Jan 19, 2021 Letters
We are often told not to say bad things about the dead. I remember Llewelyn John as playing a constructive role in restoration of democracy as well as being involved in skullduggery in electoral rigging. He was also an administrator of several properties of persons who migrated and even served as executor of some. They did not paint him in a positive light and would rebuff some of the tributes of the Bar Association.
John played a positive role in restoration of democracy in Guyana, but we must not remember him only in that context. I remember his name in the late 1960s and 1970s growing up as a little boy. He played a key role in election rigging and the establishment of the Burnham dictatorship. Perhaps he was helpless and had to execute Burnham’s instructions to rig elections. He made up the election register for the 1968 rigging assuring the opposition it would not be final and that it would be corrected of non-existent names, the dead, foreigners, etc. It was not corrected as we discovered for the 1968 rigging that horses, mules, donkeys, goats, sheep, etc were found to have registered in foreign addresses and did cast ballots, off course for the PNC.
Llewelyn was viewed as a “right wing” and because he was too close with and cultured in the life of Colored people; he was never trusted by Burnham who had contempt for the Coloreds. Burnham used him to downsize agriculture and to enforce the ban on (Indian) foods. And after he served his purpose to help emaciate the Coloreds and Portuguese and weakening the hold of Indians in agriculture, Burnham got rid of him. After he fell out with Burnham, he exposed rigging, similar to the late Foreign Minister Fred Willis who also was silent on rigging while a beneficiary and who only exposed rigging after his fall out with Burnham.
I had known Llewelyn, as I called him, quite well as I also know Fred Wills. I met both separately in New York and had several interactions. I also interacted with Llewelyn in Guyana and encountered him a few times in Georgetown walking alone with his marquee brief case. When I was President of the Graduate Student government at CCNY, I approved funding for Fred Willis lectures on campus. Both Willis and Llewelyn were scathing in their condemnations of Burnham but only after the dictator’s death in August 1985. And they both called Burnham an election rigger, a dictator, a racist, and a murderer. They implicated Burnham in the murder of several political opponents, including Walter Rodney and Father Bernard Darke and other WPA activists. They told separate public gatherings in NY that they opposed Burnham’s banning of basic foods – I can’t say whether they were appeasing the Indians in the crowd since most banned foods (like flour, channa, dal, alou, onions, garlic, etc.) affected Indians much more than other ethnic groups.
Llewelyn visited NY a few times and stayed in Brooklyn at some relative. He was impressed with the activism of a group of us in NY and requested to meet. Almost all of the anti-dictatorial groups in NY were Indians. We met for the first time in the late 1980s with my colleagues Baytoram Ramharack, Vassan Ramracha, and others, discussing strategies for the struggle against the dictatorship and the restoration of democracy. We also organized a lecture for him in Jamaica, Queens around 1990. By this time, Llewelyn’s PDM had joined the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD). He, like Eusi Kwayana, Cheddi, Paul Tennassee, Manzoor Nadir, etc. would give updates of the PCD’s work and the struggle against the Hoyte dictatorship whenever each visited NY. I would help to organize and or promote the meetings since I was deeply immersed in the Guyanese and Caribbean media. Llewelyn spoke with a soft tone but he gave a powerful message that democracy must be returned to Guyana. He laughed off and apologized for his role in election rigging.
Llewelyn was a member of the middle class League of Colored Peoples that would merge with Burnham’s PNC. He became a member of parliament in December 1964 and served as a Minister of government including at different times at Agriculture, Local, and Home Affairs. He helped planned and organized the 1968 rigging. I remember as a little boy running errands to various homes in Ankerville reminding those who did not cast ballot to come out and vote only to have the election stolen. Llewelyn was given Ministry of Home Affairs. I do not recall if he was on the electoral list for the 1973 elections. I believed he was ‘shacked out” by Burnham. That Ministry was critical in the instructions to the armed forces and police to seize the ballot boxes during the evening of the July 1973 elections, facilitating the change in the ballots that handed Burnham a landslide victory. I was only 13 and helped to round up voters to cast ballots in Ankerville, home of Cheddi. My effort was in vain. Days later, ballots marked PPP and or Liberator Party were found strewn over cane fields and the Atlantic Ocean washing up on the shore. The PNC had 42% support in 1964 that would have declined to about 40% by 1968 because of corruption, racism, and bad governance while the Indian population was growing in composition. By 1973, PNC support would have declined to around 35% because the composition of the Indian population had grown to around 55%. The African population was decreasing while the Amerindians was increasing in composition. The Portuguese, Chinese, and Coloreds (Mixed) had commenced migration to greener pastures by 1973. Yet Burnham claimed 68% victory. Llewelyn formed the PDM; he had also linked up with Brindley Benn and Jainarine Singh who had a falling out with Jagan. It was never really determined how much support he commanded because elections were rigged.
Llewelyn was not comfortable talking about rigging. But he apologized for his role in the rigging and for helping to build Burnham and creating Burnhamism. Fred Wills also apologized for his role in the rise of Burnhamism and for his silence while serving his master.
It is not clear why Llewelyn fell out with Burnham. But I was told Llewelyn wanted to empower local government and was not too enthusiastic about Burnham’s plan to enact legislation that would enable his stay in power. There was also personality conflict as there was between Fred Wills and Burnham. Llewelyn said PNC rigged elections because the Africans would have had no chance of winning a free and fair election.
Llewelyn formed the PDM and it became a member of the PCD after some time. He was a founder of Vanguard for Liberation and Democracy that included Brindley Benn and Jainarine Singh. When Paul Tennassee, founder of DLM who also became a member of PCD, was kidnapped by Burnham’s goons in 1984, Llewelyn filed the writ of habeaus corpus. The VLD gave solidarity to Tennasse when he was fired from UG. Lawyers were afraid of Burnham and did not want to take up cases. Jainarine Singh and Llewelyn defended Tennassee. In a judicial matter before Judge Sabola, Tennasse was charged for imported G$40 dollars without permission. Custom officer Bahadur approved of Tennassee going outside and getting the $40 to pay duties on tires rather than pay with Canadian currency. The case was laughable.
Llewelyn was on record condemning the Hoyte rigging of December 1985; Hamilton Green was the chief architect of that rigging. Llewelyn joined a PCD delegation with Cheddi, Nanda Gopaul, Eusi Kwayana, and others traveling to Barbados where they met Rickey Singh, Aubrey Armstrong, and other reputable Guyanese residents on the island. They presented their case for the restoration of democratic governance in Guyana then Prime Minister Bernard St. John. That and other meetings with Caribbean leaders of other islands would help to pressure Hoyte to agree to electoral reforms paving the way for the country’s first free and fair elections in October 1992. For that role, the nation expresses its gratitude. Regrettably, Llewelyn would return to the PNC and like Hammie Green was rehabilitated by David Granger. Llewelyn was silently critical of the terrible governance of the APNU+AFC coalition, but I do not know if he supported the attempted rigging of March 2020. The mouth is silenced by those who feed it.
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