By Gaulbert Sutherland and Frances Abraham
Hailed as a visionary who put the Guyana’s economy on a solid footing and the country on the world map, President Bharrat Jagdeo was honoured at a ‘Day of Appreciation’ yesterday that drew thousands of supporters but also became a lightning rod for critics.
Jagdeo, who will demit office in a few months after leading Guyana for the past 12 years, used the occasion to urge reconciliation, togetherness and patriotism. “The journey from a village boy tothe Presidency has been a long one,” he told supporters who packed the National Stadium at Providence for the over four hour long celebration in song, dance and tributes. It has not always been easy, he added.
The event was censured by critics, who argued there was not much to celebrate and the Alliance For Change staged a protest outside the stadium, sharing flyers as thousands thronged in. “We are distributing our flyers here today to let the people understand that this ought not be a day of celebration, it ought to be a day of shame,” AFC Executive Member Gerhard Ramsaroop said. “We have too many unsolved crimes in this country, VAT is killing the working people, there is too much of corruption, there is five narco-business(es) going on in this country that is stifling legitimate businesses,” he added.
Ramsaroop, however, stressed that he was not suggesting that absolutely nothing has been done under the PPP government, saying that there has been progress but it was “uneven” and there is “too few having too much.” “This is the issue that we have with the government. We believe that they need to cut extravagant expenditure and waste such as this… they saying that what they are doing here will be free. How can that be for free? They still have to be paid, the aircrafts have to be paid, the transportation has to be paid. This is not very different from what Mr. Burnham did in the 80s,” he said.
Questions have also been raised as to who was footing the bill for the event and when approached by Stabroek News, the event’s spokesman and organizer Juan Edghill said that he could not say, since it was private citizens who contributed in different ways.
Meantime, while some agreed with the AFC, others heading to the stadium did not and some hurled rude remarks at those distributing flyers. One disagreeing passerby said he believed that Jagdeo had helped Guyana move forward. “I think personally that Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo did a lot of good, not the party necessarily but he did,” the man said. He explained that the President provided Guyanese with the housing plan and also much infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and even playgrounds.
‘Better days to come’
Inside the stadium, hundreds of waving flags spoke to the level of support for the event. The 15,000-seater stadium was packed to capacity, but a few seats remained free while there were rows of chairs on the ground itself for those unable to get seats in the stand.
Jagdeo thanked supporters saying that he was overwhelmed by the event even as he urged that they do a number of things such as keep faith with the country and to share and feel a sense of pride in things Guyanese. Never stop believing that better days are yet to come, he said.
The president also warned supporters that that they must not be sidetracked by the “scandal industry” and beware the “foreign agenda” in what appeared to be remarks prompted by leaked American diplomatic cables with disclosures regarding government’s links to narco-traffickers, among other issues. “Never allow the scandal industry to take hold in your heart,” he said. “Never allow foreign interests to become our agenda.” The president said that it must be recognized that in some areas, “our values are slightly different” from those in the developed world.
Meantime, Jagdeo also took the opportunity to publicly thank his parents, his sisters, the PPP and other supporters for the role they played in his presidency. “I hope I’ve vindicated your support,” he told the gathering. He said that hopelessness has been replaced with hope and malaise and economic morass with vibrancy and viability. He also urged Guyanese to fight prejudice and racism and said that young people can blaze a trail in this regard. He urged that the focus be kept on women and children and said that men must take responsibility for their children and women must be allowed to blossom.
With regards to politics, he asked the gathering to ensure that political loyalty does not rank higher than love for country. Those who tried to downplay the event, they too are “our brothers” said the president. He said that persons have to enlighten themselves and in this regard, writers and others such as filmmakers must be supported. He also urged support for PPP Presidential Candidate, Donald Ramotar and noted that there is still a lot more to be done. To scattered applause, the President said that he will continue to support the development of the country. “You can’t turn off patriotism,” he said.
Jagdeo also stated that he hoped that the upcoming elections will be conducted with dignity and the results will be accepted by all.
Earlier, tributes to Jagdeo hailed his “fighting spirit” and “gifted mind.” Recalling the President’s youth, Ramotar said that as Jagdeo rose in the ranks, he worked tirelessly. “He is first and foremost, a fighter,” said Ramotar. “But he also has a gifted mind,” he added. He said that in his Presidency, Jagdeo faced difficult times such as the 2005 floods and the crime wave. The achievements over the last few years have to be put in context to understand how important they are he said even as he thanked Jagdeo “for placing us in the position that we are in today.”
Ramotar declared that he hopes to lead the country for the next decade and will not only follow the trail laid by Jagdeo but will move to greater heights. “We will move from strength to strength,” he said. “If it’s good today, it will be much better tomorrow.”
Professor Clement Sankat of the University of the West Indies also hailed Jagdeo, describing him as an outstanding regional statesman who worked tirelessly and as an incomparable patriot and one of the most influential regional leaders. The president has a remarkable record of service to the nation, region and the world, said Sankat even as he praised Jagdeo’s “stellar” achievements and said he was a “true pioneer” with regards to environmental protection. “President Jagdeo has been a big voice for small states” especially in the Caribbean, he said.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds brought a touch of sentimentality to the occasion. “We hope you didn’t find it too perplexing to manage us, your cabinet team,” he told the President. He hailed Jagdeo’s perceptiveness, pragmatism, dynamism and formidable intellect and said he was an “intense fighter for survival and success.” He said that the Cabinet learnt many lessons from their “Chief”. “Many thanks, best wished, long life…ever our president,” he said.
The President’s Appreciation Day opened with a number of cultural items such as calypso, a parachute display by the Guyana Defence Force, dancing, renditions from the Joint Services’ Choir, drumming and a specially prepared song dedicated to the President which was sung by local artistes.
In the parking lot there were a number of canters and buses and upon inquiries, this newspaper was told that supporters journeyed from as far as Bartica, Essequibo, Berbice, Mahaicony and other outlying areas. There have been reports that transportation was provided by the government but according to most drivers, they were hired by private residents while others said that they are uncertain who their employer were affiliated with. A number of persons left while the ceremony was in progress.
Many persons said they were attending to pay tribute to the president for his contribution to national development while others simply said they were there to have fun.