• 23 May, 2024

Deserving Honorees of Champions of Democracy in Guyana

Deserving Honorees of Champions of Democracy in Guyana

Deserving Honorees of Champions of Democracy in Guyana

Guyana's President Irfaan Ali announced three weeks ago that “Democracy Award” honors would be made on Oct 5 this year, the anniversary of the first free and fair elections in independent Guyana in 1992. There were no announcements or requests for nominations. No criteria (criterion) were (was) made available to make nomination. The date has fast approached. Some writers have since made suggestions on who (including organizations) should be honored with a “Democracy Award” because of their role in saving or rescuing democracy in 2020.

Given our long history of struggle for freedom and democracy, a “Democracy Award” is most apt to recognize the contributions of individuals and organizations who made significant contributions championing, advocating for, institutionalizing, defending, and protecting democracy and who did so consistently. There are not too many. Only a handful of individuals were consistently involved in the struggle for democracy in Guyana from the 1960s till today. Some were previously honored for contributions to nation. Some of the activists' lives, livelihood, career, family, education, physical safety, and comfort in jeopardy and used personal funds struggling for democracy in Guyana; they and families encountered tremendous suffering during that long battle. Others (including many who did not participate in the struggle) became beneficiaries from the sacrifices of those who championed democracy. Guyana owes a debt of gratitude to those who made sacrifices and played significant role to protect or champion or advocate for democracy. They didn’t have to make those sacrifices; they did so voluntarily to save nation. Their contributions are highly appreciated. They should be recognized for their work.




Mass media commentators Jai Lall, Freddie Kissoon, Dr Jerry Jailal and a few other writers offered nominations for the honor restricting it to the period March 2 to August 2020. Indeed, democracy was rescued during that period of struggle. But the threat to democracy was not confined just to the elections of March 2020 but also to the period between December 18, 2018 (date of no confidence motion or NCM) and March 2020. And democracy was totally absent between 1966 and 1992. Guyana became an authoritarian state right after independence in May 1966. Some politicians and independent thinkers and academics stated that it became a fascist ethnic state during the 1970s thru the 1980s. Others penned it was an almost totalitarian state. Democracy was restored in Guyana in October 1992 with the country’s first democratic elections that was won by the PPP. Several individuals locally and internationally (the diaspora) participated in that struggle that made the return of democracy possible. Some contributed more than others. Any ‘Democracy Award’ must also consider the role of those who championed democracy after independence in 1966 thru 1992 and between December 19, 2018 (when government announced it would not recognize the outcome of the NCM) and March 2, 2020 when elections were finally held some twelve months after it was due (March 2019 as per the constitution and global precedents).  And there aren’t too many proponents of democracy who were consistently and persistently involved in that struggle for democracy in Guyana between 1966 and now; only a handful of us (consistent, uncompromising, and unshakeable in our advocacy) are still around.  

In March 2021, the President announced there would be a “Democracy Award” to honor those who championed democracy. Nothing was heard about it again until three weeks ago when the President made an announcement. Jai Lall responded with a  suggested list of nominees for the “Democracy” honor (as restricted to 2020 struggle) inclusive of media houses, diplomats, letter writers (Sep 18 in Guyana media). I would like to add the name of Dr. Jerry Jailall, an exceptional letter writer to the list). Of those individuals and organizations (including international orgs) and even countries are those who stood on the side of democracy in 2020 but were opposed to it between 1966 and 1992. So as not to embarrass them, I will not cite names who sided with the government to remove democratic rights. Virtually no diplomat (except from India who did so silently in conversations among friends like myself) in Guyana or any country sided with Guyanese in the struggle for free and fair elections between 1966 and 1992. No government (none in CARICOM) or international organization (not even CARICOM, OAS, Commonwealth) condemned the rigging. Some members of American Congress and Indian politicians (like Trevor Sudama, Kelvin Ramnath, Basdeo Panday, Ramesh Maharaj) in Trinidad supported our struggle. Among individuals suggested for honor, one name participated in and even coordinated the rigging between 1966 and 1992. Another transported fraudulent ballots from different regions and was linked to the murder of Dr Walter Rodney. Are these individuals deserving of honor for standing on the side of democracy in 2020 but played a role in establishing (institutionalizing) the dictatorship after 1966?

