Articles by Janet Jagan 2007
by Janet Jagan (Feb. 24, 2007)
I have observed, over a fairly long period of time, a tendency, particularly in the letter pages of the Stabroek News (SN) to give a new slant on the history of the time when the PNC held power – from the 1964 to the 1992 period. The tendency is to reform or rewrite history, to denigrate the role of the People’s Progressive Party during this era and to prop up the names of hitherto unknown “heroes” who “led” the struggle against tyranny.
As recently as last week’s Saturday S/N, a writer gave a list of those who led the struggle and wrote: “When the PPP was still in the wilderness and clutching at straws, with no kind of plan to unseat the government of the day….” And it named the heroes of the struggle.
At least one of Guyana’s historians should research this period in Guyana’s history and come up with the truth.
I was there, along with numerous members of the PPP who can testify to this day the leading role the Party took in building resistance to the pernicious Burnham/PNC regime.
Many brave people struggled and were hurt in many ways during the long 28 years before the uprooting of the PNC. Beginning right after the 1964 elections many PPP leaders, including Brindley Benn and Cedric Nunes, both ministers of the PPP government, were detained at Sibley Hall, the Mazaruni Prisons, some for as long as two years. Large numbers of PPP activists suffered devastating police raids on their homes and businesses. PPP activists like the late Fazal Ally were falsely charged and imprisoned on trumped up charges. Large numbers of PPP members and supporters lost their jobs. The government controlled the movement of people and many were denied passports, or their passports were taken away.
Protests, like one particular event of workers marching peacefully in government protest from Berbice to Georgetown, were met with pointed rifles and tear gas.
I represented the PPP on the Elections Commission for the 1968 elections when Mr Hoyte represented the PNC and there was a rep of the United Force. Early in the game, I discovered the several ways which were being put in place to rig those elections. No one, no group, no media except the Mirror, carried my press releases outlining the plans for rigging. Not one voice, aside from the PPP, was uttered in protest. That’s how it was in those days – everyone, including the “heroes” named in S/N lacked the guts to open their mouths – and so it was for many years while the PPP stalwarts laboured amongst the people to keep their spirits up and not be afraid to take action to expose the deceit of the PNC.
And many took the blows on their chins. At Black Bush Polder, a known PPP stronghold, the PNC started breaking down settlers’ houses. Many mean acts took place and organizations like GAWU and the RPA led protests and fought back, always waiting for the rest of Guyanese to wake up and stop being afraid.
Stabroek News always has had nice things to say about former President Desmond Hoyte, because he helped the newspaper get established. Did S/N ever have one word of protest about the 1985 electoral rigging under Mr Hoyte? Of course, it didn’t take me 21 years to learn that he, as well as all the top PNC members, including some of international fame, were all part and parcel of the rigging process. I saw Hoyte upclose during the 1968 rigging.
And yet we read in S/N about the vigorous role that paper played in the restoration of democracy. Show me one word of protest over fraudulent elections when they were happening, by S/N and I’ll apologize.
The Mirror, which many like to downplay now that we are enjoying all the freedoms guaranteed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, played a most important role in the struggle to win the return of democratic rights. It suffered bans on newsprint, ink and printing machinery. Its role during those years should be better known and respected. Its vendors used to be beaten up by the PNC thugs – things people tend to forget as they look for new heroes of democracy’s return.
It was after the disgusting Hoyte – rigged 1985 elections that the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD) was formed, and the opposition to the PNC was strengthened, that the struggle intensified and the reins of power and terror were weakened, that we approached the end of the tyranny that almost destroyed Guyana.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
by Janet Jagan (Feb. 10, 2007 )
There are fairly good arguments and some not so good at all the various levels. Stabroek News claims that the government has shut out all advertisements and is thus infringing freedom of the press. That charge seems a bit preposterous as it has not had to shut down, stop printing anything at all, like some of its nasty and unfair attacks on the PPP/C government, there is no censorship, it hasn’t had to reduce staff or reduce its pages. It may have lost some profits, but I can guarantee it won’t go out of business.
