Burnham’s Legacy: a dictatorship in Guyana

Today is the 101th anniversary of the birth of Forbes Burnham, who, in the words of Dr Walter Rodney, established a dictatorship in Guyana. Rodney described the nature of the dictatorship in 1979, the year before he was assassinated at the behest of Burnham according to a COI. According to Rodney, “By definition, the dictator is responsible to no one, no organisation, to no social institution…(and)… surround themselves with mediocrities and lackeys -that is to say, by men and women with little competence and integrity who maintain their positions though cunning, opportunism and boot-licking in relationship to the dictator. In relationship to the people, these stooges of the dictator become tyrants, who imitate as best as they can, the intolerant and despotic behaviour of the big boss.
“The Burnham dictatorship has masked and camouflaged itself. It would prefer that its vices be hidden from the public. Why is this? Men in the past have boasted of being dictators….like Idi Amin. (But) The world has come to shun racist regimes…and all dictatorial governments. This climate of international opinion offers the first explanation as to why the Burnham dictatorship prefers to remain disguised.
“The Burnham dictatorship presents itself as its own opposite…as a democracy….(like) Hitler who subverted German bourgeois democracy in the 1930s. Burnham has taken a similar road to power – subverting the democratic system of which he was part in 1953. Hitler had a mad wish to rule the world. For this reason, he is generally described as a megalomaniac…Burnham’s megalomania is closer to comedy and farce. It takes the form of wearing a General’s uniform and hoping that the army will conquer his own people.
“Like all classic dictatorships, that which exists in Guyana has fostered the cult of the personality. The minority PNC regime has used all manner of tricks and gimmicks to make the “Comrade Leader” appear to be a demi-god. (Like) on the exercise books of school children, the face of the reigning English Monarch was simply replaced by that of the Prime Minister. (There is also) the highly personalised nature of the dictatorship. The dictator and his cronies make it their business to hire and fire….(via) the state control over the economy was the main weapon used to keep people in line. (or) who to prosecute in the courts…
“Burnham encourages around himself individuals who are weak or corrupt, because he then exercises vicious control over them….On the international scene, Burnham could never be a powerful force. But he has proved crafty and cunning in achieving his ends within Guyana. An old woman at Bourda shouted at a recent political meeting that “Burnham mek Satan cry!”
“The Burnham dictatorship crept up upon Guyanese people like a thief in the night. His violations of human rights were frequent, but they were sufficiently gradual that many persons did not realise what was going on until it was too late.”
“We have said before that the Burnham dictatorship would prefer to hide under the disguise of being a democracy. Elections have not been abolished; instead they have been rigged in such a way as to become a complete mockery of the most fundamental of rights – the right to self-determination and free choice of one’s government. The rigged elections of 1968 and 1973 and the amazing referendum fraud of July, 1978 all indicate that Guyanese people have not chosen the PNC clique. The regime holds power by armed force. Guyanese are finding from their own experience that the dictatorship hates to be reminded that it is a dictatorship. To expose the dictatorship, the first step is to denounce the government as illegal and illegitimate.”
“Psychologically, the domination of the dictator has to be rejected. The population must learn to despise the falsehoods which surround the man; they must refuse to accept that he has any halo of greatness around him…Our language (describing Burnham) must express not only ridicule but anger and disgust. Guyana has seen the “Burnham Touch” – anything he touches turns to shit!”