“Vision or Pragmatism” – lecture by M.G. Joe Singh

The 4th H D Hoyte Commemorative Lecture


Major General (retd) Joseph G Singh MSS, MSc, FRGS

March 23, 2011

Topic- “Vision or Pragmatism: The Transformational Role of Hugh Desmond Hoyte, SC”

Download here> : 4th Hugh Desmond Hoyte Commemorative Lecture 2011-MG JGS


Esteemed Chairman, Members of the Hoyte family, Ladies and Gentlemen, about two weeks before she passed away, President Hugh Desmond Hoyte’s widow, First Lady Joyce Hoyte requested through Ambassador Ronald Austin, that I deliver this 4th Hugh Desmond Hoyte Commemorative Lecture. The lecture should have been done on March 9, 2011 but because of her passing and funeral arrangements, it was re-scheduled to today.

I am honoured to have been asked but regret that Mrs Hoyte is not present with us today although I have no doubt that she is here in spirit. That I should have been asked when there are so many other colleagues and friends of President Hoyte is very humbling and I wish to express my thanks to the relatives of President and Mrs Hoyte, to Ambassador Ronald Austin and to Bevon Currie and members of the Commemorative Committee for communicating with me the arrangements for today’s Lecture.


Hugh Desmond Hoyte was born on 19 March 1929. He completed his secondary schooling and External Examinations leading up to the award of his Bachelor of Arts Degree. He was a High School Teacher in British Guiana and in Grenada.  In 1959 he proceeded to the University of London where he completed his Bachelor of Laws and was called to the Bar of the Middle Temple. He returned to Guyana in1960 and joined the Law Firm of Clarke & Martin where he was associated with such luminaries as Eric Clarke, Babington Martin, LFS Burnham, Fred Wills and Fenton Ramsahoye. In 1961, when Burnham left to focus on politics and Wills and Ramsahoye moved out to set up their independent practices, Hoyte was carrying a substantial portfolio at the Firm. He was influenced by Forbes Burnham to join him in the political sphere and became a member of the People’s National Congress in 1968. His legal reputation was acknowledged when he was made Queen’s Counsel in 1969 and then Senior Counsel in 1970.

He served as Minister of Home Affairs 1969-1970, Finance Minister 1970-1972, Minister of Works & Communications 1972-1974, Minister of Economic Development 1974-1980, Vice President responsible for Economic Planning, Finance and Regional Development 1980-1985, First Vice President and Prime Minister 1984-1985, President and Commander-in-Chief 1985-1992, and Leader of the Opposition  1992 – 2002. He married Joyce Noreen DeFreitas in 1965 and the union produced two girls-Amanda and Maxine, who both died along with Mrs Hoyte’s sister Gwendolyn  and their driver,  in a horrific accident on the Linden Highway. Mrs Hoyte was herself seriously injured and made a slow, painful but very brave recovery.

Hugh Desmond Hoyte died suddenly from a massive heart attack on December 22, 2002 and his widow Joyce passed away on February 14, 2011.

Mr Hoyte was described as a cultivated and austere figure whose name was never associated with any hint of scandal. He had a passion for literature, classical music, jazz, calypso, folk music and cricket and an abiding interest in environmental issues. His wife was regarded as a strong, shrewd and gracious First Lady who led a dignified and humble life.

My own association with Hugh Desmond Hoyte spanned a period of three decades during which he held the portfolios of Minister of Works and Communications, Prime Minister, President and Commander in Chief, and then Leader of the Opposition. He impacted on my life and my career in a variety of ways. On October 1, 1986, the 12th Anniversary of the Guyana National Service of which I was the Director General, he announced at an open-air gathering of a wide cross section of Guyanese and members of the diplomatic corps, my promotion to the rank of Brigadier.

On Dec 20th 1989, two weeks before I was confirmed to travel, he asked that I forego attendance on the 1990 course at the National Defence College in India and that I take up the appointment of Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force. He was my Commander –in-Chief until he demitted office after the General Elections of October 5th 1992. In May 2000 as Leader of the Opposition he requested that I consider favorably a request by the political parties   to be Chairman of the Elections Commission from June 01, 2000, for the National Elections held in March 2001.

I never considered myself a member of Mr Hoyte’s inner circle. In fact, he never struck me as a person who had an ‘Inner Circle’ or what is popularly known as a ‘Kitchen Cabinet’. He was a completely different personality from Mr Burnham and Dr Jagan.  Mr Burnham and Dr Jagan were extroverts -leaders who thrived on their bonding with the masses. They drew their energy from their interaction with people and reveled in the relationship they enjoyed among their constituents. I found Mr Hoyte somewhat uncomfortable in the ‘pressing the flesh exercises’   and more comfortable in small focused meetings, or in field activities accompanied by technical staff. He did not suffer fools gladly and could be very gruff and dismissive of persons whom he felt were inefficient or incompetent. He was also a very private person as reflected in his frugal lifestyle, living in his own home with his family and avoiding ostentatious displays of wealth, power and influence. I recall on many occasions when asked to meet with him in his office, if it was during the lunch period, his assistant would bring in his meal on a tray and he would sit at his desk, apologise for eating while speaking, and enjoy his dholl plantain or soup. He made me feel at ease as a professional and never in my presence, brought party politics into the decision –making process, especially on matters of national importance.

When I telephoned him at around midnight on Election night, 5th October 1992, to inform him President Carter had called me to say that on the basis of the Carter Centre ‘quick count’ there was going to be a change in government and that as a professional I felt it appropriate to offer my resignation to Dr Jagan, President Hoyte said to me that he did not see the need for such a step but he understood my position. Five minutes later I phoned Dr Jagan and after congratulating him on his party’s election victory,  I did offer him my resignation so that he would be free to appoint someone else as Chief of Staff but he said he wished me to continue. I ended up serving a decade as Chief of Staff under five Presidents and Commanders in Chief until I retired in 2000.

As is the case with all who hold the highest office in the land, President Hoyte’s contributions and his place in the history of our country will be the subject of analysis by scholars and researchers. The analysis will have the benefit of hindsight, after the fact, and the individual’s strengths and weaknesses will be celebrated or exposed. This is the price one has to pay for accepting responsibilities.  The balance sheet of positives and negatives will reflect on the legacy one leaves on the pages of history. Does history make the man or does the man make history?

We are well aware of examples of self serving assessments and evaluations by leaders the world over, through their public utterances and via the social networks. The tendency is to burnish every major decision made by them so to put them in favorable light. Serious researchers on the other hand, provide a much more critical appraisal of the performance of the   individuals, their decision- making and the influences that prevailed on those processes. Unless we are active participants in the process, and have our own objective evaluation of leaders, we tend to take the contents of what has been said or written about a particular leader with a certain degree of cynicism, especially if it originates from an affiliate.  Less so, when it is written or said by a respected commentator. In Guyana’s highly charged and personalised political environment, with its relatively small population that manifests, especially at election time, varying degrees of ethnic security or insecurity, and religious and cultural intolerance or affinity, leaders are either uplifted or demonised. There is no doubt in my mind that our post- independence leaders had their good points and their bad points, their supporters and their detractors, but in the final analysis they would have all contributed in some greater or lesser measure to the fashioning of the ‘Nation’s Frame’, as reflected in the words of The Song of the Republic:

“We’ll forge a Nation’s mighty sword, construct a Nation’s Frame”.

The Challenges of Leadership

Leaders are elected or appointed to make decisions that can have short term or longer term impacts on the country and on its citizens. On the one hand, there are leaders who are myopic, who tend to look at what short term political gains such decisions can produce. Invariably, such decisions do not address systemic issues, which will continue to fester.  On the other hand, leaders who are visionary tend to make decisions which they consider to be in the longer term interests, even if they may cause short term pain. But there are also some decisions which are thrust upon leaders. Does history make the man or does the man make history?  Failure by leaders to act decisively can cause short term as well as long term pain. Decisions that are transformational bring about thorough or dramatic change. In such cases, leaders have to be bold and pragmatic. They have to be prepared ‘to bite the bullet’ and incur the criticisms of both their detractors and their own supporters.  Such bold display of pragmatism relies on the leader’s own sense of values and knowledge of the possible consequences of both indecision as well as the decision, on the interests of human beings. Nelson Mandela wrote:

“As a leader, one must sometimes take actions that are unpopular, or whose results will not be known for years to come. There are victories whose glory lies only in the fact that they are known to those who win them”.[1]

Title of Commemorative Lecture

The Title of my Presentation is: “Vision or Pragmatism. The Transformational Role of Hugh Desmond Hoyte, SC.”


