PNC Leader David Granger, in celebrating the 56th anniversary of the founding of the PNC, declared on October 5, as reported in SN, that: “We have avoided the adoption of superficial solutions which do not involve the masses of our people and which do not resolve the deep-seated prejudices which impede national unity.”
These sentiments reflect the position which had been held by the PNC Leader, Forbes Burnham, in the 1970s and Brigadier Granger quoted him as saying: “Some of our friends as well as enemies speak and shout about the need for national unity. The need for national unity is axiomatic and cannot be questioned. Where the differences of opinion arise, they do so in respect of the means of achieving unity on a class basis.” Brigadier Granger also offered us another quote: “…an understanding or compromise between leaders is no guarantee of unity amongst the rank and file unless there is a serious and honest attempt to spread the message of unity further down…”
Burnham was speaking with tongue in cheek. The basis of his political strength was Western economic aid and support by way of silence about rigged elections and subversion of democracy. In exchange for that support he was required to keep the PPP out of power and in the political wilderness. His political survival depended on maintaining disunity. His talk about unity therefore was subtly constructed to preclude political engagement. He scuttled the talks which were initiated as a result of the PPP’s ‘Critical Support’ in 1975. He ridiculed the proposals for a ‘National Patriotic Front’ made in 1977, even though the PPP conceded in them that the PNC would hold the executive presidency.
It was the premise of Cheddi Jagan, and supported then and now by almost all of Guyana, that only political unity will eventually generate enough ethnic cohesion to create sufficient stability in our society to result in real economic transformation. A political solution could not and was never intended to be achieved by Burnham or by the Burnham way.
Ethnic cleavages are a fact of our existence. Their political expression in organizational exclusivity is likely to remain for some time to come. It is the organizations that must first engage, then seek to mobilize their supporters, around an agreed way forward. It is therefore very disappointing to note that Mr Granger’s tone reflects similar sentiments as Burnham’s. No one is asking Brigadier Granger to change his views about his revered leader. But the words of all past leaders, including Cheddi Jagan, have to be assessed within the context of their times and challenges.
In 1984-85 the political situation in Guyana was undergoing rapid change. Against the background of repeated calls by the PPP for a political solution, the devastation of Guyana’s economy, prescriptions by the IMF which Burnham found unacceptable and a decisive leftward political shift by Burnham, talks with the PPP were initiated to seek a political solution which, we believed, were a pre-requisite to an approach for aid from the socialist world. While there was still a great deal of distrust due to continuing political suppression, the PPP was of the view that the conditions in 1984 offered some possibility that success could be achieved.
Burnham died suddenly in 1985. Desmond Hoyte assumed the presidency and immediately discontinued the talks. The Cold War still existed and the political formula for Guyana was the same – keep the PPP out of power if you want Western help. Hoyte then sought a bail out from the IMF, accepted its devastating conditions together with debt relief and a return to solvency. This was also clearly in accordance with Hoyte’s inclinations.
By the mid-1990s, with the PNC out of office, and Cheddi Jagan soon to be no longer with us, a movement developed in the PNC by young, forward looking, leaders for shared governance. They were officially given freedom to publicly advocate their views which was unprecedented in our political culture. Hoyte eventually came around to supporting the idea in about 2001. Despite the horrific suppression and violations of human rights by the PNC even after 1985, the two signal departures from their disingenuity about unity were the 1984 talks and the 2001 adoption of the policy of shared governance, akin to the PPP’s and Cheddi Jagan’s ‘winner does not take all.’ In fact the phrase ‘shared governance’ was first used by Cheddi Jagan.
That is why Brigadier Granger’s statement is a disappointment. Read carefully, it reflects the same sentiments that Burnham had insincerely expressed in the 1970s. While Brigadier Granger is not Burnham, his statement does not take into account the positive developments within the PNC in the 1984 and 2001 periods. By choosing to promote Burnham words on unity in the years when he rejected unity, having initially broken it in 1955, he lost the opportunity to emphasize or expand on the more positive developments of 1984 and 2001.
Such an approach could have helped to create the conditions for APNU to boldly, consistently and creatively promote in this hour of need the only strategy that can liberate us from the gridlock that now exists – a political solution.