Tributes to Cheddi Jagan - Remembering CJ
by Odeen Ishmael
Time is an interesting commodity. Just when you think you have a lot of it in hand, it gradually slips away. But as time rushes on, some events remain deeply rooted in the memory, especially those in which you were personally involved. For me, it is as if President Cheddi Jagan died only yesterday. Every year since 1997, whenever early March comes around, my mind automatically relives the events surrounding his death on that cold, early morning of March 6, eight years ago.
Those of us who watched over him clung to hope as he lay in hospital for almost three weeks, but after Monday, March 3, as his lung complications worsened, we all began to face reality. The inevitable was about to happen. Death was certainly approaching.
On Tuesday March 4, the doctors informed me of how critical his condition was and how very little they could do for him at the time. By then he was put under heavy sedation and went into a deep sleep.
When I returned to the hospital that evening Dr. Marina Vernalis, the chief cardiologist, said they were all amazed at Dr. Jagan’s resilience and determination to survive. Indeed, he was a true fighter, even as he neared the end.
And throughout it all, Mrs. Jagan never surrendered hope. “If the chances are one to a million for survival, Cheddi is that one,” she told me and her daughter Nadira with confidence.
That night the situation weighed heavily on my mind and I slept very little. Besides, my telephone rang continuously as Guyanese nationals, government functionaries, reporters, and others called for an update of the situation.
I remember Wednesday, March 5, 1997 vividly. Shortly after daybreak, after battling the Washington beltway traffic, I arrived at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I went up to Ward 40, on the fourth floor, where President Jagan rested in an unconscious state. Mark Brancier, Nadira’s husband, was sitting just outside the room and he immediately informed me that the situation was grim. Soon after Mrs. Jagan came by and relayed that the doctors said it was just a matter of time.
Disheartened, I left for the Embassy and phoned the Minister of Information Moses Nagamootoo to give him the latest medical bulletin. I then briefed my staff on the President’s deteriorating condition and, immediately after, rushed off to the Pan American Health Organization headquarters for the opening session of the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG) meeting at 10 o’clock. And since the OAS Permanent Council was also convening at the same time, I sent another member of my staff to represent me there.
The SIRG meeting debated the follow-up of the Action Plan of the 1994 Summit of the Americas. But interestingly, the delegates from the 34 countries, who were aware of the President’s illness, suspended the discussion and asked me for an update of his condition.
Meanwhile, telephone calls kept pouring in at my residence and the Embassy. Everyone was anxiously awaiting some news. And the minute I stepped into my office at around one o’clock, media personnel from Guyana, England and across the United States understandably called for the latest information. Among those was the late Patrick Denny of the Stabroek News who in his quiet, probing way, sought answers from me and, in turn, gave me a description of the Guyanese nation’s demeanour at that time of national distress.
After that I telephoned Mrs. Jagan who said the doctors had removed the sedatives to wake up the President. But because his response was negative, they decided to sedate him again.
I returned to the SIRG meeting around three o’clock, but decided after an hour to go back to the hospital. There I found Nadira and Mark sitting quietly outside the President’s room. I proceeded to his bedside and noted that his eyes were closed and he was breathing through a respirator. Further, his blood pressure kept fluctuating. And though his breathing was evidently softer, he continued to fight the claws of death. He was still hanging on.
The attending doctors, Dr. Jennifer Callagan and head cardiologist Dr. Marina Vernalis, were there as well and they checked in on him from time to time. Over the period of the President’s hospitalization, I became closely acquainted with both of these doctors, and with many of the other 23 physicians in the team assigned to the President, and they impressed me tremendously with the commitment and medical care they provided.
Mrs. Jagan, who had been resting in a nearby room, came in and all of us, including the doctors, sat and chatted for a while. I had bought a few packets of M&Ms on my way to the hospital and I shared them around as we talked about various matters, including information in the Guyanese media about the President’s deteriorating condition, the concerns of Guyanese nationals over the President’s illness, the work of the doctors at that military hospital, and Joey Jagan’s impending arrival. Joey who had accompanied his father to Washington had returned to Guyana after about a week, was returning to be by his father’s bedside. A member of my staff was waiting at that very moment at Reagan National Airport to pick him up and rush him to the hospital. Joey’s wife and three children along with Nadira’s two children were expected to come to the hospital later in the evening.
As Mrs. Jagan conversed with all of us, her determined fortitude was ever present. All through the period of her husband’s illness she stood out as a beacon of dignity, grace and courage. She never wilted under the stress that the situation presented, and she was the one who continuously inspired us with hope that, despite the odds, her comrade-at-arms would win this battle for his life. On many a late evening when I dropped in at the hospital I found her alone where she sat for long hours to keep watch over her husband. She never broke down under the pressure.
Around six o’clock I looked in on the President again. His face and eyes seemed swollen; his eyes were closed and he was breathing quietly. A nurse was checking the monitors in the room and from time to time and the doctors would observe his condition. Then Mrs. Jagan and Nadira went in and rubbed his hands and feet for a while.
As the clock ticked away and time was running out, I decided around half past six to leave the family together for their final farewell. Mark promised to call me as soon as the inevitable happened. I then proceeded alone into the room to say my final goodbye to my President, my comrade, my friend. I held his right hand and looked down into his serene face. Here was the father of our nation, dying in front of me, and I who, from since childhood days, was nourished with his ideas, could do absolutely nothing for him. I could not help being choked up with emotion as I looked at the living face of Cheddi Jagan for the final time.
I walked away from that room with a heavy heart, moist eyes and feet of lead.
I stepped out through doors of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center into the cold winter evening. The member of my staff, sent earlier to the airport to meet Joey, was waiting on the kerb and he told me Joey had only moments before gone inside.
On arriving home, I told my family that we were now on the death-watch and that the President would not live through the night. A radio station from New York called to say it was receiving calls from its listeners that the President had already died. Patrick Denny of Stabroek News phoned for an update and, soon after, so did Sharief Khan, editor of the Guyana Chronicle. I remember telling him that we were now waiting for the inevitable. “The flame that lit the torch of freedom and democracy in Guyana was flickering low,” I reported.
My wife, son and daughter sat with me as we waited for the sad news. And each time the phone rang that night we anticipated the call was from Mark but it came from elsewhere. Guyanese in the USA, Canada and the Caribbean were phoning to say they heard the President died earlier in the day, and wanted to know if that was true. Then just after 12.23 a.m., on this clear, cold and quiet winter night, the phone rang. It was Mark. The legendary life of Cheddi Jagan was over.
[Note: Odeen Ishmael, currently Guyana’s Ambassador to Venezuela, was Ambassador to the United States at the time of Dr. Jagan’s death. He and his wife were the only non-relatives, other than the medical personnel, who saw Dr. Jagan during his hospitalization. Within minutes of Dr. Jagan’s death, a Reuters news report quoted Ambassador Ishmael as saying, “The President is dead. The flame has now gone out.”]
On the afternoon of October 9, 1992 an old woman, a radio stuck to her left ear stood in the avenue outside of State House as Cheddi Jagan was being sworn into office. She was not among the dignitaries and privileged who were allowed inside, but nothing could have prevented her from being there. As Cheddi Jagan read his oath, tears of joy welled up in the old woman's eyes. Her hero had won. His life long struggle for democracy and freedom had been vindicated.
Cheddi Jagan joined the immortals on Thursday 6 March, 1997. During the final three weeks of his life there were from time to time occasional rumours that he had died. Many nights I received telephone calls from anxious friends enquiring whether these rumours were true. I assured them repeatedly that Cheddi Jagan was a fighter and would not go down that easy. I could hardly be deemed a knowledgeable source about the President's health and so I told many of them that if the worst occurred there was one sure way they would know - from the music played on the radio. On the night before he died, the calls came again. This time I began to worry but none the less retired in the hope that the morning would allay my fears.
It was with trembling hands that about five o'clock the following morning, I nervously turned on the radio. A slow haunting melody, its note hanging like slow motion in the air greeted me and I instantly knew that what I dreaded had occurred. Our beloved President was no more. The dark time had come.
Outpouring of Sorrow
The poet Khalil Gibran once said "Love knows not its true depths until the hour of separation". In the days that followed there was an unbelievable outpouring of sorrow and solidarity. Hundreds of thousands came out to pay their last respects to the man who had never abandoned them. It was a moving display of mass adulation and love. The procession of mourners included Heads of States, Prime Ministers, Ambassadors, but most important and by far the largest group were the ordinary folk who have always been his devout and faithful supporters. I am sure that old woman who was outside of State House the day he became President was amongst the multitudes, her heart bleeding in grief.
I was in the Berbice, his homeland and the heartland of his party's support, on the day he was originally scheduled to be cremated. I never expected to get any where near the cortege but I had to be there like many others to register my presence; it was the least I could do. Nothing could prepare me for the outpouring of grief I witnessed in the ancient county. The crowds were like rice and as fast as the vehicles picked them up from the stelling the more they came in waves. I have seen some very large funerals in my lifetime. The funerals of Sir David Rose, Winifred Gaskin and Forbes Burnham spring to mind. But never have I seen one as large as this one. Only a Cheddi Jagan could have brought out these numbers. This country will never see the likes of this again.
I have never been a member of any political party in Guyana but Cheddi Jagan has had a greater impact on my political consciousness than any other. I remember as a boy reading Cheddi Jagan's " STRAIGHT TALK " which was published every Sunday in the Mirror newspaper. I got to meet him and know him much later, at least about fifteen years ago, I would think.
