September 28, 2016

Cheddi Jagan and Independence

Dear Editor,

Sunday, March 06, 2016, marked the 19th death anniversary of President of Guyana Dr Cheddi Jagan.

Dr Jagan’s life was totally dedicated to the welfare of the Guyanese people. His was a life lived in service to his country and humanity as a whole. He was not only a patriot, but also an internationalist.

This year, the anniversary of his death coincides with the 50th anniversary of our Independence.

While Independence was the result of great struggles and sacrifices of the masses of people, it is also true that no individual has done more for freedom than Cheddi Jagan. Therefore, in celebrating our independence, we are also celebrating the work of Cheddi Jagan.

Dr Jagan is probably the first Guyanese to call for independence from Great Britain. When he first issued that call in the 1940s, it was regarded as a very bold move. It was a time when our people were still singing ‘rule Britannia, rule.’ If you listen to Caribbean music emanating from that period, you will notice that it lauded colonialism.

Therefore, Dr Jagan’s call was the first spark in the process of gaining IIdependence. He made Guyanese see themselves as equals to any in the world and inspired them to support his call for freedom.

For Cheddi, Independence was not an end in itself, but a means to an end. His ultimate goal was the social liberation of our people. Of course, he understood that this was not possible without Independence.

So in 1946, when he and his wife Janet, teamed up with Jocelyn Hubbard and Ashton Chase to form the Political Affairs Committee (PAC), Cheddi had a clear vision on the direction the movement must take. He saw that the principal role of the PAC was to lift the consciousness of the Guyanese people to fight for Independence and for eventual social emancipation.

That principle was clearly stated in the first issue of the PAC Bulletin, published on November 06, 1946.

It is amazing to reflect on the manner in which Cheddi and his comrades captured the imagination and support of the Guyanese people and the rapid growth of his freedom movement.

In 1947 three of the four founders of the PAC contested the elections for the Legislative Council. Janet barely lost in Georgetown against John Fernandes and racism was used against Hubbard (him being a Mulatto). Cheddi Jagan won his seat on the East Coast Demerara.

That was an important victory. Jagan used his position in the Assembly to represent the people as a whole, to educate the masses and to involve them in the fight for their own freedom.

In a short period, Jagan and his comrades created a massive movement. They attracted the support of not just workers, but the finest intellectuals of our society.

By 1950, they were able to transform the PAC into a full-fledged political party, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

The colonial powers, however, were not asleep. In 1947, Winston Churchill, signalled the beginning of the Cold War with his speech in Fluton, Missouri.

Repression was used against the PPP after its great success at the 1953 elections. Many of its most important leaders were imprisoned. The limited democracy that existed under colonialism was crushed.

However, having failed to crush the movement by repression, the colonialists and their allies added bribery to their arsenal.

The movement was betrayed by some members who worked with the colonial power to break up the PPP with the promise of high office. A section of the PPP, including Forbes Burnham, broke ranks in an attempt to capture the party.

Despite that blow, however, Dr Jagan and his comrades persisted and fought consistently for Guyana’s Independence. The PPP, which he led was the bulwark of that fight.

In their bid to prevent independence, the colonial power and its ally, the CIA, financed strikes and instigated racial strife.

Unfortunately, they found willing tools in those who had split from the PPP in 1955. It was the local instruments that were used to burn and destroy. Guyana (then British Guiana) was one of the earliest colonies that faced destabilisation.

At the time of Independence, British Guiana still had a ‘state of emergency’ in place. That was replaced by the National Security Act, which kept the powers of the state of emergency and even extended it. Political prisoners were languishing at Sibly Hall (Mazaruni) and all attempts were made to crush the PPP, which at the time of Independence, was in the opposition, having been removed by foreign intervention and local collaboration.

Workers and farmers came under attack by the PNC-led coalition regime.

The prices paid to rice farmers for their produce was reduced and when they protested, police dogs were let loose on them. Thus began the long night of social and economic decline in our country.

On this 50th anniversary that we are approaching, we are witnessing many of the atrocities of the 1966 period.

Rice farmers are once again under attack and the prices for their produce chopped.

The sugar workers also are also under the hammer. Many are being dismissed and the imminent closure of the industry has begun with the announced closure of the Wales Estate.

Recall, too, that the sugar workers were promised a 20 per cent increase by those in government today.

The militarisation of our state has begun. Indeed, the process has gone a far way already.

Just like at the dawn of Independence, the PPP members and supporters were the first to feel the brunt of the regime’s attack, the same process is reoccurring today.

What should be noted, too, is that while the PPP supporters were the first under attack, that modus operandi was eventually broadened to include their own supporters.

We must in honouring the memory of Cheddi Jagan, follow his example and fight for the protection of human rights, fight to defend our living standards and for justice in our country.

Sincerely,

Donald Ramotar

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