Venezuela and Guyana: sordid regimes

Against the background of the People’s National Congress (PNC)-led Government refusing to accept the ruling of the National Assembly – via a Speaker of their choice, and of the Chief Justice of the High Court that they should have had their Cabinet resign since December 21, 2018, when the No-confidence Motion was successfully moved by the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and raising political tensions inside the country to boiling point – comes the seemingly inevitable end game for the Socialist Government of Nicolás Maduro, which will certainly precipitate tensions on our western border. Guyanese should follow these developments very closely if for no other reason than the striking parallels between the Bolivarian Republic created by Hugo Chávez and the Co-operative Republic created by Forbes Burnham, and which his successor David Granger has sworn to “fulfil”.
From the 1990s, the mentor of Maduro, Hugo Chávez, set out on a Quixotic mission to transform the Venezuelan economy so that the “poor and the powerless” could improve their living conditions. It was eerily similar to the similar goal of Forbes Burnham here in Guyana when in 1974 he announced his grandiosely named “Declaration of Sophia”, when Burnham declared the “paramountcy” of the PNC. He defined its goals as “mobilising the nation in every sphere and not merely for periodic elections and in support of specific actions and programmes… the party should assume unapologetically its paramountcy over the Government which is merely one of its executive arms…The country must be given practical and theoretical leadership at all levels – political, economic, social and cultural – by the PNC, which has become the major national institution.”
Like Chávez was also to do, Burnham did not just depend on the party to “transform” Guyana into the socialist nation he envisaged but used the military as a major tool to do so. This had the double benefit of securing his rule in case his party policies, such as “feed, house and clothe the nation”, failed and the populace became restless. Using as the rationale the 1969 aborted secessionist uprising in the remote Rupununi, and proactive actions by Venezuela and Suriname in their border claims, Burnham boosted the manpower of the armed forces from 2631 in 1966 to over 21,000 by 1976. The resulting ratio of one soldier to every 35 civilians was one of the highest in the world. Defying the ICJ’s recommendations of 1965, Burnham enlisted 90 per cent Creole/African Guyanese recruits, in a nation with over 53 per cent Indian Guyanese.
Chávez, and now Maduro like Burnham, did not demand some “abstract loyalty” by the armed forces to the State. Burnham assured himself of their support through the following’ stratagems (1) Non-Neutralism: In response to Burnham’s call for the military’s involvement and unswerving support the Disciplined Forces declared the policy of ‘Non-Neutralism: they committed their total allegiance to the ideology of the PNC and “not to any other Government’. This meant that if the PNC were somehow to be removed from office, the Army would not necessarily have to support the new Government.
(2) Appointments: Burnham as Chairman of the Defence Board personally appointed all officers who swore a personal oath of loyalty to him. In 1979, when Walter Rodney was thought to be infiltrating the Guyana Defence Force, Burnham removed three layers of officers to appoint David Granger its head. (3) PNC Army links: Senior officers attended the biennial congresses of the PNC, participated in deliberations and swore fealty to the “Comrade Leader”. (4) Ideological training: All officers were required to be fully conversant with the ideology of the PNC and to base their actions on its strictures. The very youthful David Granger was given this role as far back as 1975 when he was only 30 years old.
It should surprise no Guyanese that the Chávez/Maduro Governments brought Venezuela with the largest oil reserves on Earth, down to its knees. Refugees? Starvation? Useless money? Drugs? Banditry? Guyanese “been there; done that”. As in Guyana of 1992, the US appears ready to effectuate peaceful regime change.
In Guyana, we should not allow another PNC-led Government to destroy our country.