Speeches made at the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre
(Text of lecture by Guyana's Ambassador to Venezuela, Dr. Odeen Ishmael at the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, Guyana on March 22, 2004)
Mr. Chairman, His Excellency President Bharrat Jagdeo, Mr. Prime Minister, Ministers, Excellencies of the diplomatic corps, Ladies and Gentlemen.
A few weeks ago, in Caracas, I met the popular American movie star Danny Glover at a social function hosted by President Chavez. He revealed to me and a few other Caribbean and African diplomats how he was deeply influenced by the tireless struggles of Dr. Cheddi Jagan in the fight against colonialism and for the cause of democracy. Moreover, he saw him as a champion of all Caribbean people. Just like Danny Glover, people of all walks of life in many parts of the world regard Cheddi Jagan as the leader who inspired the anti-colonial and pro-democratic struggle in the Caribbean region, and who worked to build solidarity between the English-speaking Caribbean and the Latin American countries. Over the past seven years – ever since he died – various writers and commentators have thoroughly examined different aspects relating to the life and times of this great and noble Guyanese. This is not unexpected since Dr. Jagan was much more than just the leader of the People’s Progressive Party. He was the father of the Guyanese independence movement and he had achieved the status of a statesman held in high esteem. As such, all Guyanese and world citizens, and not only PPP members and supporters, have the right to discuss his ideas to see how they could be applied to the development of the Guyanese nation, and regional, hemispheric and world situations.
As we pay homage to the memory of Dr. Cheddi Jagan, we reflect on his achievements, the challenges and setbacks he faced, his ideas and his visionary thinking. His ideas span a gamut of issues, but what I hope to do today is to examine some aspects of his vision for Caribbean and hemispheric integration.
Like most of my colleagues in the PPP, I had the experience of discussing in some detail many of his political and economic views and even to brainstorm with him some of the new ideas that his mind hatched out on a regular basis. We had many interesting debates on Guyanese, Caribbean and world history during the long period when he was leading the struggle for democracy, and these conversations continued into the period when he ascended to the presidency of the country. When I served in Washington, so very often he telephoned me to spin some ideas on political developments in Latin America. He was also particularly interested in the evolving role of the United States in the integration process in the Americas, and he followed very closely the discussions emanating from the OAS and also from the Summit of the Americas process. Up to early January 1997, we were talking about the reasons for the absence of popular political activism in American universities, as compared to what occurred in those institutions in the 1970s.
* I believe that it was natural for Cheddi Jagan to look beyond Guyana in the shaping of his political and economic views. From the time he entered the political arena in the early 1940s, his socialist-oriented outlook made him a natural internationalist. He began analysing situations in Guyana and saw a clear linkage with developing situations in the Caribbean, the countries of the Americas and the world at large. He became a vocal supporter for West Indian unity and backed the decisions of the 1943 Montego Bay conference which determined how the proposed West Indian federation should be shaped and developed. It must be noted that the Montego Bay conference which involved West Indian leaders and representatives of the British Government agreed that each unit territory would be granted self-government status and the new federation would be given dominion status as was enjoyed by Canada and Australia.
The Montego Bay agreement was discarded when the federation was eventually established in 1958, without the participation of Guyana, Belize and the Bahamas. The PPP had decided that entry into the federation would be based on the decision of a referendum, and Dr. Jagan consistently demanded that only if the unit territories were self-governing would the federation be able to survive. The federation, as expected, broke up within four years when disagreements erupted among the federal leaders themselves. Two of them, Eric Williams and Grantley Adams, belatedly admitted that Dr. Jagan’s position on the constitutional framework of the federation was correct.
* Cheddi Jagan relied heavily on support from the hemisphere during his epic struggle for Guyana’s independence. On December 30, 1959, he penned a letter to leaders of political parties, trade unions and various organisations all over the world soliciting support for, and solidarity with, Guyana’s fight for independence. Latin America was specially targeted and responses of support for the Guyanese struggle quickly came from political and trade union leaders from this region. Many leading newspapers in Latin America also highlighted Guyana’s case and urged support for immediate independence. Some Latin American governments later spoke up in support for Guyana’s independence when the UN Committee on Decolonisation debated a resolution after Dr. Jagan addressed that body in December 1961.
Interestingly, some of the strongest support for the Guyanese struggle came from Venezuela. On March 12, 1960 the prestigious Venezuelan Confederation of Workers representing more than 2 million workers sent to the British Government a message ratifying the firm anti-colonial position of the American continent, and declaring its solidarity with the people of Guyana in their just struggle for independence and sovereignty. And the Federation of University Centres, which organised the university students, forwarded cables to nineteen Latin American University organizations requesting them to hold meetings of solidarity with the Guyanese people in their struggle for independence.
All of these actions were as a result of Cheddi Jagan’s political activism in the Latin American arena. He was also a vocal participant in the Inter-American Conferences, the second of which in Caracas in May 1960 passed a resolution supporting independence for Guyana.
It was at these conferences that he promoted most profoundly Latin American solidarity and integration. At the second Inter-American conference he stated that Latin Americans were not only interested in general terms about freedom and democracy. What, above all, they wanted was economic democracy and a concentrated fight against poverty. Certainly, the situation in Latin Americas has not changed much after four decades!
It is my belief that as a first step in promoting regional integration, a political leader must express understanding and show solid forms of solidarity with the people and states that belong to that particular region. Cheddi Jagan excelled in this and his activism for Latin America in the decades of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s placed him in the vanguard of the movement for political or economic integration in the American hemisphere.
* As the decade of the 1960s progressed, the Guyanese leader in profound analyses showed that the much publicised Alliance for Progress introduced by President Kennedy was not bringing progress for Latin America and was proving to be a failure. In introducing his Alliance for Progress on March 13, 1961, President Kennedy had pleaded: "Those who possess wealth and power in the poor nations must accept their own responsibilities. They must lead the fight for those basic reforms which alone can preserve the fabric of their own societies. Those who made peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." The Alliance for Progress was aimed at addressing the basic needs of all peoples for "homes, work and land, health and schools."
However, as Dr. Jagan explained, those reforms were not carried out by the Latin American oligarchy – who included the military, the upper-clergy and the latifundistas [the large landowners] – and this resulted in tragic consequences for the people.