Besides, Stabroek News still gets a lot of government ads. Look at the last Sunday issue. It contained two Bank of Guyana ads, two Guyana Revenue Authority ads, one Guyana Energy Agency, one from the University of Guyana, one from the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission, one from Queen’s College and some other ads that could be termed related to the government – two from the Ethnic Relations Committee and two from the Lottery – but if there are objections to these being included, it doesn’t matter because Stabroek News had eight government ads – or to use the Stabroek News daily banner, from “taxpayers’ funds.” So what are they speaking about? On occasional checks I do on the daily S/N, government ads average about five a day.
The government claims that S/N is losing its circulation and thus the decision to close down advertisements to S/N is purely a commercial decision. On that, I don’t agree. Government advertisements should be spread through the media on a fair basis, despite circulation and content.
Kaiteur News has come up with some interesting points, the strongest being that in its first 10 years of existence it did not get any government ads and now it has the highest circulation in the print media. Good argument except for the fact that, and this is my personal opinion, it’s a lousy newspaper, filled with nonsense I don’t wish to read. In fact, I stopped reading Kaieteur News long ago because of its sensationalism.
Although I personally do not agree with the alleged stopping of advertisements to Stabroek News, and would urge a reversal of that decision, in no way does it mean that my views of the paper have changed. In this column, I have several times had to refer to the perverse and mean-thinking that is expressed in the notorious letter pages, the sometimes nasty and unreasonable editorials and the misuse of the news columns to attack the party in government. In fact, Stabroek News seems dedicated to the demise of the PPP/C. Fortunately for the PPP, that newspaper’s 2006 campaign didn’t bring the desired outcome at the general elections.
The basic question Stabroek News must answer is: how has freedom of the press been attacked? There is no such thing as censorship in Guyana, forced or self inflicted. They know perfectly well that the PPP restored freedom, press freedom and all civil rights and has never, ever, endangered these rights. Is Stabroek News trying to be more “sensational” than Kaieteur News?
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
by Janet Jagan (March 24, 2007)
The famous Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited America in 1831 and published succinct accounts of his visit made this discerning remark: “I predict that any warrior prince who may arise in a great democratic nation will find it easier to lead the army to conquest than to make it live in peace after victory….” Tocqueville surely hit the nail on the head as regards the Bush invasion of Iraq. The longer the occupation army remains the deeper the US gets into the morass of hate, pain and suffering.
Like all wars that have no ideological content, as in wars for freedom or resistance to conquest or to protect minorities, etc, the Iraq war has pushed the world’s most powerful nation into a snake pit of filth and horrors.
What could be called the crimes of the century occurred in Iraq during the last two years, during US troop occupation of that country. One of the most vile of the many murders by US soldiers occurred in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad in March last year. At a court-martial held in the US, one soldier admitted to a plan by him and fellow soldiers to rape a 14-year-old Iraqi girl. They planned the attack over drinks and a game of cards, choosing the particular girl because there was only one male adult in the family and thus it would be easier to handle.
The house was invaded by the soldiers who took the girl’s mother, father and small sister into another room while they raped the girl and at the same time shot dead the three family members and then poured kerosene over the girl’s body and lit her on fire, to cover up the crime.
This was obviously a pre-meditated crime involving five US soldiers who used every device to cover-up the shocking crime. These criminal soldiers have gotten off relatively easy; one was sentenced to 90 years with the possibility of parole in 20 years, one was discharged from the army and is awaiting a civilian trial and the others are awaiting sentencing. But if this were all, it would be bad enough when one concludes what war does to the victors as well as the conquered. Both are destroyed in one way or another.
A number of US marines are charged with the killing of 24 unarmed civilians during 2005 in Haditha, Iraq, another attempted cover-up. It took over a year for the cover-up to be uncovered and the perpetrators of the dastardly acts to be charged.
In another atrocity, three US troops have been charged with murder for killing three Iraqi prisoners and threatening to kill a fellow soldier who wanted to report the incident to the US military authorities. And in Italy, prosecutors have called for the indictment of an American soldier for the shooting of an Italian intelligence agent at a checkpoint in Iraq last year.
