Date: Fri, 19 Dec 97 13:56:55 CST
From: rich@pencil (Rich Winkel)
Subject: NACLA: Guyana: Interview with Cheddi Jagan
Organization: PACH
Article: 24367

/** 353.0 **/
** Topic: Cheddi Jagan **
** Written 7:01 AM Dec 12, 1997 by nacla in **

Interview with Cheddi Jagan

NACLA Report on the Americas, May/June 1997

Cheddi Jagan, the President of Guyana, died of a massive heart attack on March 5, 1997. A committed Marxist, he was one of the founders of the independent state of Guyana and a leader of the anticolonial struggle of the former British colony, British Guiana. He was elected three times to lead the Guyanese, and was twice overthrown, first by British colonial troops in 1953 and then by a U.S. and British-backed coup in 1964. He was elected again in 1992 and remained in office until his death this year. He was interviewed in his office in Georgetown just a month before he died by Fred Rosen and Mario Murillo via radio hookup from the studios of WBAI in New York.

Dr. Jagan, you've been referred to in the U.S. press as an unabashed Stalinist and a Moscow-inspired purist, and on the other hand you've been referred to as a former Marxist who has seen the light and is now a converted practitioner of freemarket economics. How would you describe your political and economic evolution over the past 30 years?

Well, I have always associated myself with the ideology of the working class, and I have led a very strong working class party for the past 47 years. Different people see and call working-class ideology by different names. But what was important were the concrete historical conditions in Guyana and the creation of a programmatic platform which caters to the needs of the working class. In many ways we were different from the mold in which many people placed us, especially the far right during the period of intense political and ideological struggles. Marxism for me neither was or is dogma, but a scientific guide to action. It gave me strong ethical beliefs in social justice, particularly in helping the poor, the underprivileged, and the exploited.

I grew up in a sugar plantation. Sugar was king. As a matter of fact, it was the gunning down of sugar workers in 1948 which propelled me into the anti-fascist struggle for national and social liberation, and in particular the anti-colonial struggle for an end to foreign domination. We struggled in British Guiana for the right to vote, and later to raise living standards and to try to transform the colonial economy where we were just producers of raw materials, sending things abroad and getting very little in return. Today I would say that it's fashionable to talk about the collapse of Marxism and socialism, yet it is not Marxism that has collapsed, but some of its practitioners. There is a great distinction between theory and principles on one hand, and practice on the other. Our practice developed differently in a concrete and different historical context than say in Russia, Cuba, or China.

And as we know, many mistakes were made due to the wholesale adoption in developing countries of the programmatic position taken in Britain by the British Labor Party. Many developing countries saw their advance to socialism in the rulebook of the British Labor Party, the public ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange. That was in a developed economy. But because many colonial peoples, especially in the British empire, looked at the British experience and had links to the social democratic movement of the Labor party in England, our practice was more or less taken from theirs. In this regard, I think we made mistakes. We were not creative enough in adopting programs which were in keeping with our own concrete condition. Our concept of Guyana Socialism was premised on plural, peaceful, multi-party states with mixed forms of ownership. This was misunderstood at the height of the cold war hysteria.

Given the state of inequality in the world today where there is a greater percentage of poor people than ever before, do you see some form of socialism still on the agenda in Guyana?

Well, I would say that socialism has suffered a setback with the collapse of the world's socialist systems. However, there are experiments going on in different parts of the world, in Cuba, in China, and the struggle is being waged now in Russia between those who still want some form of socialism, and those who want Russia to pursue a capitalist course. So that struggle is going to continue. I would say that the contradictions now are sharpening between Marxism and the neoliberal model which is currently being dictated by the West. This is not the most important struggle that we have going on now. The most important struggle is to seek a balance of interests in this period of globalization and liberalization on one hand, and the specific interests of the developing countries which will continue to be marginalized if we do not collectively seek a new global order. Let me just say that socialism is not on the agenda in Guyana. We can speak of a period of national democracy.

How has the clash between the neoliberal model and socialism had an impact on Guyana?

We have inherited IMF and World Bank programs that were implemented by the last government. In this regard we are trying to move very carefully because we need balance-of-payment support of $40-45 million a year from the World Bank, IMF and the developed countries. So we see that there are many contradictions in the model that is advocated by the World Bank and the IMF, contradictions that do not solve our problems.

At our Congress two years ago, we said that we had to walk carefully, skillfully, and scientifically between conformism and transformation. To go along completely with the IMF and World Bank is going to lead to the death of many countries, as we have seen. As a matter of fact, politicians who follow that model lose when it comes time for the people to vote, they are thrown out.

In this careful walk between this Washington Consensus and a genuine Latin American agenda, with which you identify, where do you fit in the idea of privatization and low wages to attract foreign investors? How do you feel about these things in Guyana?

Under the last governments, we have experienced privatization along with the devaluation of our currency. A lot of those deals have proven to be a failure. We are examining everything very carefully and not accepting it as the one and only model. We are now talking about privatization of the electric company. And we have said that we don't want a model where foreign companies will hold a majority of the shares, and therefore control of the management and the board.

How would you characterize ethnic relations in Guyana and how do they relate to the political parties and the general political process?

This has a long history in Guyana, before we entered politics in the 1940's. Long before Mr. Mandela came up with the formula of bringing the opposition in, we had made several attempts to bring about unity in our country. In 1957 we failed [to create a political coalition between East Indians and Afro-Guyanese]. In 1964 we won and I tried again. I went to the UN in support of Afro-Asian states to work out the formula, but then the foreign governments were working with [cuop-leader] Mr. Burnham to put him in power. As the opposition for 28 years, we again tried to bring about some unity but we failed. In 1977, we came out with a slogan and a policy formulation called winner will not take all even if we win the election. We alone will not form the government. So, it is still the policy to bring about unity along ethnic and religious lines in Guyana.

We have signed the optional protocol to the UN on several non-political rights.

The last government did not sign this protocol. We signed it, and now anyone is entitled to go to the UN with any discrimination case they may have. We also have a taskforce for racial equality, headed by a very distinguished bishop of the Anglican church. He is a respected individual and his task force has produced a White Paper which will be presented to Parliament very shortly. And might I say that the opposition party has refused to serve on the task force because they hate Bishop George because he has fought for fair and free elections in this country.

When that White Paper is debated in the Parliament, we hope to get a law on racial equality. Then we will have a commission on racial equality. We hope that then cases can be brought, not to the UN or some other international body like the OAS, but can be dealt with here, by the Commission.

People have always said the racial factor is the only political factor here. That is not true. If that were true, we would not have won a majority of the votes in Guyana, over 50%. Indians are just above 50% of the population, and not all of them vote for us. In the 1992 elections, there were many irregularities. In spite of that, we won 54% of the votes. Given the peace in the country, I am sure we will break that gap again, as we did in 1993. In fact, when I was sworn in in 1992, I said that we would make a new beginning, start where we had left off and bring about what we call the spirit of 1953 which is about national unity, working class unity, and racial unity.

You have referred to Cold War hysteria in the United States and the developments that led to your ouster. How do you view the relationship between the United States and Guyana today?

Our relations are very good with the U.S. and we are working to achieve a partnership with the North and the South of the world, particularly with the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean. I have praised the U.S.; the past is the past. The Cold War was a historical process that was going on at that time, and we became the victims. I have no recriminations against the U.S. and Britain even though they have helped to destabilize my governement on two occasions.

Many have stated that the new method of U.S. intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean is the war on drugs, and many countries have approved the hot pursuit of narcotics traffickers on their territory. It has also been stated that if Guyana had been in opposition to that, there would be less of a threat to sovereignty. What's your reaction to that and the role that the United States is playing in the so-called war on drugs?

We haven't gone on completely, like some countries who have allowed American agencies to come into their territory. We have allowed them one thing only, and that is to allow them airline passage over our territory, but we have to be constantly informed when that is happening. We have taken the line all along in COMICON, and throughout the hemisphere, that we have to act together. In Bolivia, I stated that we must look at what is causing environmental destruction, underdevelopment and poverty. When I came to the emergency meeting held by COMICON about the narcotics question, and the U.S. way of dealing with it, we took the line that we must not only deal with the symptoms, which are narcotics trafficking, and narcotics production, we must also deal with development.

In my country we have two big regions: one in the northwest near Venezuela, and one in the south near Brazil. People living in these areas produced peanuts, quality peanuts. But we cannot compete against peanuts coming into the country. Right now the banana producers in the Caribbean, especially in the Windward and Leeward Islands, cannot compete on the open market, and they are getting a special price in Europe, and America and Chiquita is backing that price. A statement by the former Prime Minister of Dominica makes it clear that if the banana goes-and their income depends nearly 70% upon bananas-then the people will be force d to grow marijuana. In a letter to the World Bank president, I reiterated that statement. Not only will the people be forced to grow marijuana, but they will become refugees to the North. If they cannot get visas to go, they will go illegally. We have to therefore not just treat the symptom, but treat the root cause.

When I was in the government in the 1950's, there was no marijuana grown here.

But under the last government 60% of the land which was under rice cultivation was abandoned, and the people started growing marijuana. And if we cannot sell our peanuts from these two regions then what are the people to do?

Especially when there is a demand in the North for either marijuana, or cocaine, or heroin. Right? And therefore you have the people of Latin America growing coca leaves, producing coca plants, and the big drug lords transforming that into cocaine and sending it to the north. We have to get to the root problem of development, and overcoming poverty. That's my message.