Today, more than forty years later, the governments in the Americas continue to face these same challenges set out by President Kennedy. But there are now new challenges and problems brought about by the struggle to improve democracy, human rights, trade, health, education and security, and the ongoing fight against crime, drugs, corruption and growing poverty.
* The period of the early 1960s was particularly difficult for the first PPP Government, and the Cold War hysteria of those days prevented close political working relations between Dr. Jagan and his counterparts in the Caribbean. The pro-colonialist leaders of the Caribbean had earlier ganged up against the PPP leaders in the pre- and post-1953 period, and Dr. Jagan and some leaders of the PPP were not allowed to enter those islands for fear that they would infest those places with their ideas for political and economic change. Surely, the Caribbean leaders in those days preferred to promote and defend colonialism than to encourage integration.
Nevertheless, contacts with the rest of the Caribbean did show some improvements on the economic side with Guyana showing gains in trade, especially with rice and other agricultural products. There were also annual meetings of the leaders of the Caribbean countries during which Dr. Jagan made successful efforts to garner more markets for Guyana’s agricultural products.
During this period Dr. Jagan came under attack from many quarters in the Caribbean for pulling back financial support for the University of the West Indies and for establishing the University of Guyana in 1963. However, Dr. Jagan showed that because of the high expenses involved only relatively few Guyanese were being educated at UWI, despite the substantial funds the government of Guyana was giving to the institution. He pointed out that a much greater number of Guyanese would have the opportunity of obtaining their degrees at UG at very little cost. This has proven to be so, and, interestingly, other Caribbean countries have been benefiting immensely from the University of Guyana since a great many of its graduates dispense their skills and knowledge in all parts of the sub-region.
The period during which Cheddi Jagan languished in the opposition saw the rest of the Caribbean turning their backs on democracy and without any shame whatsoever cuddling up to those who saw no use for free and fair elections. Cheddi Jagan’s voice was a lonely one crying out in the Caribbean wilderness, but ideology and power bloc politics blocked the ears of the Caribbean leadership. But that voice was heard by the Caribbean masses who offered their solidarity to the Guyanese democrats and giving them the courage to continue the struggle for free and fair elections and the restoration of democracy.
* Despite being shunned by the Caribbean leaders in the 1968-1992 period, Dr. Jagan expressed no feeling of bitterness towards them. In his writings and political speeches he was ever so much critical of Caribbean leaders for what he said was their blatant hypocrisy, but he reasoned that they were toeing an ideological line and could not afford to divert from it for fear that they would come under imperialist pressure. He did not waste his time to admonish them when he won the Presidency in October 1992, but later that month at the Caricom summit in Trinidad he lectured them into the necessity of expanding the integration movement in the sub-region. This is what he proposed:
"We have to expand the frontiers of our vision and if needs be, have the courage to reform and/or change what exists. We need quickly to deepen and widen our regional integration movement for overall planning and territorial specialization, and evolve a basic needs strategy. We need capital investment but this must serve to enhance human development. We need structural adjustment but with a human face."
Then he talked about the quality of leadership that the Caribbean needs: "As for ourselves, our primary aim must be the eradication of poverty. We must set our face sternly against corruption and extravagance. We cannot have Cadillac-style living with donkey-cart economies. Our leaders must set the example of democratic, accountable, clean and lean governance and efficient administration."
On integration he was specific: "We must actively deepen and widen our integration movement. We have to properly situate ourselves in the wider world and [with] our immediate neighbours. Towards this end, Guyana can be the instrument of closer ties with the countries of South America."
To do this he explained that what was needed was effective leadership with the will to take difficult political decisions. He urged the leaders to give more and effective powers and resources the Caricom Secretariat and the Secretary General "to ensure that policies are carried out with skill and urgency."
And, apparently influenced by the philosophy of Gandhi, he told them, "We have to work as a collective and consult with our respective constituencies so that we march, not ahead or behind, but together with our people."
Two years later, he was still expanding on the theme of Caribbean integration. Speaking at UWI in February 1994 he insisted that Caribbean unity must be nurtured for the building up to what he called a Union of West Indian States. "After all," he explained, "the basic ingredients of unity – affinities of culture and kinship – are present among us all and are strongly felt. We must nurture the real distinctiveness of West Indian society by creating meaningful confidence and esteem – building markets of unity and citizenship…"
* As a profound thinker, Dr. Jagan’s mind was working over-time, and as we saw during the first Summit of the Americas in Miami in December 1994, he was one of few leaders who made concrete proposals for hemispheric integration. It was here that he first presented his visionary proposal for the Regional Development Fund. He also suggested the establishment of an American Volunteer Development Corps aimed at combating the brain drain and the shortage of skills, administrative incapacity and the high costs of advisers and consultants. According to his proposal, volunteers with special skills could be sent, more or less like the US Peace Corps, to provide emergency assistance in specialized fields to various countries in the hemisphere. He explained that even the United States could receive assistance from volunteer teachers and social workers from the Caribbean, for example, to teach and give psychological guidance to children who recently migrated from the Caribbean.
Dr. Jagan also suggested the formation of a high level working group on debt reform, and a Forest Monitoring and Management Training Fund for Sustainable Development aimed at assisting countries like Guyana. In addition, he called for the Caribbean Sea to be a Pollution-Free Zone and suggested that December 11 should be celebrated annually as the Day of the Americas.
The summit agreed that governments on a voluntary basis would establish, organize and finance a corps of volunteers to work at national level, but so far even this watered-down form of the corps of volunteers has not really materialized. A subsequent summit established a group of experts to examine the debt issue, but so far the other suggestions have not been taken aboard.
* As I mentioned in the beginning, Dr. Jagan and I from time to time discussed many issues. A few months after the 1992 Trinidad summit, he raised with me the idea of promoting Guyana as a bridge for an economic linkage between Caricom and South America. He felt that infrastructural links like the Guyana-Brazil road and the Guyana-Suriname ferry could well build that economic bridge, and I do know that he promoted this idea very forcefully within Caricom, during meetings with South American leaders and in discussion with the international financial institutions.
But he was also greatly interested in integrating Guyana with the rest of South America. In our discussions, we agreed that a practical way to begin this process was through education by getting young children in our schools to learn Spanish as a second language. I am pleased to note that the Ministry of Education is making good efforts in this direction.
