EVEN as Guyanese are about to observe the 57th anniversary since the granting of political independence, the mood of the country is sombre due to the tragic deaths of 19 of our children, whose lives were snuffed out by a fire at a dormitory at Mahdia.
President, Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali has declared three days of national mourning and flying of the national flag at half-staff at all public buildings as the country pays its respects to the fallen angels.
This year’s flag-raising ceremony is scheduled for Lethem, Region Nine; this is an indication of the recognition of the critical role played by our Amerindian peoples in the process of national development.
Without a doubt, the deaths of the children have impacted on the national mood. In the words of President Ali: “Today is one of the saddest days of my life as President. It is a day I wished never occurred.” He said this to the grieving parents, guardians and relatives of those children who perished in the flames.
The President spoke for the entire nation who are still in a state of mourning. The President, along with Prime Minister Mark Phillips; Education Minister Priya Manickchand and Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn wasted no time in making their way to the site of the disaster, where a commitment was made that there will be “full, unconditional and unhindered support” to the families and those children affected by the incident.
This is yet another manifestation of the caring and compassionate nature of President Ali who has demonstrated that he is indeed a President for all, someone who feels the pain of the nation in times of pain and distress.
But painful as the situation is, life must move on. The country is on the forward move. This year’s independence observances have seen Guyana experiencing one of its best economic moments due in part to our petroleum resources, but also to forward-looking and visionary leadership by President Ali and the PPP/C administration.
The road to independence was not without its fair share of political intrigues by foreign vested interests in collaboration with local reactionary forces which saw the installation of the PNC-UF coalition government in the 1964 elections. For nearly three decades the country suffered from PNC dictatorial rule which resulted in prolonged periods of economic and social decline.
It was not until the restoration of democratic rule on October 5, 1992, that Guyanese began to experience the fresh air of democracy which was denied them by the then PNC regime. It is fair to say that the full meaning and benefits of independence became much more pronounced and meaningful after the restoration of democratic rule on October 5, 1992.
The above notwithstanding, we are today a proud and sovereign nation. Guyana is now a respected nation in the international community. No longer are we considered a “pariah” state as was the case under PNC dictatorial rule.
In all of this credit is due to our leaders, both past and present, who contributed to the struggle for a free, democratic and prosperous Guyana. We owe a special debt of gratitude to the late President, Dr Cheddi Jagan who is generally regarded as the main architect of our independence struggle.