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Articles by Janet Jagan 2008

The Accuser Stands Accused!

by Janet Jagan (June 21, 2008)

Far too often our media jumps to the tune of one or another US report on an aspect of human rights that highlights Guyana as a chief offender. Whichever report it may be – on police brutality, high rates of corruption, violations of human rights, violence against children, abuse of child labour, trafficking or what have you, the media grabs on like a tick and won’t loosen.

However, when we examine the so-called violations, we generally discover that most are over-done, not based on genuine research and, strangely enough, more strongly reflect what is actually going on in the USA, in one form or another.

I recall my own anger at charges that our police have killed civilians instead of arresting them and then remembering numerous instances where policemen, usually in New York City, kill innocent men, usually Black Americans, under horrific circumstances – like dozens of bullets into the victim’s body, only to find out later that the dead men did nothing at all to breach the law. Those interested in researching that point would not find it hard to find plenty of evidence.

A recent Reuters report indicates that the global labour union grouping known as ITUC accused the USA of violating a wide range of workers’ rights, and permitting the existence of a “huge union-busting industry”.

The report of the Brussels based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) declared that many US workers were denied the right to organize into unions. It also reported that child labour was not being tackled effectively. So much for their various reports that Guyana is not tackling its child labour and child trafficking problems!

According to the Reuters report, the US administration is denying workers the freedom to join a union and bargain collectively to “millions of workers.” Imagine this happening in little Guyana! If something like that did happen, it would never be allowed to continue for even a few days!

In more specific terms the ITUC report said that “there exists a huge union busting industry which aims at undermining trade union organizing.”

The US is also accused in this report of not ending child labour, mainly from under-age migrants from Latin America and forced labour, especially from migrant workers in agriculture and garment manufacturing.

This is happening in the 21st century, but look at what went on way back in 1973, another example of US attitudes to wrong doing and illegal behaviour right here in Guyana.

A declassified US document marked “confidential” by the US Ambassador to Guyana re the 1973 elections stated:

“In attempting its forecast of this election, Embassy had not really expected PNC to abandon all pretense of honest election. However, this is what appears to have happened, whether out of fear, confusion, inefficiency, exuberance or sheer lack of coordination, rigging does seem to have gotten out of hand. From all reports, ballot boxes were delivered by variety of means Monday night to Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Headquarters in Georgetown where they remained under armed guard for upwards of 10 hours before vote counting began. PPP evidently succeeded only too well in alarming PNC by its last minute exhortations to its followers to prevent removal of ballot boxes to three central county locations. Evidently, plans to engage in ballot-box stuffing and switching while boxes being delivered, as had apparently been the original intention, were abandoned and stuffing and switching seems to have taken place while the boxes were held at GDF Headquarters before delivery to three county locations.

“Announced results district by district  (which will be reported by airgram) so clearly padded that little can be learned by comparison with 1968 results which themselves suspect. We will really never know what true votes was in any of the districts, how successful PNC campaign might have been, or how great Liberation Party’s appeal was. About all that can be said at this point is that Burnham has retained power and that he will be able to amend the constitution as he sees fit. As US had in past devoted much time, effort and treasure to keeping Jagan out, we should perhaps not be too disturbed at results this election. Jagan is still out and Burnham still in.”

The meaning of that contemptible letter from the US Ambassador tells the whole story of the USA’s fork-tongued attitude that has created so many enemies. It will tolerate and go along with the most terrible transgressions of human rights once it suits its policy, as in the case of Guyana – note the use of “treasure” meaning money poured into the coffers of the PNC to keep Jagan out of office by all means – and in its use of torture and imprisonment without trial and abuse of Iraqi prisoners, just to state a few of its double standards.

The accuser stands accused!

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

A look at the status of press freedom in the past

 by Janet Jagan (May 10, 2008)

The challenge to colonial rule in the then British Guiana began in earnest with the formation of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in 1950. At the party’s first Congress on April 1, 1951, it adopted its first constitution which contained this preamble: “In the firm belief that the people of British Guiana, like peoples everywhere, are entitled to the full enjoyment of all their human rights and fundamental freedoms often proclaimed as the common standard of achievements for all peoples and nations, we, the members of the organization hereinafter named have resolved to combine our efforts to achieve the national independence of British Guiana, and to secure for all Guianese social progress and increasingly better standards of life.”

Last week, we commemorated World Press Freedom Day. Over half a century ago, it was recognized by those who founded the PPP that human rights and fundamental freedoms were all linked to national independence and the welfare of the people. Those who wrote the Party’s preamble to its constitution had not only witnessed, but experienced the denial of many freedoms, including freedom of the press.

During the late President Cheddi Jagan’s first election to the country’s Parliament in 1947, he had cause to point out in the Legislative Council that the colonial government and its big business community fully controlled the press and this included the radio station. The radio station was owned by four of the largest companies – Bookers, W.M Fogarty’s, Wieting & Richter and the Argosy C., printers of the Daily Argosy. It enjoyed many privileges, being granted a government subsidy and an exclusive monopoly for five years. Also, the three daily newspapers, the Guiana Graphic, the Daily Argosy and the Daily Chronicle were all owned by big businesses, but more significant, the three newspapers and the radio station had interlocking directorates. The sugar planters and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce owned the Guiana Graphic. All of these facts exposed by the young Cheddi Jagan in Parliament gave a clear indication of the state of press freedom at that time, under colonial rule.

Later, in the early 50’s, two other historical events helped to show the picture of the state of freedom of expression at that time. In 1952, Lionel Luckhoo moved in the Legislative Council what was known as the Luckhoo Subversive Literature Bill, aimed at banning socialist literature from entering the country. In office in 1953, the PPP sought to repeal the legislation. And after the suspension of the constitution in 1953, under the State of Emergency, the Arcade Printery owned by Cyril Shaw was put under 24-hour police guard to ensure that it did not print Thunder, official organ of the PPP. There is a photo in an old PPP booklet showing the two police guards on duty. As an aside, I would mention that I was then the Editor of Thunder, and we managed by “hook or crook” to keep the paper going with the help of the fearless Cyril Shaw, not even a member of the PPP, but angry at the colonial administration’s harshness.

The Mirror’s newspaper was established in the 60’s mainly because of the existing situation, wherein the established newspapers, as always, refused to give any information on the PPP, which by that time had been elected to government three times. Not only did they totally ignore printing anything positive about the PPP, but they were first class at printing lies. During the troubled years of the 60’s, the Guiana Chronicle printed wild stories about Cuban ships off the shores of BG ready to invade and the vast armies of Cubans in the country, guns on the ready. At that time there were exactly two Cubans in the country, both diplomats. All this, to exacerbate the already explosive situation that led to the deaths of so many and the destruction of millions of dollars in buildings and stock.

The PNC government was notorious in its assault on press freedom. It did everything to prevent the Mirror newspaper from continuing its existence, mainly because it was the main source of unadulterated news at that period. Mirror vendors were attacked and beaten off the streets, vicious libel suits were introduced, but the worse was the refusal to allow the importation of newsprint, printing materials and necessary printing machinery to replace the antiquated press.

Ralph Ramkarran, in the most recent issue of Thunder and in an earlier article in Mirror, outlined all the legal efforts of the PNC regime to close down the Mirror, including some unusual “monkey business” in the judiciary. At the Mirror, we eventually came out of the battle, battered and worn, but still surviving.

Another example of what took place during those 28 years of rigged elections and other attacks on freedom of expression was the attack on journalists.

The elections of 1973 were probably the most corrupt of the four rigged elections and the one Referendum under the PNC. Three well-known journalists lost their jobs for telling the truth about the elections. Ricky Singh and Ric Mentis of the Guiana Graphic and Father Wong, editor of the Catholic Standard were sacked. Father Wong made the grave error of describing the 1973 rigged elections as “Fairy Tale Elections” and paid the penalty. It was only some good time later that the Catholic Standard changed its tune.

