CHEDDI JAGAN STATESMAN AND VISIONARY

by Odeen Ishmael

Dr. Cheddi Jagan firmly established himself as a statesman of no mean calibre long before other politicians in the Caribbean region ever thought of venturing out from their insular arenas to hesitantly grapple with international issues impacting on the social and economic development of the world at large. While it is true that Dr. Jagan, from his first entry into politics, was deeply interested in winning political independence for Guyana, at the same time, he was very vocal in championing the independence movements of Africa and the Caribbean. To do so showed immensed political and moral courage since many politicians of the period of the 1950s were not prepared to step out of their creases to challenge the might of the imperial powers. It is, therefore, from his early years as a politician that Dr. Jagan displayed the signs of a statesman in the making. Even after his removal from power in 1964 through the covert and overt actions of local and international forces, his tenacity as a political fighter for the working people, and for the poor and downtrodden in all parts of the world, made him into a figure of international renown, while his writings on international political, economic and social issues placed him among the highest ranks of the great thinkers of the developing world.

Global Strategy

Immediately after his election, Dr. Jagan wrote to world leaders expressing his ideas for the establishment of a New Global Human Order. The ideas were developed over a period of time during which the Guyanese leader carefully examined previous international proposals aimed at alleviating social and economic ills worldwide, and combining some of these ideas with fresh ones of his own. new. He then explained very clearly how the ideas could actually be implemented, and how funding could be obtained to put the necessary action programs on stream. He outlined a global strategy which would benefit both the North and South and which would lead to sustainable development, democracy, peace, freedom and social progress.

This strategy, which has been endorsed by other Caribbean leaders, and which continues to be proagated, envisages a program targeted at the most burning issues of unemployment, poverty and hunger and calls for a radical reform North/South program which must include, inter alia, a works-program for physical, social and cultural infrastructures; tax and other incentives for the use of technology which will create jobs instead of destroying them; a new EU/ACP Lome Convention with enhanced assistance for the developed countries; and debt relief for the developing countries.

The proposals set out by President Jagan certainly were expressed in various forms before. But where he differed in his approach was that he saw the establishment of a New Global Human Order as an incremental process a process which would indeed take some time to materialize should the appropriate reforms and programs put in place within certain periods.

Winnable Ideas

At first, there were some commentators who felt that that Dr. Jagan's ideas were utopian, that they would not catch on, and that they would not engender discussions. Some even went so far as to say that no political body would seriously try to implement any of the ideas for a long, long time. But as President Jagan himself said, many ideas which seemed utopian eventually became accepted as realistic and practicable. As such, the Government of Guyana consistently since 1993 propagated the proposition at all local, regional and international forums. At first, it took some time to bite, but gradually most likely because of the consistency of Guyana a number of Governments began to develop an interest in it.

At the Commonwealth Conference in Auckland early in 1996, President Jagan spoke on the importance of a New Global Human Order for the entire world, and after he met with Commonwealth leaders in bilaterals, a new interest in the idea sprang up, particularly among the African leaders who are now themselves making their own suggestions on how it should be implemented.

The biggest breakthrough so far is the adoption of the proposal for the establishment of the New Global Human Order by the governments of CARICOM. The regional body, under the guidance of Guyana, has agreed to push the proposal at all forums. In October 1996, at the UN General Assembly, Guyana and Grenada, took the opportunity to call for its implementation at regional and international levels.

Miami Summit Proposals

Let us deal with some specific areas. In 1994 at the Summit of the Americas in Miami, Guyana made three vibrant proposals aimed at assisting in the establishment of at least a part of the New Global Human Order. Guyana called for a team of experts from outside the multilateral financial institutions to formulate new ideas on how to solve the debt crisis affecting many poor developing countries in this hemisphere. Guyana also urged the establishment of a development corps of volunteers to supplement the work of the proposed White Helmets organization. And anticipating economic fallout in the poorer countries with the eventual establishment of free trade in the Americas, Dr. Jagan proposed the establishment of a regional development fund, fashioned more or less like that of the European development fund which assists the weaker economies in the European Union.

Debt Relief

What were the results of all of these demands? After much debate, the Guyana delegation got the Summit to agree that a specially appointed committee would be set up to review a number of financial issues, and that the problems of debt should be examined with the assistance of ideas drawn from a broad range of expertise. This is written in the Action Plan of the Summit of the Americas. Out of this we are now seeing the spin-off. More and more countries are spotlighting the issue of debt relief, and recently Guyana obtained some relief from the Paris Club and from Trinidad and Tobago. In November, Germany also agreed to write off 67 percent of the debt Guyana owes to that country. And recently, the United States pitched in to write off a total of US$10 million of Guyana's debts.

In early October 1996, the World Bank and the IMF agreed to granting debt relief for a number of poor countries including Guyana. It will be recalled that when President Jagan had first touted the idea that the multilateral financial institutions (MFIs) should look at the possibility of debt relief and debt forgiveness, there were many "doubting Thomases" in the international arena, and even specialists working in these MFIs who said that the idea was not feasible. It was utopian and not practicable to them. Now we are seeing a turn around from these very multilateral institutions, albeit slowly, but we have moved them and they need to be pushed forward to do more.

Recently, the IMF/World Bank agreed to forgive the debts of a number of poor countries in Africa. The institution have also announced that the forgiveness of some of the debts of Guyana and Bolivia is being actively considered.

Development Corps

Then there is the idea of the development corps of volunteers. A little explanation is needed here. A few years ago, the President of Argentina, Carlos Menem, proposed the establishment of a volunteer group known as the White Helmets to be deployed to assist in emergency situations in various countries. This group would be under the control of the United Nations. At the Summit, Dr. Jagan proposed that the White Helmets program should be expanded to also assist in special social and economic programs in the Americas. It was from the Guyanese leader that the idea of a "development corps of volunteers" emanated. He envisaged a hemispheric corps of volunteers, more or less like the US Peace Corps, but drawn from specialist volunteers from all the countries of the hemisphere to be deployed to assist on special social and economic development projects in various countries. This amendment was agreed to, but even though the White Helmets has now been organized and assisting in emergency situations in a number of countries in and out of this hemisphere, the development corps aspect of it is still not yet off the ground, ostensibly from a lack of funding. However, at various levels, Guyana and other countries in the hemisphere are pressing for its establishment as soon as possible.

Regional Fund

In the proposal for the New Global Human Order, President Jagan saw the need for an international fund to be managed by the UN and shows how the money can be obtained. The general idea of this proposal is that the fund would be made available to all countries developed and underdeveloped. The developing countries would use it to upgrade their infrastructure and industrial base, thus creating more jobs and ultimately improving the standard of living for their peoples. They in turn would demand more goods which generally come from the developed countries. This will spur more job opportunities in these countries as well. Surely, this will help a far way in fighting poverty in both developed and developing countries.

The regional development fund is seen an extension of this international fund and it is proposed with a specific purpose in mind. With the advent of free trade on the establishment the Free Trade Areas of the Americas (FTAA) by 2005, it is expected that the countries with weaker economies like those in CARICOM will be faced with distinct disadvantages in trying to compete with the larger and stronger economies in the region. The proposed regional development fund would be made available to the weaker economies to help cushion the economic fallout, while at the same time used to develop their infrastructure and industrial base to place them on a somewhat leveler playing field to compete with the stronger economies.

When Guyana first made this proposal, all other countries sidestepped away from it. Some wondered where the funds would come from; the powerful countries somehow felt that they would be called upon to provide some of the funds; so the idea was not very popular. Even some of our own associates in CARICOM felt that while it would help solve many of the economic problems in the region, it was asking too much at the present time. Maybe, they though this, too, was utopian.

But here again persistence on the part of Guyana has paid off. First of all, at the meeting in preparation for the Denver Trade Ministerial in 1995 to discuss the mechanics of the proposed FTAA, Guyana was one of the few countries that called for the establishment of a Working Group on Smaller Economies to examine the effects that free trade would have on poorer countries in the hemisphere. There was strong resistance to this, but with support from CARICOM and Central America, that battle was won. Guyana thought that this was strategic since within this Working Group the poorer countries could make demands for programs beneficial to them. It is in this group that Guyana continues to wage the fight for the regional development fund. By explaining the workings of this proposed fund, new converts are being won. Bolivia has recently suggested that such a fund must be established to assist smaller economies, and CARICOM has since adopted the idea as a Caribbean initiative. A recent meeting of heads of CARICOM governments in Jamaica agreed to restyle the initiative as the Regional Integration Fund, an idea which is now gaining support from Central America. Significantly, at the joint meeting of CARICOM and Central American Foreign Ministers in Costa Rica in early December 1996, the Central Americans gave total support to the proposal for the establishment of the Fund.

On March 13, Dr. Jagan in a feature address to the sixth meeting of the Working Group on the Smaller Economies in Georgetown challenged all the hemispheric nations to adopt the RIF proposal. The meeting later unanimously agreed to do a technical study of the RIF and to make recommendations as to how the objectives of the proposed fund could be achieved. This decision surely was a forward step in the materialization of the idea of the great Guyanese visionary.

These are just some of the main aspects of the international legacy of Dr. Cheddi Jagan. It is a legacy which portrays the humane quality of this renowned intellectual, thinker and statesman. There he was in the final years of his life devoting all of it for the economic and social upliftment of the lives of not only the Guyanese people, but especially also of those of the poorer countries of the world. He was an internationalist in the truest sense. He was a statesman who lived for this time and beyond.

(The writer is Guyana's Ambassador to the United States and Permanent Representative to the OAS).

May 6, 1997