

"I don’t think I have reached the pinnacle of my life, for the Presidency is only a means to an end, to attain the end is to attain a sane and safe world, to bring an end to exploitation, suffering and misery, to construct a New Global Human Order. The struggle will continue."

Dr. Jagan had

- sense of purposefulness. He did not falter to take action, when action was needed. And there is decisiveness, a self-assurance, a force of his character that made generations of supporters comfortable and secure in the knowledge that once Cheddi was at the helm we will prevail.
In the difficult times in the sixities he wrote in the " West on Trial ":

"Those who say that we are irrelevant, that we are finished, should be reminded that the same tune was sung after the dark days following the rape of our constitution in 1953 and the breakaway by the right and left opportunists in 1955 and 1956. But we won in 1957 and 1961.

Today, though defrauded and cheated, we remain the strongest force in the country. Difficulties there will be; the battle will be long and hard. But win again we will. History and time are on our side!"

His strength of purpose was to prove decisive as he guided the party through many challenges, obstacles and sacrifices to victory on 5th October, 1992.

Cheddi Jagan had some

Saintly quality – he was a man of integrity. Most mortals are vulnerable to compromise saints are not compromised. Jagan stood up for his principles, and suffered for his believes but was nevertheless prepared to endure these hardships. In the end many still marvel at the injustices done to him, yet it did not deter him or compromise him. It made him stronger, and created a system of values and principles for which people were willing to fight and die for.

"I believe that my first charge is to raise my people from the mire of poverty in which, for too long, they have suffered. I have never made any secret of my views. I have been thrown out of office. I have been subjected to violence, indignity and jail. I am willing to face these things again, and gladly, in the fight to free my people and aid them. Here I stand. Here I will stand until I die."

Cheddi Jagan was an

Eloquent man – he knew words had power, and he used them to educate, to mobilize, to agitate and to bring change. He helped to inspire hope in the complex realities in which we live.

"Democracy can only prosper in an environment of economic, social and ecological development. Poverty atrophies the vigor and initiative of the individual and deprives the society of incalculable human resources. If left unattended, the expansion of poverty with hunger and the hopelessness it engenders will undermine the fabric of our civilization and the security of the democratic state, thus threatening world peace."

Cheddi was theatrical

I think it was difficult to imagine Cheddi giving a speech without moving his arms. He had the ability to use body language and hand gestures to aid the audience in conjuring a mental picture of the complex topic that was being explained.

Cheddi had passion

He was so passionate about the cause, that he lived and breathed that cause. It was part of his being and he did not mind taking his beliefs to the people, big or small. And at those meetings whether at bottom houses or rallies, he became alive, animate with gestures and literally lightening up as he explained his ideas to people.

Cheddi was a humble, selfless man

He was not extravagant or arrogant. He was humble and always willing to listen and originate solutions to people’s problems. This was the Jagan that we grew up to know, always practical, always pragmatic and always willing to give of himself so that other may be better.

He said of himself:

" I first wanted to be a doctor. Didn't want to be merely a specialist and craftsman and cure individual aches and ills. I wanted to cure the ills of society.   I want to know that I have served humanity as a human being. All of us want recognition - I am not interested in recognition conferred on the basis of my bankroll. When I would have passed away, I would like it to be recorded that Jagan did his bit in the service of humanity."

Cheddi was an educator

Dr Jagan was indeed an educator; he was able to break-down the complexities of the modern world to simple language for the grassroots supporters to understand. In the early days it was not unusual for him to make charts and graphs to graphically represent some complicated problem that were contained in the budget. The charts were then used as teaching aids to explain the concepts. No bottom house or street corner was exempted, if there were a few comrades to meet and to discuss these issues.

Cheddi had support

His life partner was always there to share in the joys and to help in the difficult moments. This is what he said of Janet;

"My wife, Janet influenced me with a deep and abiding faith and caring for the poor, the disadvantaged and the handicapped, the oppressed and the marglinized, and she has a very deep commitment to honesty in politics. As a result I do not worry about anything. I work together with her very closely, we debate soundly without anything to worry about or anything to hide. She has given me peace of mind."