A Reuter report said that: “Along with the widely publicized abuses of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison (sexual humiliation, etc), the killings have damaged US prestige and led to international condemnation.”
The brutalities that have taken place in Iraq since the US invasion are reminiscent of the massacre of innocent Vietnamese civilians at My Lai in 1968, when American GIs raped, looted and killed 400 unarmed men, women and children. This was one of the most shameful acts of the Vietnam War, which divided the US so sharply in the 60s.
All of these point to the fact that wars bring out terrible brutalities that can exist in so-called civilized man. War not only threatens all of humanity, but it brings with it the possibility of releasing in people the savage nature that lies hidden beneath modern advances.
When we look at war-torn areas of the world, like Iraq and Darfur, for example, we see almost a reversal of all the advances made by man through the ages. One of my colleagues who writes frequently on this page, Dale Bisnauth, ends his articles by the word “Peace!” I do the same!
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
Migration - A Dirty Word?
by Janet Jagan (April 29,2007)
There is nothing particularly new about migration and the brain drain. Historians tell us that somewhere around AD529 when Arab forces under the new banner of Islam took control of the city of Alexandria (Egypt) there is evidence that the halls (of one of the world’s first universities), were taken over and “within a few decades, a brain drain began. Money and power shifted to the east. Welcomed in Damascus and Baghdad by the ruling caliphs, many Alexandrian scholars moved to new cities where new prosperity and a reverence for the classics kept Greek learning alive.” (Smithsonian; Wonders of Alexandria, April 2007)
Migration has existed from the earliest of times to the mass migrations beginning after the discovery of the New World, the Americas, in 1492; the two continents of North and South America, inhabited only by the indigenous peoples, were soon over-run by the millions who migrated, voluntarily and involuntarily from Europe, Asia and Africa. Slaves were brought from Africa, indentured workers from India and persons guilty of breaking the law were sent to the Americas, plus the millions of others who migrated for various reasons. These included the hopes of wealth, jobs, new opportunities, land, escape from religious persecution, wars, adventure, curiosity and so on. The reasons are almost as wide as the oceans they crossed.
The millions and millions who live in the area from the southernmost tip of Chile to the most northern part of Canada, with the exception of the indigenous peoples, all came as migrants of one form or another.
I, for example, am an offspring of migrants in the early 19th century from Germany and Poland and in the late 19th century, from Romania and Hungary. The only grandparent who could tell me why he (she) migrated was my grandfather on my mother’s side who said that if he did not migrate he would have been forcibly drafted into the Romanian army for a period of 5 or 10 years (I’ve forgotten which) so another reason to the long list of reasons for migration.
Australia was in historically recent times occupied, like the Americas, only by the indigenous peoples. The British began sending its prisoners to Australia to relieve the pressure at home, so its first migrants were not voluntary migrants. That came later, no doubt from relatives wanting to join those dumped on this then forsaken continent. So, Australia, too, is a continent populated by migrants.
For that matter, the whole world is the subject of one form of migration or another. So it’s also possible that the idea or concept of migration is universally within our genes.
Some opinions in Guyana seem to blame the present government for the brain drain and the continuing migration, mostly North. But we must not blame ourselves for this phenomenon. It exists here and everywhere. We need feel no guilt for it. Let me quote from an article in the London “Guardian” (December 2006) “Brain drain is a problem for most developing countries. Lured by better pay and facilities elsewhere, the brightest students take off to seek their fortune, leaving behind only the bill for their education and a higher education system bled dry of young talent.”
Even the developed countries feel the brain drain. Britain loses its doctors, nurses, scientists and teachers to Canada and the USA and invites the same from developing countries to fill their places. Canada loses its best brains, doctors, professors, skilled people to the USA and the USA loses its teachers, nurses and others to better paying jobs and invites English-speaking countries like Guyana to fill the gaps. And so, on it goes.
