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Cheddi Jagan

His Ideas as Manifesto for Unity

by Honourable Moses V. Nagamootoo Remembers ...
Guyana Journal, March 2008

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support this Motion moved by the Honourable Prime Minister. In so doing, I wish to refer to what perhaps is the cardinal point, source and fount of strength of the subject of the Motion – Dr. Cheddi Jagan: his roots.

Dr. Jagan said after he was sworn in as President of Guyana: “I am the son of sugar workers, who has not forgotten his roots. Many politicians like me have forgotten where they came from, but Jagan will never forget and you can be sure of that.”

The Honourable Member Mr. Donald Ramotar referred to the times when Cheddi Jagan entered the political arena. He did so in a particular context which one has to periodize.

I was born in the same month of the same year in which Dr. Jagan won the elections of 1947, so I cannot speak with authority or personal knowledge of what was at the time. But from research and history, we know that Cheddi Jagan was a product of a particular history characterized by circumstances of Guyana being a plantation economy, a post-slave indentured economy, where the majority of our people were derisively dubbed “niggers” and “coolies”.

Though worthy of their place in the plantation as workers, they were still treated in the way that slaves and indentured had been treated. And Dr. Jagan came out in that historical context as a Tribune of the people who wanted political leadership.

Thirty-five years ago, when we observed the 25th year of Dr. Jagan’s entry to the Legislative Assembly, there was a poetry competition to mark the occasion. I recall entering the competition which I won, and my poem was reproduced in a book called For the Fighting Front: An Anthology of Revolutionary Poems. I tried to capture the sentiments of that period, and I read:

And the whiplash
of poverty like salt in the wound
was a bitter bread of niggers and coolies.
They were a world of agony ruled
by the tyranny of greed –
the blood-soaked empire of sweet sugar.
Their pain was born in the desert heat
of the white planters’ paradise
near the flourishing oasis
of sturdy majestic sugar cane
magnificent mansions.

“Niggers” and “coolies” were born in a sea.
Like so many frail boats, lashed and tormented;
tossed upon the tyrannical waves;
fated for the rocky shores of injustice;
or to the deep beyond dug by the planters
for every revolting arm and uplifted head.

This was before the advent of Cheddi
his resplendent stand to free
the proles and peons from servitude.
Then the days were for the masters:
Days to own labour and furnaces
and fabulous fortunes.
The toilers own the nights with their darkness,
their fears and two-bit liquor.
Nights were when their fettered dreams
unleashed their fury, exploding in the dark
like the spasm of a nightmare
whilst their thundering machines
lay pinned to the cool clay of the earth.

Came forty-seven
then the titanic wave
of resistance and workers’ wrath,
Petrified, their venom recoiled,
the planters hid their bestial heads
from the chopping blocks of red justice.

Good Marxists, you came like a meteoric lamb,
rejuvenated hope. You Cheddi,
the workers balm, sent shivering fear
down the spine of the exploiters. Yes Cheddi,
you taught us to struggle, blazed the path
to freedom, planted in us the purest of thoughts,
the noblest of ideals…

Mr. Speaker: Though I have not lived in that period, I used my imagination in my poem drawn from the people with whom I had come to be associated, who recaptured what that period was and that is, the historicity of a Cheddi Jagan, to understand the nature, the character and what made the man, the man he was.

I have been for many years in this Parliament, from 1968 and more particularly from 1970 until 1992, as a journalist sitting over there…. When Cheddi Jagan came into the Parliament for a debate, the gallery would usually be full, not the ghostlike features that we see these days. Debates were lively; debates were fiery; debates were tempestuous. Cheddi Jagan held his own as a man who had an enviable command of facts and figures. And when those who could not supplement the points he would wish to make, he walked with his placards, his charts that demonstrated visibly to all and help them understand the man’s ideas and his message.

