role in saving Caricom
Guyana elections regarded as fraudulent.
New President had to deal with fractured country.
Spent two hours in talks with President Hoyte.
January 1986, I played a minute role as a private individual
in preventing the collapse of Caricom. There was public
debate in the Caribbean media that a number of regional
Prime Ministers were refusing to attend meetings in Georgetown,
Guyana, where the secretariat was located.
The elections in Guyana were regarded as a fraudulent exercise
and even the BBC (television) in London ran a series on
bogus overseas voting.
Overseas Guyanese nationals were permitted the right to
vote in the elections of Guyana but the BBC with its camera
crews visited many World War II bombed-out sites, which
were given as addresses. A number of Guyanese appeared on
the voters list and were permitted to cast ballots
although the houses did not exist.
W Hugh Desmond Hoyte (President of Guyana, 1985-1992) was
selected by the Peoples National Congress (PNC) to
succeed Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham (President of Guyana,
1980-1985) as President of Guyana in December 1985.
Burnham ruled Guyana with an iron fist, after he betrayed
the countrys legitimate political leader, Dr Cheddi
Jagan. Britain and the US regarded Jagan as a communist
attempting to create a Soviet outpost on the South American
The British colonial authority forcibly removed Dr Jagan
and his wife Janet from power and installed Burnham instead.
Janet Jagan was a woman most vilified and regarded as an
unrepentant communist because her brother, Julius Rosenberg,
was convicted in the US on the charge of spying for the
Soviet Union. He was executed in June 1953.
When Desmond Hoyte assumed the Presidency of Guyana, on
Burnhams death, not only did he meet an empty national
treasury but he also had to deal with a country badly fractured
along racial and ideological lines. He inherited the almost
impossible political task of taking one of the most backward
Commonwealth countries into a fast-changing world.
I first met Hoyte at a Hindu function in Guyanas capital
city, Georgetown, in September 1985. He was then the Prime
Minister in the Burnham administration.
I was invited by the Guyana Pundits Council to formally
open a Hindu temple in honour of the deceased Pundit Deodath
Sharma. He was my friend for many years and his son, Pundit
Gowkaran Sharma, continued that relationship.
In my address, I reminded the audience: We Hindus
in Trinidad and Tobago are able to freely purchase Hindu
pooja material, that is, articles of worship necessary in
the performance of our spiritual rites and rituals. But
you in Guyana are denied these articles of faith.
I continued: We in Trinidad and Tobago are able to
live out our cultural lives without state interference.
This includes having an abundant supply of wheat flour to
cook our roti and an endless supply of yellow split peas
to make our cherished dhal. But you in Guyana are forced
to eat foods that are not culturally part of you.
And I reminded the audience that all this stems from an
accident of history:My grandfather took a sailing
ship in the Howrah harbour of Calcutta that brought him
to Port-of-Spain, while your grandfather unfortunately took
another sailing ship that delivered him to Georgetown in
I told my Hindu brothers and sisters in the audience that
we remain related and inseparable. Their depravation and
denial of fundamental rights and freedoms remain an attack
on all of us in T&T.
The next day I was invited by the Prime Minister to his
office in the city, where I spent more than two hours discussing
some of the things I said the day before. Hoyte insisted
that moong (green dhal) was more nutritious
than split peas (yellow dhal) and that local ground provision,
like yam, dasheen and cassava, were all healthier foods.
I, however, remained adamant that the State cannot legislate
for taste and in any event, wheat flour, dhal and other
prohibited foods are flowing into Guyana from Trinidad and
across the Venezuelan and Brazilian borders. His government
is encouraging an industry of illegal smuggling because
no Hindu wedding or pooja remains without these important
religious and cultural foods and articles of faith.
I remember Hoyte telling me that it will cost approximately
US$18 million a year just to import wheat flour. I responded
by saying that is a cheap price to pay to ensure people,
his people, enjoy a happier life. It would later transpire
that other Caricom leaders encouraged and assisted the Guyanese
Government in providing relief in the area of food imports.
In April, Sir James Mitchell, former Prime Minister of St
Vincent and the Grenadines, delivered the inaugural Hugh
Desmond Hoyte memorial lecture in Georgetown. He referred
to the part I played in reconciling the major differences
among Caricom leaders that could have caused the expulsion
of Guyana from Caricom and the possible destruction of Caricom
Part II next week
n Satnarayan Maharaj is the
secretary general of the
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha