Cheddi Jagan's ideas will live on
By Dr. Odeen Ishmael
Guyana Chronicle
March 3, 2003

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SIX years ago, all of Guyana followed very closely the news reports of President Cheddi Jagan's final days as he waged his final valiant battle at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

I recall those eventful days following his heart attack on February 14, 1997 when all of us hoped, despite the physical odds, that he would pull through. That was not to be, and 21 days later, early in the cold morning hours of March 6, Cheddi Jagan slipped away into the arms of history.

During those final three weeks, I spent much of my time at the Walter Reed hospital and got to know Dr. Jagan's attending physicians very well.

As his physical strength waned, they could not help admiring the fighting qualities of our legendary leader -- qualities that his political friends and foes alike can attest to.

I can well recall that after March 4 when all hope had faded, he still refused to buckle under, which caused one of the medical specialists to say to me: "President Jagan is defying the laws of medical science."

Looking back at those final days, I can say that he died as he lived -- fighting all the way to the end.

It was the nature of the man.

During those final days, his wife and life partner, Mrs. Janet Jagan, told me of an incident that gave a vivid illustration of his sense of dedication and determination. In the early 1960s when he was Premier, the two of them were spending a short vacation in Trinidad at a house on the bank of a river.

The owner of the house gave them a boat outfitted with a little outboard engine if ever they wished to explore the river. One day they finally used the boat but somehow ended up in the stormy ocean. Then the engine stopped.

Dr. Jagan tugged at the starting cord, but it would not restart. By this time, high waves were driving them toward huge outcrops of rocks near to shore, and while Mrs. Jagan was in a panic and fearing for their lives, he patiently and seemingly without any sign of worry, calmly continued trying to restart the engine.

The little boat was almost about to be smashed on the rocks when the engine finally burst into life. He had tried more than thirty times, but finally got it working, and they were able to escape danger in the nick of time.

Such was the determination of Cheddi Jagan -- a quality which he displayed throughout, even up to the day he died.

Even from his early days as a politician he displayed this fierce, determined spirit.

Some years ago an elderly Enmore gentleman told me that during the 1948 sugar strike, the expatriate owners of Enmore estate instructed the police to arrest Cheddi Jagan if he should ever "set foot" on their property.

Of course this threat did not deter the Guyanese leader; he turned up on the public road, placed a small wooden crate on the roadside, and addressed the striking workers. The police could not arrest him for "trespassing" because he had not "set foot" on the estate's private property!

It was Cheddi Jagan who started the fight for the political independence of the colonial territories in the Caribbean.

From the time he climbed into the political arena in 1946 he listed independence for Guyana on his political agenda. He was the flame that lit the torch of freedom and democracy in Guyana.

It must not be forgotten that it was his party that won universal adult suffrage for the Guyanese people which gave them the right to vote to elect a government of their choice.

His epic struggle against the might of the British Empire is legendary and he was glorified by anti-colonialists and freedom fighters all over the world.

His political struggle, based on his socialist principles, was inextricably linked with his struggle to improve the social and economic conditions of the Guyanese people.

During the 1957-64 period when he led the PPP Governments, effective land distribution programmes boosted agricultural production and a massive education drive was put into effect.

It was through his initiative, despite some strong opposition from those who felt that university education should not be within the reach of all Guyanese, that the University of Guyana was established in 1963.

Dr. Jagan led his party to election victories in 1953, 1957 and 1961 and won the highest number of votes in 1964.

The undemocratic machinations which led to his removal from the Government in 1964 have been revealed by U.S. State Department documents from the Kennedy era, released by the United States Government in 1996.

Those who were saying that Dr. Jagan was making unfounded allegations that he was removed by overt and covert action, local and international, now only have to read these documents to see how always right he was.

It is unfortunate that Dr. Jagan had to spend 28 years of his life fighting for the restoration of democracy in Guyana. Imagine the heights Guyana would have achieved if his innovative talents, ideas and leadership were applied to Guyana if democracy were allowed to flourish unbound during all those years!