My Aim in this presentation is to identify those decisions which Hugh Desmond Hoyte made that I consider to be transformational and to discuss the extent to which these could be considered visionary or the outcomes of his pragmatic assessment of the objective circumstances.


For the purposes of this presentation, I have used three words identified in the topic, in accordance with the definitions of these words in The Oxford Dictionary-revised in 1996:

Visionstatesmanlike foresight

Pragmatismphilosophy that evaluates assertions solely by their practical consequences and bearing on human interests

Transformationalmake a thorough or dramatic change in the form or character.

Hoyte’s Transformational Decisions

I have identified six decisions made by Hugh Desmond Hoyte that I consider to have had a   transformational impact on Guyana. These are:

  • Undertaking the Georgetown to Lethem Overland Safari-1973
  • Instituting the Guyana Prize for Literature-1987
  • Launching the Economic Recovery Programme-1989
  • Committing to the Iwokrama Rainforest Project-1989
  • Facilitating the Free & Fair Elections – 1992
  • Ensuring the Peaceful Transfer of Power – 1992

Reflections and Context

I owe it to those citizens who may have been very youthful during that period of great national ferment, to provide some context so as to have a better appreciation of the circumstances that prevailed when the decisions were being made.

I do hope that this presentation also jogs the memory of those of my generation who remained in Guyana and were witnesses or participants of a specific period in our history, from 1973 to 1992, a period which provided Guyanese with   excitement, stress, tensions, hopefulness, euphoria and also failed expectations. I shall therefore attempt to give a snapshot of those times to our younger generation, those in their teens to their thirties, and provide some perspectives and a frame of reference for the period of the 1970s to the early 1990s, and the significance of the six decisions and their impacts on our society and on Guyana.

Sir James Mitchell, former Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, in his address at the Second of these Commemorative Lectures in 2008 said:

“The state in which a nation finds itself is not only a product of leadership, but the framework (constitution) through which the nation moves, stagnates or retrogresses. The quality of everyday life, the wealth or poverty of its citizens, relates to the systems in society and its leadership[2].

The contents of my Presentation are mostly based on personal experiences and recollections, reinforced by the perceptions of others, which will be acknowledged.

First Decision: Undertaking the Georgetown to Lethem Overland Safari

Andrew Young, then United States envoy to the Caribbean said:

“The Caribbean could become one of the growth areas of the world once it overcame some of the petty rivalries. Caribbean integration-economically and socially, not necessarily politically-can be made a reality”.[3]

In 1967, one year after Guyana’s Independence, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, led by Mr John Jardim, presented to the Guyana Government led by Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, proposals for the Chamber of Commerce to construct a $15 million highway to complete the road system from Georgetown to Lethem. The stretch of 192 miles comprising the trail between Ituni and Lethem, according to Mr Jardim, could be built by 50 highly trained men with well-designed equipment in a matter of eight months. It would be a reasonably wide road, traversable by 4-wheel drive vehicles at the start. But Mr Jardim explained that this could later be increased to a width that would provide eventually a soundly built highway. A very important reason for a highway, continued Mr Jardim, was to promote the expansion of trade with Brazil, and Georgetown could serve as a Freeport for goods in and out of the Rio Branco and Amazonas regions of Brazil[4].

This proposal was well received and the initial funds raised by the Chamber allowed for some tinkering with the alignment of the Old Rupununi Cattle Trail but funds and resources were inadequate to sustain this laudable effort. Another attempt was made in 1970 during what was referred to as the Self Help Road Project -to build the road from Mahdia-Potaro to Lethem. This generated much excitement through the media event of Prime Minister Forbes Burnham chain-sawing through the first tree, an act which, under the current ‘avoided deforestation’ mantra, will now guarantee severe damage to the political capital of incumbent or potential national leaders.  In 1970, in the context of Guyana’s newly attained status as a Co-operative Republic, the concept of constructing a major hinterland road utilizing local and regional volunteers as a primary source of labour and skills was a very appealing one. It kindled among our youth the flame of adventurous romanticism with this hinterland project. However, this attempt floundered because of the high logistic and administrative costs involved in the rotation and upkeep of volunteers in the field, the lack of specialized skills and equipment when confronted with the challenging terrain via North Fork and Muruwa, and the requirement for major bridges to be constructed over the Siparuni and the Burro-Burro rivers.

