It is utterly reprehensible that Sase Narine, in a re-surfaced video on social media, claimed that Forbes Burnham never banned wheat flour from importation into Guyana. Apparently, Sase Narine was speaking at a function at the Burnham Foundation. It has resurfaced as part of the Opposition’s strategy of rewriting history.
Just as with the “Wismar Massacre” story, the PNC now are trying to rewrite the history of banned foods in Guyana. The PNC’s Forbes Burnham banned many foods that represented a staple among Guyanese citizens, especially among Indo-Guyanese. Among the food items banned from importation during those sordid years in Guyana was flour. No amount of spinning can change that reality. The banning of wheat flour importation is a fact, and it happened under Forbes Burnham.
Sase Narine served as Speaker of the National Assembly during those harsh years of PNC dictatorship. The Burnham-led PNC Government banned importation of wheat flour. What exactly was Sase Narine denying? Wheat flour was banned. So were other products, like dhall, potato, sardine, corn mutton, etc. These are hard, cold facts.
Did the elite have access to these products at that time? Yes, it was what created the privileged class. Was there smuggling of these products into the country? Of course! A whole lot of ordinary, decent Guyanese were criminalised trying to get access to these banned products.
Sase Narine’s baptizing the flour ban a myth urged Vincent Alexander and the Burnham Foundation to rewrite history. Sase Narine is totally shameless. Having served as part of the dictatorship, and having served infamously to ensure the dictatorship was prominently displayed in the Parliament, where he banned Cheddi Jagan from speaking for many years, one would have thought Sase Narine would seek some kind of redemption. Instead, his atrocious call to rewrite history by describing the flour ban as myth demonstrates that Sase Narine remains unapologetic for his role in those despicable years.
In the late 60s and 70s, frequently Police officers showed up at our home in Albion, Corentyne and searched our home, dug up the backyard, looking for sardine cans, looking for evidence that we were using banned products. Our home in those days was considered the Corentyne Freedom House. There was absolutely no reason to suspect our family of using the banned products. But this was the PNC’s way to intimidate our family, which remained unbowed and unrepenting for being staunch supporters of Cheddi Jagan and the PPP. My father had by then operated a hire car service. Very often, we had to go look for him, because he would be arrested and kept at one of the Police stations in Berbice, suspected of transporting smugglers. He never did, yet that did not stop the Police from constantly harassing him.
But there are thousands of families across Guyana who could talk about their homes and yards being searched, their vehicles being stopped and searched for banned foods, people being locked up for cooking wheat flour roti, or having in their possession condensed milk and sardine, etc. These are not isolated stories. Many Hindu families had their religious ceremonies desecrated as Police looked for flour which Hindu families used to make “persad”. Which part of this story is a myth? I am told Sase Narain is a devout Hindu. How come he does not know this happened in Guyana? NO amount of spinning can change the truth. Whatever may have been Burnham’s reason for the banning strategy, one thing is certain, the banning of food items during those horrendous years exacerbated the food crisis in Guyana.
Even if the banning of wheat flour was intended to catalyze a local production of rice, cassava and plantain flour for bread, roti and other flour products, the manner of implementation created a food crisis. Simultaneously, the PNC had dismantled the rice industry, so there was never enough rice flour to substitute for wheat flour. There was also a destruction of cassava and plantain production so that these kinds of flour were never produced in any meaningful quantities. The minimal production of rice, cassava, coconut and plantain flour also had quality issues. The baked products could not match the quality of the wheat flour products. Today, we could add such flour as a percentage to support wheat flour products. The strategy then was ill-conceived and poorly implemented. Instead of trying to explain Burnham’s rationale, those who now carry on the legacy of Burnham’s PNC are trying to rewrite history. Burnham is twisting in his grave. The Seven Ponds resting place for Burnham is an uneasy place today as Burnham looks on in dismay at the cluelessness of those who carry on his legacy.
Whatever might be said about the old PNC, they at least had some kind of a strategy, no matter how crazy it was. Today’s PNC is totally clueless, depending on lies, fabricated storylines and rewriting history. It is sad to see a political party with more than 65 years under its belt descend into the abyss as Aubrey Norton’s PNC has. It is why the PNC of today is at risk of becoming a small party, one that is likely to be in fierce competition with several small parties for the leadership of the Opposition in 2025.