Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham (20 February 1923 – 6 August 1985) was a Guyanese political leader and leader of Guyana from 1964 until his death, as the first Prime Minister from 1964 to 1980 and as second President from 1980 to 1985. He is widely regarded as a strongman who fought for nationalism and encouraged Guyanese to manufacture and export more local product (although much of his efforts to this end failed, resulting in a substantial economic decline in Guyana).
Burnham in 1966.
|2nd President of Guyana|
6 October 1980 – 6 August 1985
|Prime Minister||Ptolemy Reid|
|Vice President||Ptolemy Reid|
Shiw Sahai Naraine
Hugh Desmond Hoyte
|Preceded by||Arthur Chung|
|Succeeded by||Hugh Desmond Hoyte|
|1st Prime Minister of Guyana|
(British Guiana until 1966)
14 December 1964 – 6 October 1980
|President||Edward Victor Luckhoo|
|Preceded by||Cheddi Jagan|
|Succeeded by||Ptolemy Reid|
Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham
20 February 1923
Kitty, Georgetown, East Coast Demerara, British Guiana, British Empire
|Died||6 August 1985 (aged 62)|
Georgetown, East Coast Demerara, Guyana
|Political party||PPP (1950–1958)|
|Spouse(s)||Bernice Lataste (1951-1966)|
Viola Burnham (1967-his death)
|Alma mater||London School of Economics|
Personal life and educationEdit
Burnham, an Afro-Guyanese man, was born in Kitty, a suburb of Georgetown, East Demerara in Guyana, as one of three children. He attended the prestigious and the colony's elite Queen's College. In 1942, he won the Guiana Scholarship as the colony's top student. Burnham received a law degree from the London School of Economics in 1948. Burnham met many African and Caribbean students – including Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria, Seretse Khama of Botswana and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana as well as Michael Manley of Jamaica and Errol Barrow of Barbados – during his studies in London. He was married to Viola Burnham, who was also involved in politics. He has three children, Roxane, Annabelle, and Francesca from his first marriage to Bernice Lataste. His second marriage to Viola produced two daughters, Melanie and Ulele and later they adopted a son, Kamana.
Early years: The People's Progressive Party (PPP)Edit
Burnham was one of the founding leaders of the People's Progressive Party (PPP), which was launched on 1 January 1950. The Indo-Guyanese labour leader Cheddi Jagan became Leader of the PPP and Burnham became its chairman. In 1952, Burnham became the president of the party's affiliated trade union, the British Guiana Labour Union. In 1953, the PPP won 18 of 24 seats in the first election by Universal Adult Suffrage/Franchise permitted by the British colonial government. (There were previous elections based on a limited suffrage/franchise according to property, income and literacy qualifications). In the short-lived PPP government that followed, Burnham served as Minister of Education.
In 1955, there was a split in the PPP between Burnham and Jagan (which resulted directly because of differences in ideological perspectives between the two leaders, and the USA/Britain's desire – and support towards Burnham – to topple the PPP government). Jagan supported a socialist path, but Burnham believed that, given the geopolitical conditions of the era, communism would be a better alternative (unbeknownst to the British and USA - who mistakenly believed him to be a proponent of moderatism). Neither the USA nor Britain wanted a communist government controlling the small South American country. The powers, therefore, supported Burnham, through misguided naiveté (unaware of his communist leanings), leading to a disastrous economic situation in Guyana - the effects of which can still be felt today. In effect, much of Burnham’s leadership saw Guyana obtain massive debts, experience stagflation, suffer a massive rise in crime, and was generally characterized by the PNC’s rigging of elections (until the 1992 election overseen by former USA president Jimmy Carter). The British and USA would later formally apologize for this destabilization, albeit years later in the 2000s. As a result of foreign support, Burnham went on to form the People's National Congress in 1958 entering its first election under that name in 1961.
