The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union takes great pride in the publication of this very valuable selection of speeches by our late Honorary President, Comrade Cheddi Jagan.
We have chosen to launch our Book “President Cheddi Jagan speaks on Environment and Development 1992-1997” in the middle of Environment week, with the confidence that it will serve as a source of education and inspiration for all who cherish our global and local environment and wish to contribute to its protection.
As a Union representing a sizeable section of the Guyanese working class, GAWU has always been inspired by Dr. Jagan’s placement of people at the center of all development. His unwavering commitment to the cause of the working people is clearly brought out in the book as he shows with great clarity the dialectical link between the urgency of national development to improve the lives of the people and the need to protect the earth and its resources from the damage caused by uncontrolled production methods geared at increasing profits.
We in GAWU recall that, in the period while he was in the opposition, Dr. Jagan stood up firmly against actions that were environmentally destructive. He treated human health and safety as a priority in the consideration of working conditions in the sugar estates and every other place of work. He opposed methods that increased pollution and caused negative impacts on workers. We remember his calls for the large investments in forestry and mining to be set very firm conditions for their operations.
As is characteristic of Dr. Jagan, he did not change those principled positions when he took office as Executive President in 1992.
A major tragedy for Guyana was his untimely passing in early 1997 even before the completion of his first term as President. His magnificent service to our nation was cut short while he was still in accelerating mode. His time as President was very short. Much too short.
Yet in that very short period, Dr. Jagan set our country on very firm foundations for people centered development.
This Book seeks to emphasize the foundation that Dr. Jagan laid for good environmental stewardship in our country.
A major achievement for which Dr Jagan will always be remembered is the passing of the Environmental Protection Act and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. This was not an easy task. There were many who strongly opposed the Act. We are happy that he won out and today the EPA is alive and working to carry out its mandate.
In his approach to national development, Dr Jagan recognized the critical role of the country’s natural resources and the need for a balanced approach. But central to that approach, he placed the issue of the huge national debt.
In many of the speeches in this book, Dr Jagan shows very clearly how the huge debt payments at that time strangled countries like Guyana, with over 80 percent of revenues going towards debt payment.
Dr Jagan was strongly committed to the sustainable use of Guyana’s forest. He recognized the special role of forests universally in the fight against global warming. He saw the necessity for the maintenance of our low levels of deforestation.
But he argued that Guyana could only do so if the debt payment pressure was removed. Without debt cancellation, there would be the alternative pressure to increase deforestation in order to increase the countries revenues in order to make up for what is lost in the payment of debts.
Dr Jagan also linked the cancellation of debts to the release of much needed funds for the undertaking of major initiatives to strengthen capacity to better monitor activities in the forestry and mining sectors. Without such funds, the strong political will to better manage could not result in equally strong operational actions.
I quote from his address on World Environment Day 1994 (pg 13):-
“We have to break this vicious cycle by a virtuous circle. Meaningful debt relief will allow us to take significant steps to improve our overall ability to develop in a sustainable way.
A clear example is in the forestry sector. Because of the numerous deficiencies of the Forestry Commission, the Government has put on hold a number of applications for timber concessions. These could have been major income earners. But the Government has decided to work towards the strengthening of the Forestry Commission and the development of clear management plans which the strengthened Commission will have to supervise. This type of commitment on our part needs to be fortified through debt relief which will give us some scope to carry out the task of strengthening the Commission.”
Today, when the debt payment requirement is not so huge as it was in 1992, we may not be able to grasp the significance of Dr Jagan’s crusade for debt cancellation. It was indeed a crusade that he had started long before he became President. Since in the 1970s when he was in the Opposition he had been making those calls. But he did not then have the access to forums he later had as President. In fact, he had worked closely with Cuban President Fidel Castro to make debt cancellation into an international demand.
When he became President in 1992, Dr Jagan intensified his crusade. He addressed every possible forum of the United Nations and International Meetings to make his demand. Gradually his work started to bear fruit. More leaders joined in the demand. And eventually the International Financial institutions had to respond. Debt relief became a reality.
Though he was achieving some levels of success on the debt issue, Dr Jagan had placed it in the wider context of the overall conditions of under development of the developing world. He saw further widening of the gap between developed and developing countries as a result of the increasing advantages gained by developed countries as a result of globalization.
With his scientifically based objective analysis of the road ahead, Dr Jagan proposed the alternative of the New Global Human Order.
In his approach, he fully accepted the UN Rio Declaration on Environment and Development which coined the term Sustainable Development. With the co-incidence in time of his assumption of the Presidency and the birth of the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 which all took place in 1992, Dr Jagan had the opportunity to set the rebuilding process in Guyana within the sustainable development framework.
President Jagan did an amazing job of laying the foundation for the rebuilding Guyana. In his approach, he was able to put into practice his commitment to balancing development with the protection of the environment.
In the speeches in this book we are given a reminder of his forceful views on the need for good practices to prevail in the areas of development. I quote again from his Address on World Environment Day 1994 (pg 14):
“Environmental protection is everybody’s business. Its level of achievement depends on the level of participation of all groups in society.
I wish to make a special appeal firstly, to those who are involved in different areas of economic life. Government is seriously trying to improve conditions to allow for increased production. We are facilitating efforts by big and small entrepreneurs to enter into new areas of production. Each activity has potential for environmental degradation, and monitoring and enforcement are very costly exercises.
I call therefore on all miners, foresters, industrialists, and industrial workers, farmers and agricultural workers, artisans, businessmen and consumers to exercise a high level of self regulation in the course of your day to day activities. Your conscious effort will reduce the need for high levels of expenditure on policing efforts. Like the old popular song, I ask you “Always let your conscience be your guide.”
I also wish to appeal to the residents of all communities – urban and rural, coastal and interior, – to take pride in keeping your surroundings clean and beautiful. Community Development Councils, Community Policing Groups and other community organisations and civic bodies can play a crucial role in ensuring proper systems of garbage disposal and maintenance of clean parapets and clean drains and trenches. Such efforts will in the first place benefit you, your children and those around you. Small conscious action when duplicated in each individual will bring results of very great proportions.
To those entrusted with the task of protecting our environment, I wish to re-emphasise the seriousness of your responsibility. Government is fully conscious of the limitations in human and material resources and will strive to improve these with maximum speed.”
Dr Jagan’s approach was very practical. He fought at all levels for a just treatment for developing countries and demanded that the developed world provide some forms of incentives for the development that we forego in order to utilize our forest and other natural resources sustainably. But he did not wait for such assistance. He took the necessary steps to develop sound natural resources and environmental management systems with our own limited financial resources. Whenever development assistance was provided by international agencies, these were utilized to advance the processes further.
A very important characteristic of Dr Jagan which could be seen throughout his long service to the nation was his strong belief in engaging the widest possible range of people in working towards developmental goals and to carry on with good initiatives regardless of the persons who initiated them.
This was most strikingly demonstrated in his approach to the Iwokrama Rainforest Programme which was initiated by his predecessor President Desmond Hoyte.
I quote from his speech dedicating the Iwokrama rainforest programme to the indigenous people of the world (pg 3):-
One of the major natural resources in our country is our forest. The world over, there is much cause for concern over the rapid rate of deforestation in many countries. Many like to regard our forests as the lungs of the earth, serving to keep out atmosphere clean.
My predecessor, Mr Desmond Hoyte, had committed to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 1989, an area of 350,000 hectares of tropical forest for a project for sustainable use. My Government has honoured this commitment and has organised discussions at open forums in order to obtain maximum involvement of the Guyanese nation in the programme. Following those discussions, the government signed an agreement with the Global Environment Facility which will provide funding for the first stages of the Iwokrama Rainforest Programme as it is popularly known.
I am happy to note that the Interim Board of Trustees has given due consideration to the many concerns raised by the broad cross section of Guyanese who participated in the open forum discussions.
This approach was further utilized in the consultations that preceded the signing of the Agreement to establish the Iwokrama Centre, the preparation of the Environmental Protection Act and the development of the various sector policies, programmes and projects.
Along with the firm foundations for the rebuilding of the country’s economy, Dr Jagan also laid the foundations for the country to move along a path of sustainable development with people centered development balanced with good environmental practice.
We in GAWU feel that much has been said and written about Dr Jagan’s economic and political views and achievements but a huge gap remained in relation to his contributions to the area of environment and development.
We hope that this book will contribute to the filling of some parts of that gap.
With great pleasure I offer you this excellent book which captures so many ideas of the late President of our country and Honorary President of our Union the GAWU.