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Articles by Janet Jagan 2008

An Achievement We Can be Proud of

by Janet Jagan (January 13, 2008)

In Australia, the death rate among Aboriginal children is nearly three times higher than the non-indigenous infants. Australian figures also show that 70% of the Aboriginal population, who number about 500,000, die before the age of 65 compared with 20% of other Australians. The average life expectancy for Aboriginal men is 59 compared with 77 for non-indigenous males. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures)

The report also says that poor nutrition, obesity, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse are the main causes of death. Overcrowded housing, unsafe drinking water and poor sanitary conditions are also contributing factors.

This is a brief picture of one country which has a serious problem with its indigenous population. Australia is considered one of the several countries of the world with a high standard of living, a growing economy and a highly rated democracy. Yet it has not brought those standards to its indigenous population so that they, too, could live a better life.

Take a look at our own area – the Western Hemisphere – which was at one time populated by the indigenous people, several of whom had developed high level societies, like the Mayas, the Aztecs and the Incas had maintained high levels of culture and science. For example, their irrigation systems still astound modern engineers.

Yet the remains of most of these indigenous peoples are treated poorly, many live at the lowest levels of poverty and little is done to bring their living, educational, health, etc. standards to the level of those who now occupy their lands.

The three giants of the hemisphere – the USA, Canada and Brazil – have failed miserably to bring their indigenous populations to the same levels as their own people.

In Guyana, those who cannot stand the fact that the People’s Progressive Party is still in office, and has the unusual standing of having won, in all, seven elections (eight if we count 1964 when the PPP received the highest number of votes, but was denied government when the UK/USA alliance forced Burnham and D’Aguiar to form a coalition), find every single thing that the government does as wrong. Their vile propaganda fouls the air of the country. Yet, Guyana has much to be proud of.

It is my belief that Guyana, of all the countries with indigenous people, has performed the best for their interests and welfare. The PPP created a Ministry of Amerindian Affairs with a Cabinet Minister so that there would be a specific and constant focus on the problems of Guyanese Amerindians. So much has been achieved. One of the noteworthy developments is in the area of health, which has seen a marked reduction in infant and maternal mortality and actually, an increase in the Amerindian population. In most parts of the world, it is the opposite. Our health records are phenomenal. Over 90% of Guyana’s children have been immunized, a positive ingredient for longer life.

Education is no longer limited to children of the coastal and riverain areas. It is now on an equal basis in the interior areas where the majority of Amerindian people reside. The introduction of Amerindian Month has helped focus and encourage attention their history and culture.

Throughout Guyana, access to secondary education has increased from 35% in 1992 to more than 80% last year. In the Amerindian areas, new secondary schools have been and are being built and staffed with teachers now being trained at centres within the regions. The new secondary school include three in Region 9, three in Region 1, one in Region 8, one in Upper Mazaruni plus two now in construction. New teachers training centres were opened, for example, in Regions One and Nine.

Several Amerindians are Chairmen of Regional Democratic Councils, and many take part in administration of their areas. The demarcation of lands and the issuance of land titles to Amerindian communities now covers more than 13.5% of Guyana’s land area, as compared to 6.5% in 1992.The new Amerindian Act was passed on February 16, 2006, empowering Amerindians socially, economically and politically, bringing their status to the level of all Guyanese – quite a change from the demeaning third class citizenship of earlier days.

There are many things Guyanese can be proud of that have taken place since the 1992 PPP victory. And one of them is that our indigenous people are, at last, an integral part of the Guyanese community and a people on the ‘go’!

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009


Time for Unity Against Cold-Blooded Killers

by Janet Jagan (Jan 31, 2008)

The eleven killings on January 26, 2008 touched the soul of the nation. Never before, and there has been such horrendous killings, nor such a happening struck such a nationwide core of sympathy and, a consequence of the nature of the crimes, anger.

The manner in which the murders were conducted added to the horror. Five of the eleven were children and this has sunk deep into the psyche of most Guyanese as the worst possible thing that could have happened.