At the time Freedom House held video shows every Monday night. The shows were held on the top floor of the building, long before the extension to the old building was undertaken. There was a man by the name of Bishop who would be responsible for these shows and every Monday night I would trek down to Freedom House. Before each feature presentation there was always a documentary on political and social themes and it was these that interested me the most. In the early days these shows were not usually well attended. Sometimes it was only myself and now councilor Mr. Rogers and his young grand daughter who would be in attendance. On some occasions Cheddi Jagan would come upstairs and sit in. I used these opportunities to ask him the many burning questions which preoccupied my mind.
He was always willing to answer my questions and to explain events and happenings in Guyana. Cheddi Jagan was never one to dodge or evade issues. He did not employ guile, deceit or bluff when he explained things. Cheddi Jagan spoke straight to your heart from his heart with full honesty. I always looked forward to these chance encounters with Cheddi which heightened my political and social consciousness.
Volumes can be written about this great man. He was a politician who embodied the finest of virtues. He was a man of remarkable integrity and honesty, indefatigable courage, moral consistency and an intellect of the highest standing amongst many other things. Cheddi had boundless faith in the poor and working class and they in turn worshipped him like an icon.
Many like vultures have taken advantage of his genial personality and the fact that as a politician he was empty of malice, spite and vindictiveness.
Albert Einstein once said of Mahatma Ghandi "Generations to come will scarcely believe that one such as this in flesh and blood walked upon this earth". I have heard similar sentiments being echoed about Cheddi Jagan. A resident of Berbice put it in his own words ""He ah the greatest man deh gat, he ah the greatest."
It is very difficult to think about another politician who embodied all of the qualities Cheddi Jagan had. Guyana will never find another Cheddi Jagan. He can never be cloned.
Close to the Church
Just before the last elections, The Faith Justice and Social Action Group held discussions with a number of our political leaders including Cheddi Jagan. He willingly agreed to meet with us and even though the demands on his time must have been enormous, he spent over three hours detailing his plans and his hopes for a democratic country. Our group has as one of its objectives the dissemination of Catholic social teaching and we consider ourselves learned in these teachings. All of us were, however, utterly taken aback and astonished by Dr. Jagan's knowledge and understanding of some of the Papal encyclicals. In our own field he edified us.
At that meeting he gave us an open invitation to meet with him. Just after the elections I took him up on this offer and along with Rohan Sagar met with him in his office. There again he spoke about the need for strong moral values in the reconstruction of Guyana, a theme he echoed the very next day when he addressed the Annual Pastoral Conference of the Catholic Church.
The late Bishop Guilly told me that of all the local politicians he dealt with, he respected Cheddi the most since whenever he gave you his word you could rely on him to be faithful.
Every time Cheddi Jagan has assumed the leadership of Guyana, this country has prospered. He had that magical touch which comes from a caring heart.
Guyana Without Dr Jagan
Now that he has gone what will Guyana be like? I know it will never be the same. But Cheddi Jagan's death is not only our loss. The Third World has lost one of the leading authorities on development. This was a subject close to his heart and one that he wrote, read and spoke on extensively. He brought to the debate on development, his vast experience of over fifty years as a politician and student of Third World political economy.
Our dear departed President had a will of steel. Not the power of the British Empire, the might of imperialism, the years in which he was cheated out of power nor the anti democratic forces could weaken his commitment to the Guyanese people. His was a spirit that could never be broken.
Cheddi Jagan was committed to peaceful change. If he was a man of violence he could have moved mountains with the numbers who have stood beside him. But he was above all a man who could never contemplate such an option.
Guyana has been blessed to have had such a man born to us. His life has lifted us all from the abyss of hopelessness and will inspire future generations. In his memory we will soar to even greater heights. He is the wind beneath our wings
Printed in the Catholic Standard, Sun. March 16, 1997
Marking Cheddi Jagan’s 10th death anniversary . . .The final journey home
by Odeen Ishmael
Thursday, March 6, 1997 had arrived. It was twenty five minutes past midnight in Washington as I made a telephone call to Prime Minister Sam Hinds. Only two minutes before President Cheddi Jagan had passed away at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, located just outside Washington DC.
I had left the President’s bedside a few hours before where his immediate family had gathered to await his final moments. The doctors had already told us since two days before that he was just clinging on to life and that soon he would slip away. Earlier on the afternoon of March 5, I went to the hospital where the doctors felt that he would not survive the night. Before I left for home, I arranged with Mark Brancier, Nadira’s husband, to telephone me immediately after the doctors announced the President’s death.
Preparing for the end
At the Embassy in Washington, we had, from three days before, already commenced preparations for this eventuality. Mrs. Janet Jagan had discussed with me plans for preparing and transporting his body back home. I had also discussed the logistics with the hospital authorities, the US State Department and the Guyana government. Out of my discussions a senior protocol officer of the State Department, Mrs. Maria Sotheropoulos, was assigned to help with official arrangements. Around midday on March 3, Mrs. Sotheropoulos informed me that President Clinton was offering an American military plane to fly the body and accompanying relatives to Guyana. In addition, the US Government would hold a ceremony and grant military honours just before the plane’s departure.
I thanked her for this offer of the US plane, but informed her that the Guyana government would prefer using a Guyana Airways aircraft. And since it would have to land at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, I requested her assistance in obtaining clearance and landing rights from the appropriate authorities.
At the Embassy, despite the gloom of the impending situation, we were still involved on March 5 in concurrent meetings of the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States and the Summit Implementation Review Group. While I was at the Summit meeting in the morning session, Gillian Rowe and Tavita Hannif, the two Foreign Service officers at the Embassy, alternated attendance at the other. I had also sent another staff member, Ann Ramlogan-Rice, along with Sheik and Tabitha Ishmael, a Guyanese couple living in Washington, to check out three different funeral homes which the State Department had recommended. They finally assured me that the Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home in Silver Spring, Maryland, would provide the best service.
Actually, the small embassy staff worked assiduously to handle the extraordinary situation we faced. In particular, my confidential secretary, Mrs. Annette Harris, was in constant contact with the State Department on logistical matters and had an uncanny ability to locate persons in the US government with whom I needed to speak urgently. She, as well as the others, also fielded numerous calls from newspapers and radio stations and Guyanese in the United States and elsewhere seeking updates on the President’s condition. And as night descended, numerous calls for updates poured in to my residence in Bethesda, Maryland, where my family took turns to answer the phones.
The two drivers, Vinnay Massey and Raj Rathor (both non-Guyanese), were especially helpful as they worked long hours in transporting the President’s family to various points in the Washington area. And with my own hectic schedule during the period, including making snap visits to the hospital even late in the evenings, Vinnay was especially efficient in getting me to my destinations through clever manoeuvring in the sometimes congested traffic.
Death of the President
But now death had finally arrived. The life of one of the world’s legendary fighters against colonialism had come to an end. My conversation with the Prime Minister did not last long. I informed him of the President’s death and told him that it was important that he should announce this information to the Guyanese people as quickly as possible. Within five minutes, I made quick calls to the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon, (who told me that Mrs. Jagan had just spoken with him), Information Minister Moses Nagamootoo, and presidential advisors Kellawan Lall and Navin Chandarpal. A separate call to Foreign Minister Clement Rohee did not go through, and no one was answering the phones at Freedom House when I called there.
Since it was important that news of the President’s death should be announced immediately, I expressed to both the Prime Minister and Dr. Luncheon my concerns over any delay in releasing this news – especially since the Guyana radio stations were not yet broadcasting at that time of the morning. As a result, it was agreed that I should make the announcement in Washington immediately. This I did when Reuters’s correspondent Sharief Khan telephoned me from Guyana at about 12.40 a.m. (1.40 a.m. Guyana time). I was at the time checking the “wire” services on my computer and, amazingly, within two minutes, I read the Reuters report of the President’s death.
Immediately after, a number of news services based in the US telephoned me. Rohit Jagessar of RBC radio in New York also called and he was able to broadcast our conversation to his listening audience. He had spoken to me almost every evening night “on air” from around the time the President was taken to the Walter Reed Memorial Hospital.
I also received calls from the Guyana Broadcasting Service and the Caribbean News Agency (CANA) and the BBC. Knowing that there was a tough day ahead, I tried to get some sleep, but the telephone calls kept coming in, not only from the media, but also from Guyanese in the US, Canada, the Caribbean and Guyana who wanted verification of the President’s death. My wife Evangeline and my children, Safraz and Nadeeza, helped effectively through the rest of the night in providing information to those who called.
Preparations in Washington
A chilly, but sunny Thursday morning crept in on the Washington area. Just after seven o’clock Dr. Luncheon faxed a copy of a tentative funeral programme and he followed up with a call asking me to pass the plan to Mrs. Jagan for her comments. This original plan called for shipment of the body by Guyana Airways on Saturday, lying in State on Sunday, State funeral at Parliament on Monday and cremation on Tuesday. Kellawan Lall also phoned information that the Cabinet met very early that morning, and that Sam Hinds had been sworn in as President.
At around nine o’clock my wife and I went to the Mrs. Jagan’s living quarters at the hospital to discuss the funeral arrangements with her. Also there with her were her children, Joey and Nadira, and son-in-law Mark Brancier. Mrs. Jagan did not want to wait for Saturday and preferred the plane to come the following morning (Friday). She also expressed some disagreements with the tentative funeral programme and telephoned Dr. Luncheon to suggest some changes. I took the opportunity then to inform the family of the funeral home which would prepare the President’s body for shipment to Guyana.
Regarding this preparation, Mrs. Jagan asked me to purchase a white long-sleeved shirt-jac for the President. At 10.30 a.m. my wife and I left the hospital and proceeded to Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home where I had asked Ann (from the embassy) to meet us. There we made arrangements with the director of the establishment for the body to be picked up from the hospital morgue and to be prepared for shipment. We examined a choice of caskets, and it was my wife who finally selected one with a glass widow in the upper half which we thought was the best for the public viewing of the deceased President.
