CHEDDI JAGAN'S VISION FOR CARIBBEAN AND HEMISPHERIC INTEGRATION - Speech by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael at the Cheddi Jagan Research Institute, 22 March 2004
Posted March 29th. 2004
Mr. Chairman, Honourable Prime Minister, Ministers, Mrs. Jagan, Excellencies of the diplomatic corps, Ladies and Gentlemen.
A few weeks ago, in Caracas, I met the popular American movie star Danny Glover at a social function hosted by President Chavez. He revealed to me and a few other Caribbean and African diplomats how he was deeply influenced by the tireless struggles of Dr. Cheddi Jagan in the fight against colonialism and for the cause of democracy. Moreover, he saw him as a champion of all Caribbean people. Just like Danny Glover, people of all walks of life in many parts of the world regard Cheddi Jagan as the leader who inspired the anti-colonial and pro-democratic struggle in the Caribbean region, and who worked to build solidarity between the English-speaking Caribbean and the Latin American countries. Over the past seven years - ever since he died - various writers and commentators have thoroughly examined different aspects relating to the life and times of this great and noble Guyanese. This is not unexpected since Dr. Jagan was much more than just the leader of the People's Progressive Party. He was the father of the Guyanese independence movement and he had achieved the status of a statesman held in high esteem. As such, all Guyanese and world citizens, and not only PPP members and supporters, have the right to discuss his ideas to see how they could be applied to the development of the Guyanese nation, and regional, hemispheric and world situations.
As we pay homage to the memory of Dr. Cheddi Jagan, we reflect on his achievements, the challenges and setbacks he faced, his ideas and his visionary thinking. His ideas span a gamut of issues, but what I hope to do today is to examine some aspects of his vision for Caribbean and hemispheric integration.
Like most of my colleagues in the PPP, I had the experience of discussing in some detail many of his political and economic views and even to brainstorm with him some of the new ideas that his mind hatched out on a regular basis. We had many interesting debates on Guyanese, Caribbean and world history during the long period when he was leading the struggle for democracy, and these conversations continued into the period when he ascended to the presidency of the country. When I served in Washington, so very often he telephoned me to spin some ideas on political developments in Latin America. He was also particularly interested in the evolving role of the United States in the integration process in the Americas, and he followed very closely the discussions emanating from the OAS and also from the Summit of the Americas process. Up to early January 1997, we were talking about the reasons for the absence of popular political activism in American universities, as compared to what occurred in those institutions in the 1970s.
The Federation Issue
I believe that it was natural for Cheddi Jagan to look beyond Guyana in the shaping of his political and economic views. From the time he entered the political arena in the early 1940s, his socialist-oriented outlook made him a natural internationalist. He began analysing situations in Guyana and saw a clear linkage with developing situations in the Caribbean, the countries of the Americas and the world at large. He became a vocal supporter for West Indian unity and backed the decisions of the 1943 Montego Bay conference which determined how the proposed West Indian federation should be shaped and developed. It must be noted that the Montego Bay conference which involved West Indian leaders and representatives of the British Government agreed that each unit territory would be granted self-government status and the new federation would be given dominion status as was enjoyed by Canada and Australia.
The Montego Bay agreement was discarded when the federation was eventually established in 1958, without the participation of Guyana, Belize and the Bahamas. The PPP had decided that entry into the federation would be based on the decision of a referendum, and Dr. Jagan consistently demanded that only if the unit territories were self-governing would the federation be able to survive. The federation, as expected, broke up within four years when disagreements erupted among the federal leaders themselves. Two of them, Eric Williams and Grantley Adams, belatedly admitted that Dr. Jagan's position on the constitutional framework of the federation was correct.
Latin American Solidarity
Cheddi Jagan relied heavily on support from the hemisphere during his epic struggle for Guyana's independence. On December 30, 1959, he penned a letter to leaders of political parties, trade unions and various organisations all over the world soliciting support for, and solidarity with, Guyana's fight for independence.  Latin America was specially targeted and responses of support for the Guyanese struggle quickly came from political and trade union leaders from this region. Many leading newspapers in Latin America also highlighted Guyana's case and urged support for immediate independence. Some Latin American governments later spoke up in support for Guyana's independence when the UN Committee on Decolonisation debated a resolution after Dr. Jagan addressed that body in December 1961.
Interestingly, some of the strongest support for the Guyanese struggle came from Venezuela. On March 12, 1960 the prestigious Venezuelan Confederation of Workers representing more than 2 million workers sent to the British Government a message ratifying the firm anti-colonial position of the American continent, and declaring its solidarity with the people of Guyana in their just struggle for independence and sovereignty. And the Federation of University Centres, which organised the university students, forwarded cables to nineteen Latin American University organizations requesting them to hold meetings of solidarity with the Guyanese people in their struggle for independence. 
All of these actions were as a result of Cheddi Jagan's political activism in the Latin American arena. He was also a vocal participant in the Inter American Conferences, the second of which in Caracas in May 1960 passed a resolution supporting independence for Guyana. 
It was at these conferences that he promoted most emphatically Latin American solidarity and integration. At the second Inter-American conference he stated that Latin Americans were not only interested in general terms about freedom and democracy. What, above all, they wanted was economic democracy and a concentrated fight against poverty. Certainly, the situation in Latin Americas has not changed much after four decades!
It is my belief that as a first step in promoting regional integration, a political leader must express understanding and show solid forms of solidarity with the people and states that belong to that particular region. Cheddi Jagan excelled in this and his activism for Latin America in the decades of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s placed him in the vanguard of the movement for political or economic integration in the American hemisphere.
Failure of Development Programmes
As the decade of the 1960s progressed, the Guyanese leader in forthright analyses showed that the much publicised Alliance for Progress introduced by President Kennedy was not bringing progress for Latin America and was proving to be a failure. In introducing his Alliance for Progress on March 13, 1961, President Kennedy had pleaded: "Those who possess wealth and power in the poor nations must accept their own responsibilities. They must lead the fight for those basic reforms which alone can preserve the fabric of their own societies. Those who made peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." The Alliance for Progress was aimed at addressing the basic needs of all peoples for "homes, work and land, health and schools."
However, as Dr. Jagan explained, those reforms were not carried out by the Latin American oligarchy - who included the military, the upper clergy and the latifundistas [the large landowners] - and this resulted in tragic consequences for the people.
Today, more than forty years later, the governments in the Americas continue to face these same challenges set out by President Kennedy. But there are now new challenges and problems brought about by the struggle to improve democracy, human rights, trade, health, education and security, and the ongoing fight against crime, drugs, corruption and growing poverty.
Opposition from the Caribbean
The period of the early 1960s was particularly difficult for the first PPP Government, and the Cold War hysteria of those days prevented close political working relations between Dr. Jagan and his counterparts in the Caribbean. The pro-colonialist leaders of the Caribbean had earlier ganged up against the PPP leaders in the pre- and post-1953 period, and Dr. Jagan and some leaders of the PPP were not allowed to enter those islands for fear that they would infest those places with their ideas for political and economic change. Surely, the Caribbean leaders in those days preferred to promote and defend colonialism than to encourage integration.
Nevertheless, contacts with the rest of the Caribbean did show some improvements on the economic side with Guyana showing gains in trade, especially with rice and other agricultural products. There were also annual meetings of the leaders of the Caribbean countries during which Dr. Jagan made successful efforts to garner more markets for Guyana's agricultural products.
During this period Dr. Jagan came under attack from many quarters in the Caribbean for pulling back financial support for the University of the West Indies and for establishing the University of Guyana in 1963. However, Dr. Jagan showed that because of the high expenses involved only relatively few Guyanese were being educated at UWI, despite the substantial funds the government of Guyana was giving to the institution. He pointed out that a much greater number of Guyanese would have the opportunity of obtaining their degrees at UG at very little cost. This has proven to be so, and, interestingly, other Caribbean countries have been benefiting immensely from the University of Guyana since a great many of its graduates dispense their skills and knowledge in all parts of the sub-region. I am sure that if someone does a little research, the results will show that the University of Guyana has contributed most positively towards the development of the entire Caribbean region.
The period during which Cheddi Jagan languished in the opposition saw the rest of the Caribbean turning their backs on democracy and without any shame whatsoever cuddling up to those who saw no use for free and fair elections. Cheddi Jagan's voice was a lonely one crying out in the Caribbean wilderness, but ideology and power bloc politics blocked the ears of the Caribbean leadership. But that voice was heard by the Caribbean masses who offered their solidarity to the Guyanese democrats and giving them the courage to continue the struggle for free and fair elections and the restoration of democracy.
Jagan's Proposal for Caribbean Integration
Despite being shunned by the Caribbean leaders in the 1968-1992 period, Dr. Jagan expressed no feeling of bitterness towards them. In his writings and political speeches he was ever so much critical of Caribbean leaders for what he said was their blatant hypocrisy, but he reasoned that they were toeing an ideological line and could not afford to divert from it for fear that they would come under imperialist pressure. He did not waste his time to admonish them when he won the Presidency in October 1992, but later that month at the Caricom summit in Trinidad he lectured them into the necessity of expanding the integration movement in the sub-region. This is what he proposed:
"We have to expand the frontiers of our vision and if needs be, have the courage to reform and/or change what exists. We need quickly to deepen and widen our regional integration movement for overall planning and territorial specialization, and evolve a basic needs strategy. We need capital investment but this must serve to enhance human development. We need structural adjustment but with a human face." 
Then he talked about the quality of leadership that the Caribbean needs: "As for ourselves, our primary aim must be the eradication of poverty. We must set our face sternly against corruption and extravagance. We cannot have Cadillac-style living with donkey-cart economies. Our leaders must set the example of democratic, accountable, clean and lean governance and efficient administration." 
On integration he was specific: "We must actively deepen and widen our integration movement. We have to properly situate ourselves in the wider world and [with] our immediate neighbours. Towards this end, Guyana can be the instrument of closer ties with the countries of South America." 
To do this he explained that what was needed was effective leadership with the will to take difficult political decisions. He urged the leaders to give more and effective powers and resources the Caricom Secretariat and the Secretary General "to ensure that policies are carried out with skill and urgency." 
And, apparently influenced by the philosophy of Gandhi, he told them, "We have to work as a collective and consult with our respective constituencies so that we march, not ahead or behind, but together with our people." 
Two years later, he was still expanding on the theme of Caribbean integration. Speaking at UWI in February 1994 he insisted that Caribbean unity must be nurtured for the building up to what he called a Union of West Indian States. "After all," he explained, "the basic ingredients of unity - affinities of culture and kinship - are present among us all and are strongly felt. We must nurture the real distinctiveness of West Indian society by creating meaningful confidence and esteem - building markets of unity and citizenship…" 
Proposals for Hemispheric Integration
As a profound thinker, Dr. Jagan's mind was working over-time, and as we saw during the first Summit of the Americas in Miami in December 1994, he was one of few leaders who made concrete proposals for hemispheric integration. It was here that he first presented his visionary proposal for the Regional Development Fund. He also suggested the establishment of an American Volunteer Development Corps aimed at combating the brain drain and the shortage of skills, administrative incapacity and the high costs of advisers and consultants. According to his proposal, volunteers with special skills could be sent, more or less like the US Peace Corps, to provide emergency assistance in specialized fields to various countries in the hemisphere. He explained that even the United States could receive assistance from volunteer teachers and social workers from the Caribbean, for example, to teach and give psychological guidance to children who recently migrated from the Caribbean.
Dr. Jagan also suggested the formation of a high level working group on debt reform, and a Forest Monitoring and Management Training Fund for Sustainable Development aimed at assisting countries like Guyana. In addition, he called for the Caribbean Sea to be a Pollution-Free Zone and suggested that December 11 should be celebrated annually as the Day of the Americas. 
The summit agreed that governments on a voluntary basis would establish, organize and finance a corps of volunteers to work at national level, but so far even this watered-down form of the corps of volunteers has not really materialized. A subsequent summit established a group of experts to examine the debt issue, but so far the other suggestions have not been taken aboard.
Spanish Language as an Integration Tool
As I mentioned in the beginning, Dr. Jagan and I from time to time discussed many issues. A few months after the 1992 Trinidad summit, he raised with me the idea of promoting Guyana as a bridge for an economic linkage between Caricom and South America. He felt that infrastructural links like the Guyana-Brazil road and the Guyana-Suriname ferry could well build that economic bridge, and I do know that he promoted this idea very forcefully within Caricom, during meetings with South American leaders and in discussion with the international financial institutions.
