Tributes to Cheddi Jagan - Remembering CJ
by Hydar Ally
THE month of March is remembered for the deaths of two political icons of Guyana - Cheddi and Janet Jagan.
Both were founder members of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and between the two, they had over a hundred years of contribution to the politics of Guyana. No other couple in the Anglo-phone Caribbean and beyond could match such an outstanding achievement.
I propose in this article to analyze the political contribution of the Jagans, especially in light of attempts to denigrate and cast aspirations on their role in the politics of this country. The impression that some so-called ‘analysts’ are attempting to project is that the Jagans were not politically sensitive to geopolitics, which they assert, were responsible for the relative underdeveloped state of the country vis-a-vis other countries in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
It is my view that those who level such charges against the Jagans and the PPP which they founded are intellectually dishonest or motivated by political/ideological prejudice rather than out of any objective and rigorous analysis of the facts and the context in which the Jagans entered the political arena. They have failed to take into account the historical antecedents which obtained at the time of the entry of the Jagans into the politics of the colony.
I shall argue that the situation which obtained during the early 1940’s when the Jagans entered the political arena was one that was at best oppressive and consequently militated against the rise of militant political leaders who sought to champion the cause the downtrodden. This is why many of the militants, including Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, regarded as the Father of Trade Unionism in Guyana, and several other working class leaders, were either pressured into subservience by the Colonial Office or, in some instances, put on the payroll of the employers which in effect muzzled them and prevented them from articulating and representing the interests of the working people against the yoke of colonial oppression.
What distinguished the Jagans from other working class leaders was the fact that they were able to provide a political perspective to the problems affecting the laboring class in the then colony of British Guiana. Hitherto, the struggle was mainly seen as an economic struggle between the planter class and the laboring class. The working people for the most part were unorganized and therefore could not provide an effective challenge to the colonial power structures.
The formation of the Political Affairs Committee in 1946 (PAC) bore testimony to the perspicacity of the Jagans. They recognized that the first task was to sensitize the population, in particular the working people, on the need for a political assault on the status quo and not simply a tinkering of the system.
Dr. Jagan, from his own experience as an elected member of the Legislative Assembly for the East Coast Demerara constituency in the elections of 1947, saw how difficult it was to effect any meaningful changes for the working class unless there was a change in the power configuration of the colonial structures.
Hence the formation of the People’s Progressive Party in January a1950, which a mere three years after its formation was able to win a landslide victory in the elections of 1953, the first under Universal Adult Suffrage. The PPP, under the charismatic leadership of Dr. Jagan, won 18 of the 24 seats and held political office for three months before it was removed from office by the British Government. The Constitution was suspended and an interim administration was put in place made up mainly of those who were loyal to the Colonial office. It is of interest to note that the British Government, and for that matter the United States, failed to provide development assistance to the colony. In fact, the period 1953-1957 was described as one in which the country simply marked time and could be regarded as one of the dullest and most uneventful period in the country’s history.
One would have thought that the British Government and other western countries would have used the period of suspended rule to boost the image and status of the interim administration if only to show how ‘incompetent’ and ‘ineffective’ the elected PPP leaders were. That did not happen. Instead, the colony remained frozen in time and it was not until the return to office of the PPP in the elections of 1957 that genuine efforts were made to develop and diversify the economic bases of the colony. The cultivation of rice expanded significantly and development assistance was sought by the new PPP administration from non-traditional sources on relatively easy terms.
Dr. Jagan was accused of not understanding the geo-politics of the situation, especially Guyana’s location in what was described as a US sphere of influence. However, despite his best efforts to source development assistance from western countries, not much assistance was forthcoming which forced Jagan to seek development assistance from non-western sources.
The fact is that at an intellectual level, the struggle for independence and national liberation necessarily had to take the form of a radical restructuring of power relations in the colony along a pro-working class orientation. It must be remembered that the Party derived its strength from the working people and any attempt to mislead or deceive the working class was fraught with dangers. The fact that the PPP won all elections from 1953 to 1964, when it was manipulated out of office, proved that the PPP’s faith in the working people was not misplaced.
Dr. Jagan was accused by detractors of having allowed himself to be tricked by the British Government on the issue of Proportional Representation for Guyana. The facts would show that Dr. Jagan foresaw the manipulations of Britain to remove him from office and vigorously opposed the move. It was not until it dawned upon him that failing to reach consensus on the issue could result in further delays for independence for Guyana that he reluctantly agreed, fully aware of the consequences.
It was a case of putting the interests of the country before that of Party - an extremely noble act in the circumstance.
Plant a tree in honour of Dr Jagan - PPP urges
AS PART of its activities planned for the 82nd birth anniversary of Dr Cheddi Jagan, late President of the Republic, the People's Progressive Party (PPP) is encouraging all Guyanese to plant a fruit or flower tree in their yards.
This tree planting exercise will cover the period March 19-26, it said.
Fruit trees can be purchased at National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) outlets at reasonable prices.
"The aim of this tree planting exercise is to ensure that all those who admire our great leader, whether at home or overseas, create their very own symbol, which will always remind them of a man who cared for his Guyanese brothers and sisters", the PPP said in a statement.
It said the tree-planting concept is most appropriate, especially since Dr Jagan was a lover of nature and loved flowers and fruits.
"Through this initiative, it is envisaged that all Guyanese will be able to share their personal symbol of Dr Jagan with others, while reminiscing on his life's work and achievements", the PPP said.
It said this activity is also intended to help young Guyanese who have not had the opportunity of knowing Dr Jagan to be constantly reminded that there was an "indomitable Guyanese leader and President."
Dr Jagan "never gave up the fight for the rights of the poor, oppressed and working class people of this great land of ours".
The PPP said the exercise is being carried out "in recognition of the selfless service that this great son of Guyana dedicated to this country in the fight against colonialism and for the restoration of democracy."
Guyana’s first and biggest political party is dedicating its 50th anniversary celebrations to founder leader Dr. Cheddi Jagan.
"As part of a fitting tribute to outstanding leadership and guidance," says PPP General Secretary Donald Ramotar, "the Party’s 50th anniversary celebrations are dedicated to founder member the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan and the many fighters and stalwarts who have given unmatched dedicated and selfless service to the Guyanese nation."
The PPP is celebrating half a century of service to the Guyanese people as one of the first political parties in modern history to have made freedom and an end to colonialism part of its initial goals.
In a statement Dr. Jagan made on the occasion of the Party’s 25th anniversary, the late Guyanese Leader recalled that the PPP was born in struggle and rooted in the working class. "The bullets, which snuffed out the lives of the Enmore Martyrs," he said then, "acted as a catalyst agent. And the betrayal of the workers by the opportunists and band-wagoners of the labour party set the seal for the birth of the PPP in 1950."
The Party late last year named Dr. Jagan its Man of the Century.