On leaving the funeral home, we checked for white long-sleeved shirt-jacs but could not find any at the department stores and small clothing stores we visited. Knowing that shirt-jacs or guayaberas were plentiful in Florida, I telephoned Hilton Ramcharitar, our Honorary Consul in Miami, to find one in a hurry. He said he would get one and send it by special delivery on American Airlines that afternoon. In the meantime, Ann was making calls to some Guyanese nationals in the Washington metropolitan area to help find a white long- sleeved shirt-jac. Soon after, we received a call from Mrs. Rohini Sharma of the Hindu Society in Silver Spring who said she had found one. Ann hurried to Silver Spring to collect the shirt-jac and then to the hospital where Mrs. Jagan gave her a few items of the President’s clothing, all of which she dropped off at the funeral home. In the meantime, I called Hilton Ramcharitar to cancel his arrangement.
By midday I returned to the hospital with some documents (given to me by the funeral home director) for Mrs. Jagan to sign. These pertained to applications for a death certificate and the permits to move the body from the hospital morgue. I dropped off these signed documents to the funeral home on the way back to the Embassy. Within an hour, the director of the funeral home telephoned to inform me that the body was already being embalmed. By this time, I received news from Georgetown that the Guyana Airways plane would be arriving in Washington on Friday morning.
Initially, I had intimated to the funeral home that shipment to Guyana would be on Saturday morning (March 8), but now that Mrs. Jagan wanted this to be done one day earlier (Friday, March 7), I had to inform the funeral home of this change in plan. The director was most willing to help and he told me not to worry. However, this proved to be a great disappointment for the Guyanese nationals in the Washington area who had hoped that a Saturday departure would allow them to pay their respects during a public viewing of the President’s body on Friday.
Managing the logistics
But then, while everything was moving at this fast pace, a problem cropped up. At around 3.00 p.m., the State Department began to see difficulties in obtaining the permit for the plane to land at Andrews Air Force Base. Apparently, the State Department officials were under the impression that it was a commercial flight. They had been informed by the US Embassy in Guyana that 121 persons were listed on the flight, but somehow they did not understand that these persons would form the official escort to take the body back to Guyana. Apparently, the State Department officials thought that these persons were passengers on a regular flight.
I made a series of telephone calls to Mrs. Sotheropoulos at Protocol, the Department of Defense and to officials at the White House to clear up this issue, while Dr. Luncheon discussed it with the US Ambassador in Georgetown. Eventually, the matter was settled by 6.00 p.m. when the bureaucrats finally understood the purpose of the flight.
Originally, the plane had to depart from the Air Base by 8.30 a.m. But since President Clinton’s special representative at the departure ceremony could not be there before that time, the Department of Defense and the State Department agreed to extend the departure time to 10.00 a.m.
Earlier that Thursday afternoon, Mrs. Sotheropoulos had dropped in at the Embassy to inform me that the departure ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base would include speeches by Mr. John Hamilton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America and the Caribbean, who would also be representing President Clinton, and Mr. Reepu Daman Persaud, the Minister of Agriculture of Guyana, who would be the head of the official party coming from Georgetown. There would also be a US honour guard and a 21-gun salute would be given. She said the hearse would also be escorted by military outriders from the funeral home to Andrews Air Force Base.
Just after 7.00 p.m., the director of the funeral home telephoned to say that the body was already embalmed and that he had all the necessary permits, including the certified and notarized death certificate, required for the shipment of the remains to Guyana. He informed me that by eight o’clock on Friday morning the hearse would be at Andrews. With this information at hand, the Embassy made arrangements for a limousine service to pick up Mrs. Jagan and her family from Walter Reed and transport them to the Air Base in the morning.
Meanwhile, the embassy staff members were busy as ever finalising all the logistics. The main problem that remained was to get permits from the Department of Defense for Guyanese nationals who wanted to go to Andrews for the departure ceremony on Friday morning. In addition, we were also receiving calls from relatives of the President, who wanted to travel on the plane to Guyana. These lists had to be prepared and sent to the State Department, and constantly we had to make changes as new names were added. Numerous calls were also coming from Government officials in Guyana. By 9.00 p.m. when we believed that all the logistics were finally covered, the staff departed for home. I made a final check with the funeral home at around 10.30 p.m. and was assured by the director that everything was in order.
Andrews Air Force Base
A biting wind blew across the sunny landscape on Friday morning as my family and I departed for Andrews where I would join the plane for the journey to Guyana. We arrived at around 8.30 at the same time as Mrs. Janet Jagan and her family. Waiting for us was Mrs. Sotheropoulos and two other officers from State Department Protocol. The GAC Boeing 757 had already arrived and was standing on the tarmac with the black, glimmering hearse parked beside it.
We went into the small departure lounge which was packed with persons, including Ministers, government and opposition parliamentarians, military and police officers and media representatives who had arrived from Guyana to escort the body home. Some of the Jagan relatives from various parts of the United States were also there to join the flight to Guyana. In addition, there were UN Ambassador Rudy Insanally, High Commissioner to Canada Brindley Benn and Consul General in New York Brentnol Evans, who had all arrived in Washington the evening before to travel to Guyana for the funeral. Among them were about thirty Guyanese residing in the Washington area who had come to bid final farewell to the deceased President.
The lounge was strangely quiet and all had sombre expressions, understandably indicative of the occasion. I greeted many members of the Guyanese contingent, and explained the programme for the departure ceremony to the ministers. Their facial expressions revealed that they were deeply affected by the passing of their President and political leader. `Sash’ Sawh, the Minister of Livestock and Fisheries, was particularly emotional and he hugged me and wept bitterly.
Shortly after, two US military officers escorted me to the hearse to ensure that the casket containing the President’s body was properly draped with the Guyana flag. My son wanted to go with me and I obtained the officers’ permission for him to do so. With the funeral home director and his assistants, we ensured that everything was in order. At the same time, 36 GDF soldiers, resplendent in green camouflage uniforms and red berets, exited the plane and arranged themselves in guard of honour formation near the aircraft. They had come to a foreign land to take the body of their Commander-in-Chief back home. A contingent of US military personnel, dressed in blue uniforms and blue coats, and a military band had already placed themselves also a separate honour guard.
The frigid wind was blowing the entire morning, and even though I wore a coat, I could feel the coldness in my bones. That morning I developed a new level of respect for the amazing toughness of our GDF soldiers; they stood at attention dressed in military attire befitting a tropical climate but exhibited no outward sign of discomfort on that cloudless, cold, wintry morning.
The departure ceremony
The ceremony inside the lounge began at 9.30. John Hamilton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, spoke for the US Government and expressed President Clinton’s sympathy to Mrs. Jagan and her family and to the government and people of Guyana. He also noted Dr. Jagan’s important role in Guyana and the Caribbean and his close ties with the United States since he was elected President in 1992.
Minister Reepu Daman Persaud, responding on behalf of the Guyana government, thanked the US government for its efforts to save our President’s life. He expressed special appreciation to the Walter Reed doctors – two of whom were present – for their sterling and valiant efforts. And speaking for the Jagan family, Joey Jagan also thanked both the US and Guyana governments for all they had done for his family during the crisis days. He could not hold back the tears as he read a poem in tribute to his father.
With this part of the activity over, everyone then proceeded to the tarmac where the military band played a slow but touching rendition of the Guyana national anthem. This was followed by a 21-gun salute from five cannons booming behind the plane. The US honour guard then removed the flag-draped casket from the hearse and loaded it on the plane.
Immediately after, The Guyanese civilian contingent boarded the plane to be followed a few minutes later by the GDF honour guard. The US military honour guard remained in position as the senior protocol officer escorted Mrs. Jagan up the stairs. As the Ambassador, in keeping with protocol arrangements, I was the last to board.
A flight attendant closed the plane door and the stairway outside was wheeled away. The Guyana Airways jet taxied to the southern side of the air base and turned on to the main runway. Just about half past ten it revved its engines and sped towards the north. In less than a minute it was climbing in the clear azure sky and banking south-east towards Guyana.
President Cheddi Jagan was making his final journey home.
(Note: The writer was Guyana’s Ambassador in Washington at the time of Dr. Jagan’s hospitalisation and eventual death at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.)
Eulogy by Feroze Mohamed, Minister of Home Affairs, at the State Funeral ceremony of H.E. Dr. Cheddi Jagan, late President of Guyana at Parliament Buildings, Georgetown, Guyana, on Monday, March 10, 1997.
We are gathered here this morning to pay homage and final respects to Dr. Cheddi Jagan, a great man with an indomitable spirit. He was our President, Head of the PPP/Civic Government, General Secretary of the People’s Progressive. For many Guyanese, he was embraced as the father of the nation; others saw in him a teacher and a fighter of formidable strengths and abilities; for all of us, he was our leader. I feel especially honoured to be part of today’s proceedings to pay tribute to our leader, this distinguished son of the soil, this extraordinary figure who, for half a century, influenced the political life and developments of our country. For me, during this time, many things about Dr. Jagan come to mind. This is unavoidable not only because "Comrade Cheddi" as we would refer to him, has had a profound influence on my life but also because in my thirty-six years of association with him, accepting his guidance and leadership, I have learnt a great deal from his work, his teachings and from our interaction. Like tens of thousands of Guyanese I was alongside him in several battles. We shared many anxious moments and faced many trials; we were involved with other colleagues in numerous campaigns around one or another issue; we discussed collectively and, at times, seemingly interminably, various subjects to hammer our clear and correct positions. Whether we were engaged in practical political work or theoretical activities, or elaborating political tactics and strategy, what stood out in Comrade Cheddi were his unswerving commitment to principles, his foremost loyalty to the cause of the working people, his burning desire to bring about social and economic justice, his tremendous optimism even on occasions when the situation would appear grim.
