ANTI-GOVERNMENT VIOLENCE IN 1963
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The Labour Relations Bill was presented by the government to the House of Assembly in March 1963. Almost immediately, the PNC and the UF mounted a series of protest demonstrations in Georgetown, mainly around the Public Buildings when the House of Assembly was meeting. In his addresses during these demonstrations, Burnham incited the crowd with language that encouraged violence and hatred.
On March 17, a joint march by the PNC and TUC against unemployment occurred, and included in that demonstration were hooligans who attacked PPP and PYO members who held a counter demonstration outside the Governor's residence demanding independence for Guyana. Burnham, speaking at a PNC rally during the afternoon, congratulated his supporters for their violent attacks on the pro-independence supporters.
Then on March 24, Burnham again incited his supporters by telling them that the PPP was planning violence and that they the PNC supporters must be ready to "apply the remedy." This led to PNC and UF demonstrations around the Public Buildings on 27-28 March. The crowd broke through the police cordons and physically attacked PPP legislators.
The situation worsened on Friday 5 April when PNC demonstrations led to violent attacks on workers at the Rice Marketing Board and the looting of 10 stores in Georgetown. One looter was shot dead by the police.
On 18 April, the Civil Service Association (CSA) joined the strike despite having no grievances against the government; but it claimed it took the action to express solidarity with the TUC. However, many civil servants refused to stay away from work, but they were threatened and in some cases physically attacked by those on strike.
From the beginning of the strike, the political motives were clearly shown. Owners of large business places, generally supporters of the UF, openly supported the strike and locked up their offices and factories to prevent access to those who wanted to work. The sugar workers refused to strike, but the sugar companies refused to operate the sugar factories in the effort to keep sugar workers off their jobs. The bauxite companies also urged their workers to stay away from work while the Shipping Association refused to allow ships already in the harbour to be unloaded. This led to shortages of consumer food products, which resulted in hoarding and black-marketing. However, the shortage was temporary as locally produced items from mainly the rural areas were supplied to the population.
Clearly, the action of big-business was aimed at overthrowing the government since it was unusual for such entities to encourage their employees not to work!
International travel was seriously affected because airlines ceased operations. The Trinidad-owned British West Indian Airways was prepared to break this air blockade but the Trinidad government ordered that the flights must be cancelled. Dr. Jagan sent his private secretary, Jack Kelshall, a Trinidadian, to Port of Spain urge the Prime Minister, Dr. Eric Williams, to re-consider this issue, but Williams refused to meet with him.
Oil supplies were also cut off from Trinidad and, as a result, fuel for rice farmers was very limited resulting in the loss of nearly one-third of the expected rice crop. Oil companies willing to ship oil were threatened with sabotage, and this forced Dr. Jagan to ask the Governor to seek the assistance of the British navy to protect oil shipments. When the Governor refused to comply with this request for naval assistance, Dr. Jagan appealed to the Cuban government for help. The Cuban government immediately sent shipments of oil which greatly alleviated the situation. The American oil companies operating in Guyana refused the government's request to use their empty storage tanks at East Bank Demerara, but Shell and the Electricity Corporation provided their facilities for this purpose.
The local newspapers, which openly supported the opposition, shamelessly incited violence and racial hatred and almost daily called for the overthrow of the government. The government was accused of being "communist" and the media carried stories that children would be taken away from their parents to be indoctrinated to work in factories built by the communists!
The opposition political parties also distributed handbills urging people to use violence against PPP supporters and instigating a violent coup d'etat. And after a series of violent attacks on peaceful citizens and bombing of some business places, the police in early May raided Congress Place, the headquarters of the PNC where a large cache of arms and ammunition, chemicals for bomb-making, and documents detailing assassination plans were found.
One of the documents gave details of a PNC terrorist organization working under a plan called "X-13" aimed at causing violence and overthrowing the government. The document stated that the head of the terrorist organization was "Comrade Van Genderen" who was "responsible directly to the leader Comrade L. F. S. Burnham for project, plans, etc., of this organization." The head of the terrorist organization was subsequently identified by the police as Edward Van Genderen, a leading member of the PNC.
The police, shortly after, prepared a research paper on 14 August 1963 for the Governor, Sir Ralph Grey, on the PNC terrorist organization. The paper documented that on 31 May 1963, "Edward Van Genderen left British Guiana for Paramaribo. L. F. S. Burnham later told a trusted party member that Van Genderen had left for New York via Paramaribo for the purpose of learning to make bombs to be used by the party." It also listed the names of the 50 members, including one American "trade unionist," Gerald O'Keefe, who was advising the TUC during the strike. This "unionist" was subsequently identified as a CIA agent.
This research paper on the PNC terrorist organization proved to be very embarrassing to the political opponents of the PPP, including the British and American governments which were giving covert assistance to them. As a result the Governor prevented the release of the report to the general public and did not even make it available to the Premier. (It was not until early 1964 information of the existence of this report was exposed after Janet Jagan, the Minister of Home Affairs, managed to obtain a clandestine copy. But after the PPP printed copies of it for public circulation, the Governor immediately declared it illegal for anyone to have possession of a copy of the document.)
Even opposition supporters were shocked when the information of the discovery at Congress Place was announced by the police. This caused a temporary lull in the violence and the TUC tried to disassociate itself from the PNC plot by claiming that its campaign during the strike was based on "passive resistance."
But towards the end of May, opposition instigated violence erupted again. It began after Burnham addressed a large crowd of his supporters on 24 May in Georgetown and telling them that agitation must move away from the legislature to "places where they grow rice." This was clearly a reference to PPP areas of support and, soon after, violent attacks were made on people in East Coast Demerara, an area of PPP strength.