Only a person without feeling, without a heart, without an inch of humanity could think of these murders in any other way than with the greatest sympathy and understanding of the trauma of the families left behind and the fear and insecurity of the community.

Some have described the murderers as "animals." I disagree. Animals kill for a reason – to eat or to protect themselves and their young. Human beings, that is a small few (hopefully) kill for no reason that can be understood – not even robbery or saving one’s skin. These vermin killed, apparently to create fear and out of hate. In fact, they are probably consumed by hatred of others. We refer to reptiles as being cold-blooded creatures and that seems to be the best way of categorizing these vicious killers. Cold blood runs through their veins. How else could they "coolly" murder children?

Many persons and groups have made calls on two main areas of concern: Peace and better protection against such fearsome attacks on humans. Essentially, these are the two most urgent considerations before the Guyanese people.

We can fully understand the strong outburst of anger over the killings, especially by the residents of the community where the atrocity happened. While understanding and empathizing with them, at the same time, we can see the absolute need to keep feelings within control. Peaceful protests can be understood and respected, but violent protests cannot, because they can lead to even more atrocities. The past (60’s) and the present (Kenya) are evidence of what can happen when violence erupts and a ‘tit for tat’ reaction erupts, as is always possible in such situations.

Thus, we must understand fully why PEACE is so necessary at this critical point. Already we can see sections of the media fanning such flames and playing dirty games with the delicate situation that exists in our country.

The February 1 edition of Stabroek News is an example of how our frequently disgusting media operates. Not highlighted on the front page and stuck way back on page 18 is the information all Guyana want – the report that the security forces killed two of the gunmen of the Lusignan Massacre, one being the No. 2 killer and arrested 5 in the Buxton backlands. The Chronicle gave this important development minimum attention.

The need for better security is, of course, a necessity. Our joint forces need to be geared to provide maximum protection as well as hunting down the many criminals and murderers in Guyana. So far, they have done well and we hope more killers will be found. Many however are protected and given cover, food and help in between their vile incursions as killers. Those who help and nurture these killers have to feel, also, the full strength of the law.

The religious community has declared that all are involved in the matter of protecting the people and finding the perpetrators of hate and bloodshed. That means that people who know or have vital information on the criminals have to share this with the joint forces. Information on the killers will have to come from people and there are many people in our society who know where they hide, who gives them shelter and aid, etc. No security system can exist usefully without community support. And this we must understand.

Also, we expect the police and army to be more alert. Notification of crimes as they begin are not getting the attention and response needed. That must change. Every police station needs to have better equipment to deal with emergencies. We need more cops, too many unfilled vacancies. The President was right when he asked why more people were not joining the Police Force.

Our Community Police need more training, more equipment and better liaison with those in charge of the police. They can do a lot by their very presence in the community, particularly if equipped with firearms and cellular phones and have mobility.

This is not the time for venting old complaints and grudges or for political upmanship, but for unity to quell the horror of cold blooded criminals stalking our land.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009


Who Wants a Gutter Media?

by Janet Jagan (Feb. 8, 2008)

Some aspects of the post January 26th killings at Lusignan are very disturbing, particularly to most Guyanese who love their country and are deeply concerned about the protection of their families and their conditions of living.

Some of the reactions of a very few have been given maximum publicity by the sections of the media which can only be termed as "depraved". It seems impossible, but there are some people out there who may form .001% of the population who are actually commiserating with the killers, giving them ridiculous and unbelievable excuses for the terrible acts of January 26th.

One ex-soldier spoke out at the Mayor’s press conference, obviously pre-arranged, putting forth an unbelievable, disgusting and ignorant suggestion that what happened at the Lusignan slaughter was a result of guerilla warfare. The disgusting harangue was given maximum publicity on certain TV stations which apparently are free of any standards of morality, patriotism or concern about the damage they are perpetrating.

