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By Aubrey W. Bonnett, PhD

On old year’s eve, Guyana laid to rest one of its political stalwarts, Desmond Hoyte, a leader for all seasons, a patriot on whom the mantle of national leadership was thrust in 1985, amidst his own devastating personal and familial misfortune and the national tragedy of a nation adrift in a sea of political malaise, economic dysfunctionality and abject social and ethnic cleavages. Guyana was at a crossroad.

Hoyte was no born leader cut from the traditional mould of fiery labor leaders or orators with a strong charismatic proclivity, but rather he was a situational leader who was grounded in reality, had a vision of greatness for the nation and himself, and though not a scholar/intellectual in the customary manner, was anchored in pragmatism, lofty ideas and letters and fascinated with the liberating and egalitarian potential of the rule of law, of which he was an ardent practitioner. He was also, as my late Dad, a Linden nee Buxtonian resident would state, “in touch with his ‘roots’ and empathized with his base”.

During his tenure as Head of State, he attempted to bring stability to the nation in three main ways. His economic recovery program (ERP) was designed for both an external and internal audience. Externally, by signaling to the international lending agencies and external markets that Guyana was about to shift its economic policies and try to get its economic house in order. Internally, it sent a strong message to the Indo-Guyanese commercial sector that he was willing to facilitate their growth, in return, he thought, for their later political support.

Secondly, he moved internally to bifurcate, somewhat, the party from the state (remember Odo’s dictum – the paramountcy of the party) and in so doing moved to sidelines the diehard “Odo” stalwarts by limiting their access to the power of the state, and indirectly to him, by a process of benign neglect. Some would argue that this policy went too far to the extent that it even impacted the former first Lady, Viola Burnham, and lost him the support of segments of the more influential members of the “moderate ranks” of the party and its women’s arm- especially overseas. But Hoyte did this to show that he was his own man and in control of the state apparatus. This action was also aided by incipient reforms in the civil sector combined with a reigning in of the police and private “paramilitary” security units then existing in the country. Externally, and this is salient, his concessions to electoral reform earned him international plaudits and recognition, and paved the way for a relatively fair elections which resulted in his demise from the Presidency- a result which he pragmatically accepted.

Finally, Desmond Hoyte established himself as a supreme regionalist, a muted political integrationist, and rapidly built his knowledge base by associating with renowned technocrats and scholars and executing and implementing policies that effectuated it. Hoyte’s leadership was indeed a man for all seasons, circa 1992.

Much happened later to sully his reputation, due to some of his own missteps and failed assumptions, but that analysis is for another time - suffice it to say that there is no national leader, anywhere, who does not have his/her Achilles heel - and Hoyte was no exception. He served his Nation well and will be remembered as the leader who reintroduced fledgling democratic norms into the society.

And so on Hoyte’s death, the nation finds itself at a leadership crossroads once again - not only the state mind you, but the nation. In the aftermath of political sovereignty in the Caribbean, the era of mass charismatic leaders of the ilk of Bustamante, Manley, Marryshaw, Williams, Gairy, Burnham/Jagan is over - although there are still some resounding echoes in Brazil and Venezuela. In Guyana there is no leader, in the state or the national parties, who can unite the masses by overcoming the tentacles of racial/ethnic divisions and suspicions. The enmities and suspicions run deep and the power of countervailing institutions and ideas (meritocracy, the rule of law, true market economy sine massive corruption, the liberating role of educational institutions and the media for instance) are at best limited, in that they are still influenced by agents of the state or beset by contending imperatives - that of fighting for survival on the one hand as opposed to taking ethical stances on the other.

What devastated Hoyte, for example, and politically harmed Jagan to a lesser extent, was their inability to foresee the narrow interests of the Indo-Guyanese burgeoning capitalist sector. Hoyte felt that by appealing to that sector’s economic interests they would abandon their ethnic base for the good of the nation, as he saw it. They did not and Hoyte, feeling cheated and devastated, reverted “in toto” by appealing to and shoring up his ethnic base, thereby compounding rather than alleviating the ethnic malaise in the society.

Earlier Jagan, while lukewarm to the notion of a Caribbean political federation, was militated against it by the same Indo-Guyanese business sector which the PPP and Jagan had promised superordinacy in the junior chamber of commerce then headed by the Portuguese, local whites and the colored “classes”. That sector was timorous of taking its chances in a political /economic federation in which they would have been demographically outflanked. Jagan blinked, and that decision cost him the support of likeminded ideological stalwarts, Rory Westmaas and Martin Carter for example, who thought they were more ideologically akin to Jagan than Burnham, and were surprised by Jagan’s acquiescence to what they reasoned was sectoral, divisive politics.

What Hoyte’s death now does is to present us with another chance to become involved and play the leading, if not major, role in a new Caribbean political, economic and social federation. I have opined on the parameters of this in an earlier edition of this medium, and contended that this is the only viable alternative for mini states in the region to make the “small man a real man”, or to be left behind in the dustbins of political and economic irrelevancy, fiscal stagnation and political mayhem. It is within this context that Prime Minister Manning’s of Trinidad recent indications that he will attempt to pursue such an initiative through Caricom is well worth noting.

Some may fault me for pursuing this thematic direction at this period and argue for a full court press on “power sharing” or some variant thereof. Although I would concede that these positions are not mutually exclusive ones, I would still contend, as I did earlier, that possession of the mere political paraphernalia of independence is “pseudo independence”, for no nation is truly independent. Today rather, the prevailing international norms are interdependence and robust interconnectedness. Hoyte’s successor, at this crucial juncture, would ideally extend the positive aspects of his legacy and serve the nation well at this crossroad by forging ahead on an agenda of political and regional federation.

It is hoped that both the party (PNC) and the leadership of the state will eventually see the wisdom of this policy option for the good of the nation, and so the chaos and confusion that marred Hoyte’s interment would be replaced by the perseverance, clarity and consensus of a new year’s dawn.



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