Cheddi Jagan in the West on Trial had this to say about the whole concept of press freedom and other freedoms:

“However, behind the ideal of freedom of the press, and indeed all other freedoms, lies the reality of poverty and suffering of tens of millions of human beings. Until the problem of ‘freedom from want’ is tackled, the other freedoms, important as they are, can have little meaning for them. Men, parties, notions, systems and faiths can only be judged by their attitude to this, the fundamental problem of our time. It is only when the system of exploitation ends and poverty is abolished that men will really begin to be free.”

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

The Quality of Justice

by Janet Jagan (Feb 16, 2008)

The toughness or otherwise of the courts of a country play an important role in the level of crime in a country, whether they be in the developed or developing world.
                Singapore, for example has a no nonsense court system which made even chewing gum or littering the landscape serious offences which bring on heavy fines. Criminals who sell narcotics or those guilty of using such substances are treated harshly, even condemned to death. As is expected, crime is low in that country.
                On the other hand, countries which are easy on criminals, who are let off with a slight slap on the hand, find themselves over-run by criminal activity. The judicial systems as well as other aspects of dealing with those who break the laws, unless tightly controlled and geared to deal with bribery and corruption, are bound to fail. And fail they do in too many countries of the world where crimes are growing greater in number and ferocity.
                Most of the developed countries have growing crime rates as well as overflowing prisons, which seem ineffective in turning out reformed prisoners. To the contrary, many prisons are the breeding grounds for more dangerous criminals.
                The developing countries are infected with the growing narco-traders who use these territories as bases for the transshipment of drugs to the countries which have the buyers and users of narcotics and who pay the most. A great deal of crime, as we all know, is narco-based.
                The Americans who invaded Afghanistan, mainly to capture Bin Laden, eliminated, for a time, the Taliban, who, bad as they were, had killed the growth and export of heroin. Now, under NATO control and mainly American troops, the growth and trade of heroin has increased 100%, which thus increases the movement and use of narcotics worldwide, but mainly to North America and Europe.
                In Guyana, like the happenings throughout this hemisphere, crime is growing. We need not only tougher means of preventing crime, which everyone is focusing on today, but also much improved methods of dealing out justice, which, I am afraid, is not up to the standards which the situation demands.
                I am aware that criticizing the courts is supposed to be taboo. When I was first appointed Prime Minister in 1997, I spoke of the need to improve the judiciary and observed that it was lacking in many ways. Chief Justice Desiree Bernard called me up and slapped my fingers for making such a comment. But, of course, it was a very mild criticism and didn’t really say what was wrong with the system, which is now under greater scrutiny due to some really awful developments recently.
                But on this subject of courts, it is really sad that in one particular area of abuse, that is, rape, the records of the lower and upper courts are abysmal. Records shown that about one percent of all reported cases of rape ever reach conclusion. We have cases of 6 year old girls being raped and the matter reaches court 5 years later. Obviously it doesn’t work. An 11 year old child cannot be expected to remember details of a shocking event so long ago, nor should she be expected to relive that torture she endured, plus the shame. In other words, delayed justice is not justice.
                Too often the torments of giving evidence and the crude methods used, are too much for a rape victim of any age, and thus may withdraw from the case, which makes life easy for the apparently growing number of rapists. Also, the legal system in all sorts of cases, allows a smart and slick lawyer to use sharp practices to win his/her case for the frequently guilty offenders.
                I read an item in the daily press on September 5, 2007 in which a man accused of having carnal knowledge of a 9 year old was freed by a jury. The report stated that the trial judge who had expected a guilty verdict called the accused a lucky man and told him “you must thank your lawyer, the jury and your lucky stars, because you know as well as I do that you are guilty.” What message does that tell us? That there is something really wrong with our system of justice!
                In another instance, a 14 year old accused her father of incest. The report noted that the prosecuting police inspector “warned the teen that she made a very serious allegation and could be charged if she is telling lies.” What does that message tell us? Obviously, the prosecutor doesn’t believe the girl and so our justice system is really flawed.
                In another horrific case, four men “caught in the act of sodomizing a girl” appeared in court and 2 were put on bail and 2 remanded. If the police actually caught the 4 men in the act, in the house of one of the accused, why weren’t all four remanded? One never hears the end to these reports. Will the 2 on bail show up or will they disappear, as one did recently when put on bail in the high courts? It makes one wonder at the quality of justice!
                I recall reading on one part of a newspaper (4/2/06): a teacher accused of molesting a pupil was put on station bail and in the next column, accused horse thieves were refused bail. Such is justice!
                I also noted an item from St Lucia in which the mother of a raped child was sentenced to jail for one year for not reporting the rape of her 13 year old child by the child’s grandfather. The child’s brother reported that he had seen his sister assaulted by the grandfather and told his mother. When asked by the magistrate what she did, she replied “I did nothing.” For that, she had to pay the penalty. I would say – that is justice!

