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Set like a gem in the crown of South America, nestled on the North-Eastern shoulder, defying the raging Atlantic Ocean, Guyana's many waterways reflect the source of it's name "The Land of Many Waters"
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Friday, May 26, 2006

Address to the Nation by His Excellency President Bharrat Jagdeo on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of Independence
Fellow Guyanese:

President Bharrat Jagdeo.

May 26, 1966 will go down in the annals of history as the day when four hundred years of colonialism came to an end in Guyana. It marked a decisive moment in our country’s history, when Guyana took control of the reins of its sovereignty and committed to changing the face of our country for the better.
Our political independence was won through the fortitude and sacrifice of our fore-parents. From the resistance of the indigenous people to the daring 1763 Revolution, the first of its kind in this part of the world, to the sacrifice of the Enmore Martyrs, onwards to the organized struggles of the 1950’s and 1960’s, our people paid the price for their eventual freedom. They were beheaded, hanged, tortured, shot and imprisoned when they sought to assert their inherent right to be free citizens. They were made to feel inferior under a political system premised on racial superiority. In the face of the indignities heaped upon them, our people however, did not despair but organized and persevered, inspired by a common vision of freedom. Ours is a glorious chronicle of the human capacity to endure, to overcome and to succeed.

Fellow Guyanese,
Colonialism throughout the world left its scars: poverty, underdevelopment and fractured societies. But within the bowels of each of the countries that eventually gained its independence resided a burning ambition to overturn this legacy and to carve out a secure and a better tomorrow for future generations.

Tonight, the eve of our independence anniversary, is a good time to reflect, to take stock and to review the progress we have made in determining our own destiny. As we reflect on the past forty years, we can ask ourselves many questions: What have the Europeans, especially the British, left us after being here for 400 years? What was the cost of the misery that our people endured over centuries? How have we since independence shouldered the responsibility of being masters of our own fate? What has been the stewardship of our sovereignty?

We must concede that since independence we have come a long way in understanding our own history, understanding ourselves and understanding the world in which we live. We have a better appreciation of how other people see us and relate towards us.

Whatever our assessment, we must accept our history, whether good or bad and use the lessons of that history to move forward in shaping the future of our country.

Fellow Guyanese,
We have not been idle since independence. As a proud nation, we have achieved gains on many fronts. We have gone on to become a Republic. We have restored democracy and entrenched a parliamentary culture that is more inclusive. We have revised and modernized our Constitution to widen the rights and freedom of our people, including that of our indigenous population. We have shed our lineage to the Privy Council and more recently made the Caribbean Court of Justice our final court. We are now a respected member of the international community, pursuing a foreign policy that responds to our national and strategic interests in an ever increasing interdependent global environment. In the economic sphere, we have made significant advances and now have a more diversified economy than the one we inherited forty years ago. Through our own efforts we have changed our physical landscape. We have built roads, highways, bridges and other modern facilities. Modernization is sweeping our land as is evident in improvements in the economic, social and physical infrastructure.

We can be proud of those things and other unique qualities that have always defined us as a people: our way of life, the things that are dear to our people. Tonight I want to remind all Guyanese of some of those values that have become national attributes and which we must preserve and safeguard.

One of the more important of these is the ethnic diversity that our history has gifted to us. We should all feel privileged that we are citizens of a country which boasts many cultures. Instead of becoming a source of division, our diversity should be a source of pride, knowing that we are part of a country with so many fascinating peoples existing harmoniously side by side.

In celebrating this diversity, we should take example from our children, some of whom have just performed impressively before us. They are the ones setting the example for us to follow. With minds free from prejudice and bias, our children play, study and share friendships that are pure, inspiring and lifelong.

I recall my own childhood days and the friends that I had, friends drawn from all ethnic backgrounds and stations in life. We all shared a happy childhood uncorrupted by the biases inflicted by partisan politics. I am sure that almost all of the adults here tonight can attest to experiencing a similar childhood.

We need to ask ourselves what has happened to those childhood experiences. Have we allowed partisan politics to change us? Why is it that our children can get along so wonderfully together without regard to race and ethnicity but at the national level, division and mistrust intrude in our lives and cause so much pain and hurt. If we are to be truly worthy of our independence we must live together in peace and harmony, the way our children do.

Guyana has long been renowned for our legendary hospitality. We pride ourselves in the way we treat others, particularly visitors to our country. And yet, while we generally lavish our foreign guests with the best of Guyanese hospitality, we sometimes forget that what is more important is how we treat one another. If we learn to respect each other, if we show genuine regard for our fellow citizens, we would be laying the foundation for the eradication of all forms of hatred and prejudice which for too long has distracted us from nation building.

In the same vein, we need to appreciate our country. In my travels, I have observed how fiercely patriotic are our overseas-based Guyanese. We however, do not need to go abroad to discover patriotism and love for our country. We all have a share in the ownership of our country. Guyana belongs to all of us and should find a special place in our hearts.

As patriots, we should always speak well of our country; we should not put Guyana down despite the many challenges that our country faces. Being patriotic has nothing to do with which political party you support; it springs from the love we all should hold for our country. Let therefore every waking hour, every deliberate act on our part be spent in reverence to our homeland.

The Guyana that became independent on May 26, 1966 was a deeply religious society. We must continue to be a God-fearing people. More importantly, we must ensure that every day we practice the virtues that our various religions teach and which we all share in common. We must love each other and show compassion to the needy, aged and infirm. We must be kind, considerate and understanding to one another. We must cherish our elderly, and honour our fathers and mothers.

Fellow Guyanese,
Education is indispensable to our development as a nation. Historically our people have always valued education. With Independence came the possibility of providing greater educational opportunities for our children. Now that education has become more accessible, it is vital that it is not undervalued, if we are to develop individuals with the life- skills necessary to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

If Guyana is to continue to reduce poverty and become prosperous, we must ensure that we have an educated and skilled workforce. Education is important to our destiny and we must therefore ensure that it is a lifelong activity. We must pay special attention to our children, ensure they attend school and pay keen attention to their performance in and out of the classroom.

With our Independence also came the right to be responsible for our own security - the preservation of the sanctity of our borders, the inviolability of our territory as well as the maintenance of internal order. The threats to our security have now assumed a transnational character with the use of our territory as a transshipment point for narcotics to the countries of the North and hundreds of criminal deportees, who have lost all connection to their homeland, are sent back to ply their nefarious trade.

We must go after all the agents of death and destruction in our society, including the drug lords, the armed gangs that operate out of Buxton and their intellectual authors. Today, the greatest threat to the security of the State comes from the enemy within.

Our society cannot be truly free, and we would not be worthy of our independence, unless we curtail the activities of those bent on inflicting fear and pain on our society through criminal and political violence. We are currently spending in excess of seven billion of taxpayers’ dollars each year on the security forces. We need to have better results. We intend to ensure that these results are forthcoming, whatever it takes - more legislation, additional resources or restructuring of the security forces to ensure greater efficiency.

Fellow Guyanese,
Preserving democracy is not just a task for politicians. We all want to live and raise our children in a country where freedom of expression, a free press, freedom to worship, the right to elect a government of one’s choice, exist. These are the things that exemplify our freedom as citizens, and can only be enjoyed in societies that respect democratic norms and values. Therefore, we all have an interest, one that goes beyond our political affiliations, in safeguarding our democracy.

While political competition by parties is both necessary and unavoidable in democratic countries, violence and intimidation have no place within such systems. I therefore, call on all parties to commit to working towards peaceful elections later this year. I urge the support of all Guyanese to ensure that the Guyana Elections Commission fulfills its constitutional mandate.

Fellow Guyanese,
Where do we go from here? Tonight I want us to look at what Guyana can be in the future. Let us imagine where we want our country to be in the next ten years.

Our vision is the building of a nation of prosperity, peace, social harmony, and security, a country where opportunities are abundant, where the rights of people are respected and protected; where our budding democracy is further strengthened; where the participation of our people is enhanced, and where all Guyanese can be proud to call this our home.

We aspire for a Guyana where our homes and factories are supplied with cheap electricity from hydropower, bagasse and other renewable sources of energy. The Guyana we envisage, is one in which every household has a computer that is connected to broadband internet access, where schools, hospitals, ministries, public utilities and Banks are networked. This technology will also allow for us to increase the access and delivery of improved tertiary, technical and vocational education. Our new policies and incentives would have spawned more efficient traditional economic activities and diversified into new and emerging sectors, resulting in more value-added production, generating jobs and creating wealth. Our citizens must not only be properly housed and enjoy access of quality health care, but they must have at their disposal facilities for their leisure, relaxation and cultural development and live in a safe environment. We envisage a Guyana where water supply is affordable and reliable, where existing towns and villages are upgraded and connected through a network of safe, well-maintained highways and bridges.

Fellow Guyanese,
Tonight, I have not used this occasion to speak about my government’s programme. I can however, assure you that our plans are geared towards achieving the vision that I just have outlined.

This vision cannot be fulfilled without your participation. I therefore invite all Guyanese to join hands and hearts as we awaken once again, these lofty ideals and aspirations, dreams of a country seeking to realize its unquestionable potential.

Guyana is our home; it is our motherland. It is for us to work for the creation of a modern and democratic State within which our citizenry can fulfill their dreams.

Let us look to the future with renewed hope and optimism. Let us demonstrate in word and deed, that we can work together in renewed partnerships, deepen the democratic process, and unite in pursuing the goal of economic prosperity!

We have an obligation to pursue the dreams and aspirations that were ignited forty years ago. I am confident that we possess the will and the capacity to make Guyana great. We are a strong people steeled with the determination to succeed. It is our perseverance, resilience and unyielding human spirit that sustained us during difficult periods and which I am supremely sure will inspire us to further heights in the future.

May the Creator Bless Our Nation!

Happy 40th Independence All Guyana! Long live our beloved country!

Guyana Chronicle