So today, as we say in poetic terms, like the icicles hanging on an old man’s beard, Jagan’s ideas would be hanging on these fluorescent lamps forever in this House! And that is why we have come to this House with a Motion [Applause] to capture and preserve his ideas and to place them at the disposal of the generations to come that they would say, that Jagan was a legendary hero as he has been, not by his mere stature, but also by the freshness of his ideas, his work, his vision and the strength of his moral conviction.

The Honourable Member Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan spoke how sometimes Dr. Jagan held on tenaciously to his views. He was like that: he was a man of conviction and he stood his ground, and he was never afraid. In fact, it was part of his strength that he was prepared to make compromise. And when I sat over there as a journalist, listening to him, he would always, as the Honourable Member Mr. Ramotar said, point to solutions to the problems of the country. Most remarkably among those solutions would be his call for national unity.

I refer to what he said in his speech to this Parliament – his first Address to the Ceremonial Opening of the First Session of the Sixth Parliament:

“This is indeed a historic moment for me. It was forty-five years ago on 18 December 1947 that I took my seat for the first time in the Legislative Council …”

(We can all imagine Dr. Jagan standing there and now saying these words)

“That was one of the most exciting, enjoyable and productive periods of my life. I read almost every available report and put a lot of energy and seriousness into my legislative work and the battles were truly pitched. I had to face some of the most entrenched personalities representing the plantocracy and vested interest and my experience was that it needed more than mere logic and enthusiasm to convince the powers of the day. The only way I could succeed, I told myself was to keep close to the people who had voted for me to champion their cause. It paid off. The PPP was formed in 1950 and in 1953 we won a decisive victory of eighteen out of twenty-four seats. This is also an historic moment for our nation and people. After my 1947 victory, I had said and now say again ‘we the people have won’.”

It is out of his affinity with the people, as I said, that we saw him as the people’s tribune taking their aspirations, taking their dreams into the Legislative Assembly; taking the street to Parliament and Parliament to the street – essentially the politics of protest. He had to have unwavering conviction, because the mighty in that period would not be convinced by a lone voice in the wilderness.

Dr. Jagan was not a dogmatic person. His ideas were not dogmatic; he would flex, he would adopt; he would change and he had espoused his own home-grown Marxism based on a model that hitherto had not been tested, I believe, in the world – a model that was based on Parliamentary democracy, multi-party, multi-racial combination in a democracy that was guided by the ethical values of Marxism. That was the essence of Dr. Jagan’s socialism – a socialism premised in the people; a socialism premised in all of the people in the plural society that we have and is known by name GUYANA.

That was the originality of Dr. Jagan that we could in fact build a society by promoting the needs and aspirations of the working people while at the same time not leaving anyone behind. And that is why he adopted the partnership model. So apart from referring to the victory of 1953 when in Parliament, in his speech he had always, always, I believe, up to his last breath stated that we must return to 1953 when there was racial and working class unity in Guyana. And that is a legacy that we wish to pass down to the future generations when we put together in the Hansard the collection of his speeches, because his speeches have now become the guide to the nation, the road map we need to take our country out of the perilous inter-racial problems, the problems of organization and production and the problem of our own viability. We need to take Dr. Jagan’s words as the manifesto for a future Guyana based on racial and working class unity and unity of all of our people, politically and otherwise.

In that regard I would say that I welcome the remarks of the honorable Leader of the Opposition in his contribution to this debate, in his contribution to the motion that there is probably a lucky day ahead for Guyana, when we could once again place Dr. Jagan in his true perspective and all other leaders in this country who had fought with Dr. Jagan, fought for his ideas. We can place those ideas in proper perspective to help bring about a formula for the unity of our country and for its progress based on an un-impeded agenda for development.

