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Sitting silently in our constitution is Article 40 (1), which states that “every person in Guyana is entitled to the basic right to a happy, creative and productive life, free from hunger, ignorance, and want”. In this grand entitlement, the pivotal idea, around which the others revolve, is the freedom from want. Freedom from want, as a core human right, is embedded in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its historic roots, however, trace back to the Address to Congress by US President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941, who listed it as one of his four main global freedoms. Roosevelt explained that a man could never enjoy his full human rights if he was always necessitous.
What must it mean for us in Guyana to be free from want? It must mean to be liberated to live our best lives and to be our best selves. No longer must we be imprisoned by the struggle to meet basic needs, such as finding food, shelter, and dignity. No longer must we live in fear of the uncertainties of daily survival. We must be liberated to live (in the words of Article 40 (1)) “a happy, creative and productive life”. As such, we must be enabled also to follow our aspirations, discover our talents, and develop our skills. We must have time to be involved in community and national life in whatever way. Our constitutional right to work, rest, recreation and leisure must make sense. Freedom from want therefore activates and gives substance to most of the other human rights granted each of us by our constitution.
The argument that such basic socioeconomic rights are only aspirational —that many countries are too poor to actually deliver on them—has become worn out. In any case, that excuse no longer holds for Guyana today. By 2024, we (the people) will be earning over US$ 1.5 billion annually in oil revenues to stash away in an already bulging Natural Resources Fund. With a small population (and by now fully advised as a nation on the recipe to avoid the resource curse), no Guyanese must now be oppressed by the burden of want.
The aspiration in Article 40 (1) is fundamental to nation-building. It could and must be achieved in a few years. Working towards it brings benefits to individuals and families gradually and meaningfully each step of the way to the economic liberation of all. The political party most passionate about this mission and most capable to deliver the quickest is the party that deserves our support.