We are today a free, independent and democratic society
Today marks 46 years since Guyana gained political independence from Britain after some 150 years of British colonial rule. Most Guyanese today would not have been around at the time of independence or would have been too young to know what life was like during pre-colonial days.
Those familiar with our political history would know that independence was not granted to this country without a hard struggle led by the People’s Progressive Party. From its very inception as a political party, the PPP called for internal self-government and a wholly-elected Legislature. The Party then took the struggle to a higher level by lobbying the international community and the United Nations for political independence. Several marches and demonstrations took place to press the British Government to grant independence to the country, which finally took place on May 26, 1966, but only after the PPP was removed from government due to what former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson described as a “fiddled constitutional arrangement”.
The British Government, under pressure from the United States, deliberately withheld political independence despite an earlier commitment given that whichever political party won the 1961 elections would have had the honour of leading an independent Guyana. The United States, mainly out of ideological and geo-strategic reasons, preferred an independent Guyana without the PPP at the political helm as documented by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Presidential Advisor to President Kennedy in his book “A Thousand Days in the White House”:
“Then in May 1962, Burnham came to Washington. He appeared an intelligent man, insisting on his “Socialism” and “Neutralism” but stoutly anti-communist….
In the meantime, events have convinced us that Jagan, though perhaps not a disciplined communist, had that kind of deep pro-communist emotion which only sustained experience with communism would cure: and the United States could not afford the Sekou Toure therapy when it involved a quasi-communist regime on the mainland of Latin America.
Burnham’s visit left the feelings as I reported to the President than an independent British Guiana under Burnham (if Burnham will commit himself to a multi-racial policy) would cause us many fewer problems than an independent British Guiana under Jagan.”
Schlesinger later apologized to Dr. Jagan for what he described as an injustice done to the PPP and for that matter to the people of Guyana. The United States clearly misread the situation in Guyana at the time and in the process aided and abetted a process which saw the destruction of the democratic fabric of the society with disastrous consequences. The immediate post-independence period saw the country retrogressing from among the more developed countries in the region to one of the poorest in the western hemisphere.
Be that as it may, all Guyanese should take pride in the fact that we are today a free, independent and democratic society characterized by political and ideological pluralism, political democracy, cultural diversity, racial equality and a growing economy.