Ladies and gentlemen, it is an absolute honour for me to have been asked to deliver this year’s Annual Cheddi Jagan Commemorative Lecture. For me to serve in the party which he established, to occupy the office of Head of State over which he once presided, and to now be asked to deliver this annual lecture in his honour is truly an overwhelming privilege.
I thank the Management Committee of the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre for providing me with this opportunity. I express my appreciation to the Committee for organizing this virtual celebration, especially given the challenges which we are now facing as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.
This activity –modest but important – is recognition – if any was needed – that Dr. Cheddi Jagan has not been, and will never be forgotten, not in our party or in our country.
The wicked suggestion has been made that the party has sidelined the memory of our late President. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Dr. Cheddi’s Jagan ideas and ideals are engraved in the psyche of our party and its leaders. They have become part of the PPP’s DNA. His example and contributions continue to inspire us, especially in the face of the attempts which were made to derail our elections and to destroy our democracy. Indeed, Dr Cheddi Jagan would have been very pleased with the leadership of our party, the General Secretary, and the Central Committee in those difficult times, a difficult period.
During those five months between March and August last year, our party and its leaders remained unbowed. The insidious attempt to deprive our people of their right to choose the government of their choice was never going to deflate us. At no stage were we prepared to succumb or surrender to this political, blatant, rascality.
We knew that in our corner we have the best example of political tenacity. Dr. Jagan and the PPP never succumbed, never compromised the democratic principle during the 28 years that the party was cheated out of office. We were confident that by following in his example and by staying true to what he believed that democracy would prevail. And it did.
Cheddi Jagan is without question Guyana’s greatest citizen. He is considered the Father of our Nation and was widely respected as one of the Caribbean’s leading internationalists and the patriarch of the PPP. His heroic 28 year-long struggle for the restoration of democracy and the foundations, which he laid in his abbreviated yet impactful tenure as President, bequeath to him a permanent iconic standing.
We remember him today and we will remember him for all time. But we especially recall his contributions during the month of March – the month when we commemorate both his birth and death anniversaries. This year’s observance is significant because we are also reflecting on our people’s defiant defense of democracy, one year ago.
Cheddi Jagan remains Guyana’s foremost democrat, who possessed unfaltering faith in democracy. He was committed to the ideal of a national democratic state.
For him, this national democratic state should rest on a tripod of principles. The first was the right to free and fair elections – a cause to which he dedicated his entire political life.
The second was respect for human rights which he saw integral to freedom and development.
And the third part of the tripod was meeting the needs of our people.
Democracy, for him, went beyond the country’s political system; it encompassed the very substance of the society which was being fashioned. It was not only about elections and respecting human rights, but it was also about realizing the full capabilities of our people.
On that fateful night in March 1997, as Dr. Cheddi Jagan was about to pass to the Great Beyond, Guyana’s then Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Odeen Ishmael, said, “The flame that lit the torch of freedom and democracy in Guyana was flickering low.” And after the President had passed, he said, “The President is dead. The flame has now gone out.”
Cheddi Jagan reignited the national liberation struggle when he returned from medical studies in the United States. Upon his return to the then colony of British Guiana, he launched himself into the struggle for an end to colonialism and for the improvement in the lot of the working class. There were others before him, but he helped to re-fire the engines of the anti-colonial struggles
For him democracy was integral to the nationalist struggle, the eradication of social ills, rejecting of despotic tendencies and for establishing a peaceful and prosperous Guyana. He considered people as the foremost agents for the freedom struggle, and democracy one of its catalysts. He argued forcibly that democracy was essential for mass mobilization, and necessary to defend national sovereignty and Independence, for safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity and as a shield to protect the people from anti-popular and dictatorial forms of government.
He never lost faith in the power and potency of democracy. Deposed by the suspension of the Constitution in 1953 and in Opposition from 1964 to 1992, he continued to insist that democracy must become part of the solution to the country’s political and economic crises.
Democracy was part of Dr. Jagan’s worldview. Some misguided elements, including those once close to him, have sought to insinuate that his support and advocacy of democracy were opportunistic. How little they know of him! How little they learnt from him!
Dr. Jagan made no pretensions about his socialist convictions. He never disavowed his ideological leanings, unlike those who were once in his camp and who now are scared of the ‘S’ word as if it were a leper.
Cheddi Jagan was a socialist and did not consider democracy incompatible with his socialist convictions. He was unapologetic in affirming that socialism could not prevail unless it practiced full democracy. He quoted Lenin who said:
Socialism is impossible without democracy because 1) the proletariat cannot perform the socialist revolution unless it is prepared for it by the struggle for democracy.”
So, Dr Jagan’s ideological position, his ideological underpinning was based on democracy, it was based on freedom, it was based on equality, it was based on the creation of a just society, it was based on a society the gap on inequality as reduced. His ideas and ideology were all wrapped in the tenancy of democracy and freedom.
In 1966, Dr. Jagan published a three-part series in which he discussed Professor Crawford Macpherson’s categories of democracy. According to Macpherson, democracy can be viewed in two senses. Democracy in the first sense, he said, was to enjoy the right to vote, the right to join political parties, the right to freedom of association, the right to freedom of speech, and the right from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Democracy in this sense meant respect for a person’s fundamental rights and freedoms.
The second sense of democracy implies a movement towards the creation of a more equal society in which everyone has a right to be genuinely human. The goal was to provide the conditions necessary for the full and free development of a person’s capabilities.
Dr. Jagan subscribed to the belief that genuine democracy must exist in both form and substance. He insisted that it must not only protect fundamental rights, but also ensure freedom from want – requiring that the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter and security in old age are satisfied.
The satisfaction of people’s material needs and of ensuring a more dignified existence formed a critical element of Dr. Jagan’s programme of development. He was fond of saying that “democracy cannot be built on an empty stomach.” This tells you the wide range of issues Dr Jagan looked at under the democracy umbrella.
In this regard, democracy and development for Dr. Jagan were interrelated. Democracy, for him, was also a prerequisite for development since nothing, he argued, can be achieved without it. He also saw democracy as a motor of human development, including the attainment of social goals and of ecological justice.
Today as we commemorate his 24th death anniversary, we have a duty to protect his legacy, one of the most important of which was his commitment to democracy. Cheddi Jagan fought for and was vindicated when democracy was restored in 1992. He planted the seed of a consultative and participatory democracy. It is our duty to ensure that the tree of democracy is sturdier.
It is equally our obligation as citizens of this great country to protect this legacy from being felled. Never again must Guyana’s democracy be imperiled. We must strengthen our electoral laws, including ensuring stronger penalties for those who dare to violate this sacred canon. We must insist on greater integrity on the part of some of those who manage our elections.
In safeguarding democratic rights and principles, particularly the right of citizens to elect the government of their choice at free and fair elections held at regular intervals, we will be honoring his memory and protecting our rights and our country’s development.
Today as we pay tribute to this Great Soul, let us recommit to ensuring that Guyana’s democracy remains safe and secure. It will be the greatest tribute we can pay to the finest son of our soil – Dr. Cheddi Jagan.
I thank you.
 Cheddi Jagan, “Democracy: Form and Content” (Straight Talk), Mirror, 1984/12/02.
 Cheddi Jagan, “Real World Democracy (Straight Talk) Mirror July 17, 21 and 24, 1966.