Kaieteur News – In 1978, a movie was released by United Artistes. The Wild Geese was not a spectacular box office hit but given that it was a form of action movie, it did reasonably well to turn a small profit and to have a sequel.
The plot was quite simple. It was about a group of British mercenaries who were hired to rescue a deposed African leader who was being held captive by a dictator.
At the time, Walter Rodney and the Working People’s Alliance were presenting the first real challenge to Forbes Burnham’s then four-year-old unbroken rule. The very idea of Guyanese being exposed to an innocuous movie about mercenaries attempting a political rescue mission was sufficient to drive fear into the government. It did, and so much so, that Burnham banned the movie from Guyana.
One of the pretexts of the ban was that it negatively portrayed scenes of apartheid South Africa. But anyone who has seen the movie would downplay the significance of this reason; the real fear was the rejection of mercenaries being used for a political cause. That very thought drove fear into the hearts of the Guyanese dictator.
Dictators are so insecure that they wished to even control your private lives. This was evidently the case in Guyana during the reign of the despot Forbes Burnham who not only dictated what you should eat, what you should wear and how you should live, but also what movies you are allowed to see in the local cinemas.
Burnham decided what you could do and could not do. He decided what foods you could eat, restricting a wide range of items, restrictions that were virtual bans.
He decided that some school children had to wear Sanata cotton and attend Mass Games. His photograph and that of his Ministers adorned the covers of school exercise books. University students were required to serve one-year National Service, including a stint at one of the hinterland camps where they were exposed to military training and hard labour in the infertile cotton and legume fields. There were reports of women being sexually molested.
Burnham limited your employment options. State enterprises commanded 80 percent of the economy and therefore most people worked for the State. But a party card was automatic passport for a job. So in order to get a job, your political beliefs had to synchronise with that of the ruling party.
And Burnham ensured that they were. Workers were subject to political indoctrination. They were required to attend ideological training programmes. For Republic Day observances, workers were coerced, sometime under the threat of dismissal, to march in what was known as the People’s Parade. Many did so in order to avoid joining the ranks of the more than 30,000 who were retrenched. In order to avoid dismissal, many went reluctantly to clean drains and do hard work at Plantation Hope, while Burnham gallivanted around, like an overseer on his horse, sometimes in the company of one of his concubines.
Women avoided eye contact with Burnham. It was whispered that he used to instruct his guards to bring some women to entertain him at the Residence, his official office. During the Rodney Commission of Inquiry, it was revealed that one of the reasons why the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA) fell out with Burnham was because of his treatment of women.
Freedom of the press was dead. The only non-government publications were a small weekly independent religious newspaper, the Mirror newspaper, which was associated with the PPP and the rag of the ruling party, the People’s National Congress. News was tightly controlled including by some who would now have you believe that they were always paragons of freedom.
A highly militarised society developed. The ruling PNC had its own thugs, including recruits from the House of Israel. And spies were everywhere. You were subject to security questioning even if you were just a schoolmate of an Opposition member, as one former colleague of Rupert Roopnarine found out when he stopped one day to talk with him on the roadway.
Freedom had evaporated. It was in that time that the Death Squad, a notorious group within the Guyana Police Force, emerged. Human Rights reports during that period referred to extra-judicial killings. In one instance, a woman was shot dead by a bodyguard of a Minister when she visited a government office. Thugs were let loose on striking workers and political meetings were broken up. Opposition political activists, especially those from the Working People’s Alliance, lived under constant harassment and fear.
The woes of political dictatorship in Guyana are long and exhaustive. The period of repression and suffering, which took place, have not been forgotten. And that is why when there was a diabolical plan to return Guyana to political dictatorship, that memory kicked in.
The Guyanese people said no to a return to democracy. They were not interested in tasting that bitter harvest. They rejected the rigging. They must now reject the riggers.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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