After those 28 years of struggle for democracy, Dr. Jagan won the Presidency in October 1992.

But he did not simply sit back and bask in his glorious victory, for it was not for himself that he fought. It was for Guyana.

Among his many successes he achieved while in office for just four short years was to assure the children of Guyana a better future than the generation before them.

In 1992 he came to power in a country whose schools and health centres, like so many other institutions, were in a state of utter disrepair. This was not the environment this President wished his young people to grow up in, and so a massive social rehabilitation programme began.

In his four years as President, many achievements were recorded. These included a massive water rehabilitation programme and doubling the electricity output of the country from 1992 and the significant improvement in agricultural production.

Amerindian villages which were totally neglected by previous administrations were provided with brand-new schools and health centres.

Throughout Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo many villages, including those with residents generally not supporters of Dr. Jagan's political party, were provided with roads, new water systems, new schools and new health centres.

Dr. Jagan made sure these were provided to guarantee the well being of the young. He showed his care for all the people of Guyana by ensuring that they have these amenities in all areas regardless of their political leanings or ethnic makeup of the people who live there.

And this all was done as Guyana was enjoying one of the highest economic growth rates in all of the Western Hemisphere.

He certainly laid the foundations of a society free from political oppression and fear.

The policies he implemented also gave momentum to the economic recovery programme and social sector initiatives to assist the poor. No wonder President Clinton in paying tribute described President Jagan as "a champion of the poor."

In his short term in office, Dr. Jagan proved to both his political supporters and opponents that it was not politics which he fought for. It was for the sake of all of the Guyanese people.

And the Guyanese people showed that they understood this when they came out in unprecedented numbers to pay their respects to their fallen leader.

It was a showing unheard of in our history, numbers never before seen in Guyana, some say reaching 100,000, at the cremation alone.

They came from all races, religions and political leanings, from the farthest corners of Guyana, and they demonstrated that they knew that he was a man who genuinely loved and cared for all of them.

Dr. Jagan was a President who set the precedence for all future leaders of Guyana.

By his actions, he showed that Presidents and other leaders should not be concerned with the ethnic makeup of the popular vote which elected them, but instead should be concerned with the common good of all the peoples of Guyana, regardless of ethnicity and political persuasion.

As all the political parties unanimously agreed when they paid tribute to him in Parliament, this legacy of Dr. Jagan and his dreams for national unity will be wasted if we do not follow his example.

Cheddi Jagan was also very much a statesman of world repute.

He believed immensely in regional and hemispheric unity. He saw the necessity for helping the poorer countries of the hemisphere in order to ensure that they cope with the economic fallouts that will result with the advent of free trade.

His idea of a Regional Integration Fund which has been endorsed by countries of CARICOM, and which is now being discussed in the negotiations for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, stands as a testimonial to this great intellectual, thinker, writer, statesman and visionary.

His campaign for debt relief for the poorer countries of the world is legendary and his proposal for a New Global Human Order to fight poverty is winning adherents in various parts of the world.

Unselfishly, he thought of other peoples all over the world when he was waging the struggle for the Guyanese people.

In recognition of his visionary thinking, the United Nations General Assembly in 2000 and 2002 approved successive resolutions supporting the role of the United Nations in promoting the New Global Human Order.

Cheddi Jagan will forever remain a legend in Caribbean history. There are many who never agreed with his political philosophy, but what can forever be said of him is that he stood up for what he believed in and never at any time surrendered his principles.

During the 19th century, the Scottish writer, Thomas Carlyle, wrote: "No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men."

Cheddi Jagan was surely one of those great men who helped to reshape the history of the developing world in the 20th century. His ideas will live on, and he will surely be remembered in all the corridors of history.

Indeed, he stamped his footprint indelibly on the bedrock of time.

(The writer is Guyana's Ambassador to the United States of America and Permanent Representative to the Organisation of American States.)

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