When Cheddi died the day was black with mourning; the Guyana diversity was unified in their loss. People sought each other, to comfort and console and the colors became blurred not by tears, but because deep down in our hearts we somehow felt a personal loss.

That personal loss, that despair felt was because this charismatic leader has touched each of us with his greatness.

Today, we can look back with a little less grief, a little less emotion to this great champion and try to heal the pain that we feel with ideas that he gave. The legacy of ideas is what Cheddi bequeathed to this generation and generations to come.

We have the grave responsibility to become acquainted with and to adopt them to suit our particular challenging circumstances.

If we don’t we run the risk of been accused of treason by the next generation because we would have squandered the wonderful treasure of wisdom that can help us out of this ideological and economic drought that is engulfing us.

So as we remember our charismatic leader who restored that luxury to hope, that luxury to dream of a better life in our country. The democratic freedoms that we all now cherish all came because Cheddi Jagan played his part to make Guyana better.

We in the PYO, WPO, PPP and indeed all Guyana are proud heirs of Cheddi’s legacy

Let there be no doubt, that disciples of Jagan armed with his indomitable ideas, are always ready to light a path through the world’s confusion to relieve the human conditions from suffering.

Let there be no doubt that our charismatic Cheddi will forever be remembered by all Guyana.


Cheddi Jagan The Peerless Visionary!

by Clinton Collymore

Dr Cheddi Jagan, former President and Leader of the People’s Progressive Party was a statesman of exceptional vision. He could be said to have appeared at a time when a person of his caliber was direly needed and also to have appeared well in advance of his time. This is a duality that baffles many persons, mainly his detractors.

This assertion is based on two realities:
1] He participated in the fight for political independence where he led from the front.
2] He agitated for economic independence and also led this struggle from the front.

As such Dr Jagan was no armchair general. His leadership from the front connotes that he took on an active role in both the colonial and post colonial periods. He took up the fight for the working people and charted a course forward when others hesitated, compromised themselves or simply knew not where to go.

From the inception, Dr Jagan knew where he was going and forged the tools necessary to reach his perceived destination. He is rightly called the Father of the Nation. Those who today begrudge him this well deserved title, either sided with the colonialists or are ashamed of what they did under the colonial and post colonial periods.

His Birth
Cheddi Jagan was born March 22, 1918, in a rural working class family in Port Mourant, on the Corentyne. To the day of his death on March 6, 1997 he did not forget his roots. He never betrayed the working people and constantly struggled on their behalf. These days some of his detractors cling to his achievements, hoping to gain political mileage.

There are those who now praise Dr Jagan for their own selfish aims. They seek to use his name and prestige to further their wicked agendas. These agendas would have been denounced by him in his lifetime. They and their mini political parties have no shame. In addition they seek to rewrite history, applying a liberal coat of white wash to themselves.

What Cheddi Jagan built in his lifetime is still in existence.
What Cheddi Jagan fought for, has mostly been achieved
What Cheddi Jagan stood for, is now acclaimed world wide

The struggle Cheddi Jagan waged continues in the policies and programmes of the People’s Progressive Party-Civic. He is the architect and lodestar of the present PPP-Civic Government.

It is most fitting that he heads the National Honours List in 2007, with him being posthumously awarded the exclusive: "ORDER OF LIBERATION".

Organised Struggle
When he led the formation of the Political Affairs Committee in 1946 he was criticized for so doing and labeled a "communist".

When he founded the People’s Progressive Party in 1950, he was again criticized and labeled a "communist". The Cold War was moving into top gear.

The formation of the PAC led to the publication of a PAC Bulletin. That newssheet created a stir in the United Kingdom and turmoil in British Guiana. In its first issue its aims were stated as follows:

"To assist the growth and development of the labour and progressive movements of British Guiana, to the end of establishing a strong, disciplined and enlightened Party, equipped with the theory of scientific socialism; to provide information and to present scientific political analyses on current affairs, both local and international; and to foster and assist discussion groups, through the circulation of bulletins, booklets and other printed matter."

The PAC Bulletin ceased on December 26, 1949. It was succeeded on January 1, 1950 by the Thunder, official organ of the PPP. The PPP was also formed on January 1, 1950.

The strike by sugar workers in 1948 was so important that it was debated in the British House of Commons. The PAC was the only newspaper to champion the cause of those sugar workers.

Today all have jumped on the bandwagon of the Enmore Martyrs.

The label of "communist" was used by Anglo-American imperialism to orchestrate ideological opposition to Dr Jagan, his party in general and also to his Government in 1953. The PPP was the main instrument in bringing about independence for Guyana in 1966 and the main champion of the working people’s rights and benefits.

When he agitated for freedom from Great Britain (the colonial power) he was denounced, for there were lackeys of colonialism who did not want independence.

Unable to stop the national momentum to independence, they conspired to put the opportunistic, racist and terroristic Burnham clique in power. This lack of vision cost the nation 28 years of hardship, arising from the dictatorship that Burnham established.

When he agitated for and won universal adult suffrage, he was denounced by vested interest.

When he moved to end dual control in schools, he was denounced by vested interest.

When he agitated for the right of workers to join trade unions of their own free choice, he was attacked. When he tabled legislation for this measure, he was vehemently opposed.

When he urged the principle of Recall for those legislators who crossed the floor in the Legislature, he was denounced through many specious arguments.

Today, ten years after he died, Recall is Constitutional reality. The PNC which for three decades opposed this democratic feature, was forced by circumstances to vote in favour of it in the National Assembly. That party is having a rebellion in its parliamentary ranks.

When he espoused Marxist theory in political economy, he was denounced.

Today the world is seeing the gradual acceptance of Marxism by those very fountainheads that spewed virulent anti-communist propaganda. Dr Jagan was the victim of a deliberate misinterpretation of Marxism to suit the objectives of Anglo-American agendas. However these sources are making a distinction between Marx and Lenin. They have not yet got around to accepting Lenin.

Many articles have been written on the towering caliber of Cheddi Jagan the Statesman. It is appropriate to quote a paragraph from an article by Navin Chandarpal in Thunder of the first quarter of 2007. He wrote:

"While Dr Jagan was alive, there were many who rejected his ideas and considered him to be irrelevant. Ten years after his death many have turned around and now recognize the wisdom of his ideas. Today, he stands like a colossus as leaders across the political divide bring to life the positions he had taken on a wide range of national and global issues."

This is exactly the purpose of this article: to highlight the ideas of a man way ahead of his time and to show his consistency of thought and intellect. He has made such an impact at home and abroad and has built up such a momentum, that even 10 years after his death, his heritage of revolutionary works surges onwards. His erstwhile foes are now seeking to clamber onto his bandwagon.

Many who had deemed him to be "lost in the wilderness of political opposition" and had written him off, had sought to either cash in on his loss of power or seize control of his Party. They failed ignominiously. He kept his Party organizationally and ideologically intact during 28 years of dictatorship and confounding his detractors, brought it back to state power by winning democratic elections in October 1992.

The spectacular nature of this feat was not lost on the world of post colonial politics. In no other part of the contemporary world had a political leader returned to power after a lapse of 28 years under a vicious dictatorship. Other leaders in similar situations had either succumbed to opportunistic inducements, or their parties had long since crumbled.

Man of Vision
Some of his historic creations despite intense criticisms could be listed as follows:

* The New Global Human Order, as an alternative to warmongering and social denial.
* The creation of a Civic Component to the PPP, thus broadening the reach of the Party.
* The fight for free and fair elections, thus ending a reign of rigged elections in Guyana.
* The fight to restore Democracy, thus ending the PNC dictatorship in a peaceful manner.

He was undeterred and undeflected by the provocative massacre of sugar workers in 1948 by the colonial regime. These workers are now revered as Martyrs even by those who are philosophical bedmates and collaborators of the ones who committed the brutal massacre.

Coming to office by democratic elections in 1953, his progressive government was over-thrown by the British imperial power after a mere 133 days in office. Traitors and lackeys then took office. For four years the country "marked time" under collaborators who ran amok, banning literature, jailing progressives and suppressing the working class. They even dissolved the then Trades Union Council, deeming it "a subversive organisation".

