by Malisa Playter Harry
In honor of the 15 sugar workers who met their death 104 years ago on March 13, 1913 at Rose Hall Estate there was a Memorial Ceremony that saw the presence of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo; Minister of Tourism Cathy Hughes; Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan; Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder; Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan; Minister within the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Karen Cummings, other Members of Parliament and the Region Six Chairman David Armogan.
There were tributes to the fallen sugar workers in the form of dances, singing and more.
Regional Chairman David Armogan during his speech to those gathered at the Rose Hall Memorial Site, Canje, Berbice, spoke on the events that led to the shooting of the 15 sugar workers.
He took the opportunity to reiterate the need to save the sugar industry.
Armogan stated that there are lessons to learn from the senseless shooting of the men. “Even in those days the workers carried out peaceful resistance and they had solidarity among them.”
He said that many persons depend on the Rose Hall Estate for their livelihood but because of the poor performance of the sugar industry there are talks of closure and privatization, but Guyanese have not heard a definite answer as to what will actually happen to the sugar industry.
“There thousands of people who depend on Rose Hall for their living we pray that the people will be considered first in any decision regarding the sugar industry and Rose Hall in particular,” Armogan charged.
It was his view that the people are more important than economic policies and profitability. “The good life promised to the people of Canje cannot be sacrificed on the altar of economics and profitability. The people must be considered first because the entire Canje area, New Amsterdam and its environs all depend on the existence of Rose Hall Estate.
“If Rose Hall is to be closed then it will havel a serious devastating effect.”
He pleaded with the Prime Minister Nagamootoo, “Please, when any consideration is given as to what will happen to the sugar industry in Rose Hall, people must come first”.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo also focused on sugar. “Too many people depend on sugar but how do we ensure that the living and the livelihood ought to be better than our foreparents? We have to use science and technology; we have to transform the work of the sugar industry. Fetching canes on their heads, walking in the back dams barefooted must be things of the past. We have to transform them into workers of the modern industry.”
He said that even if there are fewer sugar factories and estates the work must be made less burdensome with emphasis being placed on converting the sugar industry that has become “burdensome” and “bankrupt”.
According to Nagamootoo the Government has invested some $38 Million to pay wages in the sugar industry and to keep the factories going.
“We have to think that we can no longer treat the sugar industry as if it is a stone around our neck; that sugar as bad as its history has been; should be allowed to drag the entire nation down. Sugar should not take monies that ought be spent on training and educating our young people. It should make the livelihoods of nurses and teachers who are educators and take care of our health a better one in ensuring that we pay everyone in the public service decent wages so that they do not steal.
But we have to find an answer that is not permitted to drain the treasury and pouring the money down into a dark hole.”
He told the attendees to not pay heed to the rumours that he does not have sugar at heart. “This has been my singular obsession since entering politics, today I would like to invite the trade union to be part of the solution and not the problem, to join us to find answers of how we can transform the sugar industry and make the lives of sugar workers better.”
The Prime Minister also stated that some sugar estates will have to be closed because all of the factories are not yielding the profits as expected. But having a few estates to produce and reach their targets is a much better road to saving sugar in Guyana.
Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan also paid homage to the slain sugar workers. He traced a brief history of what occurred on that day and reminded of the sacrifices that were made during those years.
Wreaths were laid at the monument in honor of the fifteen sugar workers that included a woman to recognize the struggles and sacrifices endured that kept the sugar industry alive. A tribute was also given by a surviving relative of one the sugar workers shot that day, 104 years ago.
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