Victor Jara Collective update

by Lewanne Jones

from Jump Cut, no. 26, December 1981, p. 38
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1981, 2005

In the past twelve months the Guyanese have witnessed an intensification of the economic and political crisis which has plagued the country throughout the seventies. The long overdue national elections were held in December of 1980. The opposition split over the question of participation in what was generally acknowledged to be an "un-free and un-fair" election. The People's Progressive Party decided to put up candidates, while the Working People's Alliance, together with some smaller parties, decided to boycott. A team of international observers from the Caribbean, North America and Great Britain were present and documented the abuses at every level.

Early in 1981. a long outstanding border dispute with neighboring Venezuela was reopened. A treaty signed in 1889 between the British colonial government and Venezuela is soon to expire, and the Venezuelans are claiming over half of present day Guyana's territory. The Burnham government has refused to negotiate in good faith, and relations between the two countries are deteriorating. Several border incidents have been reported and the Burnham regime is using the issue as another excuse to militarize the country even further.

The opposition recognizes this as a very serious matter. The Working People's Alliance is calling on the working classes of both Guyana and Venezuela to recognize the problem as one begun by the colonialists and imperialists. They are also appealing to the international community to recognize that the Burham government has no legitimacy and therefore cannot handle the problem.

Despite Guyana's enormous balance of payments deficit and its recent history of failures to meet IMF stipulations, international monetary agencies are continuing to lend large amounts of money to prop up the Burnham regime. Basic commodities are chronically scarce and prices have risen drastically. The Guyana dollar which for a long time was pegged to the U.S. dollar was recently devalued by over 30% and there is talk of still further devaluation. The Working People's Alliance is conducting a campaign throughout the country for a living wage. Since 1978 the government has failed to fulfill a promise to raise the minimum wage, which for the Guyanese workers lucky enough to make even the minimum is the equivalent of $3 U.S. per day.

Almost exactly one year after the assassination of Walter Rodney, his co-defendents in the arson trial won a victory in the Guyana courts. The charges against Rupert Roopnaraine and Omawale, accused of burning down the Ministry of National Development (where election records and the offices of the ruling party are housed), were dismissed by the magistrate as insubstantial and lacking in evidence. Shortly after the dismissal of the case, both Roopnaraine and Omawale were prevented by the government from the leaving the country. Roopnaraine succeeeed in traveling to Europe via what has become known as the "Rodney airport." (Shortly before his death, Rodney had, surreptitiously left the country to attend independence celebrations in Zimbabwe.) While in Europe, Roopnaraine was able to speak to public meetings and journalists in Britain, Holland, France and Germany.

In Guyana, Roopnaraine still has his appointment at the University of Guyana where he lectures mainly on literature and philosophy. He is also an extremely active member of the Working People's Alliance, serving on the Central Committee, as well as the political and educational bureaus of the party.

During the production of the first part of THE TERROR AND THE TIME, the Victor Jara Collective realized that the project would not really be complete without two further sections. Materials for these sections — "Neocolonialism" and "Organizing Notes for Liberation — were collected during 1976-77. As a result of financial debts incurred for the first part and the scattering of the Collective's members, this work has not yet begun. Since the death of Walter Rodney in 1980, members of the Collective in Georgetown, New York, Amsterdam, and San Francisco have been investigating the possibilities of gathering additional materials and beginning work on the project.

The present idea is to make a second film, which will analyze Guyana's history and present situation through the life and work of Walter Rodney. His important works on imperialism and underdevelopment, African, Caribbean, and Guyanese history and culture will inform the analysis. The film will also attempt to deal with the spirit of Rodney's personal intervention in active politics of Guyana and elsewhere. At present, a proposal is circulating, fundraising has successfully begun, and the Collective is attempting to pool the various resources at its disposal. Various individuals have been contacted and are willing to donate artwork, music and poetry. The Collective faces a rather large obstacle in that filmmakers are not free to operate in Guyana, where the Burnham regime keeps a tight stranglehold on all aspects of the media. However, the Collective is confident that through research in film archives and libraries abroad, and with the assistance of friends throughout the Caribbean, most of the obstacles can be overcome.



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