Oct 05, 2022 Letters
There are umpteen lessons that young and old should learn from events that occurred this month, October and particularly our youthful political, religious and social aspirants should learn from events that took place after the end of World War II and consumed the world for the next forty-five years.
The Cold War reshaped national borders and redefined territorial responsibilities. It also witnessed the enhancement and also the despoliation of basic human rights even while in the purported pursuit of egalitarianism. Basic human rights were trampled upon and we witnessed a further loss of precious innocent human lives.
It sullies the world we know today with the ugliness and stress of the Cold War which lasted for almost five decades. An in-depth examination of the Cold War and the behaviour of men and women who influenced their peers and subordinates, I consider necessary reading if we are to avoid the pitfalls and human tragedy, which have characterized our modern and we contend civilized societies. What the Cold War meant was the effort by different camps to increase the need for equality and ordinary people to have a say in Government.
This was particularly acute in colonies such as ours where men who went to the battle-front, felt that the disparities that existed after slavery and indentureship should be erased in keeping with the claim of the victors that democracy should be a living experience for all. In Guyana, in the legislature, Dr. Cheddi Jagan alone had to face off the ultra-right elements. Those British subjects who were brainwashed into believing that all men are born equal but yet they saw nothing wrong with people who were at the lower end of the economic and social spectrum, being denied the opportunity at an Election to decide who and how they should be governed.
Here Dr. Jagan alone in the legislature fought against this inequality, however, the ultra conservatives in the then legislature outnumbered him. Undaunted, he mobilized other patriots which forced the government in London to take action. The struggle for the right of all, that Guyanese to vote took a turn in the right direction, when on the 8th of October, 1950, the Waddington Commission, comprising of E.J. Waddington as Chairman, Dr. Rita Hinden and Professor Vincent Harlow, as members, were duly appointed “to review the franchise, the composition of the legislature and of the Executive Council……and to make recommendations.”
The Commissioner recommended that all residents over twenty-one years of age, irrespective of their financial and other so-called disabilities, now had the right to vote. For the first time, we enjoyed Universal Adult Suffrage. As a teenager, I remembered my parents who were political, celebrating this step forward. Elections under the new system were held on April 27, 1953 and I remember being part of a young brigade telling ordinary folks that they no longer had to qualify but that they should support the Jagan-Burnham PPP at these General Elections and go to the Polls and vote. Our little efforts were part of a bigger campaign, which bore fruit. PPP won eighteen of the twenty-four seats and earned the right to govern our country and to pursue the next objective , that is to secure Independence, as soon as possible. However, we did not realize then that the Cold War and our geographic position, considered part of the British Empire over which the all powerful Prime Minister Winston Churchill proclaimed that the sun never sets and that he when our struggle began proclaimed that he was not appointed His Majesty’s first Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.
On January 10, 1920, after the ravages of World War I, the League of Nations was established to bring peace and prosperity to the world of which we are a part. However, by 1939, over ambitious and greedy men started what we now know as World War II. In essence, it started as a kind of European Civil War but soon spread into what we now know to be World War II.
This conflict took in excess of eighty five million lives, including many civilians who were sacrificed. This brutal conflict ended in 1945. The bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1942, was a mis-calculation by the Japanese for it brought the United States into the fray and even as Germany declared war with its collaborator Italy, a few days later on the United States. It is clear the Japanese, Italians and Germans underestimated the resilience and resourcefulness of the United States of America. The rest is history but there are many lessons to be learnt; if only we have the good sense to learn from past mis-steps. Soon after, the Big Three prevailed, they entered what was known as the Cold War. Meetings between the diminutive 5ft 4inches Stalin of the USSR, Churchill of the UK and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt met at Yalta in February 1945. Roosevelt died even as Germany was capitulating.
The Big Three met again at Potsdam; Stalin, Clement Atlee of the UK and Truman, US. Ideological differences triggered the stress and strain of a new conflict described as the Cold War. This letter cannot deal with the space available to deal with the many issues, twists and turns of the Cold War, save to say that Leaders must learn the craft to give and take in the interest of their own people and the safety of the wider world of which we are a part.
This applies particularly to our Guyana.
Leaders of Russia (USSR), Great Britain and the United States were allies and combatants in arms to defeat Italy, Japan and Germany. These allies already had differences about the way how humanity ought to be managed, so we ended up with two camps, Communist and non-Communist or Democracies, unknown to many ordinary men and women in Guyana. This brings me to my fascination about the month of October. It was in this month that due to a perception by the British that the newly elected PPP would take us into the communist camp.
On October 6, 1953, our Constitution was suspended and our six Ministers were dismissed. This saddened me as I recall the victorious people’s representatives, all clad in white, marching with military precision into Parliament led by the six Ministers (in alphabetical order) Forbes Burnham, Ashton Chase, Cheddi Jagan, Sidney King (Eusi Kwayana), J.P. Latchmansingh and Jai Narine Singh.
And I recall how with majestic dignity the first women to be members of our Parliament walked behind the six Ministers and ahead of the other nine Members of Parliament, the three Js, Jessie Burnham, Janet Jagan and Jane Phillips-Gay. The suspension therefore in October was a heavy blow and disappointment to many of us. At the other end of the globe, we recall that it was on October 1, 1949, that under Chairman Mao-tse-tung, the People’s Republic of China was established. China has since made great strides forward and today is a quiet but powerful force in world affairs. The interpretation, strategies and tactics to deal with this all-consuming Cold War was pivotal. Our two political Titans, Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham choose different paths to deal with this problem of the Cold War. As we approach October 6, we can also tearfully remember the Cubana air disaster in 1976, where a total of seventy-three passengers perished; including eleven Guyanese, fifty-seven Cubans and five North Koreans. The incident certainly related to the Cold War. Today, what with events in Europe? Are we inching towards the prospect of World War III?
In little Guyana, we seem to be at war but not based on ideology but economic and class disparities and the old belief of domination of the have nots by the have, while using improved propaganda techniques supported by what the Romans described ‘panem et circenses,’ simply meaning handouts and entertainment provided by government to appease discontent, where ordinary wage earners cannot provide basic comfort and nutritional meals for their families.
Here, the Cold War was sparked and sustained by ideological considerations. Today, we note the whole ideological positions have blurred in many countries including Guyana. You see rightwing parties in Italy and the Phillipines prevailing. In Guyana, none of our political parties dare apply the old political labels, none of our parties can honestly claim to be right, left or centre. The trump card is for all of our leaders cast aside their differences and say to the outside world, and say to the investors, and say to those who come to harvest our vast, precious non-renewable resources that we speak for all the people, not some of the people, and this is what we want to lift us out of poverty into the land of plenty. Those who come here to do business and recognise that when a Minister or Official or the President engages them, his proposals, his requests, his demands are supported, not by a fifty or even sixty percent of the people, but one hundred percent of the people, they are bound to listen, and so help us realize our dreams and vindicate the sufferings of our ancestors. Our oneness must be authentic, meaningful and powerful and make Billy Pilgrim’s “Let’s Cooperate for Guyana. Can we do it, Yes, we can,” be a reality so that next October and every other October, every Guyanese can celebrate being in a land with gusto, plenty and peace. A real Eldorado.
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