Of the suggested nominees (as confined to the 2020 struggle), there are ground activists and writers and some who were more involved in one aspect of the struggle but not the other. Dr. Nanda Gopaul, for example, a founder of GUARD, was a leading activist, and though an outstanding author, did not pen much demanding democratic rights but was consistent in the struggle from 1966. Freddie Kissoon (and Jerry Jailal) were commentators in 2020 and also played some role as activists during the authoritarian years. Freddie was in the media after 1986 and Jerry after 2018. I ( Vishnu Bisram ) have functioned both as a ground activist and commentator post 1966. There are individuals, names not mentioned by nominator Jai Lall, whose writings were not pronounced in 2020 but who played extremely critical roles in writing and in activism pre-1992 and whose roles stood out – Dr. Baytoram Ramharack from 1978, Vassan Ramracha 1978 onwards, Ravi Dev (1987 onwards), among a few others. And there were several activists from pre-1992 period who were not very active in 2020 and not involved in the media but played prominent roles including Chuck Mohan, Mel Carpen, Flattie Singh, Raj Singh (late 1980s). Chuck was a dedicated activist in the same mould as the late Arjune Karshan, and they started the PPP support group in USA in the early 1970s. Mahadeo Persaud also played some role pre-1992 and in 2020. Joe Ragnauth (of DLM) was active pre-1992. There were individuals who were silent in 2020 but played significant role pre-1992. Dr. Dolly Hassan was extremely outspoken pre-1992. Dr Randy Persaud played a behind the scenes role in 2020. Unsung heroes Mike McCormack, Nigel Westmaas, Eusi Kwayana, Moses Bhagwan, among others did not condemn the rigging of 2020. And there were several other unsung heroes of pre-1992 who were cast aside like Alberty Rodrigues, Father (Monsignor) Terrence Montrose, Fr John Persaud (Jesuit), Sister Doreen Rowtie (blood ran down her gown standing up for democracy as goons mauled her, a brave, courageous woman), among others. Dr Vishnu Bandhu was very active in America and Guyana pre-1992 and onwards. Paul Tennassee was an outstanding champion of democracy pre-1992 and a victim of state sponsored violence. Charrandass voted against his government in the NCM - should he be honored? Some individuals got national awards like Kit Nascimiento from the PNC government. Not sure if Gerry Gouveia and Alberty were honored. Dr. Gopaul was never honored for his contributions to democracy.

Lesley Ramsammy was active around 1990 onwards and contested the 1992 elections. Lester Siddhartha Orie of Trinidad also the movement in NY and Guyana working with Ramsammy. There are several other figures who were also involved the FFE movement in the diaspora and in Guyana.
By no means am I suggesting that everyone mentioned above should be honored but their role should be recognized.

The government should right past wrongs by honoring champions of democracy now!

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

Dr Vishnu Bisram

Dr Vishnu Bisram is Guyanese born who received his primary and secondary education in Guyana and tertiary education in the US and India. He is a fourth generation Indian. His great grandparents from both his mother and father’s sides were born in India -- Gurbatore from Ghaizpur, Amru from Azamgarh, Sau from Chapra, Mangri from Mau, Bhuri and Bhura Singh from Bharatpur, among others. They all came at different times to then British Guiana (1880s and 1890s) to work on sugar plantations as indentured laborers. After serving ten years, they were freed laborers. They remained on the colony rather than returned to India, married and had children. They used the savings from indentureship to purchase landholdings to cement their ties to their adopted land. They were not given free land. Vishnu Bisram is ninth of twelve children of Gladys and Baldat, rural farmers, she also was a seamstress and he a taylor and they attended to a kitchen garden as well. Vishnu attended the St Joseph Anglican (called English) primary school from 1966 to 1972. In 1972, he passed the annual nationwide Common Entrance exam winning a scholarship place to attend the government Berbice High School in New Amsterdam, some 17 miles from his home village of Ankerville, Port Mourant. He declined the placement scholarship and opted instead for the private Chandisingh High School to which his family pad to pay a tuition. He entered for eight subjects at the Cambridge University Exam in 1977. Vishnu migrated to the USA in 1977 to further his studies. He enrolled at the City College of City University of New York September that year at age 17, studying Bio-Chemistry and also completing a major in Political Science. After his BSc in Bio-Chem, he pursued graduate studies in International Relations earning a MA. He went on to complete multiple post graduate degrees including doctorates in Economics, Sociology, History, Political Science and Educational Administration. Dr Bisram taught for over forty years in various subjects in the US. He also served as a newspaper reporter and columnist for over four decades and is a well-known pollster in the Caribbean region. He is a specialist on the Indian diaspora traveling extensively around the globe to research and write about Indian communities. He published countless articles on various subjects in the mass media, journals, and books. He also organized international conferences on the Indian diaspora and presented papers at many conferences. He was a guest lecturer at universities in Mauritius, India, Fiji, South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad, Suriname, USA, and other countries. He is a well regarded political analyst on American and Caribbean politics. He makes him home in Guyana, Trinidad, and America and travels frequently to India.