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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable