An infamous, shameful, and sad day, July 16th, 1973 in the history of Guyana led by Burnham’s PNC and especially for the people of No 64 Village, Corentyne, Berbice, Guyana. Villagers of No 63/64 Village and especially the family of the late martyrs Mr. Bholanauth Parmanand (Jack) and Mr. Jagan Ramessar both of # 64 Village, Corentyne. I greet you on this sad day of remembrance as a villager like you, still personally pained by the memory of this day 50 years ago. That two of our very own, one my opposite neighbor, fondly known as Jack, a peaceful and humble rice and cattle farmer, and the young 17-year-old Jagan, son of my father’s cousin, Jeffrey, were brutally killed by the armed forces of Guyana on that day of the 1973 elections – under the watch of the Commander-in-Chief, the President of Guyana and leader of the PNC, LFS Burnham – a President who not only brutalized our country for close to three decades but also killed the hopes and aspirations of its people, especially the young.
While on that fateful day July 16th, 1973 vast numbers came out to vote in the rural communities like in Berbice, with very high hopes and expectations that the “dictator to be Burnham” and his PNC will be removed from office and the PPP under a benevolent, peoples’ leader, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, will triumph. The bold attempts at rigging/voter padding prior to those elections by the PNC galvanized our determination that our vote must count. But that day sadly became one of grief, mourning, and anger for our village and the families of the two sons we lost to the killings. A day of anguish and hopes extinguished for my country!
I recall returning to No. 64 village from Georgetown, rather excitedly to vote on that day in 1973, and for the very first time, with high expectations for victory and change, as Guyana under Burnham and only seven years post-independence, was already in a state of mismanagement and decline. The theme of Burnham’s “paramountcy of the party”, the PNC, was a telling sign of bad things to come. But that could have been arrested with good, honest leadership of the country and the support of Guyana for free and fair elections from our Caribbean Region in particular, and the world over. Sadly this didn’t happen and we lived under the tyranny of Burnham’s PNC until 1992 for 28 years.
So today, 50 years after our two villagers were killed, trying to protect the sanctity of the ballot boxes and for the votes to be counted at the place of poll, we must not forget this day. Their blood was shed for all of us, to protect our freedom and democracy and we therefore must pay homage to them through their surviving families who are here with us today. Our thoughts will always be with you and for the loss you suffered. July 16th, 1973 was meant to be a day when our people exercised their democratic right to choose their leaders for this country. That right was eliminated that evening with Burnham’s PNC’s hijacking of the ballot boxes and the brazen electoral vote rigging that occurred in Georgetown that kept them in power. Not unlike what they tried to do in 2020!
Thankfully the PPP/C prevailed this time with the help of Caribbean leaders like the straight-talking PM of Barbados, Mia Mottley. The PNC knows only one way to achieve power, by electoral fraud rather than a visionary, honest, even-handed approach to governance. We must never ever forget the lessons of this day of 1973, as it repeated itself, election after election. We must forever stand guard to protect our freedom and democracy! What was meant to be a day of peaceful voting and vote counting, ended with the sad loss of two of our people. This began the process of “voting with your feet” – migration from Guyana and the loss of talent that we are still painfully suffering from. Guyanese became refugees when we didn’t even know the meaning of the word in 1973!
So thanks to the families of Bholanauth and Jagessar for being here with us and I know some left our shores; to the PPP stalwarts in our village and region, past and present, for keeping their memories alive and what they died for. We must never forget, never, and especially the PNC of Forbes Burnham who led this blood bath and the eventual decay of Guyana, a once proud, Caribbean country. This history must never be remade; it must be captured in our history textbooks for the young to know and to reflect upon – our dark past. What some died for to preserve our democracy. I close with this quotation; “You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can only be free if I am free” (Charles Darrow). Bholanauth and Jagessar of 64 Village, Corentyne, Berbice died for our freedom. May their souls continue to rest in eternal peace.
Professor Clement Krishnanand Sankat, PhD, CEng.
No 64 Village, Corentyne, Berbice, Guyana.
Professor Emeritus Clement Sankat Ph.D., C.Eng
Former PVC and Campus Principal, UWI, St Augustine Trinidad
Immediate past President, Univ of Belize