A Guyanese hero and Deprofessionalising of Disciplined Forces

The commemoration, at the beginning of this month, of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee brought back memories of her first visit to Guyana on Feb 4-6, 1966, just before our Independence on May 26th. Apart from being granted a school holiday, what I remembered most was Major Raymond Sattaur presenting the Guard of Honour to her at Sprostons Wharf: “Your Majesty. Major Ramon Sattaur Commander of the Guard of Honour. The Guard of Honour is drawn from the 1st. Infantry Battalion of the Guyana Defence Force. The Guard of Honour is ready for your inspection. Your Majesty.”
Major Sattaur passed away last November in Toronto, where he had lived since 1970, and I wondered why even the GDF had not noted his passing. The recent fatal Police shooting of a young man, Bacchus, which followed a similar fatal shooting of Deanraj Singh, in “hot pursuit, while claiming the victims had fired on them, also reminded me of Major Sattaur. In both cases, the Policemen who fired the fatal shots are in close custody, and their files have been sent respectively to the Police Complaints Authority and Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).
Relatives of both victims dispute the respective Police accounts of what had transpired. The connection, in my mind, with Major Sattaur is that, for decades, I have asserted that the de-professionalisation of our Disciplined Forces began with then PM Burnham’s firing of Major Sattaur. And most of the complains against members of those Services are merely symptoms of that lack of professionalism in their operations.
So as not to be accused of personal bias, I quote from an official US Government website that has been up for decades. (http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-5478.html):
“The Special Service Unit (SSU) began as a constabulary force in 1964. It became the Guyana Defence Force in 1965. Governor Richard Luyt created the SSU to aid the police in maintaining internal order in British Guiana. The colonial government’s goal was for the SSU to evolve into Guyana’s army after independence was granted. A British officer, Colonel Ronald Pope, aided by a British military instructional unit, organized and trained the SSU.
“The British government strove to ensure an ethnic balance within the SSU. Its reasons were twofold: Guyana was already racially polarized in the 1960s, and the police force consisted mostly of Afro-Guyanese. The British were successful in recruiting a balance of Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese cadets to fill the junior officer ranks. Indo-Guyanese were also well-represented among students at the Mons Officer Cadet Training School in Britain.
“The SSU was renamed the Guyana Defence Force in 1965. The transition to complete Guyanese control of the GDF began in 1966, shortly after independence was granted. Prime Minister Linden Forbes Burnham, who also served as minister of defense, oversaw the transition. Major Raymond Sataur, an Indo-Guyanese officer and graduate of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, was heir apparent to the British GDF commander. But perhaps because of ethnic considerations, Burnham selected an Afro-Guyanese officer, Major Clarence Price, as the new commander. After the 1968 election, Burnham began to purge Indo-Guyanese from the GDF’s officer corps. By 1970 Afro-Guyanese dominated both the officer and the enlisted ranks of the GDF.”
Major Sattaur had been sent to the Jamaica Regiment after his graduation from the 18-month intensive officer training at Sandhurst in 1955, because British Guiana did not have an army, only a Volunteer Force of part timers commanded by Major Price, who was a civil servant. The Governor had sent for Major Sattaur in 1965 from Jamaica and, as certified by the ICJ Committee that examined the composition of the Armed Forced in that year, there were 72 African, 72 Indian and 2 Mixed Guyanese in the SSU that Sattaur commanded. In the same year, three Indian and three African Guyanese were selected for the six-month officer training in England at the Mons Officer Cadet School, to return in 1966. The British senior officer, Col Pope, had recommended Major Sattaur to lead the GDF that Burnham had formed from the dissolved SSU and Volunteer Force. After Maj Sattaur’s firing, he left, and the rest is the sordid history of our Disciplined Forces officers being forced to swear loyalty to Burnham.
It was the corrupted army that shot two civilians in 1973 when they attempted to guard ballot boxes, and assassinated Dr Walter Rodney in 1980. Rather than only complain about “excesses”, we must professionalise our Disciplined Forces, starting with their composition reflecting the populace of our country.