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Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham (20 February 1923–6 August 1985) was the leader of Guyanamarker from 1964 until his death, as the Prime Minister from 1964 to 1980 and as President from 1980 to 1985. Today, he is recognized as one of Guyana's most dreaded and feared leaders as well as one of the most respected (through fear)

Personal life and education

Burnham, an Afro-Guyanese, was born in Kitty, a suburb of Georgetownmarker, East Demerara, Guyana as one of three children. He attended Central High School and 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 University of London in 1948. He graduated with honours.

He was married to Viola Burnham, who was also involved in politics. He had 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 a son Kamana (adopted).

Early years: The People's Progressive Party (PPP)

Burnham was one of the founding leaders of the People's Progressive Party (PPP), which was launched on January 1, 1950; the Indo-Guyanese labor leader Cheddi Jagan became PPP Leader, while Burnham became its Chairman. In 1952, Burnham became the president of the party's affiliated trade union, the British Guiana Labour Union, in 1952. In 1953, the PPP won 18 of 24 seats in the first election permitted by the British colonial government. 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. As a result, 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)

In the 1964 elections, while Jagan's PPP won the highest percentage of the vote (46% to the PNC's 41%), it did not win a majority. Burnham was able to form a coalition with the United Force (TUF) who won the remaining 12% of the votes and became premier of British Guiana on 14 December. On May 26, 1966, British Guiana became an independent country and was renamed to Guyana.

Burhnam at first pursued moderate policies. However, one of his first acts upon independence was 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 the elections were condemned by many as fraudulent due to a large number of voter irregularities (such as questionable numbers of overseas voters on the rolls). In 1970, he veered sharply to the left and established strong relations with Cubamarker, the Soviet Unionmarker and other communist countries. On February 23 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, in an effort to secure the economy and preserve foreign exchange. Burnham also nationalized the major industries that were foreign owned and controlled, reducing the private sector's share of the economy to 10 percent by 1979. Burnham's dictatorial policies acted as a catalyst for the mass exodus in the 1980s that saw the country's population reduced significantly.

In 1974, Burnham declared the PNC to be paramount and socialist. He passed a referendum in 1978 which made it harder for his party to lose power, but there was wide evidence that the referendum was tainted by fraud. In 1980, the constitution was changed to make the president chief executive officer. He was elected president that year in elections condemned as fraudulent by international observers. His government and the PPP were implicated in the death of Walter Rodney, a prominent historian and opposition leader.

Guyana remained a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and Burnham's former foreign minister, Shridath Ramphal, became the organization's secretary general and ensured that no criticism was leveled at Burnham and his policies.

Burnham remained President of Guyana until his death. He died on August 6, 1985 after undergoing throat surgery in Georgetown Hospital. His body was mummified by the Laboratory of the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow.Though his efforts were marred by acts of disunity by the PPP, he continues to live in the hearts some of Guyanese still loyal to him. However some hold great animosity towards him, for his human rights oppression and unethical policies.

Notes

  1. History of the PPP, PPP website.
  2. Biographies of former presidents, GINA.
  3. Buck-Morss 2002, p.79.


References

  • Buck-Morss, Susan (2002). Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West. The MIT Press, 386. ISBN 0262523310



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