Prime Minister’s Speech Opening of Photo Exhibition at National Library in Honour of the Life and Contributions of the Late Dr. Cheddi Jagan
Monday March 10, 2012
Thank you very much Mr. Sattaur, I am pleased to launch this pictorial exhibition on the life of Dr. Cheddi Jagan in 2012. March is a month for remembrance of dr. Cheddi Jagan having including both his birth anniversary date which is the 22nd of March and the anniversary of his death which is the 6th of March. D
Dr. Cheddi Jagan was truly a revolutionary person and I would dare to say perhaps the first person who truly felt the “call” to be Guyanese, to be a person of this land with its six people who has been brought here under the various circumstances that you would know, it was quiet remarkable that growing up with parents who were immigrants from India and with fore parents and people all around who would have been immigrants from India that he quiet early took to being Guyanese. And he remarks about going on to Queens College in Georgetown here in Guyana and being encouraged by his friend, Dommit to go onto Howard University in the dentistry field in 1936 and if we can put ourselves back in those times it was quiet remarkable for him to do that, one may wonder if his parents and family would have been supportive because at that time going onto America for people of Indian descent was quiet a challenging and something not commonly done but he went onto Howard University and in addition to gaining his pre-medical qualifications to go onto dentistry. He also took time out to study history and economics and he had already had the inclination to equip himself for life in politics. And we know subsequently he went onto North Western University in Chicago where I had the honour to accompany him in 1991, where he did his dentistry and there he met and fell in love and married Janet Jagan who was his lifelong partner for more than 50 years. They returned to Guyana and took up the task of both working for the Guyanese in his professional area as a dentist, but also started to work in the social, industrial and political arena from the time he returned.
I remember my mother going to Cheddi’s Dentistry back in the 60’s period and I think she was going to him because he was still charging a dollar whilst the other people would raised their fee for an extraction from 1.50 to2 dollars and I think he records it being called upon the other dentist to raise fees back up that time too, so he served the people in his profession for many years and combined that was his industrial, social and political work. We generally think of Dr. Jagan as a fighter and someone who is struggling to right wrongs but that was not all that he stood for and beyond that he sought to right wrongs so that people can come together as one and so that when we became independent and masters of our own heights of economy in Guyana we would be free. The alienation, the aspects of working for people of other classes or for foreigners who may look down on us those things create alienation or excuses for us not putting our all in the work that we do and his aim of struggling for independence and proper relations in the industrial work area was so that we be free all of the excuses would be removed from us so that we would do our utmost and he did believe that with these potential alienations removed so that Guyanese would rise to the challenge and quickly make Guyana a paradise.
I want to stress that Cheddi was never against people either as individuals or as groups; he was against the positions and actions they took which he thought were incorrect and I can maybe give some examples much of his initial struggles would have been against the white-planter class in Guyana but that never restrained him from falling in love and marrying a lady who was white against opposition from both his family and her family. He was not against individual per say or any groups; he was against the actions that they would do. In his last major work area, which is the writing field on the New Global Human Order it was not just assistance to Guyana and other developing countries but it was also a call for the developing countries like Guyana and the developed countries to have a consensus, a common understanding that would help the developing and developed countries to be at established relations that would be for the benefit of both types of countries. So for all those reasons I think that Cheddi Jagan is worthy of recognition and he amongst others in numbers of persons who he brought into the first mass political movement in Guyana, The People’s Progressive Party and here I mention immediately Forbes Burnham who he brought in and all the other people who are known in our history, he certainly for me led the way and is truly worthy of the title founder of our nation.
It gives me great honour and privilege to have been asked to launch this exhibition on the entrance to the National Library which hopefully would encourage persons to go over to the Red house not far from the library which itself is a historical building where one can see the full and larger exhibition. Thank you very much!
by Dale A. Bisnauth
At the eleventh commemorative exercise held at Babu John, Port Mourant, to mark the death of the late great Dr Cheddi Jagan, former President of Guyana, and, more important from a political standpoint, the founder and erstwhile leader of the Peoples’ Progressive Party (PPP), two very significant speeches were made. One was made by the General Secretary of the PPP, Donald Ramotar, and the other by His Excellency, President Bharrat Jagdeo. The major thrust of both speeches aimed, not so much as keeping Dr Jagan alive in the memories of party faithfuls, but at making such memories both influential and relevant in the contemporary and ongoing “struggle”, in the development of a modern and democratic Guyana. In other words, the political thoughts of the revered leader are to be made “living” and existential.
Thus, Cde Ramotar told the Babu John gathering that Dr Jagan might not be with us in the flesh, but that the “methodologies” that he employed and articulated over years of successful struggle, are enshrined in his many publications, whether of books, or of pamphlets, or of speeches and articles published in print material. The thoughts of Dr Jagan are therefore accessible to the present-day activists, strategists and rank and file members of the PPP. This about sums up the presentation of Donald Ramotar on this matter, as I heard him. President Bharrat Jagdeo struck a similar and, at the same time, dissimilar, note, in his very significant speech. Wittingly or unwittingly, the President demonstrated how a “dead” text, placed within its original context, may be “resurrected”; and, re-contextualized, may serve a dynamic purpose in that new context. I thought that this was brilliant.
An old adage (which I cannot recall verbatim) suggests that text without context is more often than not the function of pretext. That is to say: a person may cite a text without any reference to the context in which the saying or observation was originally made, in order to claim the support of an authority or authority figure, that is universally and, purportedly, unquestionably accepted. Preachers do it all the time; more often than not introducing, as into evidence, a quote on the ground: “The Bible says.” Ask them, who in the Bible said this, on what occasion, and why, in an effort to get at the essence of the “truth” and its relevance to the point that is being made, and the preacher fumbles about in an uncertainty that cannot convince or “convict.” I suspect that politicians also are guilty of that sin which we learnt about in classes in English Literature years ago: Beware of citing text without context.
But the doctrinaire and the dogmatic do it all the time, out of reverence for some, supposedly, hallowed book or manifesto. Sometimes, the attempt to apply a doctrine in a changed and changing context from the one in which it was originally designed, can be downright dangerous. If I may tell a story, from an area of my own interest: religion. In the early 705 BC, Assyria invaded Judah. Jerusalem panicked. In order to reassure the people, Isaiah told them that Jerusalem would not fall since it was by God’s choice that it was the capital of Judah. For a number of reasons, the Assyrians abandoned the siege of Jerusalem. But the doctrine that Jerusalem was inviolable arose and grew in great proportions. A generation later, Jeremiah cautioned king and people that if the rot that had set in on the national life was not corrected, Jerusalem would fall to the enemy. He was laughed at; he was described as a false prophet (preacher) and hounded out of court, on the basis that he was in error since he was ignorant of the doctrine of the inviolability of Jerusalem. In the end, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. So much for doctrine. Doctrine has its importance, but not when it becomes doctrinaire!
President Jagdeo quoted Dr Jagan’s parting statement: Everything will be alright (or alright). But he added with salutary emphasis, that everything would not be alright if this generation (my word) of party faithfuls does not engage the present problems in the effort to solve them. In other words, the “doctrine” of Cheddi Jagan, stated at the critical time of his impending demise, in order to reassure his party comrades, must not be lifted out of context, and made into a universal principle applicable for all times and situations including ours. Quite correctly, he went on to indicate that Dr Jagan was not the passive kind of person who expected alrightness to come by itself. Rather, he was a man who “struggled” all his life to achieve that “alrightness,” that he desired for his country. He then went on to challenge his audience to become engaged (to “struggle”) at this time, when the nation faces great problems in order that national security and peace may provide the environment in which development would continue. It was a brilliant bit this: an object lesson in which “doctrine” is unfreezed from becoming doctrinaire, and made fluid enough to become inspirational, influential and relevant. Test without context is………….Peace!
