Numerous articles have appeared in your newspaper with reflections on the influence of Cheddi Jagan and his achievements which spanned a period of over 50 years. No one seems to remember the tragedies and mistakes. In the aftermath of his death, a vast number of Guyanese still bear memories (and scars) of them, many worthy of praise, many worthy of regret.
Dr Jagan’s sojourn at Howard and Northwestern universities exposed him to the hardships of coloureds in the US, as segregation dictated social life. He identified with this sector, the so-called oppressed people, and upon his return to Guyana took up the struggle to fight for this ‘oppressed’ sector. He did so from a Marxist-Leninist platform and incurred the wrath of both the ruling British and the US.
After having been elected to the Legislature in 1947, Jagan subsequently formed the PPP and three years later was the country’s first Premier. But his adherence to Socialist doctrine and his close ties to Moscow and Havana precipitated the suspension of the Constitution in 1953. If Jagan truly understood his country he would have accommodated the West instead of the hard line Marxist approach in the height of the Cold War, which ultimately saw him ejected from the seat of power through the machinations of the British and the US.
At the London Conference in 1963, he was advised by his Attorney General, Dr Fenton Ramsahoye, not to accept the change to a Proportional Representation system of elections, instead of the existing First Past the Post, unless it was accompanied by Independence. Against the advice of his learned Attorney General, the PPP leader went ahead and signed (he was told to come alone) the document handed to him by Commonwealth Secretary Mr Duncan Sandys.
After rigged elections in 1968, Jagan had enough resources to pressure the emerging Burnham dictatorship. His supporters had incisive control of the entire agriculture sector and great power in the sugar industry, in addition to private transportation, fishing and lumber manufacturing. This was more than enough to break the hegemonic control of the Burnham the regime; instead, he cowardly regurgitated his foolish Marxism verbiage—tantamount to holding a red flag in front of the bulls―while his support base attenuated.
When 600,000 Warsaw Pact troops (led by Russia) marched into Czechoslovakia in August 1969 Cheddi Jagan gave his full support to Russia. The invasion, later known as the Prague Spring, usurped the many freedoms that the leader, Alexander Dubcek, had given his citizens. He was overthrown and replaced by Stalinist henchman Gustav Husak, who went on to rule for 20 years until the fall of Communism in 1989.
When Burnham nationalized the sugar and bauxite industries in the late 1970s Jagan was ecstatic. It was power to the proletariat, the panacea for development! He urged further nationalization. He then embarked on a most bizarre programme of “critical support” for Burnham. What an analysis from a man half the people of Guyana idolized.
As for being learned and dedicated, Jagan was more interested in Marxism than anything else. He was a nostalgic, self-centred man of no religion. His supporters believed in private industry yet they embraced a man whose philosophy embraced state control. Just think of the sawmills, rice mills, and manufacturing plants becoming collective enterprises. Had he been head of state in 1964 Guyana would have become another Cuba. His whole career was focused on Marxism and, once on a visit to Freedom House, I saw the Pyongyang Times and Beijing Review in the waiting room; no Times or Newsday. Ironically, it was the fall of Jagan’s beloved doctrine of Marxism, which is still enshrined in the PPP’s constitution, that saw the advent of free elections overseen by President Carter from a country he once described as an Imperialist exploiter in ‘The West on Trial.
In conclusion, it is public knowledge, that while Guyanese were lining up for oil and soap and eating rice flour, the son and daughter of Marxist Cheddi Jagan were enjoying the spoils of capitalism in Canada and the United States. On a final note: Guyana’s resources would never have been dished out to foreign companies by Cheddi Jagan.
Leyland Chitlall Roopnaraine