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Articles by Janet Jagan 1964-1997

The Army Take-over in the Guyana Elections - 1973

by Janet Jagan

When we put together all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, we see emerging the whole plot concocted by the PNC. Desperate to hold on to power, which has become most sweet due to the massive sums of money that have poured into the pockets of the favoured, and aware of dwindling support from one end of the country to the other, the hierarchy of the PNC planned their so-called "break-through' info the areas of PPP support.

The first stage of the "breakthrough'' was propaganda. The NEW NATION and the DAILY CHRONICLE and the Ministry of Information began the propaganda campaign that the PPP was "weakening" and the PNC was "growing stronger.'' We saw endless pictures of the Prime Minister surrounded by smiling faces, mainly Indo-Guyanese we were treated with long statements from renegades of the PPP as to the greatness of the PNC.

The brainwashing had begun, and it continued at a hot pace for many months before elections. If one followed these reports, there was only one conclusion to arrive at - that the PPP was dead, Dr Jagan was a leader without a following and all the world loved the Prime Minister.

Riding high on their own puffed-up propaganda, the PNC announced elections for July 16. To counter the grave exposures that the PNC had faced abroad in the 1968 elections, when it was made clear that the overseas voters lists had been padded and the proxy vote had been grossly misused, the PNC pretended that it "bowed to public pressure'' and in a clean-up campaign knocked off half of the overseas votes and limited the proxy to what appeared to be reasonable conditions for application. But it threw into, the picture; one might say sideways, the postal vote - no doubt just for good measure if there was any slippage in its other plans.

And it counted heavily on the fact that the PPP has always been a party of principle, and if it says one thing, it does not renege on its promises. Knowing that full well, it introduced a bill for the vote at 18 years, a change the PPP had been advocating for long.

But it had not calculated that the experience of the PPP in the national registration in April had been so revealing as to make the Party ultra conscious of the plans afoot. In the April National Registration, the arrangements were so deliberately bad and the majority of the people had such immense problems in getting registered that it was clear that the plan was to keep thousands off the voters' lists. Thousands and thousands of young people could not get registered. So when, the PNC, which had opposed the vote at 18 years all the time came out with its proposals, one did not need to be a fortune teller to know what it was about. And the combined votes of the PPP and the UF blocked it.


The loss of the opportunity to pad the lists with real and phony 18 - 2 1 year olds at the expense of the PPP disfranchised &d youths caused the PNC to move on to new methods of rigging.

The period of revision of the voters’ lists brought out numerous irregularities: Registered voters were not allowed to record their changes of address and their names were struck off the lists where they formerly resided. Fictitious names were added, dead names remained on the lists and the lists expanded at such a fantastic rate, that it showed

a 24.5 per cent increase over the 1968 lists, an impossibility unless our growth rate is the highest in all the world or (that we have heavy immigration. As we all know, our growth rate is about 2.5 per cent and we have large numbers leaving the country, not entering it;

All during this period the PPP was learning some vital facts. In its house-to-house work, both in urban and rural areas, a very decided change was noticed. The most apparent was that in Georgetown in particular, people weren't talking too much, but they said they were not voting.

This message came over hard and true. It was not difficult to know the reason why. Increasing poverty in the face of false promises had brought about frustration so intense that the response to elections was a stubborn - "You go ahead and do what you want. I'm not voting". We got the information early; but of course the PNC knew it for long, but perhaps thought they could melt the ice of frustration and discontent that had settled on its former strong support.


At the same time, as the PPP went out on its campaigning, it noticed a new urgency in the attitude of its supporters, a quickening of interest and an intensity of hope based on frustrations and disgust which had been growing under PNC misrule. But what was outstanding was the pace at which interest grew and the broadening of PPP support in the few weeks of the election campaign.

The response the PPP was receiving could not possibly go unnoticed. It was there for everyone to see - the police covering meetings, the news gatherers reporting to the PNC, the embassies, the security police, the officials, etc.

In the face of this, the rigging moved a stage forward. The postal vote was not going well, and PNC henchmen all through the county were given assignments on the number of postal vote applications to hand in. One well-known PNC stooge in the Berbice area was given the assignment of getting 5000 such votes. He used all the tricks in has bag, but could not obtain more than a handful of signatures on costal vote applications, so he and his buddies sat up the whole night forging names from the list's on to the application forms. We estimate that of the 23.000 postal vote applications claimed by the Elections

Office, not more than 1,000 were genuine. The proof of this came on Elections Day when thousands of voters all over Guyana were denied the right to vote when they went to polling stations. What is even more telling is that the PNC got 99.9 per cent of all postal voters.

As things began to look very bad for the PNC, it then moved back to the Proxy Votes, dropping all semblance of sticking to the rules. It started collecting Proxy Votes from anyone, and began again using intimidation. The proxies were collected up to and including voting day although the period for the submission of proxy applications ended on July 6. Again, the list of proxy voters had been kept a deep dark secret and the regulations, as in the case of the postal votes, too, were disregarded. Only Supreme Court action brought out a late and restricted list of postal voters, impossible to properly examine. This, of course, was what it wanted, particularly when there were names of dead and non-existent persons and real voters who never signed applications, on the lists. The PNC, of course, made no provision for persons to object to their names being on the postal voters lists – no way for a person declaring he did not sign a postal vote to get his vote back.


As the election campaigning began to show a clearly new pattern, the PNC became desperate. It could be seen that the PPP had grown as the one hope of Guyana, drawing huge crowds in all areas. PNC meetings were flops, not only in PPP strongholds, but also in PNC strongholds, like the urban areas. Every method was used to wreck the PPP - Stones and bottles were thrown at speakers, meetings were systematically broken up: PPP speakers were prevented from travelling. Dr. Jagan's flight to Rupununi was called off to prevent his going there. Mr. Ramkarran's flight to Bartica was cancelled when Mr. Burnham decided to go there at the same time. Then began the arrests of PPP candidates and activists, moving up to more than 130 before July 16th.

The 42 Enmore activists were kept in prison without bail for three weeks, then released and all charges dropped. What an offence against the system of justice! It has become a mockery. They were kept in prison to hold up the PPP's election Work.

As election day grew closer, it was apparent where the "swing"' was. The PNC could not win. This was known so widely that well known PNC stooges began hanging around the PPP, hoping to be close to the winning side. The PPP said publicly that with all the rigging, with the PNC taking all the postal, proxy and overseas votes - with the lists padded with fictitious names, with all the tricks in the game that the PNC had concocted the PPP could win once the ballot boxes were not interfered with.

And it was for this reason that the PPP leadership advised the people NOT to allow ballot boxes to be removed without a polling agent accompanying the boxes, to see that they were not tampered with.

The PPP along with 'the other opposition parties had been holding meetings with the Elections Commission, demanding that the security of the ballot box be ensured and that the Elections Commission use its powers under the Constitution to guarantee this.


The Opposition Parties put up two major demands - that there be adequate sealing of the boxes to the approval of the parties and that polling agents from the parties be allowed to accompany the ballot boxes from place of poll to place of count. This then became the major issue.

The Elections Commission, refusing to issue any instructions, instead went to the Minister of Home Affairs, himself a candidate in the elections, to present these demands. Of course he refused, the excuse been given that there would not be space in the vehicles.

The three opposition parties then came to an agreement that one polling agent, to accompany the ballot boxes representing the three parties, would be satisfactory.

Finally, a few days before elections, the Chief Election Officer met with the PPP Election Agent and agreement was reached on two major points - that one polling agent, representative of the three parties, would accompany ballot boxes from place of poll to the District Office and there the Counting Agent and the Candidate of each party would accompany the ballot boxes to the Counting Place. And agreement was made on the method of seals, which would include tapes around the boxes and sealed at various points.

Then the bobbing and weaving began. The Chief Elections Officer later denied that he made this agreement. Then he later agreed. On the morning of Election Day, in discussions with Dr. Jagan, in the presence of the Minister of Home Affairs, Barrister-at-law Doodnauth Singh and others, the Chief Elections Officer said that he had already issued instructions to his Returning Officers that one polling agent from each party would be allowed to accompany the ballot boxes. Dr. Jagan asked him to make this more clear by radio and press announcements. Mr. Butler said he would consider this.

It is at this point we can see really what was happening and at what point the PNC became so desperate. While negotiations were going on about the security of the ballot box, it had been understood that counting would take place as in 1968, in the three counties of Guyana.


Suddenly, on the 14th of July, in an Official Gazette which as usual was not properly circulated, came the announcement that all counting would take place in Georgetown in three places - Queen's College, North Georgetown Secondary School and the government Technical Institute - all in Thomas Lands. We now know why - so that the ballot boxes could be impounded at army Headquarters.

On July 16, we could see the visible evidence of what the PPP had anticipated. In Georgetown, the polls were empty, all during the day, very few voters could be seen. In the rural areas, long lines of people could be seen wailing to cast their votes.

Anger stared rising as persons on presenting themselves to vote were told they had already voted. Already, by 8:30 a. m., impostors had cast votes, preventing legitimate voters from voting and during the day the over 20,000 postal vote forgeries came to light as thousands sought to vote and were denied their right. There was no redress.

The situation was desperate for the PNC. How, with such a poor showing in the city, could they produce a victory from the countryside? By 4 p.m. the Chief Elections Officer, instead of making arrangements for the security of the ballot box, made arrangement for untold numbers, whose names were not on the voters lists, to go and vote.

In some stations where there were barely any votes cast during the day, from 4 p.m. and on past 6 p.m., in some cases up to 8. I 5 p.m. NEW VOTERS came in to vote. But who were the new voters? They were young people, under 21 years, as well as people who had already voted and others grabbed up at the last minute to impersonate because the real city voters refused to turn out – even after loud speakers were sent through the city exhorting them to come out - a violation of the elections regulations, but of course, no one was charged.

But new developments started to take place. As 6 p.m. and as closing time at the poll's set in, all over Guyana, opposition party polling agents were thrust out of the polling stations, many at gun point. Ballot boxes were not even sealed in some areas and in most, polling agents could neither witness nor participate in the sealing. Massive army and police manoeuvres began and ballot boxes were spirited away.

Incidents look place when the people, fully conscious of what was taking place, aware that if the ballots were counted as they were put in the boxes, the PPP would win, tried to make sure that polling agents accompanied the boxes.

Two young men were shot dead at No. 64 Village when the Polling Agent insisted on going into the jeep with the ballot boxes. But the orders from the top were that no one could follow the boxes, not even vehicles at a distance.

The reason for this about-face is clear. If the ballot boxes were watched, they could not be tampered with. If they could not be tampered with, the PNC could not win the election.


One former PNC member said that the PNC would have trouble managing the rigging because of its incompetence. These wise words were quite true. The PNC had difficulties. They cordoned off the whole of Thomas Lands and corned in most of the ballot boxes to the Guyana Defence Force Compound. But they took too long to do the dirty job. The boxes could not move out of the GDF area because of gross confusion. The first district count did not come out until some ten hours after polling closed. The Work-en-Rust results did not come out until the small hours of Tuesday morning and it revealed that the turnout of voters had dropped considerably and that, in fact, the PNC vote had dropped. From then on it was one postponement after another. Some ballot boxes, like that of Houston, (the furthest point only 7 miles from the city,) did not show up for 26 hours; yet 8 of its boxes found their way to the Counting Place on Monday evening; the other 18 took 25 hours to reach.

The results of the ballot box tampering were fantastic and beyond all reason. As the CATHOLIC STANDARD said they put "a severe strain on one's credibility. No one seriously believes it.'' The count remained low in the Greater Georgetown area. In the 8 districts of Greater Georgetown the PNC vote went down in four districts and the turn-out of voters was the lowest, as a whole, in Guyana. Yet in Rupununi, Northwest District and Mazaruni-Potaro, the voting turnout was above 90 per cent - In the Northwest 93.4 per cent and in the Mazaruni-Potaro - 98.6 per cent. How ridiculous! In Georgetown a voter has to walk not "more than three blocks - in the interior he may have to travel anywhere between 10 to 100 miles to a voting station.

The PNC gives as its excuse for the low turnout in the city as 'over confidence'. What rubbish! And for its low turnout at its so-called victory meeting, its excuse is that its supporters were tired!

What is significant is that in most polling stations in the remote areas, polling agents from the three opposition parties were prevented from entering polling stations. There was no possibility of checks. However, at two Bartica stations, the Bartica Community Centre and the Bartica Secondary School, which were checked, the percentage turnout was low -only 70 per cent. But the official figure of turnout for the district was 98.6 per cent. Who would believe that in Bartica where voting was easy only 70 per cent turned out, but in other areas where distances are difficult, over 98 per cent turned out?

… When the counting was taking place, the number of cases of missing keys for ballot box padlocks is now legend. The number of boxes that had to be forced open because the bunglers either lost the keys or misplaced them is public knowledge. Those who tampered with the boxes in the GDF Compound made such a mess, that their "monkey business" became public property. In the Northwest District, the counting revealed 21 wads of ballot papers which fell out of four boxes which had to be smashed open. The ballots were tied together by rubber bands or paper clips!

When the Mazaruni-Potaro district was counted there were numerous ballots folded once, not twice, and which contained, folded inside, other ballots. There were many cases of the number of ballots cases not tallying with the number of ballots counted - a natural outcome of the haste involved in the tampering of so many ballot boxes.


…The so-called "breakthrough" by the PNC was nothing more than the wholesale theft of the people's votes, an act so monstrous that, it has brought an end to the whole parliamentary process at this stage. The masses of Guyanese are so thoroughly fed up with the barefaced acts of using the army to take over the ballot boxes that a wave of anger never before seen in Guyana is sweeping the land. And this anger is not limited to the supporters of the PPP - it is widely based and is growing.

The 1973 elections will go down in our history books as the biggest crime against the people, the last straw which brought about a new stage in the struggle of all the people of Guyana against tyranny, against corrupt and oppressive government.

It may, in the long run, be a useful development, that the PNC overstepped itself in its greed to hold power. If it had not been so barefaced, so public, so dirty, it would not have aroused the anger and opposition that will bring about its own demise.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009


National Service – An act of Coercion

by Janet Jagan

 The issue of compulsory National Service, which has become the most controversial subject in Guyana, began on October 17, 1973 when L.F.S. Burnham delivered on address at the official opening of the Faculty of Education Building at the University of Guyana campus. He said:

"I think that a young man or a young woman, in these times, should be exposed before entering an institution of higher learning, especially if the State pays for that learning, to the society and give service to that society.

If I have my way, and subject to the approval of Parliament, aspirants for a degree at the local university would be required to enter into a period of national service after leaving school.

It seems to me that our young people leaving the secondary institutions should be exposed to at least 12 to 14 months of national service so they could understand how the farmer thinks, so they could enjoy the beauties of Guyana."

He warned that although the present session at the University of Guyana had already begun, those students would only "temporarily escape" the new policy.