Guerilla warfare, which Cubans used to free their country of the despotism of President Batista and his alliance with wealthy American criminals and exploiters, is well known. The leaders were men and women of honour and integrity who had a mission. They did not kill innocent men, women and children, but protected them from the excesses of the dictatorship. To give these local killers a name like guerilla fighters shows the viciousness of those who try to make out that the Buxton killers are fighting for a cause.

Some who are weepers and peepers over the ghastly killings are now finding excuses and reasons for side-stepping the truth, i.e., that the killers are Buxton-based. They are now accusing the joint forces of strong actions in dealing with the outrages. According to this new wave of disgusting opposition to the activities of the police and army in tracking down the criminals hiding in Buxton, the armed forces are abusing their rights! Parts of the media, both print and TV are actually challenging the rights of the armed forces to search, house by house, the area of Buxton.
It is general as well as specific knowledge that Buxton is the sink hole of most of the awful crimes that have caused endless problems for all of Guyana.

Many people in the village know exactly what is going on. Could the shoot-out, killing of a soldier and ambush against the GDF on the railway embankment road which took place recently have happened in secret? No way! The area is just too small for no one to know what was going on.
The killers of the eleven Lusignan residents didn’t emerge from just anywhere. They walked over with their weapons of murder to Lusignan. No one saw them or knew who they were or where they stayed in Buxton? Not even a child would believe that!

So what do we have now in the surge of attacks on the GDF and the Police? We have a situation wherein, elements hostile to the elected government, who failed to get the votes they wanted in the 2007 general elections, are working to control the minds of Guyanese and find an excuse to prevent the armed forces from doing their duty.

Watch the letter columns, particularly the Stabroek News, and you’ll be amazed at the sympathy being expressed for Buxton, while at the same time, trying to balance this off with crocodile tears for the murdered. According to one writer, the Buxtonians have been tortured, killed and wounded, so they go.

The media became explosive when a poor woman was killed in the cross fire, between Buxtonian killers and the joint forces. They blamed the joint forces for the unfortunate death. But then, when the bullet shells were examined and the post mortem held, it turned out that she was killed by the Buxton criminals not the Police or Army.

Buxton can only come out of this morass if its people chase out the criminals, give vital information to the police and restore the village to its earlier dignity and respect. It is understandable that many good citizens there live in fear and fear divulging vital information. But it has to be done, the sooner, the better.

It is time now for the public to be protected from the vicious lords of the media who spew out lies, poison and treason, almost on a daily basis. They are creating almost as much damage to Guyana as the criminals themselves. It’s time for them to stop their posturing and behave. The reality is that they are lowering values relating to morality and truth. What Guyana does not need, particularly now, is a "gutter" media.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009


On Bombs and Human Rights

by Janet Jagan (2008)

Sometimes we tend to overlook some of the very positive decisions and discussions going on at the international level as we become so self-absorbed with local events. Besides the many horrific events going on overseas, like the non-stop slaughter of Afghans and Iraqis, the shame of Darfur, the threats by Israel to bomb out Iran, the electoral scandals by Mugabe in Zimbabwe (not much different from the PNC vote rigging from 1968-1991), the crime of Guantanamo Bay Prison, the starvation of children worldwide but particularly in Africa and the spread of HIV/AIDS, etc, it is heartening to see some welcome advances by society.

In May this year, in Dublin, a hundred countries agreed to a treaty banning cluster bombs. As one commentator, Gwynne Dyer (Sunday Chronicle June 1, 2008) said of the efforts to get agreement on the banning of cluster bombs: “The British armed forces clung to their cluster bombs like a baby to its rattle, and some suspected that they were trying to sabotage the treaty on behalf of their American friends (who were not there, of course). But Prime Minister Gordon Brown overruled them in the end…”. Good for Gordon Brown! I doubt that his predecessor Tony Blair would have done the same, so lovingly close he was to the Bush administration.

I feel close to this subject for two reasons. One, the ghastly results of cluster bombs and land mines on civilians, particularly children, has always horrified me. And two, when I was President, I had the exact same experiences as Gordon Browne. Our military positively refused to agree to a decision to ban land mines and support a treaty that was being signed in Canada. They didn’t understand how incorrect was their stance until much later.

There are large areas in the world, where wars have taken place, that are literally littered with unexploded bomblets. I remember seeing a documentary about Afghanistan, showing hundreds and hundreds of children and adults with at least one limb missing as a result of such a bomb exploding while they were tilling the land, just taking a walk or playing in a field that had not been combed safely of cluster bombs.

These bomblets, left unexploded, can go on killing civilians for years after they are dropped. For example, Israel dropped some four million bomblets on Lebanon and to date some 30 have been killed by the unexploded bomblets, not mentioning those injured.

Actually, warfare has produced two types of small explosives – some air dropped and some scattered by the victorious army as it leaves the territory it has conquered, leaving additional chaos and suffering.

The USA has excused itself from the cluster bomb treaty by declaring: “While the United States shares the humanitarian concerns of those in Dublin, cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility, and their elimination from US stock piles would put the lives of our soldiers … at risk.” Not mentioned are the massive profits made by the munitions manufacturers!

Another positive development, in attitude, comes from a woman – one of the many strong women leaders who have emerged in large numbers over the years – United Nations Human Rights Chief Louise Arbour, who, in her farewell speech made a passionate call for people’s rights. She attacked mistreatment of women and gays in many countries and called for equal condemnation of rights violations wherever they happen. (Reuters, June 3, 2008)

She urged condemnation of anti-semitism and Islamophobia, abuse of minorities, immigrants and people from `perceived’ lower castes.

Said Ms Arbour: “A key aspect of women’s legal disenfranchisement in many countries is the limitation placed on their ability to own or manage property, including through unjust divorce or inheritance laws… perpetuation of prejudices continues to deny equal rights and dignity to millions worldwide on the basis of nothing more innocuous than their sexual identity or orientation, or their ancestry in the case of caste discrimination.”

These are the words of a genuine and creative women’s rights advocate and a staunch, unbiased, human rights activist. She deserves our admiration for militant and fearless leadership.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009


The Struggles of Women Must Continue

(by Janet Jagan in observance of International Women’s Day)

“Just a few days ago we celebrated International Women’s Day, an important day to all women, everywhere.  This celebration, generally in Guyana, was not so several years ago when the only group recognizing that notable day was the Women’s Progressive Organization (WPO), women’s arm of the People’s Progressive Party.  The reason for this national neglect to recognize the day had to do with politics – one, that is was the WPO celebrating a day in a country ruled by the People’s National Congress and two, that is was celebrated internationally only in the socialist world.  It was not until the United Nations recognized International Women’s Day that it gained an international status.”

All of this tells its own tale in Guyana of the development and growth of the women’s movement for equal rights.  Historically, the first grouping of women for political and economic goals was the Women’s Political and Economic Organization (WPEO) which was organized in 1946 by three women – Winifred Gaskin, Frances Van Stafford and myself.  We soon gathered enough women around us to start the WPEO, which aimed at women’s rights – to vote without restrictions, to have equal rights with men regarding property, the right to sit on juries, to become members of the Legislative Council, to enjoy equal opportunities to jobs with equal pay like male employees, to good housing, nutrition, etc.

The WPEO played an important role in bringing awareness of their rights to women, since it was the first of its kind to do so.  Other women’s group up to that time was mainly religious, social and/or charitable.  But in the long run politics entered and finally let to its disintegration. The 1947 elections led to participation by some WPEO members.  Ms. Van Stafford contested the South Georgetown seat where Nathaniel Critchlow was the Labour candidate and supported by Winifred Gaskin.  I, too, was a candidate, in Central Georgetown, but my activity did not lead to any conflict in the WPEO.  The centre of conflict was the matter of Stafford on one side and Gaskin on the side of Critchlow.  That campaign got rough with wild allegations being made of a racial kind, and eventually there was an election petition. Sides were taken in the WPEO with those supporting Gaskin and others for Stafford.  Unfortunately, it eventually ended up in the break-up of the WPEO, which had been doing so well.

In 1950, the PPP was founded and by 1953, it had formed a women’s arm, the WPO (as it did also, to form a youth arm). This apparently set the pattern for future women’s rights groups with the PNC having one – WRSM and later the WPA having its own.  Even the trade unions followed this pattern, so that, to this day, the main women’s rights groups are attached or associated with political parties, and to some lesser extent, to trade unions.  I’m not sure where else this pattern exists, but it certainly has influenced the course of the women’s movement in Guyana.

Many advances in women’s rights have grown out of this situation.  The fight for universal adult suffrage, one of the PPP’s strong demands in the constitutional battles with the British leading up to the 1953 elections was won with women gaining two important rights – the right to vote unfettered by property or income qualifications and the right to vote irrespective of being literate.  This was pushed by the PPP as many Guyanese (higher among women) could not read or write and thus the introduction of symbols to assist illiterates.

Later, when the PPP, having been deposed of office by the British 133 days after winning the elections, again won elections in 1957.  Other efforts to improve the status of women were gained. Protection under the Workmen’s Compensation Act was made to include domestic workers.  At that time, married women were not allowed to continue to work in the public service, and these also included nurses.  This restriction was removed.

The WPO focused its grass root activities on bringing girl children into the educational system.  This was the first time this was done and slowly but surely, girls were liberated from domestic chores and sent to school.  As we know today, the female sex has a higher ratio of attendance at all levels of education, including our University.  It has been recognized that education is the key to women’s advancement in all spheres of life.

Today, Guyana can boast of having women leading in almost every sphere of activity – from the law courts where the first woman Chief Justice in the whole Caribbean area was a woman, the first President, women in the hierarchy of medicine, culture, business, science, trade unions, administration, cabinet, etc.

Guyanese women have gone a long way upwards as have women all over the world.  Today we can see Heads of State in Chile, Argentina, Liberia, the Philippines, New Zealand and Germany with India having a President (though not Head of State).  Women hold vital and important positions in world bodies like the United Nations and in their government.  The USA may possibly have its first woman President this year and the head of the US House of Representatives is a woman.

No one can deny the great strides women have made in the 20th and 21st centuries.  That is not to say that there is not a long road ahead for more changes.  Women today bear the heavy burdens of poverty, unemployment, violence against women, wars which lead to heavy migration, misery and worsening living conditions, lack of water and sanitation, housing and all the basic needs of living.  So the struggle continues to broaden the gains made on the area of women’s rights and this requires the energies and attention of all women, all over the world.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009


Obama’s Philadelphia statement

by Janet Jagan

It’s a document well worth studying, not once but at least twice. There are profound truths expressed and a fresh, new outlook on what is essential to understanding the real problems existing in the USA. I refer to the address made by the U.S. Democratic Party candidate Senator Barack Obama on March 18, 2008 in Philadelphia. His remarks were more significant in view of the location he spoke from – opposite the Convention Hall where the Declaration of Independence was made by the early American Fathers of the Revolution in 1787.

An unusual, out of the ordinary, process is now going on in the USA to elect the Democratic Party’s candidate for the November Presidential elections, only eight months away. The two contesting candidates represent sections of American life that never before reached this level of possibility of becoming not only the presidential candidate for one of the two major parties, but probably the future President of the USA. One, Senator Hillary Clinton is a woman and the other, Senator Barack Obama is Black.

And to add to the peculiarities of these elections is the fact that the Republican Party candidate, who has already made it as the official candidate, John McCain, is barely acceptable to his party, seems to have minimal influence and popularity and has to face an electorate strongly opposed to the outgoing President George Bush and his administration.

There is also the possibility, if one is to judge reports emanating from the USA, that the struggle of the two Democratic Party candidates is hurting that Party. The frequent clashes of the two candidates are becoming a delicate issue that some say could lead to an unfortunate backlash – that the final choice of one or the other candidates could result in a vote boycott by the loser’s supporters, thus putting the Republican Party candidate into office. The realization of this possibility should lead the two candidates to rethink their present actions and pave the way for a united Democratic Party at the November elections.