Today, there are moves by progressive trade unionists who are seeking to re-structure the existing Trades Union Congress so that real democracy could be reflected therein. These efforts have been marked so far by the formation of an alternative trade union centre that is styled: "Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana" {FITUG}

* FITUG is a brain child of Dr Cheddi Jagan. At its conception and formation, he was accused by the very ones who still strongly maintain the undemocratic corrupt structure of the TUC of "splitting the trade union movement". They are still expressing this view.

* The long battle with right wing reaction over the trade union recognition issue, culminated with the needed and long thwarted historical legislation being enacted under his Presidency. The final touch is expected to be done in 2007 with further amendments being made to the Trade Union Act. Once again this democratization is being opposed.
Dr Jagan’s efforts over the years to democratize the trade union movement were frustrated by reactionary forces.

* He structured the state battle against poverty and other political and economic diseases immediately upon becoming President following the 1992 general elections. Those historic elections were fought under the theme "Time for Change: Time to Rebuild". And indeed Changes have taken place & Re-Building is on going. Guyana at this point in time is a huge construction site. Massive projects and programmes are underway in keeping with his vision. But true to form, his enemies oppose every project and every programme.

There has been since 1992:
* a revolutionary housing programme, which is still steaming ahead. It can safely be stated, that in no other part of the world is there such a dynamic housing programme.
* re-distribution of national wealth with the impoverished masses in mind.

* re-structuring and expansion of the national health services

* expansion of national electricity supplies, with rural areas taking precedence.

* expansion of national water distribution services to un-served rural and interior areas.
* embarkation on massive public works projects designed to create jobs.

* revamping and expansion of overseas scholarship programmes for youths.

* provision of student loans for tertiary education. A major Cheddi Jagan Initiative.

* institution of lean and clean government; rooting out corruption wherever it is found.

* curbing inflation and paying decent wages.

Having inherited from the PNC regime, a nearly triple digit inflation and shameful wages that lagged consistently behind madly galloping inflation, Dr Jagan promptly moved to restructure the wages and incomes policy that he inherited. He did the following:

a- factored in the percentage of GDP growth in the previous year.
b- factored in the percentage of inflation in the previous year
c- factored in a subjective percentage in his own discretion.

These three factors when aggregated, ensured that the wage increases granted to workers in the public sector were always above inflation. Even with this revolutionary formula, public sector unions still clamoured for more: much more than the treasury could bear.

Further Vision
There was a hue and cry from vested interest {who did not want to see any meaningful agricultural development} when Dr Jagan as Chief Minister of British Guiana, in 1957 launched the Black Bush Polder Scheme. That Scheme was and still is, a great success. The sheer magnitude of the Scheme paralysed the lilliputian imagination of political detractors, who warned black farmers, not to participate due to "rattlesnakes" abounding in the area.

Besides the revolutionary Black Bush Polder Scheme in Region # 6, there is the similarly revolutionary Tapakuma Scheme in Region # 2; the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary Scheme in Region # 5; and the grand plan to extend the Hutchinson Drainage & Irrigation Scheme across the coastal backlands (Regions # 4 & 5) designed to control annual flooding. Time and finance prevented him from proceeding with this Scheme. Today it is estimated to cost over US$400 million. An approach has been made by the Jagdeo administration to international funding agencies, for the necessary finance.

When he launched the University of Guyana from modest beginnings, the usual political scoffers deemed it "Jagan’s Night School". Today that institution can speak for itself.

The same skepticism arose when he and his Finance Minister, Dr Charles Jacob Jnr, launched the Bank of Guyana in 1963. The scoffers criticized the construction of the building and claimed that "it is leaning" and its foundation is "sinking". That structure is still there as solid as ever in 2007, for all to see.

One can recall the most recent scoffing at the construction of the buildings housing the Caricom Community Secretariat and the International Convention Centre at Turkeyen! Both are said by certain "engineers" to have "leaning" and "pillar" problems. The general overall idea being peddled by critics and scoffers for over five decades is that the PPP has no brains, being largely consisting of "cane-cutters and shovel-men".

There was another hue and cry when Dr Jagan moved to end appeals to the British Privy Council. There are some who still want to cling to the coat tails of the British Crown for they are terrified of their own peers at home.

Today the Privy Council has long been replaced and the Court of Last Resort is the Caribbean Court of Justice. True to form those timid political ones also strenuously objected to the CCJ even though they were the same ones who helped to construct the Caribbean Community and Common Market.