Soon after these utterances, opposition groups began lodging their protests. The People’s Progressive Party charged the PNC regime with moving to stifle higher education in the country and condemned the proposed national service as a "political weapon to hatchet militants from the academic mainstream and preventing them from reaching the University."

"Twelve to eighteen months of national service" stated the PPP "can only be regarded with grave suspicion. There are strong possibilities that they may be used as means of restricting enrolment and eliminating from future student bodies those who refuse to toe the PNC line. In a country that has abandoned democratic election, such a move can only be regarded as repressive and smacking of further discrimination."

At the PPP press conference on October 20, it was stated that a strong anti-government feeling was developing at the University of Guyana. This trend, it was noted could be one of the many reasons for the extension of national service to cover admission to the University of Guyana.

The Mirror newspaper, in its editorial of October 21, challenged the reason put forward by Burnham that compulsory national service would be introduced in order that prospective students would become acquainted with the problems of Guyana. "We believe" said the editorial., " that the majority of students applying for admittance to the University of Guyana have a fair idea of the problems of life in Guyana. Most of them come from poor families and a great number of UG students have to work for a living."

"The sons and daughters of well –to-do-parents on the whole, who seek university education, go abroad. We are certain, that a census of the economic position of UG students will reveal that the majority ore all too familiar with the economic problems of Guyana. So what will they learn by taking them out in the bush and having them do free labour for the bankrupt government which should be employing unskilled workers for such tasks."

"What we do believe is likely is that the PNC regime is looking for new methods of restricting admission to the University of Guyana. It fears the growth of anti-government feeling at the University, which is inevitable under existing conditions. Behind the threat of a 12-18 months period of compulsory national service for UG students is greater danger to entrance restriction which could lead to even greater discrimination than that which exists in Guyana."

"That this important matter will be decided by parliament is a comical as it is tragic. That that self-imposed group calling itself the parliament will decide on such an important issue exposes once again that Guyana is living under a minority government that cannot claim to have derived its position from the support of the people."

The Liberator Party, which won two seats in the July 16, 1973 elections, attacked the Prime Minister’s proposals as a waste of manpower. "In a country such as ours," stated the Liberator Party, "where more than 1000,000 are unemployed; where the majority of the unemployed are unskilled, and where 60% of the population is under 21, such compulsory national service is a waste of man-power. If, as the Prime Minister says, ‘we are a poor country in a hurry,’ why add 18 months to the 5-year period now required merely to get a basic B.A. or B.Sc. degree?"

Then in November 1973, Mr. Burnham, as leader of the People’s Congress (PNC), at his party’s congress at Queen’s College, announced that National Service would include, as well, a voluntary young brigade embracing primary school children between the ages of 8 and 14. A second category, he announced would include a national Cadet Corps of trainees from 14 to 18 and a young workers corps for young people leaving primary school. A further category would include a National Pioneer Corps for school leavers at secondary school level seeking employment and for the unemployed. He re-iterated that national service would be compulsory for prospective entrants to the University of Guyana and that civil servants would have to go through a period of National Service in order to retain their jobs.

"In time," he told the PNC Congress, "there would be no question of obtaining employment in Guyana without having first gone through National Service training."

Three months after Burnham made his first announcement about National Service, the subject came up for discussion in the National Assembly on January 9, 1974. During the one day ‘debate’ (there is no real opposition in parliament following the boycott by the PPP) thousands of placard carrying demonstrators voiced their protests outside parliament buildings, chanting "No National Service." The demonstrations with some 13 political, cultural, trade union and farmer’s organizations participating, made clear the people’s feelings about National Service. Those joining the demonstrations included the PPP, ASCRIA, People’s Democratic Movement, Guyana Council of Indian Organizations, the Liberator Party, Civil Liberties Action Council, Movement Against Oppression, Rice Producers’ Association, Guyana Agricultural Workers’ Union, Progressive Youth Organization, the United Sad’r Islamic Anjuman, the Guyana Public Service Workers’ Union, the Mahatma Gandhi Organization and the Women’s Progressive Organization.

During the course of his presentation of the State Paper on National Service, the Prime Minister uttered his usual clichés about "removing the last vestiges of colonialism," "new type colonialism," "ownership and control of natural resources" and even used history to try to justify the imposition of national service without the consent of the majority.

In the State Paper presented to the National Assembly it was ironic to find the government talking about equal opportunities when the nation is wrecked and in agony over the widespread discrimination and favouritism that exists. "Our cooperative socialist philosophy" notes the State Paper "requires that all Guyanese should be given equal opportunities, and that the general system should be so designed as to ensure that this is so. In particular, economic power should be wielded not by a small group of individuals for their own limited purposes, but by or on behalf on the people for the good of all." This demagogic language was reminiscent of the phoney slogans that have poured out from the Government Information Services of "cooperative socialism", "making the small man a real man" and "feeding, housing and clothing the nation by 1976".

During the course of his address on National Service, Mr. Burnham said that Cuba has such a national service scheme "where it mobilizes all Cubans". He failed to note that Cuba has a revolutionary government fully backed by the people, not a minority government, which usurped power by fraud and has failed to get people’s support or consent.