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

High Hope for a Change in the USA

by Janet Jagan (October 11, 2008)

The US Presidential campaign is moving into high gear as the date of the November elections comes closer. The Wall Street crisis which eventually led to a $700 billion rescue by the US Congress apparently gave a boost to Democratic candidate Barack Obama and this was enhanced by the Vice Presidential debate between Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Joe Biden. Usually, not that much attention is paid to this debate, only one, to three between the Presidential candidates.

However, on this occasion, the choice of the Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate has caused a great deal of interest, both positive and negative. A massive television audience listened to that debate. I was one of the listeners. I found the Republican Party Vice Presidential candidate to be a very attractive woman with a winning smile, which she used frequently, street smart, glib but quite shallow. It made me wonder how Mc Cain could have picked such a person to be his running mate. I believe many, many others wondered at his wisdom and ability to make sound choices and judgment on the basis of his selection of Sarah Palin. If he wanted a woman VP candidate, there are many to choose from – all much better equipped for the job than Palin. There are women governors, mayors, members of the House of Representatives and Senate and many serving in high places that have excellent requirements in other areas of American life.

But why did he pick Palin? If nothing else, it is an indication of very poor judgment and American voters want someone at the helm of government whose judgment they can rely on. Also, there is always the possibility of the Vice President becoming President if something happens to the President. Can anyone, in their wildest imagination think of Sarah Palin as President? A really dreadful possibility if McCain were to win – but it looks now that Obama is pretty far ahead in the polls!

At the VP debate last week, Senator Joe Biden came out as the easy winner. His knowledge and experience were in dynamic contrast to the shallowness of Palin’s utterances. She carefully, one might even say, astutely, avoided deeper concepts that she could not handle like deregulation on Wall Street and climate change. She overdid her references to Alaska, showing the limitations of her vision.

I thought Biden superb when he remarked about the self description by Mc Cain of being a “maverick.” Said Biden – he is no maverick and gave some examples. I ran to my dictionary to be sure about the term and then I understood how emphatic Biden was on that point A maverick is a “masterless” person. Obviously, Mc Cain is not such a person – he is a Republican and the Republicans – are now in power and their man is President George Bush who has ruled for 8 years. He has made a terrible mess of the USA at so many levels – economic with poverty, and unemployment growing and with the collapse of the banking system that required a bail-out of $700 billion, plus the loss of homes by hundreds of thousands of Americans, plus the costly and dangerous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have brought such condemnation and hatred to the USA worldwide. Not to be forgotten are the many violations of human rights that have arisen over Guantanamo Bay and the awful US practice of rendition plus the use of torture on prisoners. And it is generally accepted that the War on Terror has failed. Mc Cain’s Party has always supported its President!

In the Presidential race, Barack Obama has risen in status and popularity due to many factors – his promise of genuine change, his choice of the VP candidate, his demeanour, his way of dealing with criticisms and his behaviour in important matters. Take the Wall Street crisis. McCain, in an attempt to show his GREAT concern, announced that he would leave his campaigning and return to Washington to influence and help resolve the situation. Obama took no such dramatic, publicity-aimed stance, but continued his campaign and made a visit to Washington as a Senator, to take a position on proposals to solve the crisis. He didn’t “grandstand” as did McCain, and won more respect for his calm and careful appraisal of the financial crisis. Eventually McCain had to give up his promise to stay in Washington – he was labeled a nuisance – and go back to the campaign trail. Thus did the two show up their personalities and capabilities in this crucial national problem.

