LEADER or SCOUNDREL?
By Seopaul Singh
Black Master and Cult of the Personality
In the October 2000 issue of the Guyana Journal, Mr. Harry Bissoon gave a fairly detailed account of the kind of person Linden Forbes Samson Burnham was. Though this could be slated as anecdotal, I am persuaded that the experience could be retold over and over again by thousands who came into contact with the black imitation of the white "Massa" of plantation days. The picture painted by Mr. Bissoon obviously portrayed the setting of Hope Estate. The neighbors of the Bel Field Residence, too, have a similar experience to share. Such accounts quite emphatically challenge any of the admirers of Burnham to prove whether he was ever a true leader or an aberrant scoundrel?
Did he have the best interest of Guyana at heart or did he do things in his own selfish interests? Burnham was ready to take the nation to the brink in 1953, 1962 and 1964 in his diabolical scheme to grab power. He perpetrated the dictatorship in full view of all locally and in the international arena, staging rigged elections, and celebrating with citywide masquerades.
Without shame or remorse, he went globetrotting with the most extravagant entourage in expensive rented jets while Guyana was listed among the poorest nations on the planet, comparable only to Haiti. During this time also, the Kabaka did not fall short in impressing African leaders with an annual contribution of US$60,000 for the African Liberation Movement. Burnham further set out to muster all the children of the nation into the accursed Mass Games, which disrupted the education of thousands and literally caused a grim set back to the education system.
Jesse Burnham is still turning in her grave over her Machiavellian brother.
But for some time now, some diehard supporters of the late L.F.S. Burnham have succeeded in imposing the image of the erstwhile dictator upon the Guyanese populace without any checks or restraint. Not very long ago his portrait was foisted upon the people and given prominence in the National Cultural Center, to the disgust of hundreds of thousands (in the Indian community in particular). One must not forget the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the National Cultural Center. It was during the heyday of the dictator that he desired the need to develop a "National Culture" with all the trappings of contemporary autocrats such as Kim Ill Sung, Idi Amin, Bokassa, and others in Africa and Latin America. This drove the self-acclaimed Guyanese President-for-Life (of the Cooperative Republic) to commandeer the Indian Immigration Fund to build his house of "Culture".
Immediately, all the PNC bashes were given a ready stage, and their elites front seats for their masquerades. In a vindictive recriminating move Dr. Balwant Singh, former Government Bacteriologist and Pathologist, was targeted for ruination, after he commented on the foregoing at the dedication of the Cultural Center. His Lab on East Street was raided and drugs seized and/or confiscated by the Burnham regime. It should be remembered that this Senior Public Servant Balwant Singh, at the head of the P.S.U., supported the Strike against the PPP Government in 1962. He also played a significant role in the disappearing bullet that killed Assistant Commissioner of Police Ian McLeod. Yet, he was given the royal boot like so many others (Indians) who played up to the PNC regimeand there were quite a few of these 'soup-drinkers'.
Perpetuating His Name
During a reign of over two decades (1965-1985), Forbes Burnham gradually set the stage for the Republic, making the way for his aggrandizement as Executive President (for life). With this he also set the pace for the PNC Party paramountcy (with the Declaration of Sophia, and a rigged Referendum), and with a Constitution that virtually made him unimpeachable. Did he have the wellbeing of the nation at heart? Those who would like to believe this are truly deceived. All that is noticeable here is that he was looking after one person, namely, Burnham and allegedly his "everlasting" legacy of a huge Swiss Bank Account.
I had written before that the Guyanese people should enlist the services of the appropriate International Agency to facilitate the repatriation of the fortunes of any plunderer from the Swiss Bank to the Treasury of Guyana. If my memory serves me right, Burnham was listed in the seventies by a very reputable American print media as the third richest black person in the world way back then. His admirers' persistent reference to his memory and picture is compelling evidence that the current operatives of the PNC are at their lowest ebb of depravity of soul. Is he becoming their god? The extent to which Burnham went to deify himself was almost unlimited.