PPP Says "Unite Around Lesson Of Dr Cheddi Jaga
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP), in marking the 3rd death anniversary of the late General Secretary of the PPP and President of Guyana, says "the life and work of Dr. Cheddi Jagan grows more important to Guyana with every passing year."
It says "this important year in the history of humankind, which also marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the PPP, is an appropriate time to reflect on his multi-faceted and enduring legacy which as ennobled our nation."
According to a Freedom House release: "In almost every aspect of public affairs Dr. Cheddi Jagan stamped an indelible legacy and his outstanding personal qualities remain an example for every person, particularly Guyanese, to emulate.
The statement added: "Cheddi Jagan began his adult life with one main purpose, to serve the interests of the working people of Guyana by fighting for their liberation and empowerment. His devotion to this single cause has taken our nation through an adventure of freedom struggle and has taught us unforgettable lessons of heroism, dedication, sacrifice and humility - qualities with which he was endowed in full measure, and which he demonstrated with increasing firmness as the challenges against the PPP and the nation multiplied."
The PPP is calling on all Guyanese to unite around the lessons, "which Dr. Cheddi Jagan has left us, and to continue the struggle for unity and social justice."
To observe the 3rd death anniversary of the Father of the Nation, the PPP has organized a month-long series of activities, which starts on Sunday, March 5th with a Tribute Rally at Babu John, Port Mourant.
The rally is to be addressed by President Bharrat Jagdeo, former President Janet Jagan, General Secretary Donald Ramotar and other Party leaders. The youth arm of the PPP, the PYO, and the women’s arm, the WPO, have also planned commemorative activities.
"We urge all Guyanese to fully participate in these events," according to the ruling Party.
Some people called him CBJ, letters for Cheddi Bharrat Jagan. He’d explained time and again that ‘Bharrat’ wasn’t one of his names. But although he was a stickler for details, for discipline and for professionalism, the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan decided at that there were much more important things to fume over.
For as long as Guyanese can remember, Dr. Jagan’s major goals were to see his people unite, not giving up their unique cultural heritage but working together to create a single national identity, and taking on the responsibility, with government as facilitator, for self-fulfilment and living standard improvements. He spent his adult years realizing those goals.
His death on March 6, 1997, didn’t plunge the Guyanese society "into a state of emotional paralysis," as one writer put it, only because Guyanese of all races, of all walks of life, loved and admired him dearly. Guyanese mourned because he single-handedly bore the torch that kindled their hopes for the peace, progress and prosperity that had eluded them after December 1964.
Dr. Jagan had been the Moses of Guyanese that had brought them from the abyss of party paramouncy and socio-economic chaos to the promised haven of democracy and freedom, a society in which individual initiative could flourish. People who were demeaned and overlooked because of their social status became freshly assertive. Those who had festered the tendency to bypass others because of race had to cross the lines of ethnicity before they could join Dr. Jagan in any process to transform Guyana into a society of one people.
H. Z. Ally said a mouthful in a 1998 tribute to Dr. Jagan’s memory when he wrote that, "unlike so many others who got carried away with positions of power, influence and intellect, Dr. Jagan made use of his tremendous powers of intellect to advance the cause for which he believed - the betterment of life for the working people."
Attempts by Guyana’s colonial masters and local reactionaries to marginalize him failed. He remained ever focused, determined to use the remainder of his life to reshape the Guyanese landscape. When he became the first elected President in Guyana’s first free and transparent elections in October 1992, Dr. Jagan said "the people have won." Democracy had returned to Guyana after 28 years and with it opportunities for them to begin anew the journey toward development.
By the time he succumbed to nature’s call in 1997, Dr. Jagan had made Guyanese proud. Better housing, improved water supply, the rebuilding of the country’s rundown infrastructure, a higher standard of education, the independence of the judiciary and trade union movement, freedom of expression, an easing of racial tensions, high worker incomes, stable electricity - these and more became the order of the day.
"The remarkable thing about the late President Jagan," someone wrote, "was the strength and tenacity of his conviction and his ability to see beyond the immediate."
As we commemorate the 3rd anniversary of his death, may we reflect on his multi-faceted and enduring legacy and resolve to unite around the lessons he left.
By Moses V. Nagamootoo
ON FRIDAY, February 14, 1997 (Valentine's Day), Cheddi Jagan suffered a fatal heart attack.
He battled heroically in hospital for twenty-one days, but succumbed on March 6.
The late Cheddi Jagan gave over fifty years of his glorious life to his country and people.
At 79, he had reached the pinnacle of service. He died at his post as the Republic's first democratically-elected President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
He had earned the stature of a Mahatma and, indisputably, the Father of the Nation.
Many assessments have already been made of his life and more would be made. But without accounts from those who shared the experiences of his life and struggles, much could remain unsaid, and lost.
Much would be said about his politics and ideology.
But the Cheddi Jagan I knew during the three decades I worked alongside him was essentially a patriot wrapped up in a set of attitudes. Those for me better explained his personality, his world outlook and his convictions.
He was, as he himself had admitted, a workaholic. During his unenviable stint as Opposition Leader (1964-92), when he was not attending a party or public meeting, he devoted time to reading, researching and writing. He was a patient listener who constantly learned from the views of others.
Because of those multiple tasks, which he executed continuously and almost simultaneously, he was forced to convert his small office at Freedom House (the People's Progressive Party headquarters) into a study, a guest lounge as well as a rest house. He would enjoy an hour's after-lunch siesta in his Amerindian hammock inside that office.
I cannot say when he was first diagnosed as being unwell, and I never really knew until I was informed that he had suffered a "mild cardiac episode". I knew though that when he became President of the Republic a regimen of rest away from office was implemented on Wednesdays, when he would either remain at State House or repair to his Bel Air residence.
At home Dr Jagan worked informally on statements, speeches, articles and research papers. I would invariably assist him in those tasks. But the only time when I went to State House to review a speech, it was evident from his swollen, dark eye sockets that he had had a hard, long, night of work.
His after-lunch rest hour then was a necessity for Dr Jagan who would have started his day long before sunrise. However, when he came to the Office of the President, his siesta became irregular. His rest time was constantly pushed to later in the afternoon then, at times, not at all.
I believe that that was the reason for the imposition of a day off on Wednesdays. But if frugality for him meant that time should not be squandered, it was his thoughtfulness about what his colleagues should do with their time that added novelty to his day off.
One day our late President announced casually at Cabinet that he had started routine exercise in the National Park in Georgetown.
Rather than using up precious office hours for scheduled monthly meetings with each of his ministers, he thought out an innovative plan: he would invite ministers, one at a time, to accompany him on his walk around the park. In that way, he had explained, the ministers would do two things simultaneously: keeping their monthly appointment with him and exercising.
Like work, exercise for him was both fun and tonic. He told us often that he exercised while reading his newspapers, or listening to the radio - his favourite pastime.
The President's Engagement Diary had me down for a walk on Wednesday, February 12, 1997 at 5 p.m.
In preparation I took my dark blue sweat suit to my ministry, which was on the ground floor of the Office of the President.
It was the first time that I was going to the National Park for a jog. I didn't know what to expect. I was slightly overweight and I didn't think I could run. What if Dr Jagan decided to trot around the park?
But there I was, filled with mystery and expectation, on my first outing in the park with my "Comrade Leader". I parked my car at the northern entrance and waited.
I allowed my eyes to roam around the park in a mental survey of the distance I would have to do. Just then I saw Central Bank official, Dr Gobind Ganga, who had served on the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the University of Guyana and, more recently, on an advisory team for the privatisation of the Guyana Electricity Corporation.
Ganga approached me. He said that the President wanted to have a talk with him and that he was asked to meet him here at the park.
Poor Ganga, he didn't know that he would have to trek and talk. I glanced at his white shirt-jac, black office pants and hard, leather shoes. I knew that he was not prepared for a walk.
When I told him what to expect, he sauntered to his vehicle and was back in a jiffy. His shirt-jac was tucked into his pants, and he was ready for any action. By then, the President's car appeared.
If Ganga wasn't prepared for the Park, Dr Jagan didn't dress for the sleek presidential car from which he had emerged. He had on the off-cream pants I had seen him in many, many years before. Those Hungarian pants!
We had bought them in the summer of 1978 when we went together on a political mission to Budapest.
I believe that our nation's father couldn't throw away anything and he kept those pants together with some stitches here and there. I bet that he did the stitching himself, as he had done tailoring in jail when he gave up wood-working after accidentally injuring his finger.
His jailing, of course, was another matter. It was a symbolism of the conversion of Guyana into a colonial prison from which our dreams couldn't escape for an entire generation.
But it was the Hungarian pants that survived to that unforgettable day when I joined Ganga for Comrade Cheddi's last lap around the National Park.
He wore a white T-shirt with some markings on it, and a white baseball cap. I think it was from a local rice company.
His track boots were unmistakably small for an aged warrior.
"Hi there!" he greeted us with those familiar two words.
"Well, how many laps are we going for?" I asked as he held my shoulder.
"Sometimes I do two, sometimes more."
I was worried about the "more". I didn't want to walk by his side and let him hear my heavy breathing.
He shook Ganga's hand and he placed himself between us. I was on his right, on the inner side. We started off leisurely on the narrow, pitched track along an avenue bordered by trees.
It was "Comrade Cheddi", as we addressed him endearingly, who had freed this park up for popular recreation during a previous government, which he then headed as Premier. The sprawling, green landscape had been an exclusive golf club for the privileged and elite.
As we walked, Dr Jagan started his business with me in two words: "Everything alright?"
I also answered dismissively, "Yes".
I knew that that day I was to listen. It was my turn to learn.
The discussion was about privatisation in general and, more particularly, about the Guyana Electricity Corporation.
Comrade Cheddi spoke about the national interest, the risk in building monopolies, the impact of privatisation on the working people and on the poor. It was a lecture in classical political economy, but his tone was hushed, and he sounded conspiratorial.
Just then Mike Brassington, the head of the Privatisation Unit, passed us. He was walking with his wife in an opposite direction. He raised his hand, and Comrade Cheddi simply nodded.
The GEC was in shambles when the PPP/Civic government took over, he reminded us. GEC has made significant progress and it must be set right before the next (1997) elections.
GEC was an example of the stubbornness of the government to set things right. Therefore a privatisation model must not lose sight of the gains so far.
He wanted publicity on what improvements had been made and the new assets that were bought with government's own money to stop the endemic blackouts, and stabilise power supply.
As we were nearing the National Park stadium, my colleague Bert Wilkinson, the local AP correspondent, hailed at us. He was playing softball, and he pointed at my bulging tummy and must have said something like "Cheddi looks far fitter then you!" We laughed and continued around the bend.
It was an afternoon of respect. Couples said "good afternoon", children hailed "President Jagan!" and persons unbeknown to him giggled and shyly said "hello".
We passed David de Caires, the Editor-in-Chief of Stabroek News, walking with, I believed, a lanky PNC Parliamentarian, John de Freitas. They passed us on the right, inner edge of the track. Comrade Cheddi did not notice them.
De Caries lifted his eyes, but went past us silently. He was to look at the living face of the Guyanese leader he had cruelly criticised with predictable regularity just one more time.
That was on the second and final lap.
The conversation became more intense. Comrade Cheddi was concerned about the implications for the big and powerful industrialised states of the divestment process in Guyana. While he drew a distinction between the Canadian "social" approach and the American's "profit bottom-line" approach to foreign investment, he held an open attitude towards privatisation.
His principle on privatisation was simple: "If we have to, we would; if we don't, we won't".
He wanted care to be taken at every stage of the process, and that it must not appear that there had been any preference for companies or any notion of a raw deal for any of them.
Above all, he wanted that with regards to GEC two things should be clear: firstly, the assets of the corporation should be fairly assessed; and secondly, that any post-privatisation agreement must protect the consumers from high or arbitrary charges.
As we finished the second and final lap, it began to drizzle. We continued a while in the drizzle, but the drivers were bringing out umbrellas.
The Guyanese leader noticed that others were walking in the rain, including a young niece, Dionne. He didn't want to appear indiscreet. So he waved the umbrellas away and beckoned us into his car.
I dived into the front seat and he and Ganga huddled in the back.
The conversation was switched to finance, and Ganga, now wearing his Bank of Guyana hat, was doing much of the talking. Comrade Cheddi was listening with deep intensity.
He was asking many questions. And Ganga was explaining how excess liquidity was being mopped up, the impact on inflation of lower interest on treasury bills, and the role of the Central Bank in fiscal management.
It was a conversation that could have gone on and on, but the guards signalled to Comrade Cheddi that it was time to leave.
Little did I know then that that was my last lap with our Mahatma, who was to fall mortally ill two days later.
Dr Jagan knew that he had another appointment that afternoon, and he drove off into the hazy evening.
We had lost the sun and darkness was about to engulf us.
(Mr Nagamootoo was Information Minister.)
By Gary Girdhari
The Honourable Cheddi B. Jagan, late President of the Republic of Guyana, has been called by many names — the ‘fire brand’ Marxist-Leninist socialist, communist, popular leader — but most appropriately, the Father of the Nation and Dean of (Caribbean) Socialist Politics.
On March 6. 1997, Dr. Cheddi Jagan died at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. after suffering from complications arising out of a heart attack. He would have been 79 years old on March 22, 1997.
Jagan spent almost all of his adult life in politics, fighting relentlessly for the poor, disenfranchised and downtrodden — against many odds, including the might of imperialist Britain, USA and their local Guyanese reactionaries. Fully aware that the problem in Guyana politics is not racial but has a historical and class basis, he strived arduously to educate the people and especially those around him to understand the politics of race and class.
Cheddi Jagan was born on the 22 March, 1918 on the sugar estate of Port Mourant, Corentyne, Guyana. His parents were indentured immigrants from India, arriving in British Guiana at tender ages in 1901. His mother, Bachoni, remained illiterate and his father, Jagan, showed leadership qualities that enabled him to be promoted to ‘head driver’ or foreman.
Like other estate children, Cheddi Jagan spent his early days as a ‘normal’ child. He attended the Port Mourant Primary School followed by Persaud’s Secondary. His brilliance qualified him for the premier school, Queen’s College, in Georgetown, having won the highly competitive County Scholarship. There, he obtained the Oxford and Cambridge Certificate.
At Port Mourant, he apprenticed as a tailor and at Queens College he excelled in cricket. His parents must have been progressive since they sent him off at age 18 to the USA with $500.00 for further studies — this kind of act was rare if not unknown for the sugar workers.
He enrolled at the ‘black’ Howard University for pre-dental studies. In 1938, he moved to North Western University in Chicago, graduating 1942 in dentistry. Concurrently, he did a Bachelor’s degree in the Social Sciences. Cheddi met and fell in love with Janet Rosenberg, a nurse and medical proof-reader. They were married during a simple ceremony in August 1943 amidst protests from the parents of both newly weds. Shortly after in October that year, Cheddi returned to Guyana (Janet to follow after ‘sweet soap’ of his parents) to set up a dental practice which was established at 69 Main Street, Georgetown. He was an superb dentist and he excelled in his profession for the next six years.
Jagan’s experiences in the USA left permanent impressions on his personality. He observed the problems of blacks, poverty, discrimination; and his ‘eyes were opened’ to the problems of the working people of British Guiana, for he soon became actively involved.
In 1946, together with his wife Janet, Trade Unionists H.J.M. Hubbard and Ashton Chase, the Political Affairs Committee was formed. The P.A.C. which was the precursor of the Peoples Progressive Party was the first structured political organization in Guiana with the primary aim of looking after the interests of the working class.
In 1947, Jagan contested the general election as an independent candidate and won a seat (Central Demerara district) in the Legislative Council, the halls of which he graced for 50 years. He became the President of the Sawmill Workers Union in 1949. In 1950, the People Progressive Party, a broad-based mass party, was formed, the leading members, all young and radical in their outlook. Cheddi was Leader, Janet, General Secretary and Forbes Burnham (deceased) of international notoriety was Chairman, usurping the position of Ashton Chase. Very shortly after, the P.P.P. agitated and won Adult Suffrage (after the Waddington Commission). At the 1953 general election, the P.P.P. acquired an overwhelming majority (18 out of 24) of seats against the mainly East Indian and African upper and middle class adversaries.
The rhetoric of the young, vibrant and progressives in the P.P.P. became a cause for concern, and the height of the Cold War evoked the wrath of the Colonial Powers. After 133 days in office, the British government, ably encouraged by the local reactionaries and ‘stooges’, suspended the constitution of British Guiana. The P.P.P. Ministers were removed from office. House arrests and jail became common place as the member broke the unreasonable and unfair restrictive orders. It was during this time that Martin Carter penned his revolutionary Poems of Resistance. Many were jailed, including Cheddi and Janet. Gunboat diplomacy was the order of the day and British soldiers ‘kept the peace’. The imposed Interim Government established an ignominious period of ‘marking time’.
Jagan (in the company of Burnham) traveled to India to seek comfort, guidance and assistance. They visited the U.K. to present their case for the removal of the restrictive orders and a return to a parliamentary state.
The strategy of ‘divide and rule’ was adopted by the combined powers and ‘race’ was injected into Guiana politics. Burnham sold out. When some leading members of the P.P.P. were incarcerated, Burnham sought to take over the leadership at the infamous ‘Metropole’ meeting. Despite many overtures by Jagan for rapprochement and cohesiveness, Burnham remained adamant; and he engineered a split in the P.P.P. which eventually came to full fruition in 1955. The "opportunist, racist and demagogue" Burnham led a Burnhamite faction and Jagan the Jaganite faction of the P.P.P.
In the 1957 election, Jagan won 9 out of 14 seats. Again in 1961, he received an overwhelming mandate against his main opponent, Burnham who by now had formed the Peoples National Congress. The working class base was thus shattered and this resulted in the demise and ruination of Guyana — very well orchestrated by local and foreign interests.
Cheddi Jagan’s primary focus was political independence for Guyana. The wind of change was blowing across Africa and the Caribbean. However, Britain and the USA opposed granting independence under the "pro-Communist, Marxist" with a "socialist economy"; hence, a complicity among Britain, USA and the CIA saw destabilizing efforts to remove Jagan from office — at all costs. A number of strikes, riots, burning and looting were finagled and masterminded by foreign-backed unions — using scapegoats of the "budget" in 1962 and the "labour relations bill" in 1963. By this time, Peter D’Aguiar, representing business, had formed the United Force, and joined Burnham (the incongruity of an arch capitalist and a born again ‘socialist’) to rout Jagan regardless of the consequences. Jagan’s yearning for independence encouraged him to participate in the Constitutional Conference in London when the dishonorable Duncan Sandys refused a date for independence and instead imposed a new system of proportional representation (PR) — especially designed to disadvantage and remove Jagan. The P.P.P. nevertheless obtained the highest percentage of votes but with no outright majority. Thus, the unholy alliance of the antipodal Burnham/D’Aguiar nexus formed a Coalition government because of their combined majority of seats. Burnham became the Prime Minister of the independent Guyana in 1966.
Forbes Burnham continued to ‘win’ a series of elections after elaborate and shameless frauds and riggings, all with the full knowledge and compliance of the powers that supported his rise to power. He was successful in creating a demonizing system where fear and coercion, ‘wire taps and physical surveillance’, and political intimidation reigned high. He postured as a power drunk monster dictator. He and the P.N.C. wrecked Guyana during 28 years of misrule, corruption and squandermania (thanks to Duncan Sandys and other operatives), and made most Guyanese the laughing stock of the Caribbean, losing their worth and self-esteem.
"For a man to fight and come back after all this time mean that he gat more guts than calabash’ was the voice of an elderly Black man during a roving TV interview in Guyana covering Jagan’s death. The ‘come back kid’ politician Cheddi and the P.P.P. won the election in 1992 at the end of the Cold War era, when a fair election was overseen by American advocates like President Jimmy Carter. Jagan was vindicated. Secret documents detailing how his early government was subverted by the so-called liberal Kennedy are still kept sealed by the State Department in Washington, although the documents should be declassified after 30 years — presumably because the "papers are a smoking gun" not "worth the embarrassment". Historian and former advisor to John F. Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger apologetically recanted that they "misunderstood the whole struggle down there," that he (Jagan) was not "some great menace" and "wasn’t a Communist".
Jagan persevered, resolute, honest, fair, popular, never deviating from his underlying conviction to fight for the poor, to eradicate poverty, disease and illiteracy.
His short tenure as President of Guyana saw tremendous changes for the better. Self esteem and confidence returned. His ‘lean’ government and pragmatic approaches in governance have paid off. Infrastructural developments, production in all aspects of the economy are on the rise, and corruption is approaching zero.
