Black Immigrant Daily News
The late former President, Forbes Burnham
I write with reference to the Hon. Annette Ferguson’s missive, “Burnham’s positive impact cannot be erased”. It is clear from Ms. Ferguson’s letter that she is still under the mistaken impression that Mr. Burnham was a positive force in Guyana.
Allow me to elaborate on Burnham and the PNC’s penchant for electoral banditry and economic mayhem. For the former, I draw on Professor J.E. Greene’s “Race vs Politics in Guyana”, published by ISER, Jamaica 1974. In this important book, Greene provides evidence for early developments in what would become the signature of PNC politics – election rigging.
Greene demonstrates how the Representation of the People’s Act (1968) was used to help rig the elections of that year. One aspect of the Act was to allow overseas registration and voting. The Opinion Research Centre (in England) found that only 10,000 of the 43,000 voters registered were credible. A particularly egregious case of overseas voter fraud occurred in Wolverhampton. The (PNC) registration man there, a Mr. Joe Hughes, could only account for 41 of the 200 persons on the voters list (Greene, 1974, p. 28).
A second technique of Burnham for voter fraud was padding of the voters’ list. Between 1961 and 1964, the number of voters moved from 246,120 to 247,604, a mere increase of 1,484. Yet, between 1964 (when Burnham took power) and 1968, the voters list moved from 247,604 to 297,404, an increase of over 50,000 new voters in four years!
Rigging the proxy vote was another of LFS Burnham’s “brilliant” techniques of electoral banditry. In 1961, there were 300 proxies, in 1964, there were 7,000; but by 1968, that number jumped to 19,297. The Americans were terribly worried about the extent of rigging Burnham had planned for the December 1968 elections. One inside report stated the following – “The United States Government will continue to exert all possible influence to persuade Burnham to pursue a moderate and statesmanlike course toward the PPP and the UF with regard to the registration problem and to the objections of these parties to the electoral law. To date, however, Burnham has not responded in the manner desired to U.S. advice to avoid an overly large false registration and to U.S. urging to plan for the formation of another coalition government after the elections…
“Racial considerations are most likely a significant ingredient in Burnham’s attitude. Thus, we have no assurance that he will accept our guidance in this regard.”
On the economic front, Burnham’s legacy is worse, even though that is hard to believe. Let me remind the MP Ferguson of some basic, undeniable facts. Guyana was the only country in the world that had a lower per capita GDP at the end of the 1980s compared to the beginning of that decade. I challenge the Honorable MP to prove otherwise. Ms. Ferguson likes evidence, and this despite her tendency to dismiss hard evidence as “anger.” Here is Burnham admonishing his own supporters, telling them that Guyana is bankrupt –“…[A]fter informing the Trades Union Congress, our Government explained why the $14.00 minimum per day could not be paid. Production had not increased, and there were no resources (LFS Burnham, Speech to 3rd Biennial Congress of the PNC, August 22-26, 1979).
Burnham was basically on a warpath in August 1979. At that time, the WPA was still under Rodney, and was conducting a mighty battle, alongside the PPP, against the PNC. Against all his rhetoric, like the “little man is the real man”, (later revised to “the small man is the real man”), the Cde. Leader declared war against workers. Burnham barked, “We shall match steel with more highly tempered steel.” He was not referring to Venezuela and their claims to Guyanese territory. He was referring to striking workers. Father Bernard Darke had been murdered less than a month before this speech, and in less than a year of the “tempered steel” speech, Walter Rodney was assassinated.
Since data does not seem to mean anything to MP Ferguson, allow me to quote from Professor Kemp Hope, who noted that “Guyana is a plural society, but with an administrative machinery that ethnically mirrors the ruling PNC government” (Hope 1985, 31). Hope was clear and decisive in describing the PNC economic model. He wrote that Burnham’s self-reliance socialism was based on Self-Help, but that PNC comrades took “self-help” to be a personal invitation to help themselves. Here is Professor Hope again on the Burnham economic modus operandi –
“…the distribution of foodstuffs is handled by the PNC-owned Knowledge Sharing Institute; cooperatives are created for the purposes of acquiring state lands, which once acquired are promptly sub-divided and exploited on an individual basis by the PNC elite” (Hope, 1985, 36).
The evidence to show that Burnham did more harm than good to Guyana is bottomless. But more than anything else are the continuing belief in, and practice of, election malfeasance by the PNCR and their associates in the AFC. I base this on what happened during the 2020 National and Regional Elections. The roads and bridges built by Burnham are there, no doubt, but if the Hon. Annette Ferguson were to dig down a little, she will not like what she finds.
Sincerely,Dr Randolph Persaud