Home Letters Grateful to Ramsahoye and Bashir in freedom struggle
I write to pay to tribute to two political heroes of Guyana, Isahak Bashir and Sir Fenton Ramsahoye, who recently passed away. Both played significant roles in the independence movement and the struggle for the restoration of democracy. Unfortunately, both were victims of local politics. Grave injustices were committed upon them. They were denied (well-deserved) pension entitlements for serving the nation with honour and integrity.
Sir Fenton and I collaborated in the pro-democracy movement. Following the rigged elections of 1968, Ramsahoye migrated but never accepted citizenship of another country. He revealed to me, difficulties of travelling on a Guyana passport. From abroad, he joined the struggle for free and fair elections in Guyana. It was this struggle that led to a working relationship with him in Trinidad, Barbados, Antigua, and London requiring me to travel there to meet and discuss strategies and tactics to help return democracy to our homeland. In addition, I had the distinguished honour of hosting him for several days during which time we interacted, along with fellow pro-democracy activists Ravi Dev, Baytroam Ramharack, Vassan Ram-racha, Hassan Rahaman, Rennie Ramracha, among others. It was at one of these meetings at my home that the idea of a World Union of Guyanese was conceived to unite the diaspora to lobby for free and fair elections in Guyana.
Ramsahoye agreed to be its International Coordinator and patron. The World Union of Guyanese (WUG) was subsequently launched at a gathering of community and political activists, business persons, and religious leaders. After some resistance from ACG (PPP support group) members questioning Ramsahoye’s motive for launching the WUG, a loose executive body was established to organise activities. Weeks later, a group of us from America flew to Trinidad where we were hosted at the Hilton by Ramsahoye for follow up meetings over a couple of days. Lindley Geborde of New Jersey, Roy Narine of Chicago, Hassan Rahaman of NY and Ravi Dev were also there. A programme of activities was agreed upon. Then we all flew to Guyana where we met Cheddi Jagan and leaders of other political parties to apprise them of WUG and the plans from New York and Trinidad. I met Jagan in private and he queried Ramsahoye’s motive in launching WUG and whether it was intended to canvass for him to be a presidential consensus candidate for elections. Ramsahoye had no intention of rejoining active politics or serving as Attorney General. He did, however, offer his legal services for free to Jagan and other political parties that were involved in the struggle for free and fair elections. Thereafter, Ramsahoye lobbied leaders in the Caribbean to help put pressure on the Hoyte dictatorship to return the country to a liberal economy and democratic governance. Ramsahoye also met and or wrote politicians and or Governments in the UK and America in addition to other countries. A letter was also dispatched to the Carter Centre and other human rights groups. We all know free and fair elections were held in October 1992 and democracy was restored. Ramsahoye was never recognised for the role he played in ending the dictatorship and returning democratic governance.
Ramsahoye complained to me that he was denied his pension benefit by the dictator Burnham. Ramsahoye revealed once that he was asked to submit a form (I believe it was 1977) to attest he was alive in order to get his pension. He duly complied only to get a response that he did not submit forms that he was alive in preceding years. I approached several officials to address the matter of Ramsahoye’s pension as I also did with regards to Balram Singh Rai and Isahak Bashir. These were not addressed.
Moses Nagamootoo and Khemraj Ramjattan, as AFC opposition MPs, promised to raise this matter. But it never came up in Parliament, not even during their tenure as Prime Minister and Security Affairs Minister respectively.
Bashir was given a reduced pension because he dared to challenge the Burnham dictatorship and more specifically the Speaker of the House. He was suspended from Parliament and the suspension period was not counted in the calculation of his benefits. He was cheated. It remains uncorrected to this day even though Ramjattan and Nagamootoo know grave injustice was committed against Bashir (who may very well have supported them in the 2011 and 2015 elections).
The Guyanese nation should be grateful for the vital roles Bashir and Ramsahoye played in liberating our nation twice (from the colonial rulers and from Burnhamism).
Dr Vishnu Bisram