Some say that Cheddi Jagan mellowed in later years. But his dialectic approach, after the end of the Cold War, suggested pragmatism, constrained, as we know, by heavy debt burden inherited from the previous regime. He was instrumental in obtaining debt write-offs and placed Guyana once again on the road to economic recovery. Regrettably, he needed more time to have accomplished his dreams and ideals. "The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it." And one day, history will record Cheddi Jagan among the really great men of our times.
by Mohamed Sattaur
I refer to Dr Joey Jagan’s letter of July 14, 2008 in SN captioned, ‘Where is Dr Jagan’s legacy?’ In the words of Dr James Rose, Dr Jagan’s “life was a compelling struggle, first as a child; then as a student; as a nationalist and finally as the esteemed elder statesman.”
As a result of his struggles he made us the most politically conscious nation in the Caribbean and he won such a preponderance of victories that, today, Guyanese can stand tall anywhere in the world. That is Dr Jagan’s legacy.
Cheddi Jagan was a brilliant young professional married to a beautiful American woman. He could easily have stayed in Chicago but he decided to return to Guyana with his wife. He would encourage a number of us to return to serve our country throughout his life. So you see Joey, remigration is also a Jagan legacy.
Even then he could have lived a life of luxury in Georgetown but he dedicated, “his entire life to the cause of the struggle of the Guyanese people against bondage and exploitation.” He lived a life of near poverty, paid for the education of others and raised the standard of living of almost all of the workers of Guyana. The ability to work for positive changes is a Jagan legacy.
In the course of his work, he touched the lives of many people and made their lives easier. He gave them hope, inspiration and the courage to struggle.
Those who know can explain to Joey where the legacy is, if only he would take time to talk to the people, a practice which in itself is a Jagan legacy.
I can try to give him the benefit of my personal experience. When I was very small my mother took me to a Catholic school which required her to agree to change my religion and my name to ensure admittance for my primary education. No child in Guyana is faced with that situation today. That is Jagan’s legacy.
Once again when I was barely able to understand what was happening I sat in the mud and watched my parents participate in a self-help housing scheme which became our home way into my teenage years. That housing scheme was started by Janet Jagan as Minister of Housing in Jagan’s government. My father was able to survive in the darkest of times knowing that his family would have a roof over their heads. That is Jagan’s legacy.
My father would ride his Honda motorcycle from Essequibo to Crabwood Creek as a field worker for the RPA. He was involved in the establishment of the MMA water management scheme which brought thousands of acres of farmland under cultivation for poor farmers. These workers were able to feed their families and send them to school to qualify as professionals. The agricultural sector is still the largest poverty alleviation project conceived and implemented by a leader in this country. That is Jagan’s legacy.
I recall being invited by the Guyana Bridge Association to a dinner where Dr Jagan was the guest of honour.
I was seated to his left and a woman was seated facing me on his right. To my utter astonishment the lady proceeded to say,“Cheddi, look how you old. Just now you going to dead and gone and you have not even named a successor.” Dr Jagan made a visible effort to compose himself and when he spoke it was in a quiet but firm tone which reflected his unique ability to think through the issue rapidly and fashion an honest response. What he said will remain imprinted on my mind.
He said with a trace of sadness in his voice, “I do not believe in dynasties and I do not have to name a successor. What I will leave behind is a party structure which is strong. Out of the ranks of the party a leader will emerge and life will go on.” Those who emerged and will continue to emerge are Jagan’s legacies.
When a student graduates from the University of Guyana, whenever a child is treated by a doctor who could not have become a doctor had it not been for a Jagan scholarship, that is Jagan’s legacy. When the New Global Human Order is discussed at the UN, that is Jagan’s legacy. When a Guyanese woman votes that is a Jagan legacy.
When men who are not proprietors or landlords or people between the ages of 18-21 years vote that is a Jagan legacy. When a party group is formed, when the group meets and gets involved in community activities and when the PPP/C wins an election that is a Jagan legacy.
I could go on, but the legacy of Jagan is out there for all of us to see. It resides in our ability to stand tall and be counted as Guyanese, equal to all and fully liberated in the land of our birth. We have never been freer, as a people.
We must, however, remember not to become complacent and give in to the negative elements as according to Dr Jagan the struggle goes on each and every day.
I close with a quotation by Dr Jagan. He said, “I first wanted to be a doctor. Didn’t want to be merely a specialist and craftsman and cure individual aches and ills. I wanted to cure the ills of society. I want to know that I have served humanity as a human being.
All of us want recognition – I am not interested in recognition conferred on the basis of my bankroll. When I would have passed away, I would like it recorded that Jagan did his bit in the service of humanity.” We can all say that he did more than a bit and as long as the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre exists, we will continue to say loudly, clearly and for all who are willing to listen, Dr Jagan’s legacy is alive and well.
by Parvati Persaud-Edwards
Dr. Cheddi Jagan, writing of his father in The West on Trial said: “…because he was a man of fine and indomitable spirit, he died fighting to the very end…”
These words could have been used to describe the good doctor’s last days in the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington, USA, as he defied medical prognostications and created history once again with his fighting spirit and indomitable will, which kept him alive, even improving in health for a while, long after a normal man would have succumbed.
But then, Cheddi Jagan has always walked tall in the global consciousness as a colossus who could achieve the seemingly unachievable.
Passionate, sincere, true to his ideals, with the will to fight against gargantuan odds whatever the consequences, Cheddi Jagan was a simple plantation boy with a dream.
Quoting James Griffiths, former Colonial Secretary, in Forbidden Freedom, Dr Jagan wrote in Chapter Four: “I do not believe that anybody who has not seen it with his own eyes can begin to imagine the poverty in which so many of our fellow citizens of the Commonwealth are condemned to live.”
And, from Kumar Ghoshal’s People in the Colonies, Dr Jagan wrote: “The fundamental problem of the colonial people is their intense poverty, from which stem all the ills of colonial society. It is the problem of perpetual hunger, of death from preventable diseases and starvation, of illiteracy, fostered by the ruling powers to assure a constant supply of cheap and docile labour for land, mine, and plantation owners.”
In Chapter Three, quoting from the preface of Demerara Martyr, the story of the Reverend John Smith, Dr Jagan wrote: “When heavy droughts have come upon the land and the early and later rains have been withheld, and the crops have languished in the fields, and the cane has refused to yield its abundant juice, they have cried out – “The people are idle and they do not work.
“When they turned the cattle of the estates into the negroes’ provision grounds, tore the doors from the houses, applied the thumb-screw of rent to the last pinch, and drove the people to seek their own little freeholds where, unmolested, they might cultivate and enjoy the fruits of the earth, the cry has still been – ‘The people are idle and will not work’ …and they have forgotten that estates were never yet purchased as investment of capital, expected to yield a moderate but adequate interest, but on speculation in the hope of yielding enormous return for an almost nominal outlay.”