On this point, the PPP in a press statement on January 12, 1974 said: "The Cuban government, unlike the PNC regime, serves the people and not the foreign and local capitalists and ruling political elite. Because of this, overwhelming support is forthcoming. The PPP denounces the PNC’s cynical attempt to bamboozle the people by this reference to the Cuban national mobilization, and to compare it with its own phoney National Service plans. There were no ‘1000 Cubans in Guyana’ when the PNC leader tried some 14 years ago to whip up hysteria against the PPP government: they were all in Cuba, helping the government to build socialism in that island. The Cuban people are working for themselves, and not, as in Guyana, being exhorted to use their labour power to line the pockets of the PNC millionaires and to create a new propertied class."

The PPP referred to Burnham’s remarks that, apart from the basic freedoms of speech and association, very important was the freedom to work. "Every person", he said "has the right to work, a duty to work".

"But", said the PPP " how could one possibly speak of a right and a duty to work if that person is not fitted by training to work?" The PPP asks, "Where are the jobs? And whose fault is it that after nine years of PNC rule, and six years of absolute political power, the people are not qualified?" About 30% of the labour force is unemployed. Among youths, the situation is worse.

"The PNC has failed to build factories, to provide jobs. They talk about agriculture. But agriculture today is in a parlous state because of the policies of the PNC. Consequently urban consumers suffer from shortages and high prices and there is a rural-urban trek of about 25,000 persons a year.

"Thousands of farmers cannot get a plot of land on the coast. They talk about the hinterland because they have failed to drain and irrigate coastal lands. And in the interior, they have neglected the Amerindians; the few settlements they have established lie in ruins….

"The fact is primary schools are understaffed, ill-equipped and overcrowded. There are no places for over 40,000 children. The PNC regime has admitted that three-quarters of primary school leavers are unable to read properly. There are not enough places in technical institutes, the Agricultural College and the University of Guyana. And there is a brain drain – trained personnel are leaving. This because of firstly, political and racial discrimination; secondly, corruption, squander mania, nepotism and favouritism."

A petition signed by the Civil Liberties Action Council, the People’s Progressive Party, the Liberator Party, the People’s Democratic Movement, the United Sad’r Islamic Anjuman, the Mahatma Gandhi Organisation, the Movement Against Oppression, the Guyana Rice Producers’ Association and the Guyana Public Service Workers’ Union which was presented to the Government pointed out the unconstitutionality of National Service. The petition declared that it violates Article 6 (3) (d) which states that no person shall be required to perform forced labour except under very special circumstances.

The petition also denounced the coercive elements of National Service, which makes it obligatory for those wishing to enter the University of Guyana to give national service, "It is therefore a coercion, a method of obtaining his labour by force in order to enjoy a right – the right to the fullest use of the facilities provides by the state to which he has paid taxes."

"It is a device by the PNC regime which ultimately will deprive all of their rights – the right to freedom of movement, the right to dissent, the right to freedom of assembly, etc. – on various pretexts. We therefore call on the citizens of Guyana to resist the introduction of this measure by all means at their disposal."

While massive demonstrations were going on around the Public Buildings when the State Paper on National Service was presented to the National Assembly, there were two days of demonstrations in Anna Regina, Essequibo, on the islands of Leguan and Wakenaam, and Canals Polder, Vreed-en-Hoop, Blairmont, New Amsterdam and in the Courentyne. Throughout the country areas, there was a successful two-day boycott of the schools.

Thousand of posters were put up all over Guyana – "NO NATIONAL SERVICE. DOWN WITH FORCED LABOUR."

Other organisations, too, expressed their abhorrence of the scheme. The University of Guyana Students’ Society condemned National Service as a new form of slavery. In its official publication, "The Student", the society attacked National Service as a violation of the rights of the citizens of Guyana and asked, "Why should it be a criteria for admission to the UG?"

The group of the Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO) at the University of Guyana added new points to the arguments against National Service. It referred to the State Paper’s promise to train farmers, calling this "barefaced hypocrisy". "In 1966 when our rice farmers came to Georgetown to ask for increased prices, in order to take care of the needs of their children, the PNC regime let loose police dogs on them. Could this same regime which showed such hatred to our farmers be so genuinely interested in training young farmers in National Service?" the youth group asked.

The PNC regime was reminded of the use of force to uproot farmers and others who had squatted on lands owned by foreign capital. It also charged the PNC regime with discrimination by not requiring overseas voters to undertake a period of national service. The UG, PYO group made reference to the promise that national service would be used to develop the interior and pointed to the gross neglect of the Amerindian population and the refusal to give them titles to their lands.

In the face of such widespread and strong disapproval of the scheme the PNC regime backed down temporarily on the issue of compulsory national service, indicating that the main branch, the Pioneer Corps, is intended to be compulsory but in the initial stages it will be voluntary.

