Voice of the poor at Clinton's free-trade gala

Out of america

MIAMI - The Summit of the Americas jamboree down here was supposed to have been the beginning of the next comeback by the Comeback Kid, and my sneaking feeling is that it may be. After all, measured against the wretched expectations of only a mont h ago,the results were astonishing - Chile joining Nafta, plans for a Western hemisphere free-trade deal in ten years, promises by the fistful to stamp out drug trafficking, corruption, money laundering et al, all under the beaming gaze of William Jeffe rson Clinton, world statesman. But Clinton was not my Man of the Summit. For what he said last weekend and because he was there, I pick Cheddi Jagan.

And who, you may ask, is Cheddi Jagan? He is the President of Guyana (British Guiana for stamp collectors of a certain age), perched on the northern edge of South America with a population of 734,000 (or 990,000, depending on which reference book you consult), beyond dispute the poorest nation, after Haiti, in the Americas. In short, he is not a Great World Leader. But for connoisseurs of big-power meddling in Third World independence movements during the Cold War, Cheddi Jagan is a household name. And if you're looking for Comeback Kids, no one except Nelson Mandela comes close.

He set up his People's Progressive Party in 1950. In 1953 the Marxist-inspired PPP won the first election permitted by the British, only for Winston Churchill to send in the gunboats. The popular Jagan was jailed, released and then elected British Guiana's first prime minister - only to be toppled again in 1963, this time by the CIA on the express orders of President Kennedy.

But in 1992 Guyana was finally allowed to choose the president it wanted, in internationally monitored free and fair elections. And so to Miami, where he rubbed shoulders with JFK's self-appointed heir, and was swept in block-long motorcades around a city that is a retirement home for dictators, drug peddlers and sundry other villains of the region, protected by the security forces of the foreign government that kicked him out. Jagan managed not to laugh, at least not out loud. "History sometimes works like that," said the man once vilified as another Castro, with just the glimmer of a smile. "That was the past; we're here to talk about the future."

And talk he did, splendidly. A double-breasted grey suit may have replaced the safari jacket, white hair may have mellowed his looks - but not his views. Last weekend here, free trade was the economic equivalent of motherhood, to be criticised at risk ofexcommunication from the community of democratic nations. Jagan, did so. "You may talk of free trade, but some of us will be wiped out," he told a few of us, as half the Clinton cabinet queued up at a White House briefing 100 yards away to sing its praises. "Some of us" are the smallest and poorest. Take Guyana, with GDP per head of $570 (£360) and with $2.1bn of foreign debt, four times total GDP, the servicing of which devours 80 per cent of government revenues.

"Once we had a strong chicken industry; now we've started to import chicken from the US," he went on. Or take natural resources. Guyana has hugely valuable hardwood forests but, Jagan said, well-meaning Western environmentalism has stepped in. "We've been told not to grant timber concessions because we don't have the capacity to monitor them: if we do grant concessions, foreign donors say that aid will be cut off." And if free trade is the goal, then "that means free movement not just of goods and capit al, but of people too." Try telling that to supporters of California's proposition 187.

So, what is to be done? Cheddi Jagan has an answer: first, broad debt relief, followed by a massive regional fund, rather like the EU's, to narrow the gulf between the richest and poorest parts of the Americas. To finance the fund, he urges small across-the-board cuts in military spending, a $1-a-barrel tax on oil and other fuels, and a tiny tax (0.1 per cent, say) on speculative stock and foreign exchange dealings.

Jagan came to Miami knowing he would not be listened to by the big countries. But he promised not to spoil the summit party by refusing to sign the final declaration. "In fact," he confided," I'm tired of these conferences, with too many declarations andtoo many speeches. I tell my ministers to stay at home and save money." So why did he come? Maybe after all, he couldn't resist the laugh.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders