Kaieteur News – Last Friday morning, I was in the kitchen with my wife when the gate-bell rang. I looked through the window and saw two men and a woman. I opened the door, and told them if they have a mail for me, they can put it in the mail-box strapped onto the gate.
The lady said she came to see me. So I went down to meet them. She introduced herself as Ramona Karim. She said she left Guyana a long time ago. She lives in Switzerland. She wanted to meet me because she reads my Kaieteur News offerings.
We had an interesting conversation. This lady told me things I didn’t know and you are immensely grateful for the knowledge because history is then recorded. Now here is the part of our conversation that I thought ought to be put on record. This is interesting because one more false accolade of Forbes Burnham is demolished.
Supporters of Burnham eulogise him for his emphasis on things Guyanese. Burnham was frenetic about Guyana relying on its own home-grown products. When I returned from serving the Grenada government, I was surprised to see most urban households had ground provision planted on the parapet in front of their homes and in their yards.
I was told that the President urged Georgetowners to plant ground provisions and vegetables. In the same year of my return at the dawn of 1984, I was told by friends that Burnham would be on horseback sharing out cassava sticks to residents of Georgetown south of Le Repentir Cemetery.
By that time Burnham had banned the importation of hundreds of items. The list was very long. Ms. Karim told me she worked as the secretary to the manager of Guyana Airways Corporation (GAC) so she saw the food and liquor menu each time Burnham was to travel outside. The food was always exotic and the wines and alcohol were always foreign products.
Ms. Karim explained to me that she took the job at GAC after a short stint with Father Andrew Morrison at the Catholic Standard. On many foreign trips, Burnham would go with chartered private jets. On one occasion, the pilot who stayed at the Georgetown Club, passed on the menu for food and liquor to someone who befriended him and it ended up in the Catholic Standard.
Ms. Karim told me she was immediately fired because the opinion in the corridors of power was that since she once worked at the Catholic Standard, she must have given it to Father Morrison. This incident occurred in 1982 so after 40 years Ms. Karen said she would still deny that she was the source because she wasn’t. From listening to her describe the situation, it was clear to me she hates Burnham.
For a good exposure of the insane hypocrisy of Burnham and the morbid pretender he was in relation to his “buy local campaign” see Chapter 2 of Part 3 of Father Morrison’s fantastic recording of Guyanese history in his book titled: “Justice: The Struggle for Democracy in Guyana, 1952- 1992.”
From page 295 to 299, Father produced the food and liquor menus that were on Burnham’s foreign trips. Here was a leader extolling to his nation, the virtues of local alternatives even going to extreme lengths to ban hundreds of foreign items but was using the very things he embargoed.
Those pages showed what a demonic creature this former president was. All the items on the liquor list, without exception, were foreign stuff. The foods included imported fish like salmon. Those pages in Father Morrison’s book tell a vivid tale of a leader who had tossed away every vein of decency in his system. It is sickening to hear young PNC leaders exclaim their admiration for Burnham.
One note of caution: if you are reading this and you feel inclined to pick up a copy of “Justice” then my advice to you is if you are the faint-hearted type, then don’t. “Justice” is an encyclopedia of the monumental tragedies that Burnham heaped on Guyana. But some sad parts are about the glorious role of many in those anti-dictatorship days that today, in advanced age support rigged elections. What a tearful irony!
On the other hand, if you are young and you want to know how terrible Guyana under Burnham was and the horrible state of existence of this country at the time, then please search the world for a copy of “Justice.” Ms. Karim came to my gate last Friday. She said she was leaving three days after. This means she is now back in Switzerland. In her late sixties and not returning, I guess we will never see each other again.
(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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