Guyanese left for many reasons in the Burnham years, fear of persecution and discrimination and today, these same migrants bring every member of their families from cousins to uncles to join them; many leave for better paying jobs abroad, for more opportunities, more facilities in their professions, better educational opportunities, especially in universities, fear of rising crime, adventure, and also false fears generated by irresponsible persons and sometimes, the media. I’m sure there are many more reasons for migration, but the fact remains, that this occurrence is not experienced just by Guyanese, but is a universal phenomenon.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
by Janet Jagan (May 5, 2007)
During the period I served as President of the Republic of Guyana, I attended all the Caricom heads of government meetings. I was on friendly terms with all the island prime ministers and found them to be affable conference mates. One who was always there, polite almost to the extreme, courteous, friendly was Sir James Mitchell of St Vincent. I know this island, having visited it twice – once I was banned from St. Vincent, but because of the infrequency of air and boat travel, remained for two weeks. My other visit was memorable, as I was the house guest of one of St. Vincent’s national heroes – Captain Hugh Mulzac, the first black man to captain an American vessel (World War II). Despite our sharp political differences, we got on very well.
It was thus not unexpected that I read a review of his autobiography “Beyond the Island” in Stabroek News (April 29, 2007) which revealed a side of his character which I had discerned – his frankness. According to the review: “… and another concerning the secret agreement between Desmond Hoyte and six Caricom leaders on the island of Mustique in the Grenadines in January 1986. More than a footnote in history, Mitchell describes how in a compromise put forward by himself, the leaders agreed not to challenge the legitimacy of the Guyana December 1985 poll, albeit for the last time. In exchange there would be a change in Burnham’s “leftist policies” and all future elections would have to have observers.”
The reviewer, whosoever he is, erred in not remembering that Mr Burnham died in August 1985 and Mr Hoyte was in charge of the 1985 electoral rigging, so the reviewer must have meant that Hoyte change the policies of his deceased leader.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that Sir James Mitchell’s autobiography places the seal of authenticity on the charges made by the People’s Progressive Party that the Mustique meeting, was rigged to protect Hoyte from attacks by Caricom as to the absence of free and fair elections in Guyana. However, Mitchell leaves out one very strong part which the PPP has always exposed – that the USA was behind the whole Mustique fiasco, pushing it on and financing the high expenditure. After all, it was the island of wealthy visitors and posh homes, Princess Margaret being the best known
The PNC has not done well in recent years in its public relations and has proved careless in many ways, the most recent being the exposure of its internal problems. One of its most obvious mistakes has not yet been commented on – am I the first to note that its newest acronym is PNCR1-G, or to me, PNC Rig? How could anyone be so stupid as to allow that to happen? I’m not being subversive or nasty in recalling the PNC’s horrid history of rigging, but it’s part of our history and I, for one, who lived through the ghastly elections of 1968, 1973, 1980 and 1985 know how they traumatized the population and the heavy blows they dealt to the concept of democracy. I even wrote a booklet outlining all, and there were many, the methods of rigging used in the 1973 elections that future generations would not gloss over what happened, but would see that it never happened again.
Thus I find it distressing and I won’t call names, to see some of those who actively carried out electoral rigging, the consequences of which almost destroyed Guyana, being honoured, yes honoured, at universities and by international bodies. It is almost obscene to see this happening, but some tend to have short memories, or is it just sheer opportunism?
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
A Woman of Courage
by Janet Jagan (June 9, 2007
I have often wondered about the man who is soon to become Britain’s new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. He has been in the shadows of the flamboyant Tony Blair for ages, but, as time has shown, the British people and the British Labour Party have had enough of Blair and have asked him to depart. Thus, for all his flash and engaging personality, Tony Blair has lost the confidence of those who put him in charge of the UK government.
No doubt his constant support of the Iraq war and his reputation as Bush’s “poodle” destroyed whatever qualities that at first had endeared him to the majority of Britons. Former Labour Leader Lord Kinnock described Mr Blair’s close association with George Bush as a tragedy. Now the two leaders are sinking into the depths of the morass they created.
A man cannot be judged alone by what he writes, but this can give an insight to the character of the writer. On the eve of Gordon Brown’s take over of the Prime Minister’s office, he has written a book entitled “Courage: Eight Portraits”. One of the eight persons of courage described by Gordon Brown is reviewed in the April 27-May 3, 2007 issue of the British newspaper the Guardian, carrying the headline “A Woman of Courage.” It’s all about a tiny Burmese woman, Aung San Suu Kyi, opposition leader to Burma’s military regime. In this column, I have written about her on three occasions. Like Gordon Brown, I am a great admirer of this outstanding freedom-fighter, probably the most remarkable and courageous woman living in this present world.
Let me quote a paragraph from Gordon Brown’s book which gives a good picture of Suu Kyi and tells us something about the writer himself:
“The more I read, the more I wondered at Suu Kyi’s great courage, lonely and sustained; it had shaped her life and resulted in her becoming the world’s most renowned female prisoner of conscience. Facing one of the most tyrannous regimes in the world, she had demonstrated that courage by living under house arrest for most of the past two decades, far apart from the husband she loved and from her beloved children.
To understand Suu Kyi’s courage, we need to understand her devotion to duty – and in particular the influence of her father Aung San who secured Burmese independence from the British in 1948 but who did not live to see that independence come into force – and secondly, and most important of all, the strength of her underlying belief in democracy and human rights. Her courage has shown itself not in the fearlessness of impetuous confrontation, but in strength of character rooted in passionately held beliefs.”
Just recently, this Burmese heroine was sentenced by the military government to another year of house arrest. There were worldwide protests, including a resolution from the United Nations (and I cried when I heard that through what I call “sheer stupidity” the Guyana government abstained when the vote was taken!). It was while under house arrest that Suu Kyi had to make a cruel decision, a decision that almost tore her apart. Her husband and two sons were in England and at that time her husband, an academic, Michael Arls, developed terminal cancer. She sought permission to visit him in England and was informed that if she left she could not return to Burma. She felt she could not take the easy path, leaving her comrades and colleagues forever.
Her husband died without the two seeing each other.
As Gordon Brown put it: “For me, Suu Kyi defines the meaning of courage … (she) represents the power not of the powerfuls but of the powerless: a woman, a prisoner of conscience up against a state with one of the worst human rights violation records in the world…”
Unlike some former political leaders who have sought refuge in England, Suu Kyi refused to take the easy way out. Only last week, the Thailand government ruled that its deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra could not be involved in politics for five years and dissolved his Party. He and a few other deposed leaders, including Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Bhutto, are safely in exile while the Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi refuses to do so. This is the rare behaviour of a genuine person of courage. She and her band of freedom fighters deserve the full support of all those who believe in freedom and democracy.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
by Janet Jagan (June 24, 2007)
Largely unnoticed, except in that excellent workers’ paper Combat (Voice of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union, GAWU), June 12 was not given the prominence it deserved. The day was designated by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as the World Day Against Child Labour in Agriculture.
According to a full page article in Combat devoted to ending child labour in agriculture, 70% of all working children are in agriculture, and some at a very young age. ILO figures show that there are over 132 million children aged 5-14 working in agriculture.
The children harvest cotton, sugar cane, coffee, tea, bananas, tobacco. According to the ILO, there is clear evidence that some of these children are in the worst forms of child labour, exposed to dangerous pesticides, driving machinery designed for adults, lifting loads too heavy for their small frames and often trapped in forced labour. Many of these children work 8-10 hours per day in extreme temperatures, carrying heavy loads. And, of course, work in the fields often ends their schooling, and deprives them of much needed rest.
According to the Convention known as the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999, which our government signed in January 2001, each member shall take into account the importance of education in eliminating child labour. In so doing, each signatory to the Convention shall:
1) Prevent the engagement of children in the worst forms of child labour
2) Provide the necessary and appropriate direct assistance for the removal of the children from such types of labour and for their rehabilitation and social integration
3) Ensure access to free basic education and when possible, vocational training for these children
4) Take special account for the special situation of girls.
These requirements are of course, basic, the main intention being to end child labour, provide education and rehabilitation to children so abused.
We see so often on the television screen, sights of children condemned to work, with no opportunities for education, rest and play, which are the fundamental rights of children. Some are condemned to tasks, many quite intricate which harm the eyesight and bodies of small children and earn them a pittance while their employers grow rich out of their exploitation. Thousands of small children grow up in a form of bondage or even slavery, without a normal childhood and into utter poverty as adults.
The International Labour Organization has taken a strong stand against all child labour, regarding child labour in agriculture as the most dangerous for children. In Guyana, the government has been diligent in wiping out all forms of child labour and providing universal primary education to all children as well as very positive opportunities to children in secondary and vocational education as well as university education to thousands of young people.
If there are occasional breaches, these are generally quickly brought to the attention of the authorities and stopped. Our record of responsibility as regards the exploitation of child labour is noteworthy and we can be sure that we stand alongside other advanced nations that have pronounced a definite “No!” to child labour. As a signatory to that ILO Convention, Guyana must continue to monitor the situation and at all times prevent any acts that can be considered as contrary to the Convention.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
by Janet Jagan (July 14, 2007)
Stabroek News rarely misses the opportunity to publish letters that denigrate the PPP/Civic government. Its record of letters that use all forms of abuse is phenomenal. So many letters carry the negative theme that there is “little to be proud of” that any sensible person will wonder if the letter writers are for real or are ghost writers from the newspaper itself. What is even more disgusting about the letters attacking the government and the PPP is that the majority of abrasive letters carry Indo-Guyanese names – part of the subtle racial character of that paper’s attacks on the PPP.
What is interesting, however, is that the barrage of attacks – and as I have written many times before about this – particularly in last year’s run of that newspaper, is that it was totally ineffective in changing the course of the elections. Its support of a new party and its efforts to reduce the PPP’s continuing wins at general elections blew away with the wind. No one paid attention!
Despite the general theme of Stabroek News that Guyanese are disgusted with the PPP/C government and have “little to be proud of,” let me tell about one of the success stories of the PPP/Civic. We can feel proud that this present government has taken the lead in the worldwide efforts to reduce the number of cases of malaria and to reduce the number of deaths. In fact, there has been only one recorded death due partly to malaria in Guyana, and that case was not a direct result of malaria, but combined with another medical problem. Guyana has succeeded in reducing the number of cases of malaria by 54% in 2006 over the year before. Taking the reduced number of cases for this year so far, the statistics show that since 2005, there is about a 75% reduction. This year shows that there are about 4800 cases, down considerably from about 20,000 a year and a half previously.
We can certainly be proud of this achievement that puts Guyana in front of many countries dealing with this serious problem. This was not achieved without great efforts on the part of the Minister of Health and those health workers operating in the field.
Guyana was able to make use of a new anti-malaria drug since 2003. This drug includes a 3-day usage – a very important factor in treatment. Before this new drug came into use in Guyana, malaria patients were provided with a drug that required a longer period of intake, which many patients did not complete, thus reducing the effects of the medication. The shorter period for intake – only 3 days is more realistic in having patients take the full dosage.
Guyana was one of the first countries to use the new drug. This is because those responsible for health care in Guyana, led by the Health Minister, succeeded at two levels. Firstly, Guyana succeeded in completing a clinical trial for use of the 3-day medication. Secondly, the drug originally cost $55 (US) which was obviously beyond the means of the government. The Health Ministry succeeded in getting a reduction to $1.50 (US), so that with the two successes, it became one of the first countries in the world to make use of the new anti-malaria, 3-day medication. Only recently has the World Health Organization (WHO) started to use the drug in the countries affected by malaria.
Guyana, like many countries, has distributed the special mosquito nets impregnated with the insecticide deltamethrin, which not only protects those who use it, but also kills mosquitoes; their potency lasts for about 5 years. These have been distributed widely in Guyana at the rate of three per family. They are also distributed in the mining areas and to dormitories where some miners live. Miners are urged to use the nets, some of which are designed specially for use of persons using hammocks.
The Ministry of Health has a good supply of impregnated nets, which are used worldwide and which has greatly reduced the cases of malaria where used.
Malaria kills more than a million people each year. Some 300 million people worldwide are infected with the disease. Malaria suppresses the immune system of its victims, making them more susceptible to tuberculosis and AIDS. It is a dangerous disease, but one that can be controlled and contained as Guyana has succeeded in doing.
It is another success story for the PPP/Civic, one for which all Guyanese can feel proud!
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009