It was on October 9, 1953, 66 years ago last week, that the Conservative British Government of Winston Churchill suspended what was known as British Guiana’s Waddington Constitution. It did so by passing an Order in Council which it enforced by sending to British Guiana an invasion army of 700 British troops. The intention was not merely to ensure that the 133-day old Government left office. It was to smash the democratic opening that British Guiana had achieved by destroying the Peoples’ Progressive Party (PPP) which had spearheaded the campaign for universal adult suffrage with the ultimate objective of ending colonial rule. The PPP was democratic socialist, progressive, militant, impatient and intent on eliminating the intense poverty that gripped the majority of the Guianese people. The British Government had been persuaded by local reactionary forces that had travelled to London after the April elections in which the PPP won 18 of the 24 seats, that the PPP represented the forces represented the existential threat of ‘international communism.’
The Waddington Constitution that the British Government suspended had granted universal adult suffrage to British Guiana for the first time, eliminating property qualifications. It also allowed a modest measure of democratic rule by permitting an elected Legislative Council and a Cabinet comprising Ministers appointed by the party commanding the majority of votes. The PPP formed that Government, which had little authority, having to defer to the Executive Council of unelected officials headed by the British Governor. This did not stop the PPP Government from immediately setting about to alleviate the atrocious conditions of workers.
Bharrat Jagdeo’s incumbency as General Secretary of the PPP and Opposition Leader makes him the most authoritative figure within the PPP. The ease with which he swatted away the dominant influence of Donald Ramotar, Clement Rohee and Komal Chand in serious decision-making within the upper reaches of the PPP after the loss of the 2015 elections, testifies to his now enduring control of the direction of the PPP, last manifested when he secured the nomination of Donald Ramotar as the presidential candidate in 2011.
Komal Chand had always been a vocal and independent minded leader within the PPP. This was derived more from his inclinations than from the power base he held as General Secretary of GAWU. The need for restructuring of the sugar industry arose at around the time of Mr. Jagdeo’s accession to office in 1999. Mr. Chand’s positions in debate, particularly in relation to the sugar industry, became more pointed and vocal as time went on, especially during the 2006 to 2011 period when serious problems began to surface. But the problems which have been emerging in the sugar industry and the length of time for which Mr. Chand has held leadership office in GAWU – since about 1985 – have weakened his grip. Thus, he lost his position as a member of the executive committee of the PPP after the 2016 congress of the PPP. Composition of this body is determined by a select few a day or two before the vote and a sufficient number of members of the central committee, which elects the executive committee, are given the word as to who to support. Mr. Chand’s orchestrated loss would have told him that his time in the leadership of the PPP and GAWU was drawing to an end.
Last week the 27 year old Anthony Joshua dethroned 41 year old Wladimir Klitschko, the reigning world heavyweight boxing champion for the past 15 years. In the history of heavyweight boxing, Klitschko is one of the all-time greats. He would dominate a fight with sharp and powerful left jabs, keeping his opponent at bay, until he is able to land devastating right hooks or right crosses, sometimes in combinations, with lightning speed. Up until the fight, Joshua was merely a promising newcomer.
The fight began with Joshua taking away the offensive capability from Klitschko by himself utilizing the left jab repeatedly. Klitschko looked uncertain, retreating, his reflexes less than sharp, which were not good signs. The fight was close for much of the time, with Joshua falling to a right in the sixth round but weathering the storm. Thereafter it appeared that Klitschko was looking for an opportunity to land another right and gave up trying to win by scoring boxing points. This was a fatal mistake. It reduced his attention to his defence. The age difference showed and Klitschko’s stamina gave way. Starting with a vicious uppercut in the eleventh round through Klitschko’s open arms looking for that elusive right hook, rather than being in a defensive posture, Joshua delivered a flurry of punches from which Klitschko could not recover.
Inspired by events that were occurring in the wider world and influenced by progressive views while he was a student in the United States, Dr. Cheddi Jagan returned to Guyana in 1943, then British Guiana, intent on becoming politically involved on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged. He chose the trade union movement as an entrance point. Ashton Chase and Jocelyn Hubbard, both trade unionists, were sought out to join with him and Janet Jagan to form the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) on November 6, 1946, as a study and discussion group. Branches emerged in various places including Kitty, Buxton and Enmore. My father, Boysie Ramkarran, joined the Kitty Group in 1947. Ashton Chase, at the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the PAC said that my father was the Secretary of that group. Eusi Kwayana was active in the Buxton group.
Amidst unrest and great and increasing poverty in the Caribbean in the 1930s and 1940s due to the Great Depression and drop in the price for sugar, the bauxite workers went on a long strike in 1947. In 1948 the successful Teare strike of transport workers took place followed by the Enmore strike of sugar workers. Having already won a seat in the Legislative Council in 1947, these events, and in particular the Enmore strike, motivated Cheddi Jagan to speed up the establishment of a political movement to struggle for universal adult suffrage, social justice and independence.
The announcement by the Government that the Wales Sugar Estate would be closed at the end of 2016 was the subject of a symposium at Moray House at Camp and Quamina Streets, the former home of the late David de Caires, the founding editor of Stabroek News. In opening the event, the Chair of Moray House Trust, Isabelle de Caires, noting the controversial nature of the issue and the passions it has generated in the midst of a general strike in the sugar industry, declared that it was not a political event but a debate with panelists and contributors being free to express whatever views they wished. Ms. de Caires pointed out that while some may wish to construe an organised public event on an important national issue as being politically motivated, silence could also be construed as a political statement.
The panelists were Jai Petam, who until a year ago served the sugar industry for 35 years, including in senior management positions generally and at Wales Estate over the past 18 years; Derrick Venture, of La Retraite/Stanleytown Cane Farmers Association for the past 35 years; Mark Khan, who has worked at Wales Estate for the past 30 years and is the plant foreman; Christopher Ram, accountant and lawyer and President of the Guyana Bar Association; Vicram Oditt, businessman and former Chair of the Board of Directors from 1993 to 2003. Guysuco declined participation but Mr. Tony Vieira, a member of the Board of Directors of Guysuco was present but in his personal capacity. And while the Government also did not participate, the Minister of Business, Mr. Dominic Gaskin, was present throughout the meeting. I am sure that these gestures were appreciated by members of the audience, including those from Wales. No doubt those who are passionately urging the Government to pause and reconsider are hoping that the Government is not only listening, but will also hear.