EYEWITNESS: Remembering…


…Cheddi Jagan

Monday was the death anniversary of Dr Cheddi Jagan and the day was commemorated by many…but, if the truth be told, mostly from his side of the aisle. Sadly it’s another reminder of the entrenched divisions in our country. Time hasn’t healed the 1950s split of the national movement.

What’s different about Dr Jagan? First, there’s the dualism in his early life, plucked as he was from his deep rural Port Mourant surroundings, to the elite post-war bastion of privilege that was Queen’s College in Georgetown. In the 1930s, class and colour were sharply coincident and young Jagan would’ve learnt many a lesson in local social distinctions, in addition to the rural-urban one.

His departure for the US was also unusual since most of his contemporaries with professional aspirations would’ve moved on to the UK. It’s rather ironic that Jagan became a Marxist while studying in the US – the great bastion of capitalism! But maybe not really – since, as Marx predicted, the contradictions of capitalism are greatest in such locales. Especially living among the poor and powerless when Jim Crow still ruled the South where he was studying in a black University, Howard.

Unlike the Guyanese immigrants from Berbice to the US – who would follow him from the seventies onwards – Jagan didn’t focus on accumulating money for “the house and car”, but on paying for his education. His perspective on life, therefore, was more dispassionate and he was deeply affected by the social and economic barriers to blacks and the poor. When 30 years later he would refer to blacks being at the bottom of the ladder, he was referring to his experiences from the thirties. But he was lynched by local blacks.

When he returned to Guyana in 1943 with his even more radical Jewish wife, WWII was in full swing and the Americans had discovered Guyana with their creation and occupation of Atkinson Field – which is now Timehri. As a dentist, and his wife seen as “white” – Jagan could’ve easily followed the path of other colonial professionals and tried to climb up the social ladder by becoming an “honorary” white.

But he did not. He rather identified with the toiling masses and had become deeply convinced their lot could only be improved with a radical change in politics. This radicalism would be provided by Marxism – which had penetrated even staid Oxford University in England where the future PM of T&T had just finished his PhD thesis, “Capitalism and Slavery” under that influence.

Jagan’s undoing however was, unlike Williams, he moved from the ideas of Marx to the actions of Lenin. That was unacceptable to the powers that be.
The Cold War had changed the equation.

…or skewering Jagan

The state-run Chronic ran a quite balanced review of Jagan in an editorial the other day, but then ended it with a rather enigmatic sentence: “His (Jagan’s) reach was national, but that did not prevent him from articulating and embodying the hope and aspirations of Indian Guyanese.” The question, of course, was if his “reach was national” what prevented “him from articulating and embodying the hopes and aspirations of” African Guyanese?

And the answer, of course, is Forbes Burnham!! Jagan had laid the groundwork by mobilising the up-to-then disenfranchised poorer Indians and Africans via the PAC and getting elected to the Legislature in 1947. But when the about-to-be-launched PPP made room for the just returned Forbes Burnham, he demanded leadership or nothing. And split Africans from the PPP when he left.

Some say Burnham was more “moderate” – they forget he was even more radical than Jagan in his pronouncements when he first returned!
His “moderation” was purely opportunistic and tactical – as history proved. And split Guyana forever.


Sure contracts should be sacrosanct. But like all rules, there are exceptions. The renegotiation of the 1999 contract was our exception allowing Exxon to exceed the time specified for moving from exploration to production.

Exxon should at least pay corporate taxes on their profits, rather than us.


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