As Guyana appears headed for another round of rigged elections under the leader of the PNC, this time Brigadier (Rtd) David Granger, history stands in danger of repeating itself. But as Marx warned, while the first time (under Burnham, in our instance) it is “tragedy”, the second time it will be a “farce”, since it is a caricature of the first. Which is really of no consequence to the folks under the new jackboots.
But the tragedy can recur only when those who suffered the first time around did not deal with the reasons for their tragedy. In the case of a new PNC dictatorship, these were the triad of institutions that Burnham controlled, which formed the pillars of his regime – the PNC party, the Bureaucracy/Civil Service, but especially the Armed/Disciplined Forces, which allowed him to do whatever he pleased – especially rigging elections.
In contrast to the other institutions, the Disciplined Forces were transmuted in form and size after 1969, when Burnham had already rigged elections; seized sole control of the Government by jettisoning the PNC’s erstwhile coalition partner the UF; and launched the Guyana Defence Force (1965). By then he had no need to make concessions to internal opposition forces, and the development of the Disciplined Forces provided a very reliable guide to Burnham’s political ideology, which interestingly was entrusted to a very junior officer: David Granger, who has vowed to fulfil Burnham’s legacy, and revealed he was “always PNC”.
Using as the rationale an aborted secessionist uprising in the remote Rupununi — which was put down by the 2nd Battalion of the GDF), in which now President Granger served as Adjutant; and proactive actions by Venezuela and Suriname in their border claims, all in 1969 — Burnham boosted the manpower of the armed forces from 2,631 in 1966 to over 21,000 by 1976. The resulting ratio of one soldier to every thirty-five civilians was one of the highest in the world.
Burnham though, could never even offer an explanation, at least publicly, why this new, massive armed force was 90 per cent Creole/African in a nation with over 53 per cent Indians.
Burnham envisioned that the armed forces, with their rigid hierarchical command structure, were the most efficient vehicle for the mobilisation of the African/Creole youth. The GDF, formed just before Independence, and the Guyana Police Force (GPF) were joined by the Guyana National Service (GNS) in 1974 and the Guyana People’s Militia (GPM) in 1976. The women and youth arms of the P.N.C., the Women’s Revolutionary Socialist Movement (W.R.S.M.) and the Young Socialist Movement (Y.S.M.) were also armed.
The Forces were extensively politicised by a unit headed by David Granger, with the expressed mandate granted to involve the army in the “total development” of the country and the people. There were very meagre developmental accomplishments, but the army’s ubiquitous presence among the population, their seizure of ballot boxes during elections (1973), their use as intimidators and strike-breakers, and their unswerving loyalty to Burnham were “accomplishments” crucial to the survival of his regime.
When the PPP acceded to office in 1992, it seemed logical to most that they would have attempted to make the Armed Forces more representative of the country’s populace, if for nothing else than their own security against what ex-President Desmond Hoyte had described as “kith and kin” in the said forces. But with no action taken excepting to allow the GPM and GNS to wither, veteran PPP stalwart Ashton Chase futilely asked this question openly, since he pointed out that, before Burnham seized power, this was a burning issue with the PPP.
Especially since Burnham had demanded not “any abstract loyalty”, but the military’s involvement and unswerving support – which he called the policy of ‘Non-Neutralism’. They committed their total allegiance to the ideology of the P.N.C., “and not to any other Government’. This meant that if the P.N.C. were somehow to be removed from office, the army would not necessarily have to support the new Government.
Burnham, as Chairman of the Defence Board, also personally appointed all officers, who swore a personal oath of loyalty to him; and senior officers participated in the Biennial Congresses of the P.N.C.
Granger has appointed ex-military officers to a majority of Government departments; reintroduced the People’s Militia and the Cadets Corps, and boosted the manpower of the other forces.
The new Public Service College has followed suit.
We can expect Granger to continue following Burnham’s authoritarian footsteps if he is allowed to rig the upcoming elections. Be warned.