“… a moderate but adequate interest” hallmarked Dr Jagan’s lifelong belief that business should accrue exactly that, so as to enable equitable wealth distribution in order that workers who contributed to that wealth-creation could be adequately compensated and economically empowered to sustain decent lifestyles for themselves and their families. For this belief, Dr Jagan, who lived moderately all his life whatever his status, was branded “communist” by his detractors, mainly profit-driven capitalists and opportunistic politicians, to whom he was a constant thorn in the side as he fought relentlessly for workers’ and basic human rights.
But the foregoing passages encapsulate the motivational landscape in which lay the genesis of Dr Jagan’s lifelong commitment to the ideals of ending human misery, and his dream of eventual global peace and universal man’s wellbeing on the basis of man’s caring for his fellow man by creating a New Global Human Order, a cause for which he lobbied with vigour and passionate belief at every national and international forum he attended, because his heart was big enough to encompass the world; and his efforts have been awarded posthumous global recognition as more and more world leaders are espousing and embracing Dr Jagan’s suggestions for a new global dispensation.
While many of us are content to relegate dreams to a netherworld of unfulfillment, Cheddi Jagan embarked on a lifelong journey in the tangled jungle of the human condition in a soul-wrenching struggle to better the lot of the oppressed and the dehumanised.
In Chapter Five of Forbidden Freedom, he quotes black American Paul Robeson: “All over the world the ordinary people are challenging the entrenched positions of the privileged and are organising and fighting to win rights that have so long been withheld from them.”
But Cheddi Jagan was “no ordinary person.” He went on to write: “In the face of perpetual misery and degradation, of terror and bloodshed, there developed among the working people a growing trade union and political consciousness.
“The employers at first refused to recognise the MPCA, but the growing militancy of the workers forced them to concede. Their policy then was to divide the workers into racial and industrial compartments.”
This ‘divide and rule’ policy was first used to control the workforce by the plantocracy, then later by the late Forbes Burnham and the predatory forces – both internal and external, that partnered him to destabilise the first Jagan administration.
The bitter crop sowed was reaped in a harvest of destruction of lives and property in the 1960s, and the legacy of distrust still gnaws at the soul of the Guyanese nation, because it continues to be fostered and nurtured by the destructive architects whose craving for power blueprint Machiavellian machinations that generate a continuum of divisiveness in the Guyanese nationhood – an ideal that the first Jagan administration had achieved and which he aspired and strove to recapture all his life long.
In Chapter 18 of The West on Trial, Dr Jagan quotes Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia trial: “I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, against black domination…I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society.”
Like Nelson Mandela, Dr Jagan recognised that black Guyanese are being exploited and betrayed by their own black leaders who appeal to their emotions on the basis of a commonality of roots, race, and culture. But Cheddi Jagan was a member of another race, so most black people were convinced that they should not trust him, but to instead trust a leader of their own race. And therein lay the tragedy of our Guyanese people who have been encouraged by opportunists to shun the great, good father of this nation who fought every step of the way, against black, brown or white oppressors; being jailed, ridiculed – sanctioned in every conceivable way, in efforts to wrest freedoms and prosperous lifestyles for his people; which always comprised the entire Guyanese nation – without favour or prejudice.
Unlike world leaders like Gandhi and Mandela, Dr Jagan believed that strong families build strong communities and consequently strong nations, and he remained a loving, steadfast, and committed family man all his life, He was an exemplary son, husband, father, brother, friend, and an exceptional human being. His detractors accuse him of not being God-fearing; but he never had to fear God, because he walked God’s path by serving his fellow man all his life, at great personal sacrifice and danger to his own life, fearlessly and courageously braving all the odds and dangers of colonial and neo-Nazi tyrants and despots.
Dr Jagan institutionalised political struggle in the then British Guiana, and was a dynamo of valiant endeavour for justice and human rights all his life, yet he never learnt to play the political games others did. His honesty and sincerity of purpose shone like a beacon of hope to a nation beleaguered initially by overlords, and then by despots.
Elected as a member of the Legislative Council in 1974, Cheddi Jagan refused to be sidelined as a token legislator, and took Parliament to the streets. He initiated and led the fight for Independence from Britain, and although the instruments of Independence were ceded to a Forbes Burnham government, the real father of Guyana’s Independence movement was indisputably Dr Cheddi Jagan; and although Britain robbed him of his rights in a myriad ways, history has not robbed him of the recognition of his contributions.
From April 1953, Dr Jagan headed the first national government and has never yet lost an election until his demise in March 1997, although he was forced and/or manoeuvred out of office for decades.
During the long years of being in the wilderness, when the Guyanese people were reduced to the status of beggars and impacted as cheats on the regional and global consciousness, black Guyanese suffered right along with other races – and the heart of Cheddi Jagan bled as he fought his lonely battle against the tyrants – often ridiculed, jailed, penalised in some way or another: mocked at for his persistence in struggling against seemingly insurmountable odds. Indignities were heaped upon him in his lonely quest for freedom for this people.
Freedom from the tyranny of colonisation; freedom from wage freezes; from dictatorship; freedom of expression; freedom from fear of offending tyrants through unfavourable utterances; freedom for public servants from working for free at Hope Estate and canefields; freedom from starvation and Empty Rice Pots – every kind of freedom that is the bounden right of humankind. He was truly this nation’s liberator – in every conceivable way.
October 5, 1992 was the people’s triumph. The father of the Guyanese nation took his rightful place at the helm of this land and nation, both of which had been devastated and disempowered, and began the hard fight to turn the tides of adversity into a destiny of progress and prosperity.
Working indefatigably for the remaining four years of his life, with as little as two hours sleep many nights, Dr Jagan fulfilled the destiny to which he was born.
He had instituted democracy into governance and piloted Guyana’s economy and the future of the people of Guyana out of the lands that had pauperised this nation and demolished its social and physical infrastructures into safer waters; creating in the process the infrastructure for the process to continue smoothly and successfully.
His blinding charismatic smile would have flashed with supreme happiness to see the unity that his passing forged in the nation as Guyana bonded in shared grief at the loss of this nation’s beloved and respected father. As the people of Buxton demanded while calling a halt to his funeral procession so that they could share in the national mourning: ‘Respect due!’
Preserving our literary heritage - Cheddi Jagan 1918 – 1997
by Petamber Persaud
‘The Guyanese writer has a major role to play in the rebuilding of our society…people engaged in the arts must see themselves as part of the development process,’ declared the then President of Guyana, the late Cheddi Jagan, at the Guyana Prize for Literature Award Ceremony on November 6, 1992.
Some thirty-odd years earlier, The Cheddi Jagan Gold Medal for Literature was initiated to encourage the flowering of ideas, placing premium on imaginative literature of a people gravitating towards a Guyanese identity, a colony on the threshold of a Guyanese nationhood. During this same period, the History and Culture Week had taken roots, another invaluable national institution which could be seen as a precursor to the Guyana Festival of Arts (Guyfesta).
Two different occasions separated by a generation of years, same dispensation, same sentiments, a hallmark of astute leadership!