When in the early 1960’s Dr Jagan built the spacious heavy duty ferry boat the Makouria, {equipped with power driven turn table on its deck} he was accused of "wasting the tax payers money". Today in 2007, the Makouria is inadequate, wherever and across which ever river it may be plying and more are needed.

Foreign Policy
Cheddi Jagan came in for the most flak where his foreign policy is concerned. Strenuous efforts and slanders were used to try to get him to change his left wing leanings and his friendship with the Soviet Union and Cuba in particular. His active membership of the World Peace Council was scoffed at until some of his detractors joined that organisation.

These days everybody is calling for world peace. Up to a mere two decades ago, anyone calling for world peace was deemed a "communist" and a "Soviet agent".

When Dr Jagan advocated "debt relief" he was greeted with incredulity and disdain.

The obdurate brain dead rightwing propagandists accused him of "wasting time" and of being "unrealistic". It is not that he did not want to repay Guyana’s huge foreign debts, but his Marxist analyses {which he freely publicized to back up his case} indicated that a time is coming when debtor nations will be unable to repay their debts. This in turn will slow down economic progress in Western economies and trigger anti-western sentiments.

Those who scoffed at him, have now jumped on his bandwagon. It is in the interest of the western powers to help the impoverished Third World maintain purchasing power. Which poor nation (and the vast majority of the nations are poor) will buy the costly machinery etc produced in the West, if it cannot repay the onerous old debts owed to the West? For this specific reason, the World Bank and the IMF have created anti-poverty programmes.

Right here in Guyana in 1983, Guyana defaulted on debt payments and the IMF turned off the finance tap. Forbes Burnham was in office then.

The Race Card
Cheddi Jagan was wrongfully accused by his political detractors of being "an Indian racist". This was the key plank on which they sought to drive a wedge between Indians and others in Guyana. This propaganda was mainly aimed at Blacks. They charged that the PPP of which he was Leader {and subsequently General Secretary at the time of his death} was an "Indian Party". He lived long enough to have confounded them by 1997.

He was able to see an "Indian Party" formed in Guyana! That Party with only East Indian members was known as Rise, Organise And Resist {ROAR}. It was headed by an Indian supremacist, named Ravi Dev. It did so poorly at general elections in 2001, that it was only able to get a seat in Parliament via leftover votes. It was obliterated from the electoral map in 2006 polls. Dr Jagan had strenuously denounced Ravi Dev and ROAR.

From the very inception of the PPP in 1950, Dr Cheddi Jagan as its Leader, never claimed that the PPP was an Indian Party. He said and maintained to his dying day that the PPP is a Party of the working class, open to anyone who subscribes to its policies and principles. Election maths have long dealt crushing blows to this charge, for the votes obtained by the PPP-Civic in 2006, 2001, 1997 and 1992 elections clearly showed that the Parliamentary majorities won by the PPP-Civic were due to support by non-Indian voters at the polls. Census reports over the last decade showed Indians as less than 50% of the population. In addition to this mathematical fact, not all Indians vote for the PPP-Civic. In 2006, the PPP-Civic won 56% of the popular vote.

Dr Jagan has therefore confounded those wicked race mongering political charlatans.

Ravi Dev the Indian supremacist, had appeared on a PNCR platform at the Square of the Revolution at a ghastly time when Indians {mainly in Georgetown and the East Coast} were being murdered, brutalized, raped and robbed by elements claiming allegiance to the PNCR. By doing so he shot himself in both legs. What little support he had, vanished.

Dr Jagan in his West On Trial (page 291 revised edition) making reference to "Race, Class, Colour and Religion" wrote:

"The fact is that race and religion have been used by the colonialists to divide and rule and to blur the basic issues, which include the struggle for national liberation from colonialism and imperialism and the struggle of the workers and farmers for freedom from exploitation. These struggles sharpened the advent of the People’s Progressive Party."

The Robertson Commission (1954) in its report to the British Colonial Government said:

"It was largely by the efforts of Dr and Mrs Jagan, that the PPP was built up and kept united. In this way, racial dissension between African and East Indian elements was minimized and by the time of the election campaign in 1953, a useful political instrument was forged."