How National Service will be constituted

a) The Young Brigade: children between 8 and 14 within primary schools. National Service on weekends and holidays.

b) The National Cadets Corps: Voluntary service as under (a) above but for children 12 to 18 years of age, in post-primary educational institutions (secondary, technical, apprenticeship and productivity).

c) The New Opportunity Corps: For Guyanese up to the age of 16 in reform schools.

d) Pioneer Corps: A 1-year period of training with the Guyana Defence Force for all between ages of 18 and 25. Compulsory, but voluntary in initial stages.

e) The Special Service Corps: For professionals and skilled Guyanese for periods up to 8 weeks every 5 years.

A number of reasons have been expressed for opposition to the National Service Scheme and these can be summarised as follows:

1. No consensus – the PNC regime got into power without the consent of the people – rigged elections and military takeover of the ballot boxes; the majority of Guyanese do not agree to National Service.

2. No real need for National Service – no emergency; no threat to the nation; no need to mobilize the people to fight an enemy or resist invasion.

3. The skills, training, "on-the-job learning" the "new values", which the State Paper on National Service gives as reasons for its introduction could be easily achieved through out school system – by adding technical training to primary and secondary schools and expanding the technical schools. Teachers could be trained and oriented to teach students through teachers training, if that is what they want. This method is more efficient and inexpensive.

4. If it is intended to break open the interior, develop the hinterland, this can be achieved better by:

a) Giving employment to the large corps of unemployed; giving them jobs and restoring their self-confidence. They could be employed through the public works department.

b) Taking prisoners to the interior. Conditions would be healthier for prisoners and at the same time they could be rehabilitated and make a positive contribution to the economy.

c) Employ Amerindians who have the greatest difficulty in obtaining employment.

5. The costs will be prohibitive. The country cannot afford such expenditure, besides there will be corruption, massive waste and "jobs for the boys". The basic needs of the nation are left unsolved while money is wasted on these projects.

6. The whole scheme is intended to be used as a coercive weapon against the anti-government forces. National Service was originally suggested as a means of restricting entry of students to the UG – mainly to cut off growing support for the PPP. It will also be used as another means of controlling job distribution, as done now with jobs going to PNC cardholders.

From all facts of the National Service Scheme, it seems certain that this is one more step in the direction of the creation of a fascist, one-party state by the PNC regime. The people’s rights are being violated one by one.

The People’s Progressive Party has called on the Guyanese people to rally together to resist and continue its firm opposition to this latest threat.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009


Women In the struggle

by Janet Jagan

(Text of an, address given by Janet Jagan at the Seminar on women called by the Caribbean Council of Churches and held in Barbados in September, 1975).

To begin with, we are, with the exception of Cuba, part of what is called the Third World, the poorest nations of the world. Poverty is one of the overwhelming factors that confront our people of the Caribbean It is also one of the main factors which affect the lives of the women and children of this area and which basically concerns us in our discussions here on the status of women.

I am supposed to discuss where we are in the Caribbean from the political standpoint, but politics concerns all aspects of life and thus I may have to intrude on some of' the topics assigned to other members of this panel.

Poverty means unemployment and we know that unemployment is high in the Caribbean. In Guyana, unemployment appears to be over 25%. It is so high that the government's statistical bureau will not release figures on it. A GISRA Survey showed that 1/3 of all youths are unemployed and 1/3 underemployed. Once unemployment is high, women face fewer opportunities for jobs, women face greater job discriminations and women end up at the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

In the Guyana Annual Report of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security for 1971, in an analysis of given occupational divisions, it shows women account for only 15.7% of the distribution of jobs Yet women make up approximately 50% of the population. Certainly, that is not a fair or reasonable percentage and indicates no real advancement for women.

The 3rd Latin American Seminar held in Lima, Peru this year convened by the Women’s International Democratic Federation and held under the auspices of UNESCO, discussed the fundamental aspects of the elimination of discrimination against women in the field of education, technical and vocational training and access to various professions and occupations.

Among its decisions were these:

1)That 1975 should be a year of action to make governments adapt measures to enable women to exercise their rights in full.

2)That in those countries where radical changes have not yet taken place, women must take part in their people’s struggle to bring about such changes.

3)That laws discriminating against women must be revised, amended or repealed, that existing discriminations in the professions and occupations can only be eliminated through radical changes in the socio-economic structures.

These and many other decisions of the Conference are fundamental to our discussions on where we are in the Caribbean with particular reference to the position of women, particularly during 1975, International Women’s Year.

Can women in the Caribbean really enjoy equality, the full right to education, to jobs that are not just menial and reserved for women – like nursing, domestic service, secretarial, agricultural labourers, waitresses, etc. unless there are radical changes in the socio-economic structure?

There is only one Caribbean country that has achieved this radical change, Cuba, which has fully embraced a different economic pattern and way of life know as socialism. Cuban women are the only fully emancipated women in the Caribbean and for that matter in our whole hemisphere. They enjoy full educational opportunities with men, there is no unemployment to push them into the lowest paid and least desirable jobs. There is no poverty to deprive them of the joy of seeing their children grow and develop without all the heart-breaking agonies of malnutrition and diseases. And prostitution, which cynics and chauvinists claim is the oldest profession of women, has been totally eliminated.