Once in a while, history provides a people with a leader who is truly outstanding. Dr. Cheddi Jagan was such a leader. His role, his various contributions, accomplishments and struggles reverberate well beyond his homeland. What distinguished him from others was that special ability to understand the central contradiction of the times, to grasp the most critical question of the day and ably articulate them in a simple and understandable way. He was able, thus, to inspire and lead masses into struggle. Dr. Jagan has repeatedly demonstrated this quality and it was this, among others, that endeared him to his people and sustained his popularity among the masses for five decades.
Dr. Jagan was born in 1918. It was a time filled with significance. It was that juncture in mankind’s history that was a boundary between two epochs. By the time the Political Affairs Committee was formed in 1946 in which Dr. Jagan played a leading role, it was clear where he stood. He stood with the people, the labouring masses, the poverty-stricken and the oppressed. He sided with the progressive forces that advocated deep-going changes within society. He advocated the politics of inclusion and lifted aloft the banner of freedom.
The workers’ struggles at Plantation Enmore, which gave us the Enmore Martyrs, was a significant turning point in Dr. Jagan’s life. Less than 2 years after, in January 1950, the People’s Progressive Party was formed. As our subsequent history has shown, this was a landmark development for our country. With Dr. Jagan at its helm, the emergence of the Party transformed the perception of the role of politics in Guyana, and the meaning of national independence. It was not only a Party for the working people, it was a Party of the working people, a Party of true patriots committed to National Unity, the prosperity of our people and to social progress.
With its formation a new era was ushered in for Guyana. The struggles for independence and freedom heightened. These were fierce struggles, in the course of which Dr. Jagan, Mrs. Jagan and other top leaders were imprisoned or confined. But the colonialists failed to break their will or suppress their cause. Indeed, their cowardly actions only ignited new initiatives and fuelled the torch of freedom carried by our people, led by the People’s Progressive Party.
The anti-colonial struggles in which Dr. Jagan played a central role represents, undoubtedly, a glorious period of our history, in spite of many setbacks and repression. In many ways, it prepared the Party and schooled its members for the later battles to come – fighting authoritarian rule, fighting for free and fair elections, fighting for democracy and respect for human rights, for the all-round improvement of our people’s condition, in defence of workers and farmers, and many more other struggles.
For nearly three decades Dr. Jagan and his Party, cheated of office, continued undaunted and undefeated. His widely acknowledged tenacity and honesty of purpose, took us through difficult years.
Moreover, he imbued his Party with revolutionary theory, recognising that in the obtaining circumstances, without such a theory, neither victory not our objectives were attainable. His experiences during the anti-colonial struggles and his revolutionary philosophical outlook led him, inexorably, to advocate and embrace socialism. He passionately believed that exploitation of man-by-man, oppression and human degradation, a fair distribution of social wealth could be achieved not simply by superficial measures but through a deep-going transformation of the existing socio-economic order. These ideas were instilled in our minds. They served to fire the imagination of our people.
While his main efforts were devoted to the larger political issues, he found the energies to champion simultaneously, the rights of workers, farmers and youth. He had firm groundings, with and struck deep roots among, the working class and farmers. His life is inextricably linked to the struggles and sacrifices of workers in the sugar industry who historically challenged the plantocracy, a vivid symbol of colonial oppression. Likewise, he championed the rights of farmers, advocating an end to rapacious landlordism and land to be given to the tillers. And with respect to youth, while he urged them into political activities, at the same time, he articulated their concerns and argued for a strategy that would assure them opportunities to learn, to provide them jobs and a secure future. Without question, Dr. Jagan was a man completely devoted to his people. He utilised his many skills to bring improvement and betterment to their lives.
The out-pouring of national grief we see all around us now demonstrates the love of his people for him and the high esteem in which Dr. Jagan is held. But, an overseas presence at this time, also demonstrates the recognition he has earned beyond our shores.
Dr. Jagan was an internationalist and a figure of international stature and prestige. His was a global and dialectical outlook that linked our own many-sided concerns to the multi-faceted struggles, and trends taking place globally. He was certainly not a passive observer but an active participant in various events and actions at this level.
Possibly, his greatest attention was focused on events unfolding in the Caribbean and Latin America. His book Caribbean – Whose Backyard? brings this out. And, his interests found new expressions and emphases in his contributions to meetings of Heads of States of Caricom.
Dr. Jagan’s internationalism was also manifested in his tireless fight for world peace. He was resolutely opposed to nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction. His contribution to the world-wide peace struggles brought him recognition and from the Vice-President position of the World Peace Council, to which he was elected, he pursued such struggles selflessly.
Dr. Jagan’s internationalism was further exemplified by his unrelenting stand against colonialism, imperialism, militarism and apartheid; by his unflagging support for national liberation movements and all democratic forces. He easily identified with freedom fighters in all corners of the globe and espoused their individual causes as his own.
In these later years, he saw not a resolution but an aggravation of the human condition. This was unacceptable. He took up the challenge to do something to change the harsh conditions of life to which millions were subjected. Were we to follow his thoughts and works over fifty years, then this was an instinctive reaction to the growing poverty and human suffering he was seeking to alleviate. His resounding call for a New Global Human Order represents therefore a revitalised approach, in a changed context, to grapple with these problems of poverty, underdevelopment, famine and the various scourges that afflict mankind in our times. Of all the positive qualities embodied in our leader’s personality, his boundless humanity was constant.
The final four years of Dr. Jagan’s dynamic life, I believe, were the most satisfying, politically. Despite the brief span, as Head of the PPP/Civic Government, he had an opportunity to make some of his dreams come true. The challenges were enormous, the tasks were demanding, but from the first days, Dr. Jagan was fully absorbed in the full purpose of his eventful life and work. In his first address to the National Assembly on becoming President, he indicated Guyana’s course will be one of National Democracy. He steered Guyana undeviatingly in this direction, encouraging consultative and participatory democracy and consensus. His Government’s poverty alleviation programme, its land and house-lots distribution process, its struggle for debt relief, the special attention given to Amerindian affairs and setting in motion the mechanisms to give land titles to them, his insistence on trade union rights, were all manifestations of his larger, life-long commitment to his people and country.
During his years as President, he tried to give concrete expression to all the hopes and aspirations of those on whose behalf he devoted his life. Today, I can say with confidence, that due to his guidance and direction there is progress on all fronts in our land.
The temptation to enumerate the numerous and significant achievements of Comrade Cheddi is strong at this moment. However, I leave that for later. We are well aware of his rich legacy to this nation and to his people. He is referred to as an institution, for sound reasons. This is no idle characterisation, and no one disputes it.
However, the heart of this great man has been stilled; it throbs no more. Our nation is engulfed with grief, the atmosphere is heavy with sorrow, the pain over this loss goes deep. As he departs physically from our midst, Nicolai Ostrovsky’s appropriate words come to mind. He said and I quote:
"Man’s dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so that he feels no remorse for years lived to no purpose, be not seared by shame for a mean and trivial past, so that dying he might say: all my life and strength have been devoted to the finest cause in the world – the struggle for the liberation of mankind."
If Dr. Jagan’s death releases the well-springs of our emotions, let us remember that in his lifetime he taught us to overcome difficult times and adversities; he taught us not to succumb to despair but to go forward with courage. For all of us, I am sure that he will live on in our memories, he will be with us through his works, his writings, his vision of Guyana’s future, the policies he elaborated and approved.
I know Comrade Cheddi would have liked us to continue along the trail he blazed. I know he would have liked us to preserve unity of the Party he pioneered, nurtured and gave content to. I know he would have liked us to expand on his achievements, and build on the foundations he laid. We pledge to pursue all this.
Let us learn from him. Let us take heart and together, unitedly, as One people, constituting One Nation with One Destiny, realise his dream for Guyana and actualise his vision for our people. Let his memory and our love for him impel us to make possible through out efforts, that for which he lived and died.
We are saying our final farewell to our dear leader. And, we do so fully conscious that the struggle he started goes on.
by Sharief Khan
(Courtesy of the Guyana Chronicle - March 13, 1997)
Slowly, everyday life yesterday began to plod back to normal for a nation numbed by the sorrow of the passing, one week ago today, of President Cheddi Jagan.
Guyanese, moved by a death as they had never been before, were consumed by an outpouring of homage and tributes before which everything else paled into insignificance for seven days.
The fall of their warrior and hero has cut them deeply and they showed it by countless numbers in a long, thunderous symphony of silence that seemed to move the heavens to tears on a windswept piece of Guyana seashore.
Neither sun nor rain could dampen their reverence and the shower of rain that came as the casket of the fallen hero began that slow march on the shoulders of soldiers to its final destination was a certain sign to the faithful.
In their sorrow they were filled with hope that even the gods shared their grief.
Dr. Jagan died at 1:23 a.m. last week Thursday in the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and his long final journey home ended yesterday, at about 1:10 p.m., when his daughter and son lit the pyre for his cremation in the rural village that gave him birth.
The ashes of his mortal remains are to be gathered today, one day short of a month since he was stricken by a serious heart attack at his official State House residence in Georgetown and to which he succumbed after a spirited battle for 21 days.
Dr. Cheddi Jagan, born in Port Mourant, Corentyne, Berbice on March 22, 1918, died March 6, 1997 in the capital of the United States and was cremated where it all began yesterday.
Guards kept close watch over the smouldering pyre throughout last night and will remain on watch until the ashes are gathered and placed in an urn by immediate family members.
Sources close to the family said the ashes may be scattered in the Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice rivers.
The thousands trekked to the site in a steady, determined swell and they sat all around on the ground outside the barricaded cremation area.
