Home Letters Lifting the veil on how diaspora exposed electoral fraud
The diaspora fought electoral fraud in Guyana going back to the 1970s. I was deeply involved with a small group in the New York-based struggle for free and fair elections in Guyana: organising events; writing articles; corresponding, and travelling to meet with foreign groups; leafleting, and engaging in countless other activities.
It was a veiled operation obtaining information to expose fraud; unlike today, when there is instant media exposure.
The group I was involved in initially revolved around three of us (1977 onward), but later expanded to four (around 1986). It churned out a lot of literature for distribution to the public on 14th Street, Liberty Avenue and at parks, religious functions, rallies, marches, protests, parades, among other gatherings.
Of these four (not sure if they would like their names to be revealed in print), one was a vice president of a large textile company with a lucrative career (with triple-digit salary) that he gave up to return permanently to Guyana in late 1980s. The other three of us were teachers.
One, though a non-Guyanese, annually spent summer holidays in Guyana. He joined the movement, and is now retired in Miami. Another spent his teaching holidays and sabbaticals in Guyana before completing his PhD at NYU, where I also studied. He was our lead writer, and occasionally still pens articles to the press.
And then there was me, whose task was to raise funds for the operations, plan and organise leafleting, and report on community events going back to the early 1980s. All chipped in with preparing, printing, financing, collating and distributing literature from 1977 onward.
The four of us largely spent our own funds to carry out the operation. Occasionally, a generous Indo-Guyanese or Indo-Trini would sponsor a publication, or help with the purchase of a computer, or pay for printing. One Trini sponsored a press for us, but overall, we did the work ourselves (typing, etc.) and paid for publication from our savings. At times we used contacts at universities (City College, CUNY Graduate Center, NYU, etc.) to print newsletters gratis.
A few of us worked at the universities as interns or teaching assistants, and we had access to printing equipment.
It was a sensitive operation to smuggle written political information out of Guyana to be reproduced and/or distributed to the diaspora. It was an undertaking similar to those utilised by liberation movements in other countries, like South Africa, Zimbabwe, and in other undemocratic countries.
Having studied political science and read a lot about liberation movements around the globe, we mastered certain tactics to smuggle materials out of Guyana. Readers would recall it was a crime (against the state) to be caught with literature that exposed human rights abuses and atrocities in Guyana, or speak ill of the dictatorship. Several individuals assisted to pass information through the airport, where baggage was checked for “incendiary, anti-national materials”.
One colleague of ours was severely beaten, suffered broken bones about his body, lost his teeth, and was jailed for his activism. Another was taken into Police custody and beaten with a rubber hose for holding discussions with political groups. He was turned in by paid spies who operated in communities.
We were most careful not to reveal our source, or how we obtained political information from Guyana, and we were careful when we slipped into Guyana. Contacts at the airport or sympathetic Police officers helped with literature hidden in checked baggage. Literature was hidden in various foods and packages and smuggled out of Guyana somewhat akin to flour and banned goods being secretly brought into Guyana, though we did not use coffins, as in the flour convoy.
We also depended a lot on articles about Guyana published in Caribbean Contact (published in Barbados by Rickey Singh and later an Afro-Guyanese priest), which we reproduced and distributed in NY (free of course); several of us had subscriptions. We obtained information through costly phone calls that were put into articles form. We did a lot of commentaries printed in the form of handouts or newsletters.
Later, my colleagues put out the monthly “Jaguar”, which commented on the political situation in Guyana. There were several other publications that addressed specific issues. I did some writings, but the brilliant political science colleague from NYU was the most prolific among us; he also studied journalism. He also did most of the typing (on a typewriter, as there was no computer during the period of the struggle) and editing.
During the early 1980s, community newspapers made their entrance. I wrote for all of them on Guyana matters and community events and editorial commentaries. All the NY-based support groups of political parties in Guyana smuggled literature, and reproduced and distributed party organs.
During the late 1980s, with the permit granted to Stabroek News, we were able to access news. We extracted articles or paraphrased news that was printed in newsletter format and distributed to the public. In the 1990s, there was easing of restrictions on publications to bring in or take political literature out of the country. News became more accessible to share with Guyanese to expose rights’ violations in Guyana. Though harassed, threatened and intimidated, we also distributed our literature in Guyana.
Though the ‘four musketeers’ contributed enormously to the liberation movement, they were never recognised for their work, or given an inch of land. Those who were with the dictatorship, including CREEPs, were rewarded with various honours and huge tracts of land in corrupt transactions.
Gratitude is expressed to those who provided information that was used in various ‘underground’ publications to expose atrocities in Guyana and keep the diaspora informed about happenings in their country.
Dr Vishnu Bisram