What do we find in the rest of the Caribbean where Heads of Governments give lip service to progressive economic developments, radical changes and even women’s equality?

I’ll speak about Guyana which I know better, but I am sure many of my references apply to the other areas of the Caribbean. The impression which is being given, the public image, is that because of few women enjoy status as Ministers, Members of Parliament and are in some top posts, Guyanese women enjoy equality. This is, of course, superficial. We must look deeper. The government, too, has proclaimed its acceptance of the principle of equal pay for equal work.

But what is the reality? A government appointed Tribunal to examine claims of workers in the sugar industry for better pay conditions, just a few weeks ago made awards. These include one that goes entirely against the concept of equal pay for equal work. The award of the Crane Tribunal concerns weekly pay when work is not available (sugar is a seasonal industry). If a worker works 90% of the days available for three consecutive crops, the entitlement is $25.00 per week for men and $20.00 for women. And if he or she works 75% of the days available the entitlement is $20.00 per week for men and $15.00 for women.

And this arises from a government appointed Tribunal and is accepted by the Ministry of Labour. And incidentally, the same Ministry of Labour sponsors a woman’s body known as the Council on the Affairs of Women (CASWIG) which is supposed to look into the rights of women!

Take a brief look at maternity benefits set up under the Guyana National Insurance Scheme. A woman worker has to work for twenty weeks prior to confinement before she is entitled to free maternity leave. But employers dismiss women workers as soon as they see signs of pregnancy. In the sugar industry they are dismissed from work in the 3rd month and are thus not entitled to any maternity benefits, even though they are contributors to the National Insurance Scheme.

I took part in some official discussions on this subject in the Labour Code Commission. The representatives of the employers explained that they removed the women from work for their own protection. I had to remind them that they did so, not out of concern for the health of the women, but more for the profit motive- that they feel they couldn’t get as much work out of women in a state of pregnancy.

Father Campbell Johnson recently reported that in a GISRA Survey carried out five years ago, 25% of the girls interviewed had been subjected to immoral pressures. These pressures he said, all hinged on corrupt employment practices and girls seeking employment are confronted with sexual demands by employers. In a forthright statement, he said: "This is International Women’s Year. Will it produce anything more than parades, speeches and rallies? There has been talk of removing from the statute books all laws and ordinances discriminating against women. This is a praiseworthy undertaking. But would it not be more praiseworthy to remove from real life a highly discriminatory practice against women which abuses and exploits their womanhood?"

Frequently, we see in advertisements in Guyana newspapers ads for jobs for women to "sleep in". I was horrified one day to see an ad in a paper I edit, inviting country women to apply for work at a notorious night club, as waitresses to sleep in. It was, of course, immediately removed. But this is a method of enticing girls, badly in need of jobs, to the city where they are trapped into prostitution. Incidentally, prostitution is growing enormously in Guyana, and I am sure in the other Caribbean countries. Socialist Cuba, I repeat, has totally wiped out what was once, the highest prostitution rate in the Caribbean. And, in fact, prostitution does not exist in any of the socialist nations.

The laws of Guyana provide for a minimum wage for shop clerks. Bur because of job hunger, employers exploit the situation and force women workers to sign for the receipt of pay lower than the legal minimum, if they want to keep their jobs. But even though this has been brought to the attention of the Labour Ministry, it still exists.

Crime is to a great extent, a result of poverty and crime has risen so drastically that women cannot, with safety, move about as they wish. One journalist, calling on the police to protect Guyana’s women, noted that there are 21 cases of rape before the June sessions of the High Court in Demerara. He noted too, that rape in the socialist countries is almost unknown. He called on the government to try rape cases in Chambers, with the public excluded. Only recently in the USA there was the case of Joan Little, a Black woman who had been raped by a White attendant, whom she killed in self defence. All the horrible details of the sex offence were publicized and the defendant was made to describe in minute details all that took place. What a terrible offence to her womanhood!

The Guyana Government, in the 60’s, following an election promise, set up a Committee to look into the conditions of domestic workers. The report, known as the Campbell Report, made sound recommendations on several matters including minimum pay and maximum hours of work for domestics, who are a most exploited group, some working for as low as $25.00 per month. Despite frequent calls for the implementation of this Report, it still remains pigeon-holed. The only conclusion we can come to is that those who pay lip service to changes, and in Guyana they are talking about socialism, don’t want to make any changes which will upset the privileged positions of those who employ domestics.

In the 40’s and 50’s we fought for and won the right to universal adult suffrage. Before it was introduced, following mass protests including thousands of women, very few women had the right to vote. The vote then had been based on property and income qualifications which only a very few privileged women could meet. Now, although the right to vote has been won, it has, in practice, been denied.

At the last elections held in Guyana in 1973, by the use of fraud and force, men and women were denied the right to elect the government of their choice. I met hundreds of women who told me that after waiting in line to vote, they were informed that they had already voted. This was done by a fraudulent system of wide scale forgery of proxy and so called postal votes. But even those who voted did ,not have their votes recorded, when the government interfered with the ballot boxes which were taken over by the army and kept in Army Headquarters for long periods, as much as two to three days. So, in practice, Guyanese women are denied the right to vote at National and Local government elections.

In health, education and housing, women also suffer grave hardships because of the existing conditions. Pre and post natal care is on the decline, because the government spends less on social services and more on the Army and Police In the Georgetown Public Hospital expectant mothers sleep two in a bed, while waiting for delivery. Malnutrition is growing and becoming so great a problem that a special clinic for such cases had to be opened at the Georgetown Public Hospital. A nutrition expert of the World Health Organization at a recent Conference in Vancouver, Br. Columbia said that malnutrition is "primarily a manifestation of social injustice". Referring to the so-called "development decade" the specialist Dr. Moses Behai said that it was geared to increase the gross national product of underdeveloped nations as an index to their problem. "No proper consideration" he said, "was given to insuring the redistribution of increased wealth. Hence the increased production tended only to make the rich even wealthier than before".

This is the core of our problem in the Caribbean. Wealth continues to remain in the hands of a few (whether they are West Indians or foreigners) while the masses continue in poverty. The old phrase "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" applies to the Caribbean where we see the development of a growing elite, throwing out revolutionary language as a sop to the oppressed. But without taking a radical swing towards socialism, the social injustices will remain.

In Guyana, we were told that the government’s five year plan ending in 1976 would bring 65,000 new housing units to relieve the housing shortage. But this year the Housing Minister admitted in a private discussion with civil servants which, by error reached the public, that the goal could not be reached. Yet the Guyana Government continues its false slogan of feeding, housing and clothing the nation by 1976. Instead, thousands of Guyanese families live under the most deplorable housing conditions. And for the first time, we have seen whole families sleeping on the streets, with no place to go. Yet socialist Cuba was able to embark on an impressive housing scheme to solve a huge problem left over by regimes which had for decades neglected the social needs for the people.

Education for girls is still not on an equal footing as that for boys for several reasons. The technical schools cater mainly for boy students, with only a few girls obtaining admission. The largest dropouts from primary and secondary schools are girls. One of the reasons is that working mothers - having to work to meet the mounting costs of living, have to take their daughters out of school to look after younger children. In the whole of Guyana there are only 4 crèches. Without crèches it is almost impossible for women with small children to work. Again, when we look at the socialist countries, we see that they have admirably solved this problem.

The Lima Conference, referred to earlier, stated that discrimination against women can only be totally eliminated if boys and girls receive the same education in the same schools. How else can our women obtain better employment unless, like men, they are better equipped and live in a society of full employment?

In one area, however, the Guyana government has accorded equality to girls and boys - that is for compulsory national service, which is being widely opposed in Guyana. Those of us who stand up for women's rights would agree to this, if like some nations faced with imminent danger of external aggression it was necessary to mobilize the whole nation to defend the country. But this is not so in Guyana where compulsory National Service is used as a means of coercion and discrimination and where parents of girl children deeply resent their children being forced to attend camps far away from parental supervision.

The cost of living continues to rise in Guyana, as in all the Caribbean countries, because of wrong economic policies of the govt. Only a few days ago, I purchased some food for home use. For the sum of $1.44, 1 obtained 2 sweet potatoes, 3 yams and 4 plantains, all small and 10 very small pieces of shallot for 50c. (there are no onions in Guyana), hardly enough for one meal for an average family, not including meat or fish for the meal. On the same day, l examined the pay slips of some women sugar workers which gave these figures - 5 days work - $11.50, 5 days work -$10.51, 3 days work - $9.40, 5 days work - $10.50 or an average of $2.50 per day - and hard work at that! Set these figures against food costs and one has all idea of how hard it is for working class families to exist. Compare it with the $8-9 per week waitresses earn or the $25-30 per month domestics earns. U of G Economist Clive Thomas, in a report, noted that the average consumption of milk is one pint every two weeks. No wonder our children are suffering from malnutrition and related diseases!

The Lima Conference said that women must take part in the people's struggles to bring about the needed radical changes This is very true. Our women cannot divorce themselves from these fundamental struggles. Women cannot enjoy full rights until the countries they live in are really free and provide equal opportunities to all.

In the post war period in the Caribbean following massive assaults by the Colonial powers on the economic conditions and human liberties, there was an upward swing in the various territories leading to demands for more rights and finally to end colonial rule. This upsurge achieved some notable results, but then began to wane.

Now again, following independence and an era of complacency, but growing poverty and discontent by the masses that their conditions have not improved, there is again a growing upsurge of the people demanding that their expectations of changes after independence be fulfilled.

There is a growing awareness of the subtle influence of the multi-national corporations in draining away the wealth that belongs to the people, an awareness that the governments must fight against imperialism and cease being puppets of the American colossus. In fact, imperialism is the greatest enemy of the people and this must be eliminated from the strong hold it maintains on most of the economies of the Caribbean.

The women must join in the struggle to bring about political and socio-economic changes so that there will be equal opportunities for all, so that we can end unemployment, poverty and hunger, so that genuine democratic institutions can flourish, so that our women can be free and equal citizens in the countries in which they live.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009