The Cooperative Republic
The 1968 elections allowed the PNC to rule without the UF. The
PNC won thirty seats, the PPP nineteen seats, and the UF four
seats. However, many observers claimed the elections were marred by
manipulation and coercion by the PNC. The PPP and UF were part of
Guyana's political landscape but were ignored as Burnham began to
convert the machinery of state into an instrument of the PNC.
After the 1968 elections, Burnham's policies became more
leftist as he announced he would lead Guyana to socialism. He
consolidated his dominance of domestic policies through
gerrymandering, manipulation of the balloting process, and
politicalization of the civil service. A few Indo-Guyanese were
coopted into the PNC, but the ruling party was unquestionably the
embodiment of the Afro-Guyanese political will. Although the
Afro-Guyanese middle class was uneasy with Burnham's leftist
leanings, the PNC remained a shield against Indo-Guyanese
dominance. The support of the Afro-Guyanese community allowed the
PNC to bring the economy under control and to begin organizing the
country into cooperatives.
On February 23, 1970, Guyana declared itself a ""cooperative
republic"" and cut all ties to the British monarchy. The governor
general was replaced as head of state by a ceremonial president.
Relations with Cuba were improved, and Guyana became a force in the
Nonaligned Movement. In August 1972, Burnham hosted the Conference
of Foreign Ministers of Nonaligned Countries in Georgetown. He used
this opportunity to address the evils of imperialism and the need
to support African liberation movements in southern Africa. Burnham
also let Cuban troops use Guyana as a transit point on their way to
the war in Angola in the mid- 1970s.
In the early 1970s, electoral fraud became blatant in Guyana.
PNC victories always included overseas voters, who consistently and
overwhelmingly voted for the ruling party. The police and military
intimidated the Indo-Guyanese. The army was accused of tampering
with ballot boxes.
Considered a low point in the democratic process, the 1973
elections were followed by an amendment to the constitution that
abolished legal appeals to the Privy Council in London. After
consolidating power on the legal and electoral fronts, Burnham
turned to mobilizing the masses for what was to be Guyana's
cultural revolution. A program of national service was introduced
that placed an emphasis on self-reliance, loosely defined as
Guyana's population feeding, clothing, and housing itself without
Government authoritarianism increased in 1974 when Burnham
advanced the ""paramountcy of the party."" All organs of the state
would be considered agencies of the ruling PNC and subject to its
control. The state and the PNC became interchangeable; PNC
objectives were now public policy.
Burnham's consolidation of power in Guyana was not total;
opposition groups were tolerated within limits. For instance, in
1973 the Working People's Alliance (WPA) was founded. Opposed to
Burnham's authoritarianism, the WPA was a multiethnic combination
of politicians and intellectuals that advocated racial harmony,
free elections, and democratic socialism. Although the WPA did not
become an official political party until 1979, it evolved as an
alternative to Burnham's PNC and Jagan's PPP.
Jagan's political career continued to decline in the 1970s.
Outmaneuvered on the parliamentary front, the PPP leader tried
another tactic. In April 1975, the PPP ended its boycott of
parliament with Jagan stating that the PPP's policy would change
from noncooperation and civil resistance to critical support of the
Burnham regime. Soon after, Jagan appeared on the same platform
with Prime Minister Burnham at the celebration of ten years of
Guyanese independence, on May 26, 1976.
Despite Jagan's conciliatory move, Burnham had no intention of
sharing powers and continued to secure his position. When overtures
intended to bring about new elections and PPP participation in the
government were brushed aside, the largely Indo-Guyanese sugar work
force went on a bitter strike. The strike was broken, and sugar
production declined steeply from 1976 to 1977. The PNC postponed
the 1978 elections, opting instead for a referendum to be held in
July 1978, proposing to keep the incumbent assembly in power.
The July 1978 national referendum was poorly received. Although
the PNC government proudly proclaimed that 71 percent of eligible
voters participated and that 97 percent approved the referendum,
other estimates put turnout at 10 to 14 percent. The low turnout
was caused in large part by a boycott led by the PPP, WPA, and
other opposition forces.
Burnham's control over Guyana began to weaken when the
Jonestown massacre brought unwanted international attention. In the
1970s, Jim Jones, leader of the People's Temple of Christ, moved
more than 1,000 of his followers from San Francisco to form
Jonestown, a utopian agricultural community near Port Kaituma in
western Guyana. The People's Temple of Christ was regarded by
members of the Guyanese government as a model agricultural
community that shared its vision of settling the hinterland and its
view of cooperative socialism. The fact that the People's Temple
was well-equipped with openly flaunted weapons hinted that the
community had the approval of members of the PNC's inner circle.
Complaints of abuse by leaders of the cult prompted United States
congressman Leo Ryan to fly to Guyana to investigate. The San
Francisco-area representative was shot and killed by members of the
People's Temple as he was boarding or airplane at Port Kaituma to
return to Georgetown. Fearing further publicity, Jones and more
than 900 of his followers died in a massive communal murder and
suicide. The November 1978 Jonestown massacre suddenly put the
Burnham government under intense foreign scrutiny, especially from
the United States. Investigations into the massacre led to
allegations that the Guyanese government had links to the fanatical
, ch. 2).
Although the bloody memory of Jonestown faded, Guyanese
politics experienced a violent year in 1979. Some of this violence
was directed against the WPA, which had emerged as a vocal critic
of the state and of Burnham in particular. One of the party's
leaders, Walter Rodney, and several professors at the University of
Guyana were arrested on arson charges. The professors were soon
released, and Rodney was granted bail. WPA leaders then organized
the alliance into Guyana's most vocal opposition party.
As 1979 wore on, the level of violence continued to escalate.
In October Minister of Education Vincent Teekah was mysteriously
shot to death. The following year, Rodney was killed by a car bomb.
The PNC government quickly accused Rodney of being a terrorist who
had died at the hands of his own bomb and charged his brother
Donald with being an accomplice. Later investigation implicated the
Guyanese government, however. Rodney was a well- known leftist, and
the circumstances of his death damaged Burnham's image with many
leaders and intellectuals in less- developed countries who earlier
had been willing to overlook the authoritarian nature of his
A new constitution was promulgated in 1980
(see Constitution of 1980
, ch. 4). The old ceremonial post of president was abolished,
and the head of government became the executive president, chosen,
as the former position of prime minister had been, by the majority
party in the National Assembly. Burnham automatically became
Guyana's first executive president and promised elections later in
the year. In elections held on December 15, 1980, the PNC claimed
77 percent of the vote and forty-one seats of the popularly elected
seats, plus the ten chosen by the regional councils. The PPP and UF
won ten and two seats, respectively. The WPA refused to participate
in an electoral contest it regarded as fraudulent. Opposition
claims of electoral fraud were upheld by a team of international
observers headed by Britain's Lord Avebury.
The economic crisis facing Guyana in the early 1980s deepened
considerably, accompanied by the rapid deterioration of public
services, infrastructure, and overall quality of life. Blackouts
occurred almost daily, and water services were increasingly
unsatisfactory. The litany of Guyana's decline included shortages
of rice and sugar (both produced in the country), cooking oil, and
kerosene. While the formal economy sank, the black market economy
in Guyana thrived.
In the midst of this turbulent period, Burnham underwent
surgery for a throat ailment. On August 6, 1985, while in the care
of Cuban doctors, Guyana's first and only leader since independence
unexpectedly died. An epoch had abruptly ended. Guyana was suddenly
in the post-Burnham era.
Data as of January 1992