Knowing to communicate in Spanish – and also Portuguese since we have increasingly close relations with Brazil – will be an important asset as Guyana prepares to enter into the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Also, by speaking another language, people develop a better understanding and appreciation of the culture associated with that new tongue. This itself is very important in conducting bilateral relations. At the same time, our people will be better able to grasp very quickly how Latin Americans think about various issues.
In carrying out our language teaching programme, we can obtain much assistance from the OAS, and from friendly governments such as those of Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Colombia and Brazil. We have to look towards the future and be visionaries — to gauge what would be needed to bring progress for our people and to develop a competitive marketplace for them in the expanding horizons within the Latin American region.
* Since I have mentioned the FTAA, it is also useful to consider how Dr. Jagan saw this process of economic integration within the American hemisphere. He saw Guyana moving closer to the Mercosur group, particularly with the visible expansion of trade between Brazil and Guyana. And in the brainstorming and debates on the evolution of economic integration through the FTAA, he posited as far back as 1995 that free trade agreements between various economic sub-regions -- e.g., between Mercosur and the Andean Group, Caricom and NAFTA, Central America and Mercosur, etc. – can eventually evolve into a strong FTAA, although he also agreed that multilateral negotiations by all 34 participating countries could also produce a good result. Incidentally, since the early days of the FTAA process, he talked about the need for a strong joint Caricom negotiating team to deal with the various issues. This view, widely propagated by other Caricom leaders, resulted in the establishment of the Regional Negotiating Machinery, which also deals with ACP and WTO negotiations.
Dr. Jagan was also a strong believer in the unity of the smaller economies within the FTAA in the struggle for free and fair trade. In his final public address on February 13, 1997 he summed up his view on this matter when he declared open the sixth meeting of the FTAA Working Group on Smaller Economies held in Georgetown. He stated:
"I have always been and will always be a supreme optimist. I must say, however, that given recent and current social and political upheavals in several countries in our hemisphere, I am convinced that time is running out. We have to move quickly to solve the mounting social and economic problems occurring in our countries.
"In this regard, given existing social and economic realities in our hemisphere, as manifested in the wide disparities between and among us, it is only logical that there should be special and preferential treatment for the less fortunate, in order to facilitate their active and productive participation in the integration process and to increase their levels of development. Free and fair trade is a basic prerequisite for any successful integration of the Americas."
* The overriding theme of Dr. Jagan’s views on integration within the hemisphere was that of expanding democracy. When we attended the Summit on Sustainable Development in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in December 1996, we had a lengthy discussion on this topic during the nearly eight-hour plane ride back to Miami. Three years before, in September 1993, when he spoke at the OAS he said that all states must ensure that their people enjoy not only civil and political rights but also economic, social and cultural rights. He reasoned that if these did not go together then there would be no human advancement, and this could sometimes cause democratic institutions to be subverted which could lead to "a reversion to totalitarian rule".
He was adamant that democracy could not be sustained if the problem of poverty was not tackled. We must be reminded here that when people have a perception that development is too slow, they will want to carry out their own actions, which can lead to destabilisation and changes in the pattern of democratic development. Political leaders have to be reminded that the poverty-stricken people living in this hemisphere may be "as poor as Job, but not as patient!"
The problems of poverty have become even more serious in many of our countries in the past decade. These are problems which have to be continuously addressed in order to ensure that practical programs are implemented to alleviate the conditions of the poor. It was Shakespeare who said, "The miserable have no other medicine but only hope." It is for all the governments of this hemisphere to work together to find long-lasting solutions to give that hope to the growing army of the poor in our hemisphere.
Dr. Jagan was concerned over what he viewed as a growing apathy with the electoral process in many Latin American countries. A sizeable proportion of the people did not bother to vote and there were already signs of social and political upheavals in some countries. He wondered if some leaders were distancing themselves from their people, and if that was the situation it could lead to dangerous times.
Well, we are today seeing such dangerous times in the hemisphere. Some political analysts see such developments resulting from what can be called the politics of arrogance by which leaders fail to deliver on promises or by which governments ignore the plea of the masses to effectively stamp out various ills in the society.
* Let me touch on the problems facing democracy in many Latin American and Caribbean countries. The process of democracy in many Latin American and Caribbean countries is facing stiff challenges as a result of new and escalating social, economic and political problems they are experiencing. It therefore comes as no surprise that we are now hearing increasing sounds of disillusionment with democracy from a sizeable cross-section of people in these countries.
Recently, a Chilean-based survey firm, Latinobarametro, revealed that based on polls it conducted in July and August last year, there were varying levels of support for democracy in six Central American countries. The survey showed that only 52 percent of those questioned across the region supported democracy, but only 32 percent expressed full satisfaction with the system. Interestingly, half of the respondents in the poll said that as long as a government showed that it was solving the country’s problems, they did not mind if it was not democratic.
The results of this poll indicate that Central Americans believe that their quality of life has not improved despite being told by politicians that democracy will solve all their problems.
In the Americas, many politicians, academics and even ordinary citizens are now expressing varying views on what they think is their version of democracy, and how they believe the system should work for the improvement of the welfare of all. In September 2001, the governments of 34 countries in the hemisphere, members of the Summit of the Americas process, established their common definition of democracy in the Inter American Democratic Charter. Since then, we have witnessed convulsions and some reversals in the democratic process in some countries, but relatively little has been done collectively by regional organizations to openly and sharply condemn such reversals practiced or encouraged by political groups attempting to use non-constitutional means to gain power.
In recent times, we have witnessed the display of discontent leading to the ousting of democratically elected leaders in Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador, in Venezuela during a 24-hour period two years ago, and in Haiti just three weeks ago. While such discontent presents a political barometer to leaders of governments, they should not be allowed to degenerate to a stage where the street protests are recognized as the alternative to a democratically elected government. One has to be very circumspect in supporting such a development, since there is no limit to such actions. This is how the action of the mob supplants democracy, and this is how democracy can go into retrogression.