The Commission further stated:

"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."


The Religious Card
Dr Jagan was also accused of "not believing in God" and being "against religion". Heavy political weather was made of this, in the pre and post independence period. Even today some fools continue writing tripe in this vain in both the print and electronic media. Dr Jagan himself dealt with this matter very skillfully to the general satisfaction of the main religious communities: Christian, Hindu, Muslim. Census statistics show that the vast majority of Guyanese are religious. Cheddi Jagan declined to be embroiled therein.

While Dr Jagan professed no religious views or religious preferences, he could be said to have been "non-religious", rather than "anti-religious". He dealt with each religious group in an openly impartial manner. He invited all three mainline religious groups to state functions, a tradition still carried on by his successors. By doing so, he elevated Hinduism and Islam to the privilege enjoyed by Christianity for nearly two centuries.

Hindus and Muslims suffered under the colonial and post colonial periods. They were pressured to renounce their beliefs in favour of Christianity and were even coerced into changing their names. To this day some official documents still require applicants for government jobs to state their "christian names". Applicants for government jobs should instead be required to state their "first name", "middle name" (if any) and "surname".
What is a bona fide Hindu or Muslim to do when confronted with a state document which requires him or her to give his or her "Christian" name? They are not Christians.

Cheddi Jagan therefore had to wage political battles on highly sensitive grounds: Race, Religion and Party Orientation. With the Cold War raging, he had to {quoting his own words} "walk between the rain drops". Every battle in which he engaged or which was thrust upon him, was inflated out of all proportion to the facts and hurled at him as an ideological weapon to diminish his popular support. Truly he was a Man of Vision!

(Clinton Collymore is a member of the Central and Executive Committees of the People’s Progressive Party and was a Minister in the PPP/C government and a Member of Parliament. He is a member of the Editorial Board of Thunder)


Guyana: Remembering Dr. Cheddi Jagan

Kevin Edmonds
The Other Side of Paradise
March 29, 2012 Source - NACLA
Cheddi Jagan. Photo Credit: Betty Millard

March 6 marked the 15thanniversary of the death of Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the former President of Guyana—and the hemisphere’s first democratically elected Marxist leader. While that distinction is often mistakenly associated with the election of Chilean President Salvador Allende, Guyana was not only the site of this historic election, but Jagan (not Jacobo Arbenz) was also the first leader in the Americas to fall victim to Cold War military intervention—as Iran’s Mosaddegh was overthrown several months earlier on August 19, 1953.

In the wake of widespread labour unrest throughout the Caribbean between 1935-38, the West India Royal Commission was established in order to investigate the socio-economic conditions of the British colonial territories in the Caribbean, and propose reforms to minimize the potential of future unrest.

In a response to the Commission’s findings, during 1950-51, the British government agreed to the implementation of political reforms that would allow for universal suffrage and the formation of political parties, essentially allowing for self government in then British Guiana, but not formal independence. The arrangement was similar in most West Indian colonial territories, with power remaining in the hands of the British appointed governor.

That year, Jagan and his associates formed the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), and he was elected as the first Chief Minister in April, 1953. The PPP had been elected upon a pro-independence platform, stressing economic development and the creation of a socialist society. The new government, led by Jagan immediately set out to implement the numerous socio-economic reforms laid out in its popular election manifesto, ranging from the improvement of social services, to the implementation of workers’ rights and land reform. Such reforms were immensely popular amongst the Guyanese people, but stirred unease within more conservative circles, including the British colonial office.

Despite the fact that the British intelligence agency, MI5 concluded that the Jagan and the PPP were "not receiving any financial support from any communist organisation outside the country," the British government remained determined to squash the political movement, seeing it as a foothold for the Soviet Union in the region. 

Despite his popularity, Jagan’s first political victory would be short lived, as 133 days later on October 5, the British government grew tired of Jagan’s “disruptive antics,” and were directed by Winston Churchill to go ahead with Operation Windsor. The operation called for the dispatching the HMS Superb and the landing a military force in Guyana, where they suspended the constitution and overthrew the democratically elected Government.

