A palace it never was
May 22, 2002
Letters on stuff
Robin Bhimal's comparison of John Mair to a stand- up comic [S/N 20th May] and reference to "his grossly ill-informed swipe at the internet..." prompted us to have a peep [on the internet] to see just what else Mr Mair has been saying about Guyana. The results were interesting. For example, in an article on travel in the British daily "The Guardian" on 18th August last year he writes:
"Castellani House, next to the once magnificent Botanic Gardens, is neo-colonial and was commandeered by the late dictator Forbes Burhnam to be his presidential palace. He called it the "Residence". Eight years ago, the new democratic government emptied the house and garages of most of his Papa Doc-style limousines (some are still there) and put it to peaceful and productive use. It's now the National Art Gallery with some delightful Caribbean art and artefacts."
Now apart from supporting Bhimal's choice of adjectives 'fawning' and ' ill-informed'' [which we feel were generously mild] this article raises questions about Mair's integrity as a journalist or whatever he calls himself. Can anyone who has actually seen that modest little wooden building consider it a presidential palace? In fact the only such allusion to it on record is when Forbes Burnham was driving back with Kenneth Kaunda, whom he had met at Timehri Airport [yes, it was Timehri then] and Kaunda had asked him "Are we going to your palace?" and, upon arrival, Burham took succinct, ironic pleasure in saying to Kaunda "Welcome to my palace!"
Mair is equally dishonest on the matter of the 'Papa Doc-style limousines.' The only limousine we recall seeing in Guyana in Burnham's day [except for an old one in the Museum, where it had rested since the late 60s] is one imported in the early 80s, we think by a man named Sukhraj, and which was conspicuously unique at that time. He's right about about the emptying of the house, though! Indeed, no vehicle [nor any fridge, light bulb or non-bolted down fitting] survived the gleeful plundering of the Residence on the morn of Mair's 'new democratic government's victory in 1992!
No, Mr Mair, a palace it never was and the advent of limousines into Guyana comes after your 'keen and lean' heroes assumption of government [as does the non-magnificence of the Botanical (and Promenade) Gardens]. You are obviously a person who writes to gratify rather than to inform.