Obama, in his outstanding Philadelphia address, deals cooly and wisely with the American race problem, giving an indication of his own character and thoughts. He solidifies the conception that he is a man, whatever his race and background, representing a fresh approach to the many problems facing most Americans and recognizes how racism exists and develops through lack of understanding and the injustices that are entrenched. For example, he talks about “a corporate culture rife with inside dealings, questionable accounting practices and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favour the few over the many…”.

He asserts his faith in the American people – “that working together we can move beyond some of our racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.”

Obama’s theme is that it is possible for change to take place. He says in his address, speaking about Reverend Wright whose remarks have caused intense criticism: “The proficient mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and hold a coalition of White and Black, Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old – is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know – what we have seen – that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”

Obama’s theme is one that has great appeal to the American people, mainly that things can change for the better, in a society facing economic problems and immersed in a war that has, so far, killed 4000 of its youths and seems to have no end, a country of haves and have-nots, a country that could do so much better with enlightened and honest leadership. Barack Obama has, in the opinion of many, edged his way closer to winning the Presidential candidacy in his Philadelphia address.

Printed in Mirror April 5, 2008

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009


WPO’s Contribution to Women’s Rights

By Janet Jagan - 2008

Just a few days ago, on April 27th 2008 the Women’s Progressive Organization (WPO) celebrated its 55th anniversary. It is the longest serving women’s rights organization in Guyana, and is still as active and vibrant as it was in 1953, when it was born.

From day one of its long life, the WPO fought for and won many rights for women. Its focus was the betterment of women’s status in society and the protection of women from the many abuses that history and people have leveled on women.

The WPO recognized very early that one of its tasks to ensure that women take their rightful place in society was to give full support to the freedom struggle of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). From the time of its birth, the PPP had declared its goal as seeking the end of colonial rule. The independence struggle was supported strongly by the WPO, whose members fully joined in the numerous activities, protests, marches, picketing, leafleting, house-to-house contacts, etc. to strengthen this struggle.

The WPO took up the cudgels of the rights of women to work and at work, demanding equal pay for equal work, a new step in the struggle of women’s rights. Demands were made through the trade unions for protection of women working in the fields, in the shirt factories, as domestics and as vendors and trade persons. Their Party, when it was in office, even with limited powers in the colonial days, brought workmen’s compensation to domestics, established minimum pay rates for many categories of women workers and also removed the barriers against married women in the public service and nursing.

The PPP focused on such areas as education, health, housing, pure water supplies, old age pension, etc., to assist women. For, it has always been the women who have had to care for the sick and the elderly and fetch heavy loads of water on a daily basis. The extension of pure water supplies really became an issue of the rights of women not to be eternally carrying water, most being exhausted before the daily duties began.

The WPO recognized very early that education was the gateway for the advancement of women and to be able to fulfill their ambitions and talents. That is why the WPO went street by street and village by village, urging parents to send both their boy and girl children to school, not just the boys as it used to be. Today, the female population dominates our educational system, both as students and as teachers. We can thank the WPO for being so far sighted in this aspect of life.

Like the PPP, the WPO joined the international peace struggle, understanding fully that in wars, the women and children are the greatest victims. The WPO recognized early that women cannot concern themselves only in their local lives, but must reach across to women all over the world in solidarity, to exchange ideas and experiences and to be aware of what are the problems and achievements of women in other countries.

Older members of the WPO can remember, for example, the WPO’s solidarity with the Black American militant Angela Davis who was incarcerated. WPO members picketed the US Embassy calling for her freedom.

Even before the WPO was founded in 1953, PPP women were active in the struggle to achieve full voting rights which, hitherto had been restricted to women who owned property or had lucrative jobs (very few). The right to vote was fully embraced by the WPO whose members actively and willingly gave their wholehearted support to the Party at every election.

The celebration of 55 years of the WPO is a huge historical event and one in which all women can rejoice.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009