The aftermath of the coup would see the fracturing of the party along ethnic lines, with the PPP and the Indo-Guyanese aligning with Jagan, and the Afro-Guyanese population siding with former PPP Chairman, Forbes Burnham and his People’s National Congress in 1955. This split along racial lines has politically divided Guyana to this very day – and remains a prominent, polarizing feature of national politics.

Despite his arrest and placement under house arrest, Jagan remained the country’s most popular politician, and was re-elected in 1961. The democratic return of Jagan to power drew concern this time from the Kennedy administration, who implemented a covert program to reduce the popularity of Jagan and the PPP. At the time, Burnham was the president of the Guyana Labour Union, which would be used as one of the primary tools in the destabilization of Jagan’s government. The CIA began a destabilization campaign which instigated labor unrest, funding the striking workers, engaging in the dissemination of widespread disinformation and triggered race riots that left 170 people dead and thousands more injured. The head of the CIA operations in Guyana was Agent Frank Wisner, a veteran of the previously mentioned covert actions that overthrew Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz and Mohammed Mossedegh of Iran.

In the midst of the struggle, Jagan defended his course of action, remarking that “I believe that my first charge is to raise my people from the mire of poverty in which, for too long, they have suffered. I have never made any secret of my views. I have been thrown out of office. I have been subjected to violence, indignity and jail. I am willing to face these things again, and gladly, in the fight to free my people and aid them. Here I stand. Here I will stand until I die.”

Despite the numerous covert actions against Jagan, he remained in power until 1964, when he was finally defeated by Burnham (in a rigged election), despite winning the plurality of the vote. Once in power, Burnham went on to lead a 20 year dictatorship in which he intensified the racial divide amongst the Indo and Afro-Guyanese populations.

In 1966, while in opposition, Jagan reflected on the period of destabilization and it’s unfortunate outcomes, stating “The violence and disturbances of 1962 and 1963 did not succeed in their immediate objective of bringing about the fall of the government or the suspension of the constitution. But they did result, as we shall see, in the delay of independence and the imposition of a constitutional and electoral formula designed to bring the opposition to power. It was a major tragedy for Guyana that a section of the working class was deluded into forging its own chains by directing its attack not, as previously, against the capitalists and landlords but against a national, pro-working class, socialist-oriented government.”

It was later declassified that in the run up to the 1964 elections, Burnham and the PNC had received significant funding from the U.S. State Department, upwards of $2 million. After spending a total of 28 years in the government opposition, Jagan and the PPP won the 1992 election, finally becoming President of a politically independent Guyana. Once in power, Jagan remained committed to policies of environmental sustainability and human development—but like all previous times it would be cut short, this time with his tragic passing due to a heart attack in March, 1997.

The misconceptions about Allende’s role as the first elected Marxist leader reveals the unfortunate fact that Jagan is often overlooked in many of the discussions of progressive leadership and their contribution to independence, anti-imperialism and genuine development in the hemisphere. Often, the progressive contribution of Dr. Jagan—with his intense commitment to both democracy and socialism, and the immense obstacles faced by him are often lost and overshadowed in contemporary times by the previously mentioned figures like Allende or Arbenz, or his counterparts Michael Manley, Maurice Bishop, and Jean Bertrand Aristide in the Caribbean. The reality is that with the exception of Haiti—Guyana has been the site of some of the most significant military intervention in the Caribbean, with consequences which have impacted the nation’s efforts to break the cycle of dependency and foster cooperation amongst its population. Dr. Jagan should be remembered for both his efforts to make Guyana a truly independent and more equal society, and as a symbol of what could have been and how far the (neo) colonial powers—the United States and the United Kingdom will go to undermine the possibility of democracy in the Caribbean.

Kevin Edmonds is a NACLA blogger focusing on the Caribbean.

For more from his blog, "The Other Side of Paradise," visit

Edmonds is a former NACLA research associate and a current PhD student at the University of Toronto, where he is studying the impact of neoliberalism on the St. Lucian banana trade.


Cheddi Jagan: Man of Ideas

By Hydar Ally -March 20, 2014

THE late Dr. Cheddi Jagan, whose life and works are being celebrated this month, was known for many things: As a radical politician, a revolutionary, a Statesman, a visionary, a prolific writer and a man of ideas.