People's Progressive Party (PPP) Executive Committee member, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran said at the ceremony: "Above all (these recent days), we heard the footsteps of the largest number of Guyanese ever to come together in our history, putting aside all differences, united at last in sad but warm embrace."
He added: "No greater tribute could have been paid to this simple, unassuming man than the time taken by so many to set their eyes on him in a final glimpse as he lay at rest or as he went on his way in his final journey to this place."
Above all else, it was the simplicity of the ceremony of the last rites that towered above everything else, with the working people he had laboured for caught in a hush and saying their last farewell with deep reverence.
Dr. Jagan ignored the usual pomp and ceremony associated with inaugurations when he was sworn into office as President of the Republic on October 9, 1992 following the PPP/Civic victory at the historic elections four days earlier.
There was no fanfare for that return to power and so it was with his cremation yesterday - short, simple but momentous.
The mourners dressed for the occasion, sombre colours all.
There were the usual military ceremonial ... associated with funeral for presidents but these were kept to the barest minimum in a simple rural burial ground.
The masses sat and waited all morning for the cremation and a roar of complaint went up whenever the driver of a vehicle of a dignitary attempted to park in a spot that would block their view of the proceedings.
Mr. J.B. Raghurai, Administrative Manager for the Albion sugar estate said the site was ready in three days. Preparations began last week Thursday afternoon and the works included clearing the area of bush, building an all-weather access road and two bridges to the site, and putting up sheds and running electricity supply.
The crematorium is in a 20-acre plot and Raghurai said that about 150 to 200 workers a day took three days to complete the job.
Senior and junior staff from the Port Mourant and Albion estates worked dedicatedly on the project and about 50 percent of the work was done free, he said.
The workers refused payment for working and most did not want their names recorded in books as having worked, he told the Chronicle.
"They said they were doing it all in honour of President Jagan", he explained.
The Guyana Sugar Corporation provided a band of young women dressed in white as ushers for dignitaries and there were four fully-equipped ambulances - one from the Health Ministry - with doctors standing by at the Port Mourant Hospital and the Port Mourant Dispensary to treat any emergencies.
The corporation also put down eight water containers around the area for the massive crowd, the official said.
Several persons fainted and one person who took ill was carried away in an ambulance.
It was an impressive accomplishment and the proceedings went on without a hitch, officials said.
Police ranks and officers were out in strength for crowd control, with other members of the Disciplined Services also on duty but, according to the officials, there were no incidents of consequence.
The focus of attentions was the cremation of the man many called the 'Father of the nation' and the air was stilled by their silent homage.
As the rains came, black umbrellas went up around the pyre and a green tarpaulin was held aloft over the mound resting on a white-painted wooden support as the body was lifted in a white sheet and placed on the pyre.
For the cremation, 300 pieces of 'Long John' wood, each four feet long, were stacked between layers of coconut shells and about 100 pounds of wood chips.
Workers said 20 pounds of ghee were used and mixed with pieces of camphor and put into four 'fire' holes in the structure.
After the body was covered with a layer of wood and the preparations completed, the late President's son, Dr. Cheddi Jagan Jnr. and his daughter Nadira Jagan-Brancier set the pyre alight, using a torch made of wood with cloth wrapped around it at the end.
Other immediate relatives also participated in the ritual and the bags of flowers collected form the showers thousands placed on the casket as the body lay in State for public viewing over four days in Georgetown and in Albion were scattered in the flames.
Mrs. Janet Jagan, wearing dark shades, was fully involved and watched with the others from the shed to the north of the site as the flames consumed the pyre, including the empty oak casket, with copper trimmings, placed on top.
Dr. Jagan Jnr. and his son, Cheddi Jagan Jnr. the Second, stood side by side for a long while on the eastern edge of the burning mound, the late President's son giving his father a prolonged final military salute.
And then the two hugged each other tightly, the 13-year-old boy crying bitterly as his father clasped him to his chest.
Barefooted, as is the custom at such religious ceremonies, the two left the area and then came the aircraft fly-pass in tribute to the fallen leader.
The ceremony over, groups began to lingeringly move off, but thousands remained for hours after, the silent tributes continuing.
Later in the afternoon, Mrs. Jagan and other members of the family travelled back to Georgetown, amid thousands going back to their homes around the country after what had all the makings of a huge national pilgrimage to the graveside of a fallen hero.
Along the coast, people were slowly beginning to carry on with their life by last night but it will be several days before life will be the same for the vast majority.
The seven days of national mourning have ended but the loss will be felt deeply for a long time.
by Kesh Kumar
IN his book, The West on Trial, Cheddi Jagan writes about a dispute he had with the Dental Association of Guyana, on the question of fee-fixing. He was charging one dollar, for an extraction, when the minimum fee was set at two dollars.
He argued that the Association should have been regulating standards, not setting fees. And he continued charging one dollar, because he “could not see why it was necessary to earn in few minutes, what it took poor people half a day or a whole day to earn, when they were fortunate enough to find employment.” Such magnanimity is rarely heard of. It is the gift of the Mahatma.
I vividly remember a visit I made to his office in the early 70s, when I was a young undergraduate at the University of Guyana.
Dr Jagan did a filling on a decaying tooth, and some other restorative work. He was kind, gentle, caring and professional. He was so warm, I felt as if I were in the presence of my father.
He had half (maybe less) of a tooth to work with/on, he pointed out. He assured me that he would do his best. Today, more than two and half decades later, the tooth he had restored is still firm and functional.
I recall going to his secretary to pay for the service rendered. I told her that I probably misheard the sum of money Dr Jagan had told me to pay, and assured her that I did not intend to mislead her. She looked at me, smiled and assured me that I was not mistaken. “He fees are always low,” she affirmed.
About two years ago, I called my dentist’s office in Toronto to find out whether the practitioner would make some adjustment to the fees he had quoted to put a shell on the tooth in question. He replied through his secretary that he was not willing to either minimize or compromise his standards! (It was only then that I realized why I see so many people with missing teeth, in Toronto. It is not for a lack of pride, but a lack of money).
Anyway, I did not procure the services of the dentist. I am sure I will take this tooth with me to Babu John, wherever mine is. Thanks, Dr Jagan. And a million thanks for everything else you have done for me, my fellow countrymen, my country and the world.
By Premchand Dass (Comdade Dass worked at the CJRC for many years. He wrote the summaries for most of Dr. Jagan's articles found in the archives )
History will always be grateful to Dr. Cheddi Jagan – the Cheddi Jagan Guyana and the world know for the cause he served.
His early life, growing up in Plantation Port Mourant and the social consciousness he developed as a result of the “two worlds” the social distance between the white expatriates of the sugar plantocracy and the coloureds (Blacks and Indians) there, left an indelible imprint in his memory.
That experience was repeated in a more pronounced way which he himself witnessed in Chicago and elsewhere in the USA during his seven years as a student. Again, there were those who lived well from those who toiled to create the wealth.
The young Cheddi Jagan was troubled and thus began his formative class bias in favour of the poor and to return to British Guiana to fight for the downtrodden masses. To purposefully deepen and sharpen his world outlook, Cheddi Jagan apart from his academic studies in Dentistry and Economics and his reading of the struggles/wars for America’s Independence and of Mahatma Gandhi, attend lectures by progressives. Cheddi also did studies in the Social Sciences. All of these and more strengthen his determination for the cause – to fight Colonialism, yes, he was preparing for the long and protracted struggle against colonial rule for the political independence of British Guiana.
His reading of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital and Vladimir Lenin’s writings gave him a peep into Socialism, the problems of the capitalist world and how to change it anywhere.
And so when Cheddi returned to British Guiana in 1943 at age 25, he was a prepared man with a clear political philosophy and cause. Soon he began to be involved in trade unionism – briefly as Treasurer with the MPCA, (1945) which he left because it was a company Union and later, as President of the Sawmill and Forest Workers Union in 1947. In the late 1940’s over 20 trade unions from various categories were registered and although their leaders were involved in politics they made no attempt to organize political parties.
Cheddi Jagan with a clear prevision of the necessity to organize the working masses into a political party, filled that need by forming the PAC in November 1946 with Janet Jagan, Ashton Chase and J. M Hubbard and in the first issue of the PAC Bulletin November 6, 1946, the aims of the PAC were carried:
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.
Cheddi was meticulous, he knew how and from where and how to begin. He was already a mentally freed man. PAC meetings were chaired and guided by Cheddi Jagan and its involvement in many struggles during that period embraced the Bauxite workers, sugar workers, transport workers and the working class struggles internationally and the exposure of the just started Cold War strategies.
The role of Cheddi Jagan and the PAC were quickly becoming popular. It was the first time a voice for the working class appeared with Cheddi being elected to the Legislature in 1947. In his first speech he declared “WE the people have won, the struggle will now begin’. But why WE? Right away Dr. Jagan had assumed the role of the sole representative of the poor, exploited people cover the decades of colonial rule and a legislature dominated by those in the biddings of the British Government.
His advocacy was always in defence and interest of the working class and poor peasantry - all exploited under the cruel and unjust system of Capitalism. Cheddi, who had identified himself with the struggle of East Coast of Demerara sugar workers before and after the June 16, 1948 Enmore Massacre, won the love and respect of the sugar workers. They believed in him and assisted in the formation of the GIWU (now GAWU), - a truly dedicated trade union which won recognition after nearly 3 decades of struggle and of which Cheddi was its Honorary President from 1976 until 1992 when he was elected President of Guyana.
In relatively 3 short years after the PAC, the PPP was formed in 1950 and made the first ever declaration that its intention was to win a “free and independent Guiana”. That was the beginning of the struggle for independence in the crown colony of British Guiana led by Dr. Cheddi Jagan.
Cheddi perseverance and pioneering work won for the disenfranchised masses Adult Suffrage – the right to vote for the first time, without property considerations.
