Late former president Janet Jagan worked for the development of both women and men, according to PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee, who says her contributions to the country continue to be felt.
Rohee was speaking on Friday at an evening of reflection organised at the Umana Yana by the Women’s Progressive Organisation,
the women’s arm of the PPP, which has planned a series of commemorative activities to celebrate Jagan’s life.
Speaking of the former general secretary of the PPP and former president of Guyana, Rohee said that when people speak of her, they always refer to the contributions she made to women and the struggle for equal rights. “She was also associated with the growth and development of young men. She did not only help to cultivate young women and other women in the party and the women’s organisation. She did that also for men and I am one of the products that she helped to mould over the years,” he said.
“I listened to what many of the comrades had to say regarding comrade Janet as a very serious woman, a very disciplined woman. And sometimes those words help to conjure up the image that this is a person that you would be fearful of. But not necessarily so,” he pointed out.
“It was a sternness and a seriousness that came with care and attention. That came with love and affection,” he said.
Rohee said that he attributed his seriousness to the upbringing he had with Janet and Cheddi in the early days. He said he is sometimes criticised for his seriousness. “I agree with the comment that I need to smile more often but you know nowadays if you smile too often you are seen as a jokey person,” he said.
Rohee said Jagan had three severe tests in her political life. “The first was when the party was forced underground by the British. In 1953 when the Constitution was suspended she went to prison,” he said. “She spent six months in that prison and in those days prison life was not easy. That was a severe test,” he added.
Another test, he said, was between 1961 and 1964, when she was asked by Cheddi Jagan, then Premier, to be Minister of Home Affairs. “If you read, carefully, the literature of what took place during those days, I can tell you that if you believe what I am going through as Minister of Home Affairs is hard, it is nothing compared with what she went through,” he said.
He said that prior to independence when the riots broke out, she gave up the post. “The [West] did not want Guyana to gain independence under Cheddi Jagan so they created racial riots in the country as an excuse not to allow the country to go to independence under Jagan,” he said. “In total frustration, she resigned the post.
“The next difficult period she had was when she became President of this country. She won more votes than her husband. Her husband won 53 percent of the votes in the 1992 elections while she won 55 percent of the votes in the 1997 elections. But there were a set of people in this country who were determined that ‘no white American Jew’ can be the president of this country,” he said. “We all saw what happened subsequently. They took to the streets…demonstrations…riots…some people call it obeah works…all of that they did in order to get her out of office,” he said.
Rohee asserted that “vilest and wickedest forms of protest” took place during her tenure as president. “It was total race hate. They exerted so much pressure on her, the party and the government that two years of her presidency were [truncated],” he said. “The compromise that was forced upon us was we either take the two years away and have elections soon after or we would have trouble in Guyana. And yet these very people today…have the temerity to come and talk to us about democracy, about transparency and about accountability,” he added.
“Now here was a woman who did so much for this country and I want to tell you here this afternoon that every single person in this room has benefited from the contribution made by Janet Jagan. She did miracles singlehandedly in Guyana,” she said.
Referring to opposition politicians as born again democrats preaching democracy, transparency and accountability, he said Janet Jagan planted the seeds on which they themselves are now growing up politically.
He also slammed certain sections of the media for what he referred to as distorting the history of the country. He said that those media house write “evil” things about the people who have made a good contribution to the country. “And if we don’t have activities like this, if we don’t speak about these matters then they would be victorious because their ideas alone will dominate the country,” he said.
“Every single day you open certain newspapers and I could name them–the Kaieteur News and the Stabroek News–sheer hostility against the government. Every single project they’re attacking and making it out that we are engaging in some type of skulduggery,” he said.
He said that the PPP will remind people about the party’s, and Janet Jagan’s contribution to national unity in Guyana. “There are some out there who believe that there are the experts on these matters. But the architect of…national unity in this country is Dr Cheddi Jagan. And we, who are the heirs to the legacy he has left, have to continue along those lines,” said Rohee.