It is not surprising that we are witnessing these challenges to democracy so very often. In many parts of the Americas, people are expressing the view that democracy is not filling their bellies and their lives have not improved. They are concerned over the escalating crime situation which serious impacts on their own personal security. Some sections of the population openly voice the opinion that only a government with an iron-fist can effectively deal with the escalating crime and security problems that currently exist. But, certainly, the actions of an iron-fist are not associated with accepted democratic practice.
Why are we seeing these developments? Is it because such societies feel that popular agitation, without the use of the ballot box, is also a credible form of democracy? Are such public, popular demonstrations another manifestation of democracy now being promoted as a substitute for free and fair elections? But doesn't such action breed instability which can mutate into a political virus? Does it mean that we have to re-examine our definition of democracy as is stated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter? When such behaviours receive international support from other Governments and regional bodies, isn’t this creating a contradiction within the principles and practice of democracy?
Are these expressions on the streets indicating that the electoral system is inadequate? In these days as we examine the process of democracy and observe its advantages, and also its weaknesses, we often examine the patterns and practices of democracy in the course of history. It may be of interest to note that about seventeen hundred years ago the citizens of Athens carried out the democratic practice of ostracism. This was a reverse election by which the citizens decided which leading politician should be sent into exile for ten years. It was seen as an effective way to remove corrupt elements from the seat of government. In this process, the voters wrote the name of their preferred politician to be banished on a piece of broken pottery. (The word "ostracism" is actually a Greek expression literally meaning pottery). If less than 6,000 citizens "voted", the ostracism was not valid, but this was an "election" which, as you can well imagine, always had a popular turnout. Ostracism fulfilled its objective for almost a hundred years and it helped to prevent serious civil unrest and even civil war. However, at the end of the fifth century of the Christian era, it was replaced by a legal procedure managed by the people's courts. This replacement procedure adopted by Athens in dealing with corrupt officials has some influence on legal systems operating today.
By no means am I recommending that the practice of ostracism should be applied today. I have made reference to it so that we can at least see an illustration as to how democracy has evolved from centuries ago, and to show that even in those days of long ago, society developed ways and means to tackle corruption and to protect democracy. Corruption is probably one of the greatest impediments to democracy and it evolves into a dangerous virus that eats away the fabric of human society. It, therefore, is of great urgency that the political leaders in the Americas, in consultation with their people, constantly fight this scourge and continue to examine the process of democracy with the aim of refining and defending it.
* I emphasize that we must also implement policies and programmes to develop a culture of democracy which will inspire a determination in our citizens to want to respect and defend democracy and its institutions. Nearly twenty-four hundred years ago, Aristotle defined the democratic citizen as one "who has a share in judgment and office". Through the development of a culture of democracy we can develop the democratic citizen who will want to participate in the day to day affairs of his or her community, a situation which is today more and more desirable in the countries of this hemisphere.
We must always keep in mind that in a democracy, the will of the majority has to be respected. But we must also consider that, as Mahatma Gandhi stated on the issue of democracy, "in a matter of conscience the law of majority has no place."
* The integration movement in the Caribbean and Latin America continues to be strong, but some barriers still stand in the way. The FTAA negotiations are not moving as smoothly as we expected. Even in Caricom where it is more advanced, the free movement of Caricom citizens still remains to be practised. Full economic integration is also slowed down by the long-delayed formalisation of the Caricom Single Market and Economy. Time has a way in finding solutions for the breaking down of barriers, but can the people in our sub-region and in this hemisphere afford to wait for so long?
I feel that our political leaders must educate our people on the way forward. In public discussions and in their writings they should express their ideas, their opinions on issues and their philosophy in order to provide the necessary guidance. As we know, Dr. Jagan was a giant when it came to this, for he was an avid thinker and prolific writer.
Cheddi Jagan has left our governments and the people of the Caribbean and the American hemisphere with a number of useful ideas and with challenges to work for meaningful integration – economic or political, or both. It definitely will not be an easy task, but the vision of an integrated Caribbean with strong economic and trade links to South, Central and North America is a challenge the governments and citizens of our hemisphere will have to face.
Remarks by Kenneth Joseph, General Secretary - FITUG
Venue: Cheddi Jagan Research Centre (Red House) Date: April 22, 2010
Comrades and Friends
Simply put politics has to be the art and science which must be applied to affect PEOPLE – hopefully in a positive, uplifting and developmental way. Politics should be about the eventual good and welfare of the people.
In any given society, whatever its sophistication, the bulk of the people belong to the WORKING CLASS. Workers are the salt of the earth, the producers, the farmers in field, the others in factories, stores and in the professions and trades. Even the wealthy need the workers.
It follows therefore that none should be surprised when genuine politician and political leaders EMBRACE the working-class.
Such a politician, such as leader, such a man WAS DR CHEDDI JAGAN. From the day he returned to Guyana in 1943 and opened his dental clinic his was about service to and for the working-class-even to the anger of other dentists.
Before and after his political/election campaign for entry into the Legislative Council he was among the workers, not merely for their VOTE, but to assess and assist to improve their lives. In the Legislature from 1947 HE WAS A LONE BUT CONSISTENT CRUSADER FOR THE WORKERS in that middle/upper class highest forum in the land. Here, my friends, is what he said and did in those forties – when some of today’s pretender and critics were NOT EVER IN THEIR NAPKINS!
“I regarded my victory at the 1947 general election as the people’s victory. In fact at a brief post-ballot count speech, I said: “We, the people have won. Now the struggle will begin.” “As I took my seat in the Legislative Council, which included some of the most prominent personalities of the time.
My service in the Legislative Council from 1947 to 1953 was a most rewarding and stimulating experience.”
But Cheddi Jagan one-man mission on behalf of the people really could not be translated into actual law as the legislature was packed with representatives of the colonial government, the planter-class descendents and the merchants/employers.
A partial summary of his legislative crusade would be as follows:
(a) Using the 1948 Budget Debate, he exposed the exploitive practices of the bauxite industry monopoly by ALCOA, its huge profits and it connections with ALCAN and the local DEMBA.
(b) He attempted, but failed to block the abolition of three taxes affecting the sugar industry.
(c) He attacked the government for abandoning the subsidization of salted fish, pickled beef, cocoa powder, split peas, condensed milk and flour.
(d) He strenuously opposed the government’s purchasing, in 1952, of 262 acres of land from Bookers subsidiary at 96 times the purchase price.
