Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The West on Trial - autobiography of Cheddi Jagan

I read most of this book during the long trip to Guyana last month and I have just completed it.
Cheddi Jagan was Guyana's most important freedom fighter. Born in a modest peasant family, Jagan went to study medicine in USA. During the stay there, he had done all kinds of odd jobs to sustain himself. After his return, he plunged into politics in Guyana. He started defending workers' rights and joined the trade union movement and then joined full time politics working for the independence from Britain.He won the elections in the pre-independance period. But the British conspired to keep him out of power. Firstly, they used their standard divide and rule policy by encouraging divisions and rivalries between the Afro-Guyanese and the Indo-Guyanese. Secondly they branded him as a communist threat to Guyana and the region. This way they got the support of the Americans to prevent communism taking hold in the region particularly after the experience of Cuba. The British and Americans imposed a proportional representation system on Guyana to prevent Jagan and his party from getting majority. Jagan asked them why did they not have the same system if it was good for Guyana.
Eventually Jagan managed to overcome all the internal and external challenges and become the President of Guyana in 1992 for five years till his death in 1997.

Jagan's struggle is similiar in many ways to the Indian struggle for independence from the same British. The only difference was that Guyana being a smaller and weaker country, suffered more.

It is true, Jagan was a fellow traveller. But anyone in his position had to be one, given the Guyanese situation. Most of the Guyanese were poor and exploited under the colonial rule. The population of Guyana consists of AfroGuyanese who were former slaves and the indians who were former bonded labourers. With this kind of electorate, it was logical to seek social justice through leftist path.On top of it, Guyana's natural and mineral resources and the sugar and mining industry were controlled by British, American and foreign companies for whom their profit was more important than Guyanese development.It was the job of the political leaders to demand a fair share of their earnings. Even today, Guyana remains as one of the poorest countries in the region, despite vast land, water, natural and mineral resources.

Janet Jagan, the American wife of Cheddi Jagan had also worked shoulder to shoulder at all levels of Guyanese politics. She shared the same ideology and commitment of her husband to the upliftment of the Guyanese.

Jagan has published other books covering regional and global issues.

But the title of this autobiography " The west on trial" does not seem to be appropriate. It was the west which put him on trial. But at the bottom of the cover page it is written " My fight for Guyana's freedom" . This should have been the title.

While Jagan has been understandably extra critical of his political opponents, his book gives a vivid account of the struggle of Guyana and the manipulation of the external forces.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Voces Inocentes - Film on El Salvador

Voces Inocentes means Innocent Voices.
This Mexican film in Spanish ( released in 2004 ) is about the cruel and bloody civil war in El Salvador and is based on a real life story.
Chava, the eleven year old boy is caught in the crossfires of bullets, killings and destruction. After his father escapes to USA, little Chava is designated by his mother as the Man of the House. He has to dodge bullets everyday in the streets, school and has to be back home before the curfew. His friends, when they reach the age of 12 are snatched away by the soldiers for conscription. No one is safe. The soldiers kidnap young girls from the streets and kick and kill parish priest. The little sweetheart of Chava, whom he describes as the only girlfriend is also killed by the soldiers. After having seen so much of death and inhumanity Chava, alongwith his friends join the guerillas. They get caught and all his friends are shot and killed, while he escapes miraculously. His mother and the rest of the family who are on the run from the soldiers and guerillas finds him back in the old house which has been set on fire and destroyed. Chava is sent to USA to escape the violence of El Salvador.
Carlos Padillo who has acted as Chava and Leonor Varela, the Chilean actress who acts as the mother of Chava have given their heart and soul to their characters.
Luis Mandoki, the Mexican director of the film has made the film as poignant and profundly moving. He has handled the brutal violence and loss of innocence of children delcately. It is a serious film, without any distraction. No comedy or sex scenes. The film is focussed solely on the theme and brings alive the sufferings of the people of El Salvador.
One of the best Latino films i have seen so far.