His ideas and visionary leadership are as relevant today as they were decades ago when he first entered the political stage. I propose, in this article, to focus on Dr. Jagan’s ideas, his vision and his dialectical mind in which he was able to make predictions and draw conclusions based on a scientific intrepretation of the socio-economic and political situation which existed not only in Guyana but at the international situation.

Few men were gifted with that ability to correctly and scientifically define the course of history and politics in Guyana and the world at large, based on an objective analysis of prevailing reality. The following are some of his ideas and thoughts:

Firstly, at an early stage in his political career, he came to the realisation that for development to take place, people at all levels and from all strata of society must be meaningfully involved in the political life of their country. When he came back from his studies in the United States in the early 1940s, he found that the majority of people were not allowed to vote because they were too poor, and because they were illiterate.

In those days, children, especially girls, were taken out of school at an early age to help out at home, so that their parents could work in the cane-fields. Because of that, many of them were unable to read and write, and so they were not allowed to vote.

In those days, only the rich people, people with income or property, were allowed to vote. He realised that without democracy, development could not take place, and he and his Party — the PPP, which he founded in January 1950 — led the struggle for the right to vote for all Guyanese in what is known as Universal Adult Suffrage.

The PPP contested the elections of 1953, which, for the first time, was held under Universal Adult Suffrage. The Party won a landslide victory, winning 18 out of 24 seats. The PPP was removed from office a mere three months later, due mainly to its working-class orientation.

Secondly, Dr. Jagan realised that unless people are free, they cannot participate in the development of their country. So he led the fight for political independence from Great Britain. In those days, the country was ruled by the British Government through the Queen’s representative, the Governor.

Dr. Jagan and the PPP fought for national independence, which was finally won on May 26, 1966. In those days, the entire sugar industry was owned by foreigners, who owned not only the sugar estates but all the major companies. The country was dubbed “Bookers Guyana” because of the stranglehold which Bookers had on the local economy.

Thirdly, Dr. Jagan realised that no country can develop unless there is development of its human resources. So he began to build more schools and training institutions when he won the seat of power, including the University of Guyana, which was his brainchild. The opposition was critical of his idea to set up the University, which they mockingly referred to as, “Jagan Night School”.

Fourthly, he realised that no country can develop and prosper unless there is racial unity. He did his best to involve all the people in nation-building, at one time offering the PNC half of the government in the 1960s, when there was racial tension, engineered by the United States and other reactionary forces to remove the PPP from office.

Fifthly, Dr. Jagan realised that there could be no development when the country is saddled with huge foreign debt. He was a strong advocate for the cancellation of foreign debt, which at one time was eating up nealy 90% of the country’s revenue. Thanks to his strong advocacy, Guyana and many other heavily-indebted countries have had large portions of their debts either cancelled or rescheduled. Today, our debt burden has been significanly reduced to just around five per cent or so of revenues.

Sixthly, Dr. Jagan realised that for development to take place, there must be peace. For him, too much money was spent on wars and on the military, and he showed in his book, “A New Global Human Order”, how a small reduction in military spending could send every child to school, and provide enough for every man, woman and child to eat.

Seventhly, he realised that for development to take place, there must be a fairer system of trade and aid. The rich countries continue to exploit the poor countries by buying our raw materials cheap and selling manufactured goods cheaply. In addition, they are ruining the livelihoods of local farmers by way of subsidies to their farmers.

Eightly, he realised that we must protect and preserve our environment, but in doing so, we must be compensated for preserving our forests. Today, Guyana is a major beneficiary of financial assistance from Norway in its Low- Carbon Development Initiative.

Ninthly, Dr. Jagan realised that we have to mobilise all sections of the society for development. This is why he came up with the idea of the National Democratic State, in which there is a balance between labour and capital, in addition to clean, inclusive and participatory governance.

Tenthly, he called for a new paradigm of development in which there will be prosperity for all, based on a new development model, which is not exploitative, but where the fruits of labour will be equitably distributed. He realised that existing models, based on market principles, are inadequate to provide a good life for everyone. The neo-liberal model of demand and supply must be replaced by a more humane order. It is to the credit of Dr. Jagan that his New Global Human Order, sponsored by Guyana, had been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.