(e) He opposed the Local Government Board’s reduction of the charges fixed by the Village Council for Bookers punts passing through Buxton.
(f) He protested the flooding of working-class urban communities, being constantly flooded out as a result of a pump installed for the benefit of Bookers expatriate staff in Bel Air Gardens.
(g) In 1948 and 1949 he championed the cause of lower level of civil servants as it related to their Bonus, allowances and salaries.
(h) He argued for land to the tiller and water control (drainage and irrigation) to assist rural farmers.
(i) He challenged the effectiveness of the Rent restriction and the workmen’s Compensation Ordinance, and reform of the criteria for Old Age Pensioners.
WHEN THE PPP FORMED THE GOVERNMENT – FOR 133 DAYS – IN 1953, THE CHEDDI JAGAN – LED ADMINISTRATION ENSURED THE FOLLOWING:
i. The minimum wage of Sawmill Workers was increased by some 22½%.
ii. Against the employers’ protests the 1953 government prescribed increased wages for cinema employees, hire-car chauffeurs and watchmen.
iii. The PPP Government also agreed with the Nicholson Report to prescribe increases for employees in Drug Stores, Hardware stores, factories and dry Goods stores.
iv. Holiday-with-pay regulations were extended to benefit sawmill workers.
v. Committees headed by Jessie Burnham and Jane Phillips-Gay were appointed to make recommendations to improve the conditions of domestic servants and washers and to modify the Workmen’s Compensation Ordinance.
vi. Reduction in the hours of work of firemen and training for local seamen also engaged the government’s attention of the 1953 government.
vii. The government wrote off a TUC debt incurred since 1945.
These examples point out the very early actions of Dr Jagan on behalf of the working people. In and out of Government, he consistently followed those principles.
On November 2nd 1992 at Omai Gold Mines, less than one month after he was sworn in as President, Dr Jagan declared:
“But we don’t want just recognition. We feel that the workers must be involved in decision making and management wherever they’re working. Workers are not only muscle power. They have brains which must be utilized in making the place run as efficiently as possible. This is how it must be.”
Then on June 24, 1993 at the 10th Conference of GPSU, President Jagan reassured the working class when he declared:
“I tell you once again, this government is rooted in the working class and if I am going to remain head of any Government, this one or any other one, you can be certain that the working class will always have its say in determining the policy of this country.”
His actions right on to the point of his untimely death were always true to the commitments that he made.
One of Dr Jagan’s boldest efforts was to give workers the right to join a Union of their choice with the enactment of the Labour Relations Bill in 1953. The Bill was intended to make it compulsory for employers to recognise and negotiate with the trade union enjoying majority support. However, the Bill, passed in the House of Assembly on October 08, 1953, did not see the light of day. The Constitution was suspended by the British Government on October 09, 1953.
In 1963, again he attempted to pass the progressive Labour Relations Bill, his attempt also failed following Parlaiment being prorogued. After his assumption as Head of Government in 1992, the Bill was foremost on his agenda and had it not been for the procrastination of the TUC, Cheddi Jagan would have seen the Bill in our statue books before his death, nonetheless the Trade Union Recognition Act was passed in October, 1997.
Our reflection so far has shown the enormous contribution which Dr Cheddi Jagan has made to the improvement of the working and living conditions of the Guyanese working class during his five decades of active struggle on their behalf. But Dr Jagan’s contribution extends beyond his lifetime. He has also left for the working class many examples and principles which can and should be applied to the struggles of today.
Secretary General of Caricom Secretary-General of Caricom, Edwin Carrington wrote:
"…He was not afraid to employ his considerable talents to forge innovative ideas and approaches in coming to grips with the problems of the region, particularly those imposed by debt and poverty. Indeed Dr. Jagan, may well have left for us a blueprint for enhancing the human condition, in his several viable proposals, the wisdom of which will certainly help to guide the region in the immediate future and beyond… In all his endeavours, Dr. Jagan’s unparalleled humility and humanity saw no issue as being too large or too small when advancing the cause of the common folk… As a people , we are all the richer for the wisdom and contribution of Dr. Jagan."
I wish to repeat the evaluation that “Indeed Dr. Jagan, may well have left for us a blueprint for enhancing the human condition, in his several viable proposals, the wisdom of which will certainly help to guide the region in the immediate future and beyond…
Dr Jagan did indeed leave us with two well considered components of that blueprint to guide the national process in Guyana and the international process globally. These are captured in his writings on “National Democracy” and “The New Global Human Order.”
In his studied analysis, Dr Jagan found that:-
“The top leaders of the developed capitalist countries cannot present any prescriptions for curing the problems of the world economy. Symptoms, not the root causes, are treated. And the treatment is a palliative, a band-aid, like an aspirin to relieve the pain but not to cure it.
“Modernization monopoly capitalism is unable to deal with recession, unemployment, financial deficit, trade frictions, the global environmental question, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the “included” and the “excluded”, in both the developed countries and the developing countries, as well as between them.
“The “trickle-down” economy does not work, even in the most politically and militarily powerful and the economically richest country, the United States of America.
“The prevailing economic and social disparity provides a breeding ground for hunger, disease and poverty, and ultimately constitutes a threat to international peace and security.
“Economic tinkering with interest rates and structural adjustment are not enough. We need a correct theoretical perception of events, not only of the development of productive forces, but also of the relations of production and their contradictions. Piece-meal management is not enough. Nor can everything be left to be regulated only by the market. Both the market and the state have irreplaceable, complementary roles.
“We need our own agenda – a new agenda of sustainable development. Past “models” of development have proven to be wanting.”
“A feasible programme therefore must be based on radical reforms – reforms, not as an end in themselves, but as a means towards a revolutionary goal of socialism. Such a programme in this era of globalization and modernization must be based on interdependence and genuine North/South partnership and cooperation.
“For reconstruction and meaningful change, it is an imperative for developing countries to establish a state of national democracy.”
According to Dr. Jagan, the State of National Democracy must embark on an integrated programme of development based on:
· Good Governance equity – a clean and lean government – with equality;
· Democracy in all its aspects – political, economic, industrial, social, cultural – and the empowerment of the people at all levels;
· The fullest exercise of human rights – civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural, in keeping with the UN Covenants on Human Rights;
· A mixed economy;
· Economic growth with social justice and ecological justice;
· Balanced agricultural/industrial and rural/urban development;
· Integrated programme of human resource development;
· Multi-culturalism- unity in diversity.
Dr Jagan was very clear on the role of the state sector.
“The role of the state in development is a source of great controversy. This is due to different conceptions by businessmen and social scientists.
“Businessmen want a marginal role for the state. Their philosophy is less government in business and more business in government. On the one hand, they do not want government to interfere; everything must be left to competition and market forces. On the other hand, they want the state to provide the unprofitable infrastructure facilities such as roads, sea defence, drainage and irrigation, etc. This has led to debt payment and balance of payment problems.
“The PPP/CIVIC government sees the need for a mixed tri-sector – state, cooperative, private – economy and a genuine partnership arrangement with foreign capital and local capital and/or the state.
“The State must not simply play a marginal role and be involved only infrastructure development. It must play a dynamic economic role, in a strategic sense.
“The state must become involved in removing market imperfections. Generally, independent underdeveloped capitalist states, there is a lack of free market competition. A monopoly situation and cartel arrangements facilitate profit gouging and high profit margin. Monopolies and collusive practices must be countered by state intervention.
“The state must also curb the private sector’s unfair and illegal practices such as smuggling, under-invoicing, illegal exports, avoidance of payments of taxes through “cooking-the-books”. At the same time, the state must ensure a reduction in the cost of living.”
We in the Trade Union Movement need to study and understand the requirements of the state of national democracy. We must make strong demands that the government stand firm to these principles. We must demand approaches that strengthen the working class and not those that facilitate the enrichment of the specially privileged who comprise a new segment of the capitalist class.
Prof Clive Thomas summarised the qualities of Dr Jagan as follows:
“I will say, from those personal reflections, that I have no doubt whatsoever that Cheddi Jagan was an exceptional patriot, an exceptional trade-unionist with a heart readily committed to the working-class people and the working-class interests.”
The number of labour-friendly legislations passed - the Trade Union Recognition Act, the Prevention of Discrimination Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Holidays with Pay Act (All workers are now covered; previously only certain categories of workers enjoyed this benefit) and the Termination of Employment and Severance PayAct - passed in the National Assembly testifies to this.
Dr Jagan's legacy will also remain with us. He was a champion of the working people and a true son of Guyana. He was a leader who stood unswervingly in his lofty principles and a leader who inspired us in battles and in periods of calm. From him, we have learnt that progress will come only from our united and principled struggles. In closing, I wish to make the appeal that this beautiful land of Guyana owes a great debt to Dr Cheddi Jagan which we can only repay if we use his wise advice as we seek to chart our way forward.
by Dr. Frank C. S. Anthony.
(The annual Cheddi Jagan Memorial Lecture was held at Red House on March 23, 2010 and the feature address, which follows, was given by Dr. Frank C. S. Anthony)
Allow me first of all to thank the Cheddi and Janet Jagan Research Center, for bestowing upon me this great honor and privilege to deliver this prestigious lecture to commemorate the life work of Dr. Cheddi Jagan. It is obvious that we cannot cover the intellectual depth, or the diverse range of Dr Cheddi Jagan’s principles, philosophy or political ideas in one lecture.
In fact since the introduction of this annual lecture on the 22nd March, 2000 many close political associates and Caribbean thinkers have been invited to speak on Dr. Jagan’s ideas, its impact on and relevance to our present context. I also will follow this tradition of identifying a key concept from Dr. Jagan political writings and practice, and to evaluate its impact, the merits or demerits for continued application to our present circumstances.
The concept that I will like to scrutinize is Dr. Jagan’s idea of Development. In an address to the Guyana Teachers Union, he made a very profound statement:
“We see development as people–centered. When some speak of development, they see only foreign capital and private investment. We see also social capital and human resources. And when we talk of development, we mean” development with a human face”. For us people come first; they are the centre of everything.”i
This passion for people centered development has been a cardinal principle that Dr. Jagan has practiced while in political office and advocated for when he was out of office.
He recognized early, that the touted developmental theories such as the modernization theory, which implies that the development of Third World countries, can be accomplished if they copy a path taken by the First World was flawed. This theory put into practice did not bring the rapid development anticipated, but instead created greater inequity between First world and Third world countries, and even created greater stratification within the countries themselves.
And while many countries during this period became politically independent, almost all still remained economically dependent on the First World economies. Sir Arthur Lewis around this time was also promoting a developmental model based on “industrialization by invitation” and this too was characterized by failure in the Caribbean region.
What was inherent in all of these theories and models was that developmental successes were to be measured in dollars and cents. People’s welfare, people’s development was miniaturized, marginalized or removed from the developmental agenda.
This ugly concept of neglecting people’s welfare was the prevalent trend in the colonial period, and the brutal systems of slavery and indentureship are shameful examples of how humans degraded and exploited their fellow humans. And even after the abolition of these systems, the conditions under which people lived and labored remain quite atrocious.
The Venn Commission established after the 1948 shootings at Enmore, was able to document the dire living conditions of those times, in their report they stated:
“In quite a number corrugated iron roofs were leaking and the fabric of the buildings was in a general state of decay. In numerous instances temporary sheets of awnings have been fixed over the beds to keep off the rain. They had mud floors and, consequently, with the rain dripping from the roofs, these were made slippery and dangerous; in many cases we found bags laid over the floor to prevent slipping.”ii
The limited education provided in the colony at the time was poor. In the West on Trial, we read that, “Educational facilities were also inadequate. Primary education was free, but schools were understaffed, ill-equipped and overcrowded.” iii In 1946 the levels of illiteracy among Indians was 44.02 percent, and among Amerindians was 49.55 percent.iv Placement at secondary school was for a privileged few, as was stated by the Director of Education, “No grammar school education is or can be provided for 99 percent of the elementary school children.” To paraphrase him, it simply means that 99% of primary school children could not find a place in a secondary school.
It was against this backdrop, this stultifying milieu with its impositions and restrictive opportunities, this inequitable and undemocratic society that Dr. Cheddi Jagan emerged as a dependable voice against these social injustices. He was truly became a transformational leader, a man who was unafraid to stand up for his beliefs, even if he stood alone.
