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Articles by Janet Jagan 2002-2003

The Cowardly War in Iraq

by Janet Jagan

The US war on Iraq is now in its second week and is known as the "Coalition," meaning the US and UK military invasion of Iraq.

Although the Iraqi military, at the time of writing, has so far put up resistance unexpected by the Coalition Forces, there can be no doubt about the outcome of this cowardly war. How could any country in the world overcome an invasion from the US super power - equipped with all the latest advances for military supremacy in the air, land and seas? And more so in the case of Iraq, a country denuded of basic military defences.

A British writer, John Le Carre, said this provocative bit: "How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America's anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history "(Time Magazine.)"

What he wrote makes sense as people the world over try to figure out why the USA has fought so strenuously to bring about its war on Iraq. It is true that President Bush made dozens of blustering promises, that must now seem embarrassing, about the imminent capture of bin Laden. It is also clear that Mr. Bush and company, try as they did, were unable to connect Saddam Hussein to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The possible reasons why the USA decided to invade Iraq are many, including Mr. Bush's desire to complete the work of his father in the 1991 war. Its also possible that a war is needed to cover-up the sinking economy in the USA, or even to show the world that the US is the super power and can do whatever it wants, including flouting the United Nations and world public opinion. Whatever, it is certain that the USA is not spending $75 billion just to disarm and remove Saddam Hussein. There are plenty of countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa with tyrants as heads of government and with weapons of mass destruction, so maybe the presence of large quantities of oil in Iraq is the reason.

The US military is, at this moment, caught up in its own duplicity. It claims that every move is governed by the need to protect Iraqi civilians from hurt, yet it has declared Basra a "legitimate military target" with 100,000 children at risk and more so, now since the "concerned" military has busted the water system, disease and death are the next chapter in this cowardly war on Iraq.

The US military again got caught in its double standards. It has attacked the Iraqi military for showing US captured soldiers and airmen on television, but it has done the same by showing Iraqi prisoners of war on TV. The US charged the Iraqis with breaking the Geneva Convention, but the Red Cross has criticised both sides for exhibiting prisoners of war on TV. But has the US forgotten already its 600 prisoners from Afghanistan being held now for about one year at the US Guantanamo Bay military base?

These prisoners have been denied any form of legal representation to this day. The Red Cross reported that the Geneva Convention was not being observed in its treatment of prisoners who are given only 15 minutes, twice a week, outside their miserably small cells. Already, some 15 have attempted suicide over the inhuman treatment by the USA. (Since writing, the US has released 19 of these prisoners to Afghanistan. They have loudly denounced the inhuman treatment they received at the hands of their captors.)

Like all wars, it is the innocent who suffer - the aged, the women, and the children. Iraqi hospitals are now swollen with the victims of this unprincipled war while the US military still claim to be "concerned" about the safety of Iraqi civilians!

So far, the cost of the war to the US is $75 billion. That amount, if used for the welfare of the poorest in this world, would mean the saving of hundreds of thousands of lives, lost every year due to poverty and diseases.

What a better world this would be if, instead of spending billions to kill, the billions were spent to save lives and renew hope in this troubled planet.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009


Many May Days Ago

by Janet Jagan

I can recall some memorable May Days, the first I participated in was either 1946 or 1947. We formed the Women’s Political Economic Organization (WPEO) in 1946, the same year that the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) the forearm of the Peoples’ Progressive Party which emerged from PAC to PPP in 1950.

Along with a few prominent women, Mrs Winifred Gaskin and Ms Frances Van Stafford, we organized the first womens’ group to make demands for womens’ rights. It was to last only a couple of years, but, made its mark in the women’s struggles.

One of our first forays into public life was to call for better construction work on the Wortmanville Housing Scheme in Georgetown. These flats which were being built for lower income families were deemed by WPEU to be "unbuilt." It was during this time, too, that the cost of living was rising and was a burden on the lower income groups.

Due to my position in the WPEO and in the PAC I was able to bring about a linkage in the struggle. Mr H.JM Hubbard one of the 4 members of PAC was General Secretary of the TUC and we discussed with him ways and means of encouraging women into the struggles of the working people.

One of his suggestions was to bring the women into the May Day march and rally where their call for lowering the cost of living and other issues could be made.

Most of the WPEO women were middle class and had never marched through the streets of Georgetown or even thought of doing so. But they rallied and came out on that May Day, the first of many when women participated in larger numbers. It was a great success.

Another May Day I recollect, but I’m uncertain of the year, took place during Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow’s life. The Trade Union Movement was practiced by the British when they sought to destroy the PPP after the 1953 elections and the TUC for supporting the PPP. It has never really recovered!

