CHEDDI JAGAN AND THE POLITICS OF POWER


The budget provided the occasion for the press and opposition to launch a campaign of distortion. Notwithstanding Jagan’s efforts to explain his budget proposals, to mobilize support for them and to compromise with the opposition, the latter was “busy fanning the flames of unrest,” incitement and street demonstrations which degenerated into ethnic violence and arson. The Wynn Parry Commission of Inquiry which followed castigated both Burnham and D’Aguiar. Speaking about the opposition, the report said: “It was not long before these forces combined to form a veritable torrent of abuse, recrimination and vicious hostility directed against Dr. Jagan….”

Palmer’s criticism’s of Jagan that he did nothing to heal the ethnic divisions and that they even served his purpose flies in the face of his acknowledgement of Jagan’s efforts to heal the racial divisions and hostilities by proposing a coalition government. In fact, most of the criticisms of Jagan are adopted from opposition sources and repeated without analysis or are situated in the blanket condemnation of all politicians. Where any analysis justifying such statements take place, it is rather shallow.

The introduction in 1963 of the Labour Relations Bill is deemed by Palmer to be a misjudgment because of the strike and violence it led to. Palmer attributes the Bill to an immediate issue, namely, the desire of the PPP to gain recognition for the GIWU and to displace the MPCA which was a company union and did not have the support of the workers.

Palmer missed an opportunity to explore another dimension surrounding the introduction of the Bill. The PPP was already aware that the British and American intelligence agencies were using the TUC and some trade union leaders, particularly Richard Ishmael, the head of the MPCA, to spearhead the attack against the government. The PPP was also aware that its government had been brought to its knees the year before. The economy was also in a very weak state. Surely one possibility of deflecting its opponents, who were now openly supported by the Western powers, was to remove Richard Ishmael from a position of influence, weaken the Sugar Producers Association (SPA) and gain a foothold in the TUC, all in one fell swoop.

The introduction of the Labour Relations Bill could have been a calculated attempt by the PPP to place itself in a position of greater strength to defeat any further effort at destabilization. If there was a misjudgment, it was the failure of the PPP to learn its lesson from the year before when the opposition sacrificed all principles to remove it from office. Such sacrifice of principle continued when Burnham opposed the Bill which he had supported in 1953. The PPP could not then have known that a decision had been taken at the level of President Kennedy and Prime Minister Macmillan to remove its government from office.

Palmer set out of the consequences of the general strike of 1963: “As in February 1962, there were widespread acts of violence, arson, looting, and racially based attacks.”

Guyana is yet to recover from the “most devastating eruption of racially inspired violence [which] erupted in April 1964.” The fear, loss, pain and anguish of this period are captured by Palmer’s description of the violence and destruction of property during this period. Predictably, Palmer blames the “political leaders,” even though he understood quite well that the only way by which Jagan could get the Western powers and the opposition called off was if he resigned and give up. After reviewing the involvement of the Western intelligence agencies in the involvement of Guyana’s problems between 1961 and 1964, Palmer concludes: “The compelling truth about British Guiana during those difficult years is that it was not free to choose its political path. Despite the vaunted invocations of democratic rights for all peoples, the imperatives of US and British national interests circumvented or prevented the actualization of such principles in Guiana.”

Palmer provides a synopsis of developments since 1964 and suggests that: “Guyana’s descent into economic chaos in the 1970s and the 1980s was a consequence of Burnham’s mismanagement, exacerbated by weaknesses in the global economy. But something else of more enduring significance was occurring. Guyana’s collective psyche was damaged by the assaults on its young institutions, the battering and circumscribing of dissent, the flight of some of the most productive citizens, and a worsening of the cancerous racial tumors.”

The premise for those of us who have always lived in Guyana and are engaged in its public affairs is the optimism that there a better future for those to follow. Palmer expresses that hope: “Contemporary Guyana shows the political, racial, and emotional scars of its troubles and unhappy past. But its future need not be burdened or circumscribed by them. The accumulated wrongs and missteps described in these pages will not be easily made right, but the tantalizing promise of societal reconciliation, peace and harmony among its people, a common national purpose, and economic development must remain alive with its leaders and citizenry. (www.conversationtree.gy).

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