Leader of Guyana: The People's National Congress (PNC)Edit
In the 1964 election Jagan's PPP won the highest percentage of the vote (46% to the PNC's 41%), but it did not win a majority. Burnham succeeded in forming a coalition with the United Force (TUF) (which had won the remaining 12% of the votes) and became premier of British Guiana on 14 December. On 26 May 1966, British Guiana became an independent country and was renamed "Guyana".
Due to the (at the time) radical views of Cheddi Jagan (who leaned towards communism – both due to his socialist economic views, and his alliances with the Soviet Union and Cuba), Burnham was propped up by both the American and British Governments to assure the propagation of US/British control within the region At first, Burhnam pursued moderate policies, but in one of his first acts upon independence, he had passed a sweeping "National Security Act" giving the police the power to search, seize and arrest anyone virtually at will.
He won full power in 1968, although many[quantify] condemned the elections as fraudulent because of a large number of irregularities (such as questionable numbers of overseas voters on the rolls). In 1970, he veered sharply to the left and established strong relations with Cuba, the Soviet Union, North Korea and other communist countries. On 23 February of that year, he declared Guyana a "co-operative republic". Adopting a policy of autarky, he banned all forms of imports into the country, including flour and varieties of rice that had been integral to the diet of ethnic Indian citizens. Burnham also nationalised the major industries that were foreign-owned and -controlled, reducing the private sector's share of the economy to 10 percent by 1979.
Burnham, after attending the 1970 summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Lusaka, Zambia, paid official visits to several African countries—Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia—over the period 12–30 September 1970. The Guyanese government remained fully involved in the African liberation movement throughout the 1970s. Interestingly, although Guyana provided much-needed aid to African nations in their time of need - when Guyana was in its most dire times of need (the early 1990s and late 2010s), none of these African nations offered aid to Guyana.
Burnham sent more than a hundred Guyanese public servants to various departments of the Zambian Government. Many Guyanese doctors, engineers, lawyers and secretaries worked in Southern African states throughout the 1970s. Current census data indicates that the majority of doctors, engineers, lawyers and secretaries currently working in Guyana originate from India, Sri Lanka, Cuba and China.
In 1974 Burnham declared the PNC to be paramount and socialist. He won a 1978 referendum which made it much easier for the government to change the constitution. Anecdotal evidence from hundreds of Indo-Guyanese (and Afro-Guyanese who were PPP supporters) claims that PNC enforcers aggressively (and often violently) denied PPP supporters of the opportunity to vote. Most notably, official figures showed the referendum passing with an implausible 97 percent of the vote. In 1980 the constitution was changed to make the presidency an executive post. Burnham won election as president that year.
Burnham remained President of Guyana through the process of rigging elections, and squirreling ballot boxes at the Army headquarters, after which they were destroyed, without the votes being counted. According to Dr. Walter Rodney, Burnham's "style of rule has many similarities with that of the late Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza" - who not only oppressed the working class, but those in the upper echelons of the society who refused to go along with his domination. Walter Rodney was later assassinated, many believe because he stridently opposed Forbes Burnham and the PNC, who had a hand in his demise.
- George K. Danns (1 January 1982). Domination and Power in Guyana: A Study of the Police in a Third World Context. Transaction Publishers. pp. 141–. ISBN 978-1-4128-2190-2.
- David A. Granger. "Forbes Burnham and the Liberation of Southern Africa" (PDF). Retrieved 1 August 2015.
- History of the PPP, PPP website.
- Biographies of former presidents Archived 28 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine, GINA.
- The Guyana story, from prehistory to independence
- Cheddi Jagan's 'the West on trial
- http://www.guyana.org/features/guyanastory/chapter133.html (see also: Forbidden Freedom by Cheddi Jagan)
- Jagan, C. 1994. Forgotten Freedom. Hansib Publications Limited. Guyana. 3rd edition.
| Prime Minister of Guyana
(until 1966: British Guiana)
| President of Guyana