The colonizers did not like it, but because of agitation in a number of other British Colonies, Cheddi Jagan succeeded for Guiana and in the first general elections under Adult Suffrage in 1953 the PPP won 75% of seats. Jagan’s popularity and that of the PPP’s policies irked the Ruling class and way has to be found to isolate him and avoid the growing influence of the working class movement.
The government was overthrown after 133 days in office, but Cheddi continued his fight and exposure of the plans of the British locally and abroad.
The masses displayed growing confidence in Dr. Jagan and returned him successfully at all subsequent elections that were fair and free. From 1968 to 1985 General Elections were rigged and fraudulent by the PNC to continue in power. In all those turbulent years 1968 to 1992 Dr. Jagan did not succumb. His gumption, grit and determination grew. He had abiding faith in the people - the popular downtrodden and exploited.
Cheddi’s fight at home and abroad won for Guyana the first free and fair elections which returned him as the first democratically elected President after 28 years of multi-faceted struggles and for a return to democratic governance in 1992. Victory for Dr. Jagan and the PPP was inevitable. The masses have won and Cheddi’s leadership and actions for the people, vindicated.
Dr. Cheddi Jagan was so humble, simple, but yet so impassioned in his fight for independence, against poverty and hunger.
He did not see Guyana alone. He saw Guyana within a world context and the need for a New Global Human Order.
His ideals for a new world and protected people will continue in the hearts of all peace-loving peoples everywhere.
Indeed, Cheddi Jagan ranked amongst the greatest human being the world has known. He lived his life fully, without hate, acrimony and spite for any, Cheddi spared no time than to make Guyana and the world a better place.
That is why history will be forever grateful to him. His example and works will live on.
Dr. Jagan was at all times, without compromise a man of the people, completely free of the taint of corruption and dedicated his life to the cause. He was an honest and decent human being. His was a noble life. Yes, Cheddi Jagan was the “best asset” to Guyana.
Cheddi Jagan spent his entire adult life for a cause, his was a cause for freedom, peace and happiness for all that was the cause he served.
Cheddi Jagan named Caribbean Person of the Century- by Canadian newspaper readers
The late President Cheddi Jagan has been named Caribbean Person of the Century by readers of The Caribbean Camera, Canada's leading newspaper on Caribbean affairs.
Dr Jagan led the field of 30 top West Indians selected by a panel of editors at the newspaper after the votes were counted at the close of the poll on December 17.
The late Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams placed second, while Jamaican singer Bob Marley ran third, the newspaper said in a release yesterday.
The pioneers of the steel pan, the only acoustical instrument developed in the 20th century, finished fourth with Cuba's Fidel Castro in fifth place.
The poll is the only one of its kind to be conducted in North America, the newspaper said.
It was conducted from September 15 to December 17 and was strictly a readers' survey. More than 10,000 people cast their votes via regular mail and e-mail.
Readers were given 30 candidates from across the Caribbean from which to choose.
Among the candidates were VS Naipaul, Albert Gomes, Grenada's TA Marryshow, Barbados' Grantley Adams, Jamaica's Norman and Michael Manley, Dominica's Eugenia Charles, St Lucians Derek Walcott and Arthur Lewis, and Shridath Ramphal, also of Guyana.
"We selected candidates from across the Caribbean who made an impact both on Caribbean life and on global affairs during the 20th century," Caribbean Camera's Managing Editor Raynier Maharaj said.
"The weekly paper's year-end edition featured profiles on the Top Five candidates, with the cover entirely devoted to a beautiful picture of Dr Jagan", the newspaper said.
The poll attracted the attention of readers around the world, with e-mail responses coming from as far as Sweden and Australia.
It also generated tremendous interest within the Canadian education system, where the profiles on all the candidates were included in teaching material at several high schools, the weekly reported.
Dr Jagan won the approval of more than 40 per cent of the voters who saw his struggle for freedom for Guyanese as well as his impact on the labour movement and politics in the wider Caribbean as being the most significant achievement by a Caribbean person in the 20th century.
Dr Williams, who ran a close second, was seen as a great intellect and visionary whose role in both Trinidad and Tobago as well as the wider Caribbean tremendously raised the profile of the region around the globe.
Maharaj said the Steel Pan Pioneers were included as a category as opposed to a single person as "we could not properly identify any individual as being responsible for the creation of the instrument. In fact, the category was suggested to us for inclusion by David Rudder, and we are surprised as well as thrilled to see this group place so high on the list."
Rounding off the top 10 are Trinidadians Mighty Sparrow and Stokeley Carmichael (Kwame Toure), and Jamaicans Michael Manley, Louise `Miss Lou' Bennett and Marcus Garvey.
by Peter Jailall
Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the charismatic dentist-politician, walked with the Guyanese people on nearly every road in Guyana for nearly half a century, taking his message of Peace, Progress, and Prosperity.
It was in June, 1948, at the gravesite of the Enmore Martyrs that he quietly pledged to dedicate his life to further the cause of ordinary people like the sugar workers.
Jagan had already witnessed oppression, first at Port Mourant as the child of sugar workers, and later in the US, where he studied. There he had lived among poor Americans, Black and White.
Those experiences made him take a stronger stand on the side of the poor and marginalized.
On his return to Guyana as a dentist in 1943, he distanced himself both from the League of Coloured People and from the British Guiana East Indian Association, organizations that did not advocate on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised Guyanese.
Since 1947, Jagan championed the cause of the sugar workers because they were the most oppressed at the time -- without a union, without a party, and without an identifiable leader.
He built his political base among them. It was the sugar worker's heroism, their determination to fight oppression, and their loyalty to Jagan that made him such a great leader.
They gave him courage and energy to carry on, and in return, he gave them life-long service and dedicated leadership.
The sugar workers and their children will never forget 'Doc.'
They will remember the long journey he walked with them. They will remember how he improved their living conditions from 'logie' to high house in the housing schemes. They will remember him for providing them with electricity and running water.
How can they forget the schools, the roads, and the health centres he built? He was their master builder.
He sent their children abroad to become doctors and engineers. He transformed the ordinary into accomplished and astute politicians.
They will remember him as their great teacher. He taught them about their rights, using the cup as their symbol, so that those who could neither read, nor write would be able to vote easily.
He educated them through the print media -- the Mirror and Thunder. Many were enlightened by his regular column, 'Straight Talk.'
Each household in the estate bought a Mirror and Thunder, demonstrating total loyalty to the People's Progressive Party.
The sugar workers taught their children to garland him when he arrived on the estates. The 'mala' became a symbol of endearment and affection. Many grateful sugar workers fell at his feet, Indian-style, but he stopped them from doing so. To them, he was like Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King combined.
They composed songs and poetry about him: 'Doctor Jagan, Cheddi Jagan,/The one and only -- God Save Jagan.' Streets and children are named after him.
Some of the 'upper class' Indians and the Anglicized Africans hated Jagan, and the 'estate coolies' that he represented.
But for 50 years, he never abandoned the sugar workers. He waited and he waited until he became President in October 1992.
The people at Enmore will remember the grand political meetings at 'Mongoose Square.' They will remember the Old Matya where the strikers were fed. They will remember the "Dacta" with strings of colourful 'malas' around his neck. They will remember the man who looked after "their business" in Georgetown.
Jagan may be dead in body, but his teachings, his easy infectious smile, his inspiration, and his spirit will live on in the souls of future generations. They will never forget him.
On Tuesday, March 11, 1997, 11 days before his 79th birthday, he took his last journey along the East Coast Road to his birthplace, Port Mourant, where he was cremated.
On the long road to Port Mourant, he body made the last stop at the Enmore Martyrs' Monument.
As his ashes are returned to Mother Earth to further nurture and nourish Guyana's soil, Guyanese must reflect on his selfless dedication and his life's work, which must be continued.
Guyana and all Guyanese must never forget that the soil they walk on now cradles the remains of a man who dedicated his life to their cause, and who died as he lived, a fighter to the end.
Guyanas World-class Leader Deserves Global Recognition says Washington-based Council On Hemispheric Affairs (COHA)
Guyana's President Cheddi Jagan, who had the political courage to resist the comprehensive free-market reforms so often vended by international lending agencies as the ticket to rapid development, stands in sharp contrast to those Latin American leaders who willingly embraced them as the essential passage to prosperity. Many of these figures arc now being accused of corruption, facing impeachment procedures or being forced to flee into exile. Unlike the tainted records of such major personalities as Vico-President Alberto Dahik of Ecuador, Mexico's ex-Prcsident Carlos Salinas de Gotari or Venezuela's Carlos Andres Perez, Jagan's flawless performance as an authentic democrat selfishly devoted to his country represents a towering ethical achievement for a hemisphere where scores of government officials are being escorted daily to prison cells for embezzling public funds or alleged involvement in drug trafficking.
Jagan deserves to be praised for never dismissing his doubts about plunging head-first into harsh structural reforms as did many of his counterparts, indicating his deeply-felt reservations about whether debt-led growth alone would bring about the intended "trickle down" effect. Amidst a desert of Third World corruption, Jagan deserves to be recognized for what he is: a world-class leader of impeccable integrity who is indisputably motivated by genuine concern for the fate of his fellow citizens, rather than seeking fortuitous blips in popularity polls. Even more so than Brazil's Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jagan has maintained his position as Latin America's most admired political leader and the one most attuned to the suffering of the bulk of his country's inhabitants.
From Jagan's perceptive the "conditions" on which assistance from international donor institutions are predicated severely restricts Guyana's ability to pursue its own vision of development. With the President's main objective being to free the country from its "vicious circle of poverty," he has a healthy skepticism towards structural adjustment policies that in the past have produced superficial economic growth at the expense of widening income disparities and further deteriorations in social welfare standards. Together, lending restrictions and the nation's total indebtedness of more than US$2 billion (which in 1995 accounted for 13% of GDP) understandably have left Jagan with little room to manoeuvre regarding the implementation of preferred development projects, unless he institutes extensive cuts in social spending, something he is loath to do.