Cheddi and I were in the march which passed through Alberttown. As we marched, we saw Critchlow standing at the gate of his little house and yard. His face was so sad. He had not been invited to participate in that May Day march.

Cheddi went up to him and held out his hand and said "Comrade, join us" and he did! We marched together on that memorable May Day. After he died, the TUC began honouring the fall Father of Trade Unionism!

I remember another May Day, another sad event, when the People’s National Congress (PNC) was in power and the TUC had its loyal partner. Cheddi, as Hon President of GAWU was asked to attend and speak. He did so, but as we all know, he was treated badly. He sat, isolated and alone in a section of the platform where he was placed by the TUC and booed when he spoke. It was done to humiliate him, but Cheddi had a tough skin and behaved humanly and always seeking unity of the working class in his address.

Of course, the great pity is that May Day should be the manifestation of unity and solidarity of the working class. Those who believe this must always strive for that unity.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009


Why I did it!

by Janet Jagan

In one of the Wednesday Stabroek News columns called "Ramblings," the anonymous writer made a small remark about the video on my life done by my second cousin Suzie Wasserman. He asked why she did not include the episode of my throwing the papers served on me at my inauguration as President, over my shoulder.

The reason it was not included, I believe, is because she and her cameraman could not get to State House due to the violence in the streets engineered by the PNC at their humiliating loss at the polls. Because, my party received the highest number of votes in the 1997 elections than any other Party has ever received in any legitimate elections in Guyana.

Because we did so well, and obviously crossed lines into all areas, including so-called bastions of the PNC, that Party was again venting its rage as it has done so many times in our contemporary history.

But why did I throw the papers that were intended to prevent me from taking the Oath of Office as President over my shoulder? The reason, as I explained twice while I was President, was not disrespect of the legal system, but disgust at the many times my Party has been denied its legal rights to office over and over again. It was an act of protest against the multiple injustices my Party has faced.

It began when the British suspended the Constitution in 1953 and denied the PPP its legitimate right to office. In 1957, when the British revived elections, the constituencies were rigged to defeat us - but we won anyhow. Dr. Jagan received more votes in his one constituency than did 5 other seats combined! These were the seats won by the PNC and other opposition groups. In 1961, when we again had elections, the British had a special commission determine new constituency boundaries, all manipulated diabolically to defeat the PPP. We won, despite all that.

Then in the period 1961 - 64, the British, aided by the USA and local puppets, denied us independence because they did not want Jagan to lead an independent nation. They then changed the whole electoral process to defeat the PPP, and even then, when the PPP got the largest number of votes of any Party, manipulated a coalition between the PNC and the United Force to keep us out of office.

From then on, it was one rigged election after the other. For the doubters and those who foisted rigged elections and later claimed the PPP was doing the same, let me quote from a declassified American document of June 12, 1968, "a memorandum for the Hon. Walt W. Rostow, Special Assistant to the President, Subject - Plans of Guyana Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, Leader of the People's National Congress (PNC) to Rig the Elections Scheduled for Late 1968 or Early 1969."

The memo states that at a high level meeting of the PNC, Forbes Burnham "gave instructions to rig the elections scheduled for late 1968 or early 1969 in order to permit the PNC to win a clear majority. Burnham said that the registration of East Indians, who traditionally vote for the PPP, should be strictly limited in order to keep their number of eligible voters as low as possible. He also gave instructions to his Party leaders to increase the size of the PNC electorate by registering some PNC adherents who are between the ages of 17 and 20 years, although the minimum age for voting is 21 years of age. He said he plans to have written into the electoral law a provision for increasing the use of proxy votes." The declassified document also noted: "In April 1968 Burnham stated that he will not form a government if he has to depend on his coalition partner Peter D'Aguiar ..."

This document, signed by Thomas H. Karamessines was copied to the Deputy Secretary for Defence, the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter American Affairs and the Director of Intelligence and Research.

It would be a mistake not to recognise Mr. Desmond Hoyte's place in all that took place in the devastating years of PNC rule. Hoyte was the PNC's man in the Election Commission for the 1968 elections. I was also a member, representing my Party, and I was witness to his compliance with all the methods used to rig the first of a series of fraudulent elections during the Burnham/Hoyte regimes.

The irony, or maybe it's just a joke, is that the PNC cannot stop hollering, marching in the streets, using violence and instituting election petitions against the PPP in all the elections since rigging was defeated!

Yes! I threw away the papers that would have prevented me from taking the Oath of Office as President, because I had already taken the Oath of Office, not at a secret ceremony as alleged, (can over 35 people be secret?) but done legally in order that my Party would not again be denied justice!

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009


Reminiscences - Che and Robeson

by Janet Jagan

I visited Cuba in 1960, the second year of the overthrow of the dictator General Batista. I was then Minister of Labour, Health and Housing and was invited in that capacity, along with other persons of the hemisphere to celebrate May Day.

I remember meeting one of Mexico’s major artists, Mr Siqueros, a leading writer from Chile, a prominent South American trade unionists including Vincente Toledano, and many others. It was a heady atmosphere, celebrating the triumph of the Cuban people led by Fidel Castro and Che Gueverra over the brutal dictatorship of Batista.

I met many Cubans, including my counterpart, the woman Minister of Housing. I was taken to the mountains where the Revolution began and where the tenacity of the Cuban leadership and its militant adherents held out so bravely and successfully.

There was a massive May Day rally held in Havana with some million people present. However, the most outstanding event of that period remains indelibly in my memory - my visit to Che Gueverra. He was, then, if I remember correctly, the head of the nation’s finance. He was dressed in western attire, not the military fatigues in which we are so accustomed to seeing him portrayed. My impression was that he was a bit uncomfortable in his job, and dress, but that was a subtle feeling of mine. He was obviously intent on doing his job in the best manner to advance his adopted country.

While his face is firmly planted in my memory, I cannot recall a word of our conversation. Be that as it may, it was a friendly meeting and on parting he presented me with a beautiful carving, which I later gave to my son.

The other part of my visit to Cuba has its own light humour. I am an avid fan of the Chilean writer Isabelle Allende, niece of the assassinated President of Chile, Salvador Allende. One day last year, after reading one of her most excellent books, I decided to write to her and share a little joke about her uncle. I took the chance of addressing the letter to her publisher. She replied nicely, even sending me her latest book on Chile.

What I told her was an incident that took place during my visit to Cuba. The President of Cuba, Mr Dorticas (not then Fidel Castro) invited all "political and intellectuals of America" (I still have the invitation), to a luncheon at Rio Cristal restaurant. Protocol was very much in vogue and we all were seated in accordance with our status. I found myself at the bottom of the table next to a most affable man. We chatted a lot throughout the lunch. His name was Salvador Allende.

I remarked to his niece, that of all those distinguished persons present, only Allende and I became presidents of our countries!

While Che Gueverra remains embedded in my memory, and I can recall how dreadful I felt when the news reached us of his terrible death, there is another great man who stands out in my memory as someone whose tragic life was so outstanding. He is Paul Robeson. Only two weeks ago I was talking to an Indiana University student and his name came up as a great American hero.

I met Paul Robeson sometime in the 40’s if I remember correctly. My husband had been in correspondence with him and asked me to look him up when I went to the USA to visit my parents. I had a telephone number and called. I spoke to Robeson, introduced myself and he said to me: "Now, you just get into a taxi, give them my address and come out right away," which I did. I was greeted at the door by this giant of a man and introduced to his wife Eslanda. He was going through a most difficult time in his life. This great singer and actor was restricted by the US government from leaving the US on any tour. He was banned from singing in public, Hollywood wouldn’t touch him with a 10ft. pole in fear of government reprisals and the only place they could not prevent his presence was in the nation’s churches. His career as a singer was virtually destroyed by the malicious acts of the US government. All this was the price he was paying for his radical politics. Robeson will go down in history as not only the greatest of American singers, but the leader who took all the blows and persecution in the struggle for Black equality and rights in the USA in that period.

I might note that when I visited his home in New York, I saw the splendid bust of Robeson done by the renowned sculptor Jacob Epstein.

My friendship, which lasted decades, then began with his wife Eslanda, who helped keep the family financially alive by working as a journalist at the United Nations. We began a correspondence that only ended at the end of her life. She was a lovely woman and a staunch supporter of her husband.

I remember visiting her, I think in the 60's, in London where she was living, following the final lifting of the ban on Robeson’s travel. He had a powerful reception from the British working class at a rally. However, Paul Robeson suffered his greatest sorrow when he finally went on tour. His voice was no longer that of the great Robeson. The years had taken their toll. He suffered a severe case of depression and was in a small hospital. Eslanda took me there and asked me to try to cheer him up, to remind him how beloved be was, etc.

When I saw Paul Robeson after all those years, I was shocked. He had lost considerable weight and was fragile - not the robust, handsome, vigorous man of yester years. Eslanda cared for him and saw him through many crises.

After his death - oh yes! He had to die first! - then the media et al remembered him, praised him and made him an American icon. He has now taken his place among American heroes - but what a hard, sad life he had! But he bore it courageously, never recanted on his ideals. Recordings of his magnificent voice are heard from time to time. There has never been any singer to match that magnificent voice!

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009