THE PNC-UF COALITION GOVERNMENT IN CONTROL
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With the UF joining the PNC in a coalition just before Christmas 1964, the British Government further amended the Guyana constitution on 22 December allowing the Premier to appoint more than nine Ministers. Immediately after, Burnham re-designated himself as Prime Minister and appointed a cabinet of 12 Ministers, including four from the UF. The UF leader, Peter D'Aguiar was named as Minister of Finance. (Two others, including Shridath Ramphal, as Attorney General, were added to the cabinet by May 1965).
The new House of Assembly held its first meeting in early January 1965 and A.P. Alleyne was elected as Speaker. The PPP members did not attend the session; the Party had earlier announced that as a form of protest over the way it was removed from office, it would boycott of the sittings of the House of Assembly.
In a statement in the House of Assembly, Burnham revealed that the government planned to send special missions abroad to recruit skilled Guyanese to help in the country's development. He also announced that his government would ask the British Government to grant independence to Guyana before the end of the year.
On 10 January 1965, Burnham paid a two-visit to Venezuela where he held discussions with President Raul Leoni and other Venezuelan officials. Part of the discussions centred on the on-going examination of the document pertaining to the 1899 Arbitral Award on the Guyana-Venezuela boundary.
At the end of January, Burnham went to London to attend the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. There he also held discussions with Greenwood and later met with Guyanese nationals whom he asked to return to Guyana to assist in the task of nation building.
Around the same time, the British Government announced that it would make available $12 million (Eastern Caribbean) to Guyana for on-going development projects. One month later, the US Government announced a grant of US$4.7 million for the road works programme in Guyana and a US$2.6 million for the building of a new international airport terminal and improved runway at Atkinson Field.
Meanwhile, parts of East and West Demerara were affected by acts of sabotage which damaged bridges, aqueducts and railway and telephone infrastructure. Bombing incidents occurred at frequent intervals throughout the first half of the year and they were blamed on PPP supporters expressing their opposition to the new government. As a result of these occurrences, additional British troops arrived in Guyana to help maintain security.
Sections of the Indian population also expressed their displeasure with the new PNC-UF coalition. The Union of Indian Organisations, claiming to represent Hindu and Muslim organisations, issued a statement on 16 January 1965 warning that it would press its demand for the partition of the country since it had no confidence in the government.
On 10 February 1965, the Maha Sabha and the United Sad'r Islamic Anjuman, representing Hindus and Muslims, protested publicly against what they termed the political erosion of the civil service and the victimisation of Indian civil servants.
Shortly after, the Guiana United Muslim party stated that it was against partition since this was inimical to the interests of Muslims. But if a decision was in favour of partition, the party said it would want a separate state for Muslims.
The PPP also condemned the demands for partition and so did its youth arm, the Progressive Youth Organisation.
Faced with this state of affairs, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Anthony Greenwood, arrived in Guyana on 12 February 1965 for discussions with the new Government and to have a first-hand look at the situation in the country. During his three-day visit, he was greeted by huge pro-PPP rallies all over the country. At these rallies, the PPP demanded an end to the existing state of emergency, the release of PPP detainees, new elections under the first-past-the-post or constituency system, the reduction of the voting age of 18 years, and a racial balance in the police force. The PPP also demanded that Governor Luyt should be dismissed because of his obvious partiality in the December 1964 elections.
Greenwood rejected outright all the PPP demands. When Dr. Jagan and a PPP delegation met with him in Georgetown, the he asked the PPP to abandon its boycott of the House of Assembly. But when he was requested to end the state of emergency and release the detainees, he erroneously said that such decisions were under the control of the PNC-UF Government. Dr. Jagan had to remind him that the Governor was in control of the state of emergency. It was not until 14 April 1965, by another constitutional amendment in the British Parliament, did the British Government hand over powers to the coalition Government to take control of the state of emergency.
Dr. Jagan also asked Greenwood to appoint a commission to examine the racial imbalance in the police force, but the Colonial Secretary said he would have to first consult with the PNC-UF Government. He apparently did so, and later in the year, the government invited the International Commission of Jurists, without consulting the PPP on its terms of reference, to examine the issue.
The PPP, now in opposition, suffered from opportunism within its ranks. Sheik Mohammed Saffee, named by the Party as one of its 24 members of House of Assembly, broke the Party's parliamentary boycott in early April and was sworn in as a member of the House. He was immediately expelled from the PPP, but he continued to sit on the opposition side until later in the year when he crossed the floor on becoming a member of the PNC.
On the political front, the PPP launched a "Freedom March" across the coast of Guyana on 5 April 1965 demanding the release of the political prisoners held at Sibley Hall on the Mazaruni River. The massive march ended on 17 April at Zeeburg, West Demerara, where the party held its annual two-day congress. The congress analysed the political situation in the country and decided to end the Party's boycott of the House of Assembly. In an address to the congress, Dr. Jagan said that the PPP must use the legislative forum, not only to launch direct attacks on the coalition government's policies, but also to represent the interests of the people in that body. The Party finally took up its remaining 23 seats in the House on 18 May 1965.
At Mackenzie, the PNC also held its annual congress on the Easter weekend of 17-18 April. Burnham, in his address to the delegates, urged them to ensure that the PPP must never be allowed to regain power in Guyana. Burnham had already been delivering this message to his supporters in his "meet the people" tours started earlier in the month. He also visited PPP strongholds and areas marked by deep racial divisions. One of these areas included the neighbouring "Indian" village of Clonbrook and the "African" village of Ann's Grove, separated from each other by a high barbed wire fence termed the "Berlin Wall". Burnham urged the villagers on both sides to remove the fence, but they decided to open only a small part to allow access to the villages by pedestrians.
In terms of trade, some early successes were achieved. The Cuban Government signed an agreement with the Rice Marketing Board to purchase 3,500 tons of rice, valued one million Eastern Caribbean (EC) dollars. Cuba also signed a separate agreement with the Guyana Import Export Company (GIMPEX) for the purchase of 30,000 railways sleepers valued EC$200,000.
The Government also signed a 25-year agreement with the American-owed Reynolds Mining Company operating at Kwakwani with the aim of boosting production and annual revenues.
During May, the inquest by a five-member coroner jury into the Sun Chapman launch tragedy of July 1964 returned a unanimous verdict that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that any one was criminally responsible for the death of 34 persons who died in the mishap.
Also in May, in a measure which pleased the American Government, the Government removed the ban on American citizens, Dr. Joost Sluis and Fred Schwartz, who had been declared prohibitive immigrants in 1964 due to their open involvement in plans to overthrow the PPP Government.
The coalition Government faced its first major political test when Burnham announced plans to re-organise the rice industry by making changes to the Rice Marketing Board, removing its control from the rice farmers and placing it in the hands of the government. This plan was widely regarded as anti-democratic since it was intended to remove the rice producers' influence in the management of their own industry. As expected, this move was opposed by the rice farmers, most of whom were PPP supporters. On 20 May 1965 hundreds of rice farmers protested on the street in front of the House of Assembly where the bill to reconstitute the Rice Marketing Board was being debated. In a severe act of repression, mounted police and armed policemen with police dogs violently broke up the peaceful demonstration and many persons were seriously injured. Two days later, the controversial bill was passed by the PNC-UF majority and the PPP legislators walked out in protest.