Dissatisfaction on the part of international donor agencies regarding the pace at which fiscal and programmatic reforms arc being carried out by local authorities (particularly the privatization of the Guyana Electricity Corporation) led to a stalemate between the government and the IMF, and thus a delay in disbursing the second tranche of the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) that was approved for the government's 1996 economic programme. To some extent, these differences have been resolved, but relations between the Jagan Administration and the IMF are still fragile; the President continues to find financial inflows to be insufficient to meet the country's needs, and also resents the restrictions imposed upon their use. Even Guyana's recent Paris Club victory of a US$500 million write off of its bilateral debt (although making the country more attractive to foreign investors and helping to restore its access to international capital markets), won't bring any immediate cash relief, as Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo has pointed out According to Gabriel Castillo, an economist at the Inter-American Development Bank "Guyana has consistently outperformed other Caribbean Group countries," in terms of its economic indicators.
At the same time, the Jagan Administration, in one of Latin America's poorest nations, "has allocated more (in absolute, real and relative terms) of the government's budget toward social spending on health, education and other social services" than was thought possible, outdoing both the Hoyte and Burnham administrations as well as several in neighbouring countries. In fact current statistics indicate that Guyana is witnessing progress on all fronts: economic, political, social and environmental. The 1996 Caribbean Economic Overview, which was distributed at the recent meeting at the Caribbean Group for Cooperation in Economic Development (CGCED) at the World Bank, reported that between 1992 and 1995, Guyana's real GDP grew by an average of 7% per year and inflation has remained at a level of about 12%. Clearly the IMF is somewhat satisfied (if begrudgingly) with these improvements, or it would not have allowed the disbursement of the second ESAF tranche.
Given mounting pressure from the international financial institutions, it is remarkable that Jagan adamantly refused to abandon his own tenaciously-held agenda for improving general living conditions for the majority of his country's population. The venerable President, incontestably Latin America's only serving true statesman, knows that there are no legitimate short-cuts to speeding up the development process if it is to be sound, and that in order to have constructive long-term effects, any growth strategy must specifically include the targeting of basic needs of the poor. The government now has undertaken the project of reorganizing the country's grossly inefficient Social Impact Amelioration Programme which is supposed to focus on job creation, in order to counter the adverse effects economic adjustment can have on the poor.
Compiled by Julie Dulude, Research Associate at the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs).
Remembering "and in remembering …follow"
by Dr James Rose
(Following is the full text of a speech made on Monday March 22, 1999 at the Umana Yana to mark the death anniversary of the late President Dr Cheddi Jagan).
It is a supreme test of man's character to overcome the trials of adversity and disaster. This Dr. Jagan understood only too well, for his life was a compelling statement of struggle, first as a child; then as a student; as a nationalist; and finally as the esteemed elder statesman. Nation building, we now know, is a never ending series of difficult tasks each seemingly more complex than the one just completed.
In the hostile colonial environment in which the natural progression of his country was first frustrated and subsequently truncate by the Anglo American Alliance, Dr. Jagan endured absolute despair yet he was forever optimistic, prophetically reminding us that 'History and time are on our side.'
There are undoubtedly many things about Dr Jagan that one might choose to dwell on at a moment and occasion such as this. There is firstly the man himself: resolute, committed, honest, and compassionate. Then there is the reflective scholar, forever thinking, analyzing, discussing and writing. There is also the nationalist firebrand, ever championing the cause of the anti -colonial struggle and national liberation. There was, as well, the compassionate internationalist stridently advocating the cause of the dispossessed, the world over.
This article will address the committed nationalist politician and in so doing focus on his consistent preoccupation with national unity. Dr. Jagan truly believed in national unity as the primary means of attaining peace, progress and prosperity and he never stopped searching for ways and means of molding the classes and races into a strong united nation.
On careful reflection it can be said that the political career of Dr. Jagan spanned three distinct periods. Firstly, from the 1940s to 1964, when he was the fearless anti-colonial fire-band, nationalist and liberator. Secondly, the period between 1964 and 1992, when he struggled against the notorious tyranny of the PNC dictatorship. Attempting time and again to mold a truly broad-based opposition against the precursor of all forms of democratic manifestations at home. And finally, the all too brief post-1992 period, when having triumphed over the mindless tyranny of the PNC, he began the process of community healing and national reconstruction.
In each he played a different role which not surprisingly coincided with the different manifestations of the dilemma he and this country were experiencing. Throughout them all, however, he remained the committed and resolute Cheddi Jagan.
Permit me to beam at the beginning. In October 1943 Dr. Jagan returned to his homeland and almost immediately gravitated into local politics. He became increasingly interested in trade union activities and also in the roles and functions of organizations like the League of Coloured Peoples and the British Guiana East Indian Association.
The skeptic has been heard to remark that given his Marxist orientation this was inevitable. Even had this been so, concern here is not so much with the organisational frames of reference but with their constituent membership. For instance, while it is true that Dr Jagan was now located in the city there is still the need to investigate his initial involvement in urban politics. For one thing he was a rural lad; his connections were rural and so one would immediately assume would have been his constituency and his immediate concerns. For another, poverty and disaffection were almost as marked in rural Guyana as they were manifest in the city. Thirdly, given the above even peripheral urban political engagement could have been perceived as an easier entre to anti-colonial politicking than an inner city base.
What is of similar concern and needs to be noted as well was the fact that he seemed always to prefer grounding with multi-ethnic, multi-racial gatherings and organisations. Increasingly it became clear that Dr Jagan was, from the very inception, expressing a clear and definitive preference for multi-ethnic politics. This preference was further borne out when, of all the Indian anti-colonial advocates at the time, he was the only one who did not attempt to expressly explain the inadequacies of the 1944 Franchise Commission Report in solely ethnic/racial terms: this was significant.
Between 1944 and 1947 the refusal of the conservative political elite to concede adult franchise in the wake of the 1939 West Indian Royal Commission Report, especially their insistence on retaining the anti-Indian literacy test, provided every Indian politician with an understandable racial platform. Yet Jagan eschewed this inviting pitfall, concentrating on more germane issues which led to his winning the Central Demerara constituency.
Further in 1946, rather than joining with the East Indian Association and exploiting the aggrieved Indian's case, he chose to form the PAC, a multiethnic organisation dedicated to the formation of a socialist political party. Four years later he might have been forgiven had he opposed, the as yet untried, Forbes Burnham as Chairman of the about to be formed PPP. After all within a certain definition, Ashton Chase's claim was by far a more popular one.
The issue here was the Georgetown constituency. Burnham enjoyed the support of the Georgetown political machine of the time and Jagan was, even then, concentrating on the coalition of the racial forces in the colony Using the leverage produced by this new multi-racial combination, they were able to win adult suffrage and an advanced constitution when the Constitutional Commission visited in l95l. This opened the way for genuinely popular politics in the colony and for the effective actualisation of a mass-based political party. The PPP was such a party and so was successful at the 1953 elections. The lessons ethnic unity had been learnt and Jagan was not ever a forgetful politician.
In spite of this very strong and very influential coalition, the British Government was able to oust the PPP administration from office and install an interim government comprising entirely of nominated members, many of whom were rejected at the 1953 polls. This development was indeed a tremendous blow to Dr. Jagan and the nationalist movement.
In 1955, and again in 1956, Dr Jagan suffered severe setbacks when the nationalist movement fractured twice along lines favoured by the Robertson Commission. He feared the worst and his worst fears were justified These fears prompted Dr. Jagan to become even more devoted to the cause of national unity. The All Party Committee formed in 1956-57 was a case in point. This unlikely coalition was successfully engineered to protest the inadequacies of the Renison Constitution and the prolongation of the state of Emergency in the colony. The 'coalition', eventually failed because Whitehall, as was their fashion, convinced most of the politically ambitious, of whom there were many, that it made better political sense to oppose Dr Jagan than to work with him in pursuance of the and-colonial objective.
The All Party Committee never anticipated contesting the election as a group and so Dr Jagan led the PPP to successive electoral victories in 1957 and again in 1961 and for a time seemed certain to lead the country to political independence. As was his custom he once again seized every opportunity to advocate the cause of national unity. In spite of his efforts the many weaknesses of a fractured nationalist movement were easily exploited creating conditions favourable for a civil war in 1963. At this juncture all seemed lost and Dr Jagan might have been forgiven had he lost faith in ever cementing another effective nationalist coalition. Again exploiting the racial chasm separating the two major ethnic groups in the general elections of December 1964, Dr. Jagan lost power to a coalition of a different kind consisting of the PNC and United Force.
From then on Dr. Jagan, through the connivance of the Anglo-American alliance, languished in the wilderness of the parliamentary opposition for twenty-eight years. Successively he was the victim of perversely controversial elections. But the long years in opposition brought out the inner steel in Dr. Jagan particularly in terms of commitment, resolve and dedication. In spite of tremendous odds, he kept the party together, consolidated its ranks, all the while advocating in one form or the other, cross party unity.
In 1977 he presented concrete proposals for the formation of a National Patriotic Front Government. Mr. Burnham, in spite of what was obvious to most, if not all, was not at peace with the proposal. A few years later and confident that he could count on the enthusiasm and commitment of Dr Jagan, Mr. Burnham imperiously dictated his own brand of political coalition. Unfortunately he died before much could have been made of his proposal.