Mr. Speaker, I also was privileged in this House while I sat on the reporter’s bench, to hear Dr. Jagan’s speaking to the real issues of the Guyanese people, whether it had to do with balancing the budget; whether it had to do with cutting taxes, whether it had to do with easing cost of living pressures on the working people and particularly mothers and babies. He would make strong advocacy to cut extravagance, to avoid corruption, to be able to cut down on unnecessary expenditures. He had solutions that were real, solutions that were achievable. And we have to return to those things if we are to embrace what Dr. Jagan stood for in this Parliament and in the life of our nation. [Applause]

I have what Dr. Jagan said here when he appealed to our Guyanese people to live within our means. He was always concerned with balancing current expenses when he exhibited the charts in this august Assembly. He was always concerned about how to shift money for the social sectors: more money must go for health, education, water and housing. He was always saying that money wasted otherwise could be properly spent on the needs of the people.

And it is not for nothing that we want to preserve his speeches for prosperity, not as a decoration in the Library, but it is for us to learn from them, to follow them and to be able to be guided by them. For many years this House had not produced the Hansard and probably many of his great speeches have been lost to this nation. We have never had the privilege of coverage by cameras. We have hardly had adequate and proper working machines so that it would be difficult to even find many of his speeches and, I have said that would be a loss to our nation. So the mover of the Motion and those who support this Motion today are fulfilling a part of their duty to the future, that is, to recover what can be recovered before all is lost. And that is why I welcome the gesture of the opposition parties in this House that they support this Motion, because it is worth our while doing so in this House.

I recall when Dr. Jagan went to his first CARICOM Meeting as President of Guyana, it is the daring of this man, the man who was true to his conviction, who had told us that we had to be “lean and clean”, that he should tell CARICOM Heads these words:

“We must set our face sternly against corruption and extravagance. We cannot have a Cadillac style living with donkey carts economies. Our leaders must set the example of democratic, accountable, clean and lean government and efficient governance.”

So his ideas were not only relevant to Guyana: he was also using it as a praxis for other countries in the Caribbean, because no man is an island entirely of his own. We are part of the main; we are part of the region. This is our region and what affects one, as he used to say in another context dealing with investment and exploitation by the north of the south, – “when America sneezes, Latin America catches a cold” – affects us all. So that he saw governance as an important weapon not only for Guyana’s development, but also for the development of our Region and that we have to sell the model of one country to another; a model that was based on accountability, clean, honest, democratic governance. And that, I would say, is one of the finest contributions that would have been made to this House by Dr. Jagan in his speeches and outside of this Parliament.

I have heard what the previous speakers have said, and there isn’t much more I can say to add to the quality of this debate or to try to convince anyone who has any doubts as to the quality of Cheddi Jagan. He remains and would always be the most outstanding statesman, the most outstanding revolutionary, the most outstanding democrat of our time in this country.

And in celebrating his advent into this Parliament sixty years ago, I believe that this House has redeemed a boon that can take us forward, that is, the weapon of unity that made Dr. Jagan stand out as a symbol of unity and not division. We must grasp this opportunity today to be unanimous on recognizing the finer qualities of a decent Guyanese and a great patriot. Thank you. [Applause]

(This is the text of a Speech made by Moses Nagamootoo MP on December 14 2007 at the 37th Sitting – 1st Session – 9th Parliament, Guyana National Assembly.)

Editor’s note: Moses Nagamootoo MP was associated with Cheddi Jagan from 1961, and worked closely with him from 1970 until his death. Moses Nagamootoo was Jagan’s principal speech writer/researcher, and served in his Cabinet as Minister of Information. After Cheddi Jagan’s death he has been deliberately sidelined over the years from any role in the security area though he had made himself available to be Minister of Home Affairs. It is also noteworthy to observe the PPP hierarchy – Janet Jagan-Bharrat Jagdeo – tried people OUTSIDE the party (Henry Jeffrey, Sam Hinds, Ronald Gajraj and others) and not one of Jagan's trusted lieutenants who had put their lives on the line and prepared to take up arms against the PNC dictatorship. Allegedly, they even accepted narco-criminals in the security sector as Roger Khan revealed. The appointment of Clement Rohee further sidelines Nagamootoo. Was this because they felt that he would prosecute their own for alleged corruption?

(Dr. Cheddi Jagan, former leader of the PPP and President of Guyana was on born March 22, 1918 and died on March 6, 1997.)

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