I am very saddened to read of the recent passing of two political heroes of Guyana Mr. Isahak Bashir and Sir Fenton Ramsahoye. Both played significant roles in the independence movement and the struggle for the restoration of democracy of Guyana. Unfortunately, both were victims of local politics (their own party and PNC opponents). Grave injustices were committed upon them. They were denied (well deserved) pension entitlements for serving the nation with honor, integrity, and probity.
Sir Fenton and I collaborated in the pro-democracy movement from outside of Guyana while my relationship with Bashir was minimal (I knew of his work through others who were involved in political struggle in Guyana. Both men deserve accolades for their work and country owes them a debt of gratitude.
Following the rigged elections of 1968, Dr. Ramsahoye migrated although never accepting citizenship of another country. He revealed to me difficulties of traveling on a Guyana passport. From abroad, he joined the struggle for free and fair elections in Guyana. It was this struggle that led to a working relationship with him in Trinidad, Barbados, Antigua, and London requiring me to travel there and to Grenada to meet and discuss strategies and tactics to help return democracy to our homeland. In addition, I had the distinguished honor of hosting him for several days during which time we interacted, along with fellow pro-democracy activists Ravi Dev, Baytoram Ramharack, Vassan Ramracha, Hassan Rahaman, Rennie Ramracha, among others. It was at one of these meetings at my home in the Spring of 1991 that the idea of a World Union of Guyanese was conceived to unite the diaspora to lobby for free and fair elections in Guyana. Dr. Ramsahoye agreed to be its International Coordinator and patron. The World Union of Guyanese (WUG) was subsequently launched at a gathering of community and political activists, business persons, and religious leaders. After some resistance from ACG (PPP NY support group) members questioning Ramsahoye’s motive for launching the WUG, a loose executive body was established to organize activities. (ACG feared that Dr. Ramsahoye was using the WUG as a launch pad for Presidential ambition). Weeks later, a group of us from America flew to Trinidad where we were hosted at the Hilton by Dr. Ramsahoye for follow up meetings over a couple of days. Dr. Lindley Geborde of New Jersey, Dr. Roy Narine of Chicago, Hassan Rahaman of NY and Dr. Ravi Dev were also there. A program of activities was agreed upon. Then we all flew to Guyana where we met Dr. Cheddi Jagan and leaders of other political parties to apprise them of WUG and the plans from New York and Trinidad. I met Dr. Jagan in private and he queried Ramsahoye’s motive in launching WUG and whether it was intended to canvass for him to be a Presidential consensus candidate for elections. Ramsahoye had no intention of rejoining active politics or serving as Attorney general. He did, however, offer his legal services for free to Dr. Jagan and other political parties that were involved in the struggle for free and fair elections. Thereafter, Ramsahoye lobbied leaders in the Caribbean to help put pressure on the Hoyte dictatorship to return the country to a liberal economy and democratic governance. Ramsahoye also met and or wrote politicians and or governments in the UK and America in addition to other countries. A letter was also dispatch to the Carter Center and other human rights groups. We all know free and fair elections were held in October 1992 and democracy was restored. Ramsahoye was never recognized for the role he played in ending the dictatorship and returning democratic governance.
Photo : Isahak Bashir
Ramsahoye complained to me that he was denied his pension benefit by the dictator Burnham. Ramsahoye revealed to once that he was asked to submit a form (believe it was 1977) to attest he was alive in order to get his pension. He duly complied only to get a response that he did not submit forms that he was alive preceding years. We both guffawed. During PPP tenure in office, post Jagan, I approached several officials to address the matter of Ramsahoye pension as I also did with regards to Balram Singh Rai and Isahak Bashir. My requests fell on deaf ears. Nagamootoo had a working relationship with Ramsahoye who provided guidance and counseling on law practice to Nagamootoo and the matter was raised with him. He promised to act on it. (As an aside, I was informed that parliament needed to vote to give Rai his pension. As revealed to me, Burnham was approached to approve it in parliament. He responded that if Jagan agrees, his party would vote for it. I was told Jagan was opposed to the request. Rai was denied pension because Dr. Jagan did not support a request in parliament to grant it.
After the return of democratic governance, PPP never addressed this issue. Moses Nagamootoo and Khemraj Ramjattan, as AFC opposition MPs, agreed to raise this matter in parliament and seek a vote. But it never came up in parliament, not even during their tenure as Prime Minister and Security Affairs Minister respectively.
Mr. Bashir was given a reduced pension because he dared to challenge the Burnham dictatorship and more specifically the Speaker of the House. He was suspended from parliament and the suspension period was not counted in the calculation of his benefits. He was cheated. The PPP was approached during its tenure in governance to right this historic wrong. It remains uncorrected to this day even though Ramjattan and Nagamootoo know grave injustice was committed against Bashir (who may very well have supported them in the 2011 and 2015 elections).
I had the good fortune of interacting on the phone and or directly with both Ramsahoye and Bashir (as well as Mr Balram Singh Rai who is still with us). They are gentlemen par excellence and filled with humility. They hold no malice towards anyone including those who committed acts of injustice against them. I salute these men. I thank them for their courage and conviction and their stoic resolve no to compromise their belief even when large amounts of bribes were offered to cross over to the other political side.
The Guyanese nation should be grateful for the vital roles Messrs Bashir and Ramsahoye played in liberating our nation twice (from the colonial rulers and from Burnhamism). We shall miss their political role (and Dr. Ramsahoye’s legal advice which I obtained frequently) especially in light of what has been happening in the country since the passage of the no confidence motion.