But he was also greatly interested in integrating Guyana with the rest of South America. In our discussions, we agreed that a practical way to begin this process was through education by getting young children in our schools to learn Spanish as a second language. I am pleased to note that the Ministry of Education is making good efforts in this direction.
Knowing to communicate in Spanish - and also Portuguese since we have increasingly close relations with Brazil - will be an important asset as Guyana prepares to enter into the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Also, by speaking another language, people develop a better understanding and appreciation of the culture associated with that new tongue. This itself is very important in conducting bilateral relations. At the same time, our people will be better able to grasp very quickly how Latin Americans think about various issues.
In carrying out our language teaching programme, we can obtain much assistance from the OAS, and from friendly governments such as those of Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Colombia and Brazil. We have to look towards the future and be visionaries - to gauge what would be needed to bring progress for our people and to develop a competitive marketplace for them in the expanding horizons within the Latin American region.
Views on Economic Integration
Since I have mentioned the FTAA, it is also useful to consider how Dr. Jagan saw this process of economic integration within the American hemisphere. He saw Guyana moving closer to the Mercosur group, particularly with the visible expansion of trade between Brazil and Guyana. And in the brainstorming and debates on the evolution of economic integration through the FTAA, he posited as far back as 1995 that free trade agreements between various economic sub-regions -- e.g., between Mercosur and the Andean Group, Caricom and NAFTA, Central America and Mercosur, etc. - can eventually evolve into a strong FTAA, although he also agreed that multilateral negotiations by all 34 participating countries could also produce a good result. Incidentally, since the early days of the FTAA process, he talked about the need for a strong joint Caricom negotiating team to deal with the various issues. This view, widely propagated by other Caricom leaders, resulted in the establishment of the Regional Negotiating Machinery, which also deals with ACP and WTO negotiations.
Dr. Jagan was also a strong believer in the unity of the smaller economies within the FTAA in the struggle for free and fair trade. In his final public address on February 13, 1997 he summed up his view on this matter when he declared open the sixth meeting of the FTAA Working Group on Smaller Economies held in Georgetown. He stated:
"I have always been and will always be a supreme optimist. I must say, however, that given recent and current social and political upheavals in several countries in our hemisphere, I am convinced that time is running out. We have to move quickly to solve the mounting social and economic problems occurring in our countries.
"In this regard, given existing social and economic realities in our hemisphere, as manifested in the wide disparities between and among us, it is only logical that there should be special and preferential treatment for the less fortunate, in order to facilitate their active and productive participation in the integration process and to increase their levels of development. Free and fair trade is a basic prerequisite for any successful integration of the Americas." 
Democracy as an Integration Tool
The overriding theme of Dr. Jagan's views on integration within the hemisphere was that of expanding democracy. When we attended the Summit on Sustainable Development in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in December 1996, we had a lengthy discussion on this topic during the nearly eight-hour plane ride back to Miami. Three years before, in September 1993, when he spoke at the OAS he said that all states must ensure that their people enjoy not only civil and political rights but also economic, social and cultural rights. He reasoned that if these did not go together then there would be no human advancement, and this could sometimes cause democratic institutions to be subverted which could lead to "a reversion to totalitarian rule". 
He was adamant that democracy could not be sustained if the problem of poverty was not tackled. We must be reminded here that when people have a perception that development is too slow, they will want to carry out their own actions, which can lead to destabilisation and changes in the pattern of democratic development. Political leaders have to be reminded that the poverty-stricken people living in this hemisphere may be "as poor as Job, but not as patient!" 
The problems of poverty have become even more serious in many of our countries in the past decade. These are problems which have to be continuously addressed in order to ensure that practical programs are implemented to alleviate the conditions of the poor. It was Shakespeare who said, "The miserable have no other medicine but only hope."  It is for all the governments of this hemisphere to work together to find long-lasting solutions to give that hope to the growing army of the poor in our hemisphere.
Dr. Jagan was concerned over what he viewed as a growing apathy with the electoral process in many Latin American countries. A sizeable proportion of the people did not bother to vote and there were already signs of social and political upheavals in some countries. He wondered if some leaders were distancing themselves from their people, and if that was the situation it could lead to dangerous times.