Surely, Burnham's record showed that he had no respect for the Divine, even as his sister Jesse Burnham had written. This was further evidenced in his gravitation to alleged occult practices. Here was the President who, like Papa Doc of impoverished Haiti and Eric Gairy of Grenada, maintained goon squads of assassins, practicing/legalizing of obeah/witchcraft, and reveling in the poverty of their people. The murder of many, including infants who were disemboweled and decapitated in ritual style during the seventies, had made news during the dictator's struggle to hold on to power. As yet, there has been no true investigation or police report to underline these bizarre killings, and find closure. But some individuals did reveal the Burnham's connection with spiritism. Is this man worthy to be emulated?
His Path of Greed and Self Aggrandizement
Comparatively speaking, Forbes Burnham has been listed side by side with the likes of Bokassa, Adid, Idi Amin and Sese Sekou Mobotu, some of the most notorious butchers and plunderers of Africa. Yet, those Afro-Guyanese, who worship at Burnham's shrine at the Seven Ponds Botanical Gardens, fail to see the monster that was the man. Either his "faithfuls" are totally dumb, or are infused with the same diabolical spirit that made the man the maniac he was. I am saddened by this callous disregard for the usurpation perpetrated by this "idol" of the now reformed PNC. (Visit also the PNC webpage, and note their icon.)
He implanted his name in history: Linden (formerly McKenzie), Burnham Drive, Roxanne Burnham Gardens. He named the East Coast Housing Scheme outside of Enterprise, Melanie, after his daughter. A ceramic enterprise was named after his son-in-law, "Van" Ceram, at the northern corner of A.H &L Kissoon's Furniture Store in Camp Street.
Did not the Kabaka also worm his way into many business holdings? Frederick Mahaica's Gold and Diamond Mining Enterprise mysteriously vanished. Further, it is alleged that "Bel Field Residence", that stood resplendent at taxpayers expense, was confiscated from the Kissoon Dyal's. Others (especially prominent and greedy Indians, and some others) were blackmailed or coerced to accept prominent positions, to make hefty donations, and to give certain facelift to the PNC.
The Prophet Daniel reminded king Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon that "The Almighty rules in the Kingdom of men and gives it to whomsoever He wills." Failure to understand this could prove very fatal to any Emperor, Monarch, President or Dictator. Hoyte should take a que from his predecessor's demise.
My Own Encounter With the Kabaka
Saturday work was already abolished in the Public Service. Daylight saving time was instituted. These moves were instituted to help the nation produce more food on a family basis. The "FCH" Campaign (Feed, Clothes and House) was well under way. Another very autocratic move was made by the Kabaka to garnish 3% of one month's salary to finance the PNC Bi-annual Congress. (Already there was a similar mandatory deduction from our monthly salaries, the National Development SurtaxNDS). So our Saturdays were also being taken away. When the instructions came in writing to the PS Ministry of Trade Winston Murray, the staff members were required to report Saturday morning at the Ministry compound, Main and Urquhart Streets, for transportation to Hope Estate. And we were told we were going to work for the State. We were to be geared for a weeding exercise under the watchful eyes of the Kabaka. Excuses were not accepted. In fact, absence from the team was threatened with certain "disciplinary actions". It would appear that the Senior Public Servants were scoring points for their own promotion at the expense of their subordinate staff. It was vicious blackmail. Later in the sixties, the business community was threatened by the PNC arson brigade to "pay up or burn".
We boarded the lorry to be transported to Hope Estate. At the site, many ordinary folks showed up to work in exchange for hampers of food items. Hampers were kept in a special store on location, and issued upon completion of tasks. I was the Chief Allocation and Distribution Officer at the Ministry of Trade, but could never figure out from where and how the Kabaka got his supplies? The Melanie Outlet was allocated approximately 20% of the gross national essential commodities for the East Coast. Linden was also in receipt of approximately 25% of the gross national for the mining town. At the Hope Estate's store, there was always a stock of scarce commodities such as margarine, cooking oil, soap, powdered milk, toothpaste, and garden produce. On our way to the site, we saw people who had already collected their weekly quota of supplies, and were on their way out from the Estate. These were mostly women. After arriving at the estate, mainly of coconut trees, we were directed to the actual location where weeding primarily was to be done. We were issued cutlasses weed. Most of the tools were not sharp enough to chop the black-sage and bushes to be cut down.
A Vulgar Man Makes a Corrupt President
Within one hour of weeding, the Kabaka showed up riding a horse. He was fully clad in rider's outfit, and was accompanied by Crime Chief Skip Roberts, also on horse back and fully clad in rider's outfit. It was tough work for most of us who had already grown out of that kind of farm work, being Public Servants for over ten years. The cutlasses were heavy and dull, and swinging them did not give the desired results. Our hands were quickly blistered and bruised. There were some women folks who were in knee deep water in the trench with their skirts stuck into the bottom of their under pants. Here I heard first hand the vulgarities, suggestive remarks and abuses that were belched out to the members of the opposite sex. Burnham was barely twenty feet away from where I stood. I was incensed, and wondered what kind of "President" was this? A vulgar man makes a corrupt President. The men in the party were having a great time indulging in the suggestive sexual exchanges. They were following the leader. Similar behavior was also observed during "get-togethers" in which certain females felt verbally violated, and excused themselves.
The Kabaka and his henchmen's philandering were not a secret to many of us. I was reminded of one somewhat attractive young lady of Afro-Guyanese descent, who was invited to a function at the D'Urban Park residence, Vlissengen Road. Late in the evening, she was propositioned by the Kabaka himself to be available for a more intimate encounter. People were generally scared to offend by refusal, because of serious consequences. (We should not forget the circumstances surrounding the murder of Dolly Baksh and her fiancée at Ogle foreshore. Dolly Baksh danced well at a special function at the Residence, sparking a haggling exchange between the Kabaka and one of his militarists. Dolly Baksh and her fiancée were found decapitated commando style that same night after the function. A similar murder of Hogameer of Guybua was committed. It was widely rumored that he allegedly was having an affair with the wife a senior officer of the Army. Hogameer was decapitated in the same manner like Dolly Baksh and her fiancée at Happy Acres on the East Coast, east of Drive-In Cinema. My father who worked at the Drive-In Cinema on that night heard the cry for help, and called the Police.)
Murders in His Menu for Life Presidency
The X-13 Plan undoubtedly tells a gripping story as to what extent Burnham would have gone to eliminate his foes. Had this been a bogus scheme, the Commissioner of Police during 1964 would not have sworn to a statement that there was "Organized Thuggery centrally directed". One of the main players Emmanuel Fairbairn, called Batson, had gained the attention of Desmond Hoyte and his legal defense. Not long ago, a reign of terror was uncovered by the police, perpetrated by an ex GDF soldier named London aka Blackie, targeting Indians. A recent testimony of a former Berbice serviceman alleged that Blackie might have been working with the knowledge of the top brass in the PNC. If this is true, then how long was there such collaboration, if any? Note that after London (Blackie) met his demise, there was ready defense and sympathy for him from the PNC camp. There was indeed murder in the menu of the man who would be President for Life. This he had set about to ensure according to the X-13 Report.
The scheme, which was concocted to bring down Dr. Rodney, no doubt was with the full knowledge of the Kabaka. The GDF Electronic Specialist, Gregory Smith, was first recruited for the task from the Army. He was given specific training to work with the kind of device. Then he was made to infiltrate the WPA. All this was orchestrated to get into the close circle of Dr. Rodney. Then the deal to sell the walkie-talkie for the Party operation was made. What followed was the rigging of a Unit with an anti-personnel device. Rodney was duped, and he met his end. Many others were exterminated by the hit men of the PNC Death Squad. Only time would have yielded the guilt of the murderer of so many other people who were spared by the Kabaka sudden demise. He was President for life indeeda life cut short by his death.
Was this man a leader or a scoundrel? The reader could give his views either way.