Electoral Rigging In Guyana

Commentary By Annan Boodram

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Nov. 2, 2012: Recently there was an exchange of letters between New York based pollster, Vishnu Bisram and Florida-based journalist, Wesley Kirton in the Guyana media, with respect to PNC electoral rigging and its illegality, between 1968 to 1992.

In the course of these exchanges another letter writer, Mr. Carl Cheong, stated that Bisram got it wrong. The reality actually is that Bisram got it right Mr. Cheong and Mr. Kirton got it wrong. Elections were rigged and proven to be so by a preponderance of evidence and according to the Guyana constitution the governments were thus illegal.

The fact that international community may not have declared the governments illegal is more a function of the Cold War politics which, after it came to an end in the late eighties, saw the US government do a 360 degrees turn around and apply pressure to the Desmond Hoyte government to hold free and fair elections. To have expected the US to then declare previous PNC governments, that it supported and buttressed, as illegal, is to have expected the US to declare itself wrong for all those years and we all know that some things are impossible.

The massive evidence proving electoral rigging under the PNC cannot be detailed in a short letter but a few examples can be provided. To begin with the release early in 2005 of some of the US State Department’s declassified documents on Guyana for the period 1964-1968, (See: Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume XXXII, Dominican Republic; Cuba; Haiti; Guyana) provide an overview of the rigging of the 1968 elections. In fact, Burnham’s rigging plans were hatched shortly after Guyana became independent in 1966. Delmar Carlson, the United States Ambassador to Guyana, reported in a telegram to State Department on July 15, 1966 that, “Burnham has confided to close colleagues that he intends to remain in power indefinitely-if at all possible by constitutional means. However, if necessary, he is prepared to employ unorthodox methods to achieve his aims. In these circumstances, probably the best that can be hoped for at this time, is that he might respond to guideline and thus take the most effective and least objectionable course to attain his goals.”

Besides US State Department reports, electoral frauds and the scale of rigged elections in Guyana have been documented by the annual United States country reports on human rights practices (1980, 1987); the Lord Avebury report (1980); the joint report of the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group; Americas Watch (1985); numerous newspaper articles, and two Granada TV documentaries, ‘Trail of the Vanishing Voters” and ”The Making of a Prime Minister”(1969). In fact, even a member of the inner sanctum of riggers, Dr. Festus Brotherson Jr., before his death came out with a declaration that the PNC rigged elections. Furthermore, Dr. Brotherson shared with me, communication between him and Clarence Ellis, whereby the latter took Dr. Brotherson to task for publicly providing the expose on rigged elections. In fact their exchanges subsequently became quite acrimonious and descended into personal attacks on each other.

Additionally, for those who so adore Desmond Hoyte for breaking with Burnhamist traditions, this is what Freddie Kissoon, avid PPP critic and Hoyte admirer, had to say (Kaieteur News, Nov. 16, 2006), “Despite his courageous intervention at a crucial time in the development of this country, Desmond Hoyte, in 1985, presided over the most twisted electoral process that this country has ever seen”.

And lest it be forgotten, the armed forces did play a pivotal role in the process of electoral rigging. As military author, Dion E. Phillips, stated in his paper ‘The Military of Guyana’, “Between 1968 to 1980, the GDF, along with the other security forces ritualistically rigged Guyanese e1ections in order to preserve the PNC regime.” Added Phillips, “Though many Caribbean governments, not wanting to interfere in the internal affairs of their CARICOM neighbor, looked the other way and failed to condemn the PNC government in Guyana, its policy of employing the GDF in internal duties of a political character was severely criticized both in Guyana and on the international front…”

With respect to PNC governments not declared illegal by the international community, President Franklin D. Roosevelt is alleged to have stated, in relation to Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoa,

“Somozoa may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

While it has been argued that this statement was actually made in relation to another dictator, Dominican Republic dictator, Rafael Trujillo, the fact is that this statement represents the US and European Cold war positions with respect to dictators and illegal governments that were in their spheres of influence during the Cold War era. And while Burnham may have attempted to play off the West against the East, neither side wanted to come out in condemnation of his successive governments for fear of driving him into the arms of the other, in a situation where each falling domino meant loss of face and bragging rights, among other things.

Finally, I do not write as an ‘armchair general.’ I know from bitter experience, having been actively involved in grassroots politics and experienced up close and first hand, both electoral rigging and the illegal usurpation of power by the PNC. Thus, no amount of verbal gymnastics by the likes of Wesley Kirton and Carl Cheong can ever negate my reality and that of hundreds of thousands of Guyanese for almost three decades.