‘A mighty purple heart has fallen in Guyana’ – Sir Shridath reflects on life of Rashleigh Jackson

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Rashleigh Jackson, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, passed away on Thursday night.

Jackson, who distinguished himself in foreign affairs, was born in New Amsterdam, British Guiana. He joined the civil service in 1949 and joined the Ministry of External Affairs (later renamed ‘Foreign Affairs’) in 1964. After serving in numerous posts, he became the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister in 1978, serving until 1990.

After his passing, dozens of tributes came pouring in. Former Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Shridath Ramphal, in his tribute, described Jackson as a “mighty purple heart” who contributed significantly to Guyana’s foreign relations and resolving the Guyana/ Venezuela border controversy.

See below the full statement from Sir Ramphal:

A mighty purple-heart has fallen in Guyana.  Rashleigh Esmond Jackson, at 93, has turned in his Order of Roraima. He and I were born in New Amsterdam a year apart, and our Guyana lives have intertwined in the near century that has passed. Rashleigh, as we all know him, deserves of his country the honour only one’s own homeland can tender.

We were at Queen’s together where his mastery of mathematics was legendary; and after University abroad he came back to his alma matar to teach  a new generation. But these were the days of nation building and in 1964 Rashleigh joined the public service where he remained for most of his working life. By 1966, and independence, I was Minister of State for External Affairs with Rashleigh as the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary. Together we built our fledgling Foreign Service that was to serve Guyana’s needs as a new micro State beset by existential threats. Few more than me can vouch for the quality of the Ministry’s service to Guyana under Rashleigh’s guidance: names like Rudy Collins, Anne Jardim, Miles Stoby  come to mind – and there were others.

In due course, as I went to the Commonwealth Secretariat as Secretary General, Rashleigh went to the key position as Ambassador and Permanent Representative for Guyana to the United Nations – where Guyana’s evolving   diplomatic talents developed under his keen guidance. They were the days of African causes, like UDI in Rhodesia and Aparthied in South Africa and   freedom for Namibia – causes in which Guyana was unequivocally active. And in a cold war context, there was the special significance for Guyana of Non-Alignment.

In an Interview for the Commonwealth Oral History Project in 2015 Rashleigh recalled those days of Guyanese diplomatic activism:

I remember in the Kingston Meeting in 1975, the section on Southern Africa was drafted by Salim Salim (of Tanzania), Paul Lusaka (of Zambia) and myself as three Heads of the three Committees of the UN. Salim was Chair of the Committee of 24 and Lusaka was Chair of the Committee against Aparthied.I was Chairman of the UN Council on Namibia….The C’W offered the roles  and provided the personnel for the Committees              on these critical issues.

And Guyana’s Ambassador was the centre of this network of key Commonwealth diplomats at the UN. Elected President of the Council for Namibia in 1974 Rashleigh campaigned vigorously around the world. The visit to Guyana  on Namibia Day (August 26) was marked by a monument to Freedom in the grounds of the Umana Yana in Georgetown.

Rashleigh ends his commendable  book on Guyana’s Diplomacy with reference to  “the Presidency that never was” – the Presidency of the General Assembly for 1993. His account is itself such a model of diplomacy that it must suffice for me to remind that for that highest of posts in the UN Rashleigh Jackson had been  warmly endorsed by the Heads of Government of his Caribbean region. It wasn’t to be; but he deserves to be remembered for the outstanding work he did in making it possible for Guyana to assume those heights globally.

But Rashleigh’s service to Guyana in another sphere needs also to be recalled as he leaves us. It is in relation to Venezuela’s threat to the Guyana Rashleigh helped to build. From Independence, through the 12 years of the Protocol of Port of Spain, and 27 years of Venezuelan filibuster in a thwarted UN good offices process, Rashleigh laboured in Guyana’s cause – and so to the very end, with diplomatic wariness and passion. Suffice it to quote from  the Guyana’s press of 10 January 2019:

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Rashleigh Jackson broke down in tears as he spoke about Venezuela’s attempt to ‘rob’ Guyana of the riches offshore Guyana. The moment came when he read an excerpt from a speech delivered to the United Nations in 1981 by the then Prime Minister Dr Ptolemy Reid.

He, himself had become Foreign Minister of Guyana in 1978 where he remained until 1990 throughout the entire period of my own sojourn at the Commonwealth – mindful that in Guyana was a brother professional committed to making the world a better place for all, and especially safeguarding Guyana’s place in a peaceful and sustainable habitat.

May New Amsterdam remember with pride its gift to Guyana of RASHLEIGH ESMOND JACKSON – and may all Guyana join it.

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