Well, we are today seeing such dangerous times in the hemisphere. Some political analysts see such developments resulting from what can be called the politics of arrogance by which leaders fail to deliver on promises or by which governments ignore the plea of the masses to effectively stamp out various ills in the society.
Problems Facing Democracy in the Hemisphere
Let me touch on the problems facing democracy in many Latin American and Caribbean countries. The process of democracy in many Latin American and Caribbean countries is facing stiff challenges as a result of new and escalating social, economic and political problems they are experiencing. It therefore comes as no surprise that we are now hearing increasing sounds of disillusionment with democracy from a sizeable cross-section of people in these countries. Recently, a Chilean-based survey firm, Latinobarametro, revealed that based on polls it conducted in July and August last year, there were varying levels of support for democracy in six Central American countries. The survey showed that only 52 percent of those questioned across the region supported democracy, but only 32 percent expressed full satisfaction with the system. Interestingly, half of the respondents in the poll said that as long as a government showed that it was solving the country's problems, they did not mind if it was not democratic. 
The results of this poll indicate that Central Americans believe that their quality of life has not improved despite being told by politicians that democracy will solve all their problems.
In the Americas, many politicians, academics and even ordinary citizens are now expressing varying views on what they think is their version of democracy, and how they believe the system should work for the improvement of the welfare of all. In September 2001, the governments of 34 countries in the hemisphere, members of the Summit of the Americas process, established their common definition of democracy in the Inter American Democratic Charter. Since then, we have witnessed convulsions and some reversals in the democratic process in some countries, but relatively little has been done collectively by regional organizations to openly and sharply condemn such reversals practiced or encouraged by political groups attempting to use non-constitutional means to gain power.
In recent times, we have witnessed the display of discontent leading to the ousting of democratically elected leaders in Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador, in Venezuela during a 24-hour period two years ago, and in Haiti just three weeks ago. While such discontent presents a political barometer to leaders of governments, they should not be allowed to degenerate to a stage where the street protests are recognized as the alternative to a democratically elected government. One has to be very circumspect in supporting such a development, since there is no limit to such actions. This is how the action of the mob supplants democracy, and this is how democracy can go into retrogression.
It is not surprising that we are witnessing these challenges to democracy so very often. In many parts of the Americas, people are expressing the view that democracy is not filling their bellies and their lives have not improved. They are concerned over the escalating crime situation which serious impacts on their own personal security. Some sections of the population openly voice the opinion that only a government with an iron-fist can effectively deal with the escalating crime and security problems that currently exist. But, certainly, the actions of an iron-fist are not associated with accepted democratic practice.
Why are we seeing these developments? Is it because such societies feel that popular agitation, without the use of the ballot box, is also a credible form of democracy? Are such demonstrations another manifestation of democracy now being promoted as a substitute for free and fair elections? But doesn't such action breed instability which can mutate into a political virus? Does it mean that we have to re-examine our definition of democracy as is stated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter? When such behaviours receive international support from other Governments and regional bodies, isn't this creating a contradiction within the principles and practice of democracy?
Are these expressions on the streets indicating that the electoral system is inadequate? In these days as we examine the process of democracy and observe its advantages, and also its weaknesses, we often examine the patterns and practices of democracy in the course of history. It may be of interest to note that about seventeen hundred years ago the citizens of Athens carried out the democratic practice of ostracism. This was a reverse election by which the citizens decided which leading politician should be sent into exile for ten years. It was seen as an effective way to remove corrupt elements from the seat of government. In this process, the voters wrote the name of their preferred politician to be banished on a piece of broken pottery. (The word "ostracism" is actually a Greek expression literally meaning pottery). If less than 6,000 citizens "voted", the ostracism was not valid, but this was an "election" which, as you can well imagine, always had a popular turnout. Ostracism fulfilled its objective for almost a hundred years and it helped to prevent serious civil unrest and even civil war. However, at the end of the fifth century of the Christian era, it was replaced by a legal procedure managed by the people's courts. This replacement procedure adopted by Athens in dealing with corrupt officials has some influence on legal systems operating today.
By no means am I recommending that the practice of ostracism should be applied today. I have made reference to it so that we can at least see an illustration as to how democracy has evolved from centuries ago, and to show that even in those days of long ago, society developed ways and means to tackle corruption and to protect democracy. Corruption is probably one of the greatest impediments to democracy and it evolves into a dangerous virus that eats away the fabric of human society. It, therefore, is of great urgency that the political leaders in the Americas, in consultation with their people, constantly fight this scourge and continue to examine the process of democracy with the aim of refining and defending it.
Fostering a Culture of Democracy
I emphasize that we must also implement policies and programmes to develop a culture of democracy which will inspire a determination in our citizens to want to respect and defend democracy and its institutions. Nearly twenty-four hundred years ago, Aristotle defined the democratic citizen as one "who has a share in judgment and office".  Through the development of a culture of democracy we can develop the democratic citizen who will want to participate in the day to day affairs of his or her community, a situation which is today more and more desirable in the countries of this hemisphere.
We must always keep in mind that in a democracy, the will of the majority has to be respected. But we must also consider that, as Mahatma Gandhi stated on the issue of democracy, "in a matter of conscience the law of majority has no place." 
Need to Break Down Barriers
The integration movement in the Caribbean and Latin America continues to be strong, but some barriers still stand in the way. The FTAA negotiations are not moving as smoothly as we expected. Even in Caricom where it is more advanced, the free movement of Caricom citizens still remains to be practised. Full economic integration is also slowed down by the long-delayed formalisation of the Caricom Single Market and Economy. Time has a way in finding solutions for the breaking down of barriers, but can the people in our sub-region and in this hemisphere afford to wait for so long?
I feel that our political leaders must educate our people on the way forward. In public discussions and in their writings they should express their ideas, their opinions on issues and their philosophy in order to provide the necessary guidance. As we know, Dr. Jagan was a giant when it came to this, for he was an avid thinker and prolific writer.
Cheddi Jagan has left our governments and the people of the Caribbean and the American hemisphere with a number of useful ideas and with challenges to work for meaningful integration - economic or political, or both. It definitely will not be an easy task, but the vision of an integrated Caribbean with strong economic and trade links to South, Central and North America is a challenge the governments and citizens of our hemisphere will have to face.
1. Jagan, Cheddi. "Letter in Service of Struggle for Freedom", 30 December 1959. (Published in Thunder, 6 February 1960
2. El Nacional, [Venezuelan newspaper] 13 March 1960.
3. Thunder, 7 May 1960: "Caracas Conference Calls for Guiana's Independence." [Article]
4. Kennedy, John. "Address at a White House Reception for Members of Congress and for the Diplomatic Corps of the Latin American Republics", March 13, 1961. http://www.jfklibrary.net/jfk_alliance_for_progress.html
5. ibid. (Also, Schlesinger, Arthur. A Thousand Days - John F. Kennedy in the White House. Cambridge [Massachusetts]. The Riverside Press, 1965. pp. 204-205.)
6. Jagan, Cheddi. "Memorandum to the Hemispheric Summit on Sustainable Development, Bolivia, December 7-8, 1996".
7. Jagan, Cheddi. Selected Speeches 1992-1994. London: Hansib, 1995. ["Address to CARICOM Heads of Government, 28 October 1992"]
12. Jagan, Cheddi. op. cit. ["Address to University of the West Indies"]
13. Jagan, Cheddi. "Speaker's Notes for the Summit of the Americas, Saturday December 10, 1994, Miami, USA"
14. Jagan, Cheddi. A New Global Human Order. Milton [Ontario]: Harpy, 1999, pp. 103-108.
15. Jagan, Cheddi. Selected Speeches 1992-1994. London: Hansib, 1995. ["Address to the Organization of American States, September 1, 1993.]
16. Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure, Act 3, Scene 1. [The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, the Cambridge edition text. Ed. William Wright. New York: Doubleday, 1936].
17. Shakespeare, William. Henry IV, Part II, Act 1 Scene 2. [
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,
18. Daily Journal, Caracas, 6 December 2003.
19. Aristotle: Politics. circa 350 BC. [From Aristotle - On Man in the Universe. Ed. Louise Ropes Loomis. New York: Walter J. Black, Inc., 1943.]
20. Settel, Trudy S. The Book of Gandhi Wisdom. New York: Citadel Press, 1995, p. 113.