With the arrival of oil from Cuba, the TUC's stranglehold on the government was loosened and more and more workers were breaking the strike. The PNC then openly took over the leadership of the TUC and there followed increased attacks on individuals - mainly Indians - homes and government buildings. Even a mosque in East Demerara was destroyed by a bomb blast.
On 30 May a serious outbreak of violence occurred at the funeral of Claude Christian, the Minister of Home Affairs, who died suddenly of a heart attack. The funeral service at the Brickdam Cathedral was interrupted constantly by a hostile noisy crowd of anti-government supporters outside on the street. At the graveside at the La Repentir cemetery in Georgetown the hostile mob stoned the mourners who included members of the government. This mob then rampaged through the streets of the city beating Indians and damaging stores and other business places. People of other races who tried to stop this assault were also subjected to beatings. The violence continued throughout the night, and became a daily pattern in Georgetown when Indians were beaten and robbed often in full view of the police. Some PPP legislators were also physically attacked on leaving the House of Assembly.
As expected, these acts of violence led to retaliation in some rural areas where Africans were attacked by Indians. The onslaught led by the PNC caused distress even among supporters of the opposition, and it caused Dr. Donald Jabeez Taitt, a founder-member of the PNC, to accuse Burnham of leading his followers "into a blind alley of improvised tribalism," and appealed to him to "change his course and lead in the right direction."
In a letter published in the Daily Chronicle of 15 June 1963, Taitt pointed out that "while Burnham rejected Sydney King's boldly stated racialism . . . . at the same time he failed to restrain a scarcely disguised use of the very same appeal to race on the part of his constituency candidates."
Taitt remarked that as Burnham himself rejected the verdict of the 1961 polls he thus persuaded his own followers to do likewise. The rejection was expressed by a continuance of public meetings involving an appeal similar to that of the pre election meetings and calculated to maintain and even heighten discontent with the verdict at the polls.
Dr. Taitt added:
He [Burnham] took pains to eschew violence while at the same time sedulously fanning the embers of hate and fear among his followers, which he should have known would erupt into violence directed against their fellow Guianese who had done them no wrong.
In his country's legislature he led his opposition members in adopting a role such as one would expect from a communist group bent not on ensuring that the government in power use its interest of the country as a whole during the term for which it is elected, but rather on making it impossible for it to govern at all.
In continuance of his rejection of the country's will as expressed at the elections, he allied himself, his party in the legislature, and his followers outside, with the activities of any special interest group hostile to the recently elected Government so much so as to appear disregardful of the interests of the community as a whole and of his own responsibility for those interests as the leader of a democratic opposition.
Dr. Taitt accused Burnham of turning his back on national unity, unlike leaders of emergent territories. He concluded:
Mr. Burnham has led his followers away from this road into a blind alley of improvised tribalism at variance with the economic and social realities of the two major ethnic groups in our country for they were already well on their way to national integration. . . It is not too late for Mr. Burnham to change his course and lead in the right direction.
But Dr. Taitt's appeal went unheeded. On 10 June, the PNC had already begun a campaign of using women and children supporters to squat in front and inside government buildings and utilizing gangs of young men on foot or on bicycles to attack Indians on the streets of Georgetown. The situation worsened on the following day and when Dr. Jagan told the Commissioner of Police that the mobs were breaching the emergency proclamation, he disagreed and refused to act. Looting broke out shortly at the Stabroek Market and several Indians were again beaten on the street in the full view of the police.
Dr. Jagan then asked the Governor to call a meeting to include the Commissioner of Police and the Commander of the British troops stationed in Guyana. At the meeting Dr. Jagan asked the Governor to order the use of British troops to help stem the disorder since the police seemed incapable of doing so. A further meeting took place the following morning and the Commander of the troops declared that he would not deploy the army, even though the Commissioner of Police supported Dr. Jagan's request. Dr. Jagan again appealed to the Governor to make an official request for the troops, but the Governor refused.
That morning the mobs on the street became even more violent. They laid siege to the Public Buildings which also housed the Premier's office. Dr. Jagan made efforts to get the Governor and the Police Commissioner to visit the scene but they refused to budge. It was as if they had received other instructions to allow the mob to cause as much violence as possible and to overthrow the government. In the meantime, the Minister of Education, Cedric Nunes, was beaten and stoned in the presence of the police as he tried to reach his office just across the street from the Public Buildings.
At around mid-afternoon, Dr. Jagan, accompanied by two body guards and Superintendent Carl Austin, was leaving the Public Buildings when his car was stoned and then surrounded by a hostile crowd armed with bottles, iron bars, stones and pieces of wood. The car windows were smashed, but as some in the mob tried to get at Dr. Jagan, Superintendent Carl Austin and the two bodyguards fired their pistols and the driver managed to manoeuvre the car away from the scene. This action of the mob was clearly an attempt to assassinate Dr. Jagan.
This incident was followed by a greater spate of violence. Mobs invaded the Law Courts and the office of the United Nations. Some government buildings were dynamited and an attempt was made to destroy the Rice Marketing Board wharf where workers were loading rice on a Cuban ship. A large quantity of dynamite planted by saboteurs was found attached to the woodwork under the wharf.
Violence continued throughout the month until early June when, through the intervention of the British TUC, the strike came to an end. (See Chapter 162). By that time, 9 persons were murdered, 2 others were killed by police gunfire, 40 persons were injured and 3 women raped. In addition, 19 buildings in Georgetown and 5, including a mosque, in the countryside were bombed. There were also 53 cases of arson and attempted arson.