The vision Jagan had for Guyana in the fields of literature and the arts did not die with the ousting of his party from government. The People’s National Congress (PNC) led by the late Forbes Burnham who was a founder/member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) carried the torch, flaring up into the Caribbean Festival of Arts (Carifesta) which was launched in Guyana in 1972. The same party under the late Desmond Hoyte established The Guyana Prize for Literature in 1987. Magnanimously, Cheddi Jagan on his return to power in 1992 continued The Prize despite the abandonment of the Cheddi Jagan Gold Medal for Literature and the very useful national exposition, the History and Culture Week. That’s the sort of person Cheddi Jagan was, endorsing things of value.
‘My philosophy: Very Simple - the world is big and can provide amply for all - there need not be poverty and suffering. Man is capable, given the opportunity, of fantastic cultural and intellectual attainment…’
The words of Cheddi Jagan, thinker, prolific writer, and social reformer, who was born in the humblest of situations and went on to become a doctor to ‘cure the ills of society’, the pride of a nation and an icon in Caribbean politics.
Cheddi Jagan was born on March 22, 1918, in Port Mourant, on the Corentyne Coast of Berbice, Guyana. The son of indentured plantation workers, he grew up in a plantation economy with the bittersweet taste of sugar branded on his mind, an influence that was to plot his path to greatness.
David Dabydeen in a poetic tribute to Jagan said, ‘you were born of cane/Not as the planters hoped-/Barefooted, beggarly of mind…’
And indeed, Jagan was only fifteen when he entered Queen’s College in Georgetown, soon after passing the Cambridge, Oxford and School Certificate examinations, factors that came to bear on his father giving him ‘all the money he could muster at the time’ to help the younger Jagan to further his studies in the USA.
In the years between 1936 and 1942, he attended Howard University, Washington, D.C., Central YMCA College, Chicago and Northwestern University Dental School. During those years, he worked at various menial jobs sometimes joggling three jobs at the same time to pay for his education, all the while enduring ‘jim-crow’ discrimination which served to open his eyes to the ills of society. He also studied hard, gaining free tuition for his second year at Howard, and gaining entry to Northwestern University.
While in the United States of America, he read avidly in the social sciences, books as “Nehru’s autobiography, ‘Towards Freedom’ inspired and fired me, Matthew Josephson’s ‘Robber Barons’ explained how the powerful in America had made their fortunes… and Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’ was later to open whole new horizons”. While in Chicago, he married Janet Rosenberg, a union that was to have far reaching changes in Guyana.
Returning home to Guyana, he organised and spearheaded the formation of the Political Affairs Committee and the PAC Bulletin in 1946. The printed word here was of seminal importance.
In 1947, he was elected to the Legislative Council where he ‘literally, almost anything – reports, documents, Hansard – I could lay my hands on, I read’. While imprisoned at Mazaruni jail, he read fiction and wrote copiously. Again and again displaying his respect for literature and his thirst for knowledge, knowledge that he assimilated and distilled in his writings. Mention was already made as to his encouragement of a Guyanese literature. The dissemination of knowledge was done through reading clubs and landmark event like the History and Culture Week.
In 1950, he formed the People’s Progressive Party, executive members then included Forbes Burnham and Janet Jagan. From April to October in the year 1953, Jagan headed the PPP elected government and held the portfolio of Minister of Agriculture.
In 1954, he was imprisoned for six months for breaking movement restrictions order. While he was in jail, his first book, ‘Forbidden Freedom – Story of British Guiana’,was published. This document elucidated how military intervention, which ousted him from power, fitted into both the colonial policy of Britain and the “cold war” spearheaded by the United States. During his incarceration he wrote what is so far his only poem, written on toilet paper (writing paper denied him) which was smuggled out of jail as with all of his other writings he did therein. Even in prison, Jagan, knowing the value of reading, displayed his respect for the printed word. According to Janet Jagan, ‘he organised a reading circle for prisoners and arranged for literature (mostly political) to come into the prison clandestinely, so that prisoners could read and learn’.
At this same time, in another prison, Martin Carter, an activist of the PPP, was composing additional poems which were to make him famous when eventually published under the title, ‘Poems of Resistance’ in 1954.
Books, radical thinking and politics seem to go hand in hand. Martin Carter used to visit the home of the Jagans because of its library. Other writers like Wilson Harris and Jan Carew frequented that home in Laluni Street, Queenstown, for the exchange of books and of ideas, writers – the creators of ideas, fashioning our society. Cheddi Jagan was also a part of the weekly Discussion Circle of the Carnegie Library now the National Library ‘that offered a focal point for dissent and became a stimulating experience; here one was able to speak freely’. Here the literati of the day use to meet, discussing ‘great books of the European Heritage’, according to A. J. Seymour. This reading led to writing, many members of that group became recognized authors and acquired world fame through their books.
In 1966, Jagan published his autobiographical work, ‘The West on Trial’, which is considered ‘a monumental study of the social, political and economic history of Guyana from the time of European colonisation to 1966’. ‘The West On Trial’ was a significant book in the literature of Guyana, filling a lacuna – the dearth of personal writing by public figures and politicians. At the time of writing, the published biographies and autobiographies of Guyanese could easily be cradled in one arm. Of course, now more than ever, there is a need to preserve the history of this country by documenting and publishing the papers (and oral presentations) of our leaders, social and political.
Kellawan Lall pointed out how effective ‘The West on Trail’ was (and still is), ‘people began to see themselves differently and become more self-confident. Dr. Jagan had put them at the centre of his world’!
In 1998, ‘The USA in South America’ was published, providing ‘a perspective on Latin America and superpower relations viewed through a Marxist prism’.
The ideas in his book, ‘A New Global Human Order’, ‘the culmination of Dr. Jagan’s lifelong quest to redress the balance between the rich North and poor South’, published in 1999 have been adopted by the United Nations.
While Cheddi Jagan was writing to a mature readership, Janet Jagan was catering for the taste and need of children. This man and wife combination was effectively reaching out to all Guyana, proving the value and power of the written word. The writings of the Jagans did more to foster understanding among Guyanese than all the talk and walk. A follow up of that writing combination was the establishment of the Cheddi Jagan Children’s Fund which main purpose was to restock school libraries across Guyana.
‘Selected Speeches 1992-1994’ was published 1995, while ‘Selected Correspondences 1953-1965’ was published in 2003. The latter volume is a ‘key reference source on the social and political history’ of this country.
1957 to 1961, Jagan headed the second elected PPP government and was Minister of Trade and Industry.
In 1961, Jagan became the first Premier of British Guiana. During this period of governance, 1961 to 1964, he was instrumental in the establishment the University of Guyana, now forty years on, because an indigenous teaching/learning institution would better serve the need of the country.
On October 9, 1992, after 28 years out of government, Jagan became President of Guyana, a remarkable comeback, in any sphere, in any language!
Cheddi Jagan died on March 6, 1997, while in office, still on the go!
Ian McDonald in his tribute to Jagan in 1997 said, ‘He deserved a few quiet years in the bosom of his family, his party and the nation’. And Janet Jagan who was married to the man since August 5, 1943 knew only too well that her husband was ‘not given enough time’ to write more!
· ‘The West on Trial’
· ‘Thirty Years a Civil Servant’ by A. J. Seymour
· Archive of the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre
· Mirror, Chronicle and Stabroek News newspapers of 1997
· Recent interview with Janet Jagan