The Freddie Kissoon column
PIECES OF HISTORY
March 27, 2007
Just a week before she died, in one of my columns, I appealed to Mrs. Kathleen D'Aguiar to authorize the publication of her husband's (the famous Peter D'Aguiar) biography. Her death (even though she was never politically active) and the passing of Dr. Ptolemy Reid, Mrs. Viola Burnham and Cecil Griffith over the past two years mark the end of a political generation that somehow has left its mark not only on the country but on each citizen, whether young or old.
Very few of the members of that era are still around. Ones that come to memory are Mrs. Jagan, Reepu Daman Persaud, Ashton Chase, Ranji Chandisingh, Rory Westmaas, Leslie Melville, Brindley Benn and Eusi Kwayana.
I once wrote that the national archives should have had a programme whereby these history-makers would be interviewed on wide-ranging topics lasting for several hours and the tapes would only be released ten years after their deaths. It is still not too late for either the Ministry of Education or the University of Guyana to undertake this project
When these people die, priceless knowledge of which subsequent generations can learn from is gone. It is as if the country's institutional memory is gone.
Lost to this country forever are the reasons why a historic figure like Peter D'Aguiar went into politics and did the things he did. We would never know the true feelings of D'Aguiar on Burnham and Jagan. Was he really as anti-communist as we, the younger generation was brought up to think? Did he regret he ever entered politics? Did he regret the coalition with Burnham should have been with Jagan? Why did he abandon the UF so suddenly?
No society can afford to let such priceless historical data go to the waste never to be found again. The European and North American governments would never let the mental pictures of the people who shape their countries' future be forgotten.
While we still have some of them with us, I believe their stories should be recorded for posterity. Of the names mentioned here, the lives of three of them are fascinating sagas of the modern making of Guyana. Eusi Kwayana tops the list. A strange, unique and indefatigable personality, Kwayana has a story to tell, and when he tells it, our knowledge of this country's trials and tribulations will be immensely enriched.
It would be a journey into mesmerisation to see Kwayana flow. I would like to know how he feels within the deep recesses of his mind about the characters of Burnham and Jagan. Does he accept that they were two sides of the same coin or was one just better than the other or was one simply towering above the other?
Did he regret he ever joined Burnham? Why he never developed a close working relation with the PPP after his torrid break with the PNC? How does Kwayana feel about a new PNC government? Would it be better than the present PPP outfit?
Then there is Brindley Benn. No other Guyanese and no other human being has criticized Cheddi Jagan with the frequency and intensity as Brindley Benn has. As I grew up, I became impatient with BH, as he was called by all who knew him, whenever there was a political discussion. The obsessive denunciation of Jagan meant that somehow BH had some hidden problem with Jagan that caused him to see Jagan as the impediment to progress in Guyana.
But what was it? Why such bitterness with Jagan that lasted almost twenty-five years? Will we ever know? Then came the attitudinal metamorphosis that shocked every single human being who knew him, in and out of Guyana, when suddenly, like a thief in the night, suddenly out of nowhere, Brindley Benn just walked back into the arms of Cheddi Jagan in 1992 and became a candidate in the elections.
What happened in a single moment that didn't happen in twenty-five years? This is an episode in Guyanese history that the next generation must have an explanation on.
Thirdly - Ranji Chandisingh. He broke with Cheddi Jagan in a tempestuous disagreement over his position of the need for the PPP to join the PNC in 1976 in a joint government. When Boysie Ramkarran died, Chandisingh became de facto deputy to Jagan. A quiet and soft-spoken man, he cuts a figure of a priest rather than a marxist firebrand.
The pressing questions surrounding the life of Chandisingh are essentially two in number: why he wanted Jagan to transform Critical Support into joint government and when Jagan refused why he became a close aide to Burnham.
Secondly, did he earnestly believe at the psychological and mental level that Burnham's government was the future of Guyana?
A subsidiary question for Chandisingh was what was going through his mind at the time of the deaths of Vincent Teekah and Walter Rodney. Does he believe that both of these conspiracies were hatched without Burnham's knowledge as Tyrone Ferguson hinted in his book on Burnham's rule?
It is truly regrettable that Dr. Reid died without elaborating on his part in the creation of post-independent Guyana. Reid stands out today as one in a rare species – those not obsessed with power at all cost. He relinquished the post of Prime Minister at a time when Burnham's reign looked invulnerable.
Reid had power, in measurement just below that of Burnham's. And he simply walked away from it to tend to his farm. Such abstention is not part of Guyana's tradition and political culture.
Today, Mrs. Jagan is as active as when she was in her twenties and there doesn't seem to be any indication from her that she is ready for the final separation between her life and her politics. The same goes for her colleague, Reepu Daman Persaud though he is not in the cabinet or Parliament.
One theory that is not far from view about the sudden resignation of Reid was that he had come to the realization that Burnham couldn't save Guyana, and with an eventual collapse, he, Reid, would be exonerated from blame. If that was his intention, then he certainly succeeded for many believe that he was not there when Burnham presided on the disintegration of Guyana.
Another speculative account centers on Reid's health. The rigours of running an internationally isolated Guyana with a moribund economy and a relentless poly-class, multi-racial opposition was simply too physically and mentally taxing and death could easily come if an exit was not taken.
At the time of his resignation, Reid had a young family to support. Sadly enough, we can only speculate, since he has gone and his thoughts have not been recorded.
With the death of Mrs. Burnham, a part of Guyanese history is gone. An appropriate description of her could be “the reluctant politician.” Mrs. Burnham seemed more content to be a teacher than a leader.
One suspects that love for husband came before love for career. Knowing his capacity for brilliant Machiavellian moves, one could easily have imagined Burnham telling Viola that two Burnhams are better than one in politics.
One could well have envisaged a situation in which Burnham would insist that a leader must put his wife in a strategic position of power since human nature was not to be trusted.
She did become a politician and from all accounts I have heard she was modest and easy-going. In the end, she died believing that Burnham was a good man. We will never know why she felt so.