The Tuesday Presidential debate, again, showed Obama as the best of the two candidates. He was clear and forthright in his answers, but the debate was sourced by the incessant bickering of the two candidates. My impression was that Obama would have come out stronger if he had ignored McCain’s jabs. Also, in my opinion both failed to take acceptable positions on Pakistan, and both reflected the strong Washington undercurrent that tends towards military solutions, rather than the use of the United Nations – as did President Bush. Sadly, the United Nations appeared to be out of the vision of the two candidates.

All over the world, the US elections are being followed closely and it appears that those who wish for a peaceful world and the peaceful solution of conflicts are hoping for a Democratic Party victory. Within the USA, at this point in time, it appears that the Democratic Party Presidential candidate Barack Obama will win. However, nothing is certain until the actual count of votes takes place. We can only hope for an end to the Republican regime that fostered a warmongering President, and a start on the change so much desired in the USA and everywhere.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

For a Nuclear Free World

by Janet Jagan (Dec. 20, 2008)

 

Global disarmament is a goal that some countries and many peace organizations and humanitarians aim at. Unfortunately, not all countries have this goal. A world without war is but a faint hope. Right now, it is hard to count all the wars going on, as well as all the potential wars that exist. The latter may have been reduced by the defeat, in the USA, of the Republican Party at Presidential and Congressional elections last month. Bush and his associates had been heading for a confrontation in Iran and Syria, but it seems to be an accepted view that, now, this will not happen.

At this time, 148 countries have signed the comprehensive nuclear Test Ban Treaty, since it was first signed in 1996. However this treaty cannot come into effect until the USA signs it. That was unlikely during the Bush regime, but there are high hopes that the new President, Barack Obama may send it to Congress for ratification. However, the reality is that it may be putting too much pressure on the new president to expect him to correct all the mistakes of the past. The various forces and pressure in Washington are realities that have to be faced by all those hoping for very early changes.

The mere presence of nuclear weapons in a number of countries creates its own problems, particularly with neighbours and the various alliances and areas of power in this world. Russia, which has nuclear weapons, is being surrounded by anti-missile military stations in Europe at the behest of the USA. Iran is constantly under pressure to stop its nuclear activity which it claims is for domestic use – to provide cheap electricity. Israel has been allowed to build nuclear weapons because it is an ally of the USA, whereas Iraq was invaded on the excuse that it had weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapons). India and Pakistan have gone ahead and created nuclear weapons while the two nations have demonstrated increasing hostility to each other.

The answer, really is not only to ban nuclear testing, but to ban all nuclear weapons which endanger every living organism on this earth. The vast sums of money spent on the development of nuclear weapons – 20,000 exist – is done at an unbelievable cost to humanity.

When we examine statistics from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) we see how disastrous to humanity is the expenditure on nuclear weapons and other weapons of war. The FAO has stated that some 923 million (nearly one billion) people were suffering from hunger in 2007, up from 848 million in 2003-05 and 842 million in 1990-1992. The FAO also estimated that 14% of the world’s population was undernourished this year, up from 12.9% in 2003-05.

The champions of peace have calculated that world hunger could be curtailed if the money spent (wasted) on armaments, nuclear and otherwise, could be used for humanitarian purposes and assisting poor nations to be self sufficient in food production.

A columnist in the Guyana Chronicle, Gwynne Dyer, commenting on the subject of nuclear weapons wrote that “If Barack Obama sent the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to Congress for ratification early in the new session that would be an excellent start.”

He also wrote about a new initiative launched recently in Paris under the title “Global Zero” in which more than 100 global leaders endorsed the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons completely. That, of course, is a noble ambition which many people throughout the world could hope for.

But it could never happen until the Number One nuclear power faced the reality that nuclear weapons are not the answer to a nations’ protection and/or ambitions. A nuclear free world would create more stability and fewer crises that rock the world and create fear and poverty.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009