The oppressive colonial system tried but could not break him, it could not bend nor mould him into a colonial clone, instead he was an outlier, righteously angered, and morally outraged, pained by these experiences, it forced him to generalized from a sense of his own dignity, to envision a better world of opportunities and fairness for oppressed peoples everywhere.
His concept of fairness, of liberty, of social justice, stems from a personal conviction of democratic equality - namely socialism. He used this theoretical and scientific framework to analyze the prevailing conditions, and then fashioned solutions to create a more humane, a more equitable society.
He strongly espoused a different belief against a prevailing trend that true development cannot be measured by economic numbers alone, but by improving the well being of all people.
It is this attitude; this mindset that has prevailed in every PPP government, that caused us to consistently invest in the social sectors. That is investing in people. It would be instructive to review successive PPP government’s accomplishments in the social sector, but I will limit my focus on education.
The PPP’s achievements in this area have been pioneering and groundbreaking. Something that is now unrecognized because it is so widely accepted and integrated into our way of life.
That is why, we need to stop, and take a step back to see from whence we came, the arduous road that was traveled, then perhaps we can better appreciate the magnitude, profundity of the educational revolution that Dr. Jagan initiated and instituted.
The records show that rudimentary primary education started in Guiana in 1808v, by Rev. John Wray funded by Dutch planter Hermanus Post (whose grave is behind Grand Coastal Hotel). Over time a number of Christian churches founded their own schools, so by 1876 the then Governor James Longden announced that the system of Compulsory Denominational Education would be introduced from January, 1877vi.
By 27th April, 1953 after the first general election under Universal Adult Suffrage, there were 297 primary schools of which 269 were denominational schools or church schools. This practice of denominational schools was inherently discriminatory since it caters primarily for Christians or those willing to convert to Christianity; it therefore, disenfranchised thousands of persons from other faiths.
This practice promoted assimilation, rather than respect and tolerance of other cultures and religious practices. It sought to undermine the multicultural richness of our society.
This malpractice was recognized by Dr. Jagan who has constantly and consistently advocated changing the system of denominational schools to publicly run schools. In parliament in 1953 he said:
“Certainly I have not changed my position so far as the control of schools is concerned. I have always been a strong advocate of Government control of all schools and not of dual control. I do not agree with the procedure and practice of Government constructing school buildings and then turning them over to the religious denominations to be run"
Dr. Jagan and the PPP started to take practical measures to dismantle this lopsided system. The evidence of how this was done lie in the numbers. In 1953, the 297 primary schools catered for 89,000 children, but there was a huge unmet need. Analyzing why, more children were not attending school it was clear that the discriminatory policies of the denominational schools were one of the main barriers.
The PPP decided to counter this by introducing more government run schools or government aided schools, that is if you are receiving funding from the government then you will have to follow the non discriminatory policies of the government. The effects of this policy were clearly visible by 1964. When 61 new primary schools were added, increasing the amount to 358 primary schools.
But that alone was not the good news, government schools increased from a meager 19 to 133 a jump of (600%), while denominational schools declined from 269 to 221.
But an even more revealing story was the huge jump in primary school enrolment from 89,000 in 1953 to 156,918 in 1964, an increase by 76.3% of students.
That was the impact, 68,000 more persons became educated by the PPP government breaking the church monopoly on the education system by providing a choice in government run schools. This is a clear demonstration of Dr. Cheddi Jagan’s people centered approach, provided the poor and under privileged with the opportunity to get a basic education, regardless of race, social stature or religion.
Despite the obvious glaring impact it would take some time before the system of denominational control was abolished.
If primary education was difficult, secondary education was quite a luxury in British Guiana. To begin with there was scarcity of secondary schools, Dr. Jagan writing in the West on Trial vii pointed out during the period 1961- 1964 “government secondary schools increased from 2 to 10.” Entry in secondary schools was highly restrictive, not only were limited places available, but the cost of tuition was prohibitive. This effectively denied the poor a chance at getting a secondary education. As an immediate but interim solution
“the number of secondary school scholarships increased from 12 in 1952 to more than 200 in 1963 and scholars were given preference in the entry of the best high schools..”
The PPP government recognized that if they were going to remedy this grave inequity, then they will have to provide much more secondary spaces. Building new secondary schools alone, with the limited resources will still not meet the needs of the existing student population.
Dr. Jagan and the PPP came up with a simple, yet brilliant solution that is they will continue to build specialized secondary schools, while at the same time will provide secondary education at primary schools, these schools were then called “all aged schools”, that is these schools catered for students of all ages. The education at these “all age schools” was free of cost.
This simple act, not only helped thousands of children to access free secondary education but also revolutionized the education system in British Guiana.
Having made secondary education at government schools free, another way had to be found on how to place students in secondary schools. This was done by the introduction of countrywide secondary school examinations. In 1964, Dr. Jagan himself remarked,
“this year’s intake into First forms has been the largest to enter school in any one year on the basis of a competitive examination open to all children of the required age. This is in keeping with our belief that education should be democratically organized.”
These strides in the education sectors were really quite outstanding, yet in Dr. Jagan thinking while primary and secondary education was necessary it was not enough. We needed to create a total system of education, from nursery to university.
But as we have seen the pre-existing colonial education system was designed to make primary education difficult, secondary education a luxury then as you can imagine tertiary education was almost an impossibility!
In fact for many years only one Guiana scholarship was available, tenable to an overseas university in 1950s, but by 1963 this was increased to three Guiana Scholarships, with student loan scheme that was funding 132 students at a cost of $200,000 US dollars. By 1964 the sum increased to $289,000 US, to allow for scholarships and to give scholars for the first time adequate funding to pursue six years courses such as medicine. viii
But sending students aboard was an expensive and unsustainable venture, so an alternative solution had to be found. With this in mind as Dr. Harold Drayton ix recalls, “on the 29th September, 1961 the Minister of Education Vernon Nunes set up a working party to consider the feasibility of establishing a local University. It reported on the 30th November that it would be feasible. Cabinet on 6th December, 1961 agreed in principle to the establishment of a University of British Guiana.” This was subsequently taken to parliament in on the 18th 1963, eventually assented to by Governor, Ralph Grey on the 18th April, 1963, paving the way for the inaugural opening of the University of Guyana on the 1st October, 1963.
In anticipation of that opening moment Dr. Drayton writing in the Thunder in an article entitled, The University of Guyana: a People’s University said this “ …that in the West Indies despite the foundation of the UCWI in 1948, higher education was still restricted to the few. For the bulk of Guianese, education had meant until then, primary education or no education at all. It is only now in 1963 with a PPP Government in office that the tracks are being widened for the building of a great new highway which will lead to University education for All the people of Guyana.”
He went on to point out, “the fact that nearly 700 persons applied for admission to the first year’s classes is evidence of our people’s thirst for education, and our people’s desire to avail themselves of opportunities for study which are bound to become greater after independence is won.”
Yet despite the obvious benefits to be derived from this institution there were many obvious detractors, those that call the university, “Jagan night school”, Dr. Jagan himself recalls in an article Revolutionalized Education, the challenges that he experienced, “One recalls the objections raised about the University of Guyana. The PNC leadership did everything to obstruct. The UNESCO experts at first said it would take three years to make a start. I virtually told them they were mad.”
He went on to say, “If we had followed the conventionalist, we would not have started or perhaps would have been in a position to start now. Obviously, one needs a revolutionary approach to the question of education.”x
Indeed, 47 years on, the University of Guyana has already made a substantial contribution, think for a moment of the thousands that have passed through its doors, the many careers launched, the jobs created, the contribution made and the dreams realized, think about the parents, proud of their accomplishments, and about this generation of students looking to the future with confidence all because Dr. Jagan had the vision to create this university.
Where he led, others are now following.
Indeed Dr. Jagan and the PPP’s have transformed the lives of many by providing access to education. He has revolutionized for all times the system of education in Guyana. In his own words he said,
“No one can deny that the whole foundation of the educational system was well laid by the PPP regime….comprehensively it took in all aspects of the question, from kindergarten to university, from denominational “dual” control to Teachers Service Commission and teacher training, from curriculum planning to standardization of school books.”
The reforms of the educational sector from the 50’s to the 60’s were quite revolutionary at the time; it laid the foundation for the transformation of Guyana. It is also a testimony to Dr. Jagan’s approach of improving the welfare of people and putting people at the center of the development agenda. It is a testimony of his humanity.
The concept of development with a human face, has gained resonance, and more developmental advocates have embraced this approach putting people and the center of development. This was further institutionalized by UNDP which since 1990 has fashioned a new measurement for development that is Human Development Index. But while these indices rightfully measure the progress of peoples and their welfare, the dominant ideology of our times contradicts investments in people.
In fact the premise of neo-liberal ideology is to accelerate growth and raise efficiency by reducing the role of government, and correspondingly increasing the role of the private sector, this ultimately should lead to higher growth, better income distribution and a reduction in poverty. The reality is that this model like its previous incarnations has not worked to expectations, and we must not use this as a panacea for salvation.
The evidence that is emerging is that economic inequities have increased in the last quarter of the 20th century, as the gap between rich and poor countries have increased, and within countries there is greater disparity between rich and poor. So it is clear that neo liberal model of markets and globalization while bringing prosperity for a few, has condemned a significant many to persistent poverty. In some cases it has undermined and eroded the progress that many countries made.
We have to guard the gains that people made and resist any attempts to erode them. We have seen when economic health deteriorates the first casualty is the people centered investments.
This was clearly demonstrated by the PNC regime during their reign; their policies had such deleterious consequences on this nation. That the wounds they inflicted which are now healed, have left a permanent scar on our collective psyche, and significantly retarded our country’s development.
Thankfully the PPP under a victorious Dr. Jagan in 1992 has once again restored and increased those people centered investments, in education, in health and other social services.
Upon assuming office in1992, 5% of the budget 34 billion dollars was for education. This year 14% of a 142 billion dollar budget is for education. So you see this people centered approach is not just a catch phrase; it is long standing tradition, born out of necessity to improve people welfare and a conviction that people are at the center of our development agenda.
The people centered approach has become the distinguishing feature for successive PPP governments. It is what sets us apart from our political opponents and it is what will continue to give us that competitive edge in the 21st century world.
We are proud of this Jaganite tradition, where his people centered approach to development has helped to wipe away the tears of despair off the faces of the poor.
Indeed this was the essence of Dr. Jagan, a man driven by a passion, by a quest to help the oppressed, the exploited and the downtrodden, and all his political actions were directed at eliminating this scourge, so that people can live a better life.
Dr. Cheddi Jagan is a national hero, who while alive, had a popular appeal that sets him apart from, and above the ordinary. He has consistently displayed unquestionable loyalty to his country, which he served with undiluted, resolute and unswerving devotion for 54 years. And over those years he molded the political consciousness and the political will of our people to fight for independence and latter for democracy.
In the face of tremendous difficulties he championed the cause of national unity, economic and people centered development. He was the anti-colonial rebel who waged an unrelenting crusade against the worst excesses of British colonialism and western imperialism.
Over the years he did not escape unscathed but experienced the crude vengeance of the Anglo-American alliance. With the remarkable patience of a twentieth century Moses he endured twenty eight years in political wilderness of constitutional opposition, never once doubting the correctness of his cause; all the while convinced that:
"Victory was inevitable, History and Time was on our side."
And he was right!
This is the measure of the man that we remember today, a true leader, a nationalist, regionalist, and internationalist - a humble man who was the quintessence of humanity.
This is the man whose ideas and dreams inspired us to progress. But not all those dreams have been realized, our task of nation building is still a work in progress.
We need all of you, to join with us, to work with us, to stand with us as we come together to bring more development for our people.
i Address to the 109th Annual Delegates Conference of the Guyana teachers Union on the 14th March, 1993.
ii West on Trial page 82.
iii West on Trail page 83
iv Report of the Education Department, 1947.
v 150 Years of Education in Guyana, 1808 – 1957 – Norman E Cameron page 14.
vi The Reaction of the Press to the compulsory denominational education Bill of 1876 – Hazel M. Woolford – December 1991.
vii West on Trial page 200
viii Cheddi Jagan Speech to Graduating Class of 1964 QC.
ix The University of Guyana Genesis and early years – Harold A. Drayton PhD
x Straight Talk, Revolutionalize education – Cheddi Jagan.