But Dr Jagan did not lose heart. It was mainly through his efforts that the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (P.C.D.) was formed following the rigged elections of 1985. The PCD included the PPP, Working Peoples Alliance, Democratic Labour Movement, People's Democratic Movement and the National Democratic Front. But if this was a coalition of political parties the Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Guyana was not. This umbrella organisation included among others, the CCWU, UGSA, NAACIE GAWU, and eventually the GPSU. FITUG was a powerful coalition in turns of working class solidarity across ethnic lines and Dr Jagan was enthusiastic of its role/function in the molding a new political culture for Guyana
The militancy and resolve of these organisations, the PCD, FITUG working along with Dr Jagan and others eventually led to significant electoral reforms which paved the way for the eventual restoration of democracy in Guyana. In this, as in so many others, Dr Jagan was absolutely correct. His confidence, commitment and doggedness had at last borne fruit. So too was his belief that in unity the Guyanese people could triumph over any and all adversity.
But even then Dr Jagan did not suspend his abiding fervour for national consensus and so in the early l990s he willingly engaged in dialogue with GUARD, Guyanese Action for Reform and Democracy, leading eventually to the formation of the PPP-CIVIC grouping which took office in 1992.
But even this coalition, successful as it has been, did not completely satisfy Dr Jagan's appetite for national unity and so by 1994 he was again discussing, with patriots and supporters, ways and means of broadening and deepening this coalition. Sadly he died before this latest initiative had borne fruit.
It is a sad but necessary commentary that, with his passing, this nation has been plunged into the abyss of racial suspicion, enthic rancour and civil unrest. Today this nation seems more divided than ever before and ethnic separation has acquired an almost favourable currency.
The critical issue therefore must be the continuing quest for national unity. Certainly if we are convinced that Dr Jagan deserves our adulation, and I am convinced that he does, then certainly we owe it to his memory to redouble our efforts to ensure that national unity enjoys the type of priority he would have preferred.
James G Rose
Cheddi B. Jagan - A Look at one of Guyana's Great Sons
by Ralph Ramkarran
For fifty years Cheddi Jagan, the late President of Guyana, who died on March 6, 1997, two weeks before his 79th birthday, exerted a profound influence on political developments in Guyana. He was elected to the Legislative Council in 1947, where he vigorously exposed the poverty and exploitation existing in British Guiana and the oppressive nature of colonialism.
His activity in the Legislative Council was directed both to the alleviation of suffering and to the establishment of political consciousness among the working people of British Guiana, which would lead to the formation of a mass-based political party to lead the struggle for independence and socialism. In 1946, the year before his historic victory. he had founded along with his wife Mrs. Janet Jagan, Mr. Ashton Chase and the late H.J.M. Hubbard, the Political Affairs Committee (PAC), to prepare the way for the establishment of a political party.
His activity in the Legislative Council articulating for the first time the hopes and aspirations of the Guyanese working man and woman, together with the activities of the PAC, attracted a large enough following of workers. farmers, professionals and business people to establish the People's Progressive Party (PPP) in 1950 with the specific tasks of struggling for the attainment of independence for British Guiana and for the establishment of social justice for all its people.
This event proved to have a lasting impact on the political life of Guyana. It was the first mass-based political party established in British Guiana and had a preponderance of working-class leaders. For the first time independence and socialism were officially placed on the agenda, and British rule condemned as the main cause of poverty.
British Guiana and Cheddi Jagan first attracted international attention in 1953 when the British Government suspended the constitution after he was in office for 133 days, and imprisoned several PPP leaders including Cheddi and Janet Jagan. Elections under universal adult suffrage had been held for the first time and the PPP had won a landslide victory gaining 18 of the 24 seats. The campaign had been fought on the platform of independence and socialism The widespread appeal of the PPP and its message created deep fear and anxiety in the British ruling class, resulting in the overthrow of the lawfully elected Government. The willingness of Cheddi Jagan and his colleagues to confront British colonialism and accept the consequences, including imprisonment established him as a committed and determined leader and catapulted him into world prominence as an anti-colonial fighter.
From that vantage point surviving imprisonment and a split in the PPP in 1955 led by Forbes Burnham, Cheddi Jagan returned to power in 1957 and won elections again in 1961. Independence for British Guiana was now on the agenda having been promised by the British after the 1961 elections which introduced an advanced self-governing constitution.
But the 1960s were at the deep end of the cold war hysteria and the British and US Governments collaborated in engineering the removal of the PPP Government after three consecutive years of ethnic disturbances in 1962,1963 and 1964 resulting in hundreds dead and millions of dollars worth of property destroyed by arson and bombings. This period left a legacy of ethnic distrust between African and Indian Guyanese which is only now being constructively addressed.
Cheddi Jagan was removed from political office in 1964 at the relatively young age of 46 and his long season of opposition lasting for 28 years saw some of his most creative work.
He published "The West on Trial," " which is semi-autobiographical and the most authoritative history of the period between 1945 and 1968 He published several other works and wrote incessantly in local and foreign journals on politics ideology and economics. During this period he established himself as one of the leading spokespersons from the Third World on the causes and elimination of poverty.
He launched an international crusade against imperialism, and for peace, national liberation and social development. His election as a Vice President of the World Peace Council enabled him to make a direct contribution to world peace. He was a fervent supporter of the Non-Aligned Movement and of all national liberation movements.
His international work carried him to most parts of the world and established him as an authoritative spokesperson on issues affecting the Third World.
At the same time his creative political work in Guyana continued. His restless pursuit of unity resulted in several years of collaboration with opposition political parties generally and on specific issues. Major events were the struggle for the freedom of Arnold Rampersaud - a PPP activist on a fraudulent charge of murder between 1975 and 1977, who was acquitted after an unprecedented three trials; and the struggle against the Referendum Bill in 1978 which was designed to postpone the General Elections due in 1978 . These events and others established a high degree of collaboration between the opposition political parties and citizens' groups. This period also saw the development of open and fearless opposition by wide cross sections of the society to the rigging of elections and authoritarian rule These developments led eventually to the formation of the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD) in 1985 by the main opposition political parties after the rigging of elections in that year.
Cheddi Jagan always saw the need for political solution in Guyana which would eliminate the problem of ethnic insecurity and lead to a restoration of democracy. While fighting rigged elections and authoritarian rule, he never lost the opportunity to undertake discussions with the People’s National Congress (PNC) or its leader Prime Minister and later President Forbes Burnham, in which he saw no contradiction since he relied on the principle of unity and struggle. When "critical support" was declared for the PNC by the PPP in 1975, after the PNC had adopted increasingly progressive economic measures and positions on international issues, Dr.Jagan led the PPP in talks with Burnham at the latter’s invitation. However, these talks failed after Burnham demanded the retraction of a critical editorial in the Mirror.
In 1977 the PPP proposed the formation of a National Patriotic Front Government. On the Front would be represented all political parties which agreed to a common programme in the strength proportionate to the votes they received in free and fair elections. The Government would he formed by the same political parties in the same strength, save that the Party gaining the largest percentage of votes would hold the position of Prime Minister, and the second largest party would hold the post of President in a system with an Executive Presidency, with some constraints and safeguards. Dr Jagan always believed that the PPP would gain the largest proportion of votes in free and fair elections, as was demonstrated at the general elections in October 1992, and therefore felt that he was making a major concession to achieve a political solution and .eliminate or reduce ethnic insecurity. The PNC Rejected the proposals.
The national unity displayed in the late 1970s over the struggle against the Referendum Bill, and the national trauma resulting from the rigging of the Referendum in 1978 and the general elections in 1980, together with mounting political opposition and the rapidly deteriorating economic situation. led the PNC in 1985 to suggest talks with the PPP. Cheddi Jagan saw the opportunity once again for advancing his agenda for a political solution with ethnic security, even though he understood the enormous difficulties. However, Burnham died in August 1985 and the incoming President Hoyte discontinued the talks.
The elections of October 1992 saw the disintegration of the PCD alliance over issues relating to the choice of a Presidential Candidate and the list of candidates for Parliament. Dr. Jagan then captured the mood of national unity and formed an alliance with the Civic personalities, several of whom had been supporting the recently established GUARD Movement, of which the Chairman was the now President Hinds.
Cheddi Jagan’s tenure as President was characterized by hope, expectation and confidence in the future. Guyana’s economy showed consistent substantial growth, and social conditions improved dramatically, particularly in infrastructure development, employment creation, housing, education, expansion of pure water supply and local democracy. Cheddi Jagan was a tireless organizer and innovator of these developments.
His proposal for a New Global Human Order, which is attracting wide support, confirmed his standing as a statesman of profound intellect and international stature. Indeed, his life’s work had already earned him a level of respect and prestige which was accorded to few Third World leaders.
Cheddi Jagan influenced the political life of Guyana for fifty years, and in so doing, established standards of personal conduct, ideals, and principles which will guide Guyana’s destiny far into the next century.
His life was marked by controversy mainly because he was a pioneer, and the ideas he propounded and the course he charted were innovative. Frequently, he advanced ideas long before they obtained general acceptance. Hence, he developed a reputation, justly deserved, as a controversial fighter.
His contributions to Guyana as a political leader, Chief Minister, Premier, Opposition Leader and President are profound and multi-dimensional. As Guyana’s first working-class political leader, he saw before anyone else the fundamental necessity for political unity. Hence, his most important legacy, the PPP, started as a movement of the united working-class allied to farmers and professionals and business people. Unfortunately, the political unity established in 1950 with the formation of the PPP was destroyed in 1955, but Cheddi Jagan’s political career after that was marked by continuous and painstaking efforts to recapture the unity of 1950-1953. These efforts, about which he spoke shortly before his death, and his lifelong dedication to the elimination of poverty and exploitation, established him as a widely admired and respected leader even among those who did not support his other policies. The outpouring of sorrow and sympathy during the largest funeral in Guyana’s history were the most poignant tribute to his memory.