The third attempt to open up a 4-wheel drive  vehicle trail to Lethem  was made in 1973 by doing more substantial work on the Mabura-Kurupukari road and then on the alignment of the Old Cattle Trail from the Kurupukari Landing on the west bank of the Essequibo River to Lethem. Matthew French Young was working as the Superintendent of Works on this project and recorded that on 14 November 1973, Minister of Works and Communications Desmond Hoyte, Minister of Mines and Forests Hubert Jack, Minister of Economic Development Kenneth King, Parliamentary Secretary Wrights and Chief Hydraulics Officer Phillip Allsopp, paid a visit to the forward line in the vicinity of the Akaiwanna Mountains.[5] They spent the night in Mathew Young’s camp at Ekuk Creek. One can anticipate that in the intimacy of a tarpaulin and thatched roof campsite, the three senior Ministers, Parliamentary Secretary and senior technical engineer, would have spent time being briefed on progress, making decisions on the speeding up of the process, and emphasing  the urgency of ‘marrying up’ with Matthew Jason, Mathew Young’s counterpart, who was working on the road on the western side of the Kurupukari crossing. Minister Hoyte, as the subject Minister for the project, would have been playing a pivotal role in driving the project. The presence of his colleagues-the  Minister of Mines and Forests, and Minister of Economic Development, would have been a clear demonstration of the importance attached to the completion of the road link as an essential infrastructure for the exploitation of natural resources and for trade and development, as visualized by John Jardim six years earlier.

The unifloat pontoons were deployed to the Kurupukari crossing on November 26th, 1973   -12 days after the high level visit. On December 11th, 1973, two weeks after the pontoon crossing was established, Minister Hoyte led a high level representative group in a convoy of vehicles to ‘prove’ the trail from Georgetown to Lethem. Unfortunately, the rains came and even though Matthew Young advised that the going on the Kurupukari to Lethem leg would be tough, Minister Hoyte persisted. They had to rely on the use of bulldozers and tractors at critical points on the road. Matthew Young recorded that at one time a bulldozer was towing seven vehicles. The safari did not reach Lethem until December 13th, 1973-two days later, an accomplishment that generated such excitement among the residents of the Rupununi, that there was much rejoicing at Lethem that night and the new Takutu Guest House owned by former Corporal of Police Mr Bobb, was declared open by Minster Hoyte.

This 1973 Safari, completed under challenging circumstances, was the catalyst for the incremental improvements in the road to Lethem. It was during Hoyte’s tenure as President that the Brazilian Company Paranapanema was awarded the contract to upgrade the road and to improve the bridges that have made the Rupununi so accessible. Since that time there has been comparatively much progress in Regions 9  and 10 as a result of the evolving lines of communication and the opening up of greater access to opportunities. These opportunities are being facilitated by Government of Guyana, Iwokrama, the North Rupununi District Development Board, the Bina Hill Institute, Non-Governmental Organisations such as Conservation International, Private Sector agencies and Community-based Organisations, with targeted, project-oriented donor assistance.

I believe it was the experience of travelling through the Iwokrama forests on the Safari that also planted the seed of an idea in the mind of Desmond Hoyte that germinated in 1989 into the offer of the Iwokrama Forest Reserve as a facility for research into the sustainable management of tropical forests. More on this later.

Desmond Hoyte’s strategic vision and the decisions he influenced in making a reality of the establishment of this road link from the Coast to Lethem, and in personally identifying with this project through his stewardship of the Ministry of Works and Communications and his leadership of the Safari, are part of our history. It laid the foundation for the developments currently taking place in south-western Guyana, through bilateral cooperation between the two governments and implementation of Agreements by public and private sector agencies.

Second Decision-The Guyana Prize for Literature

The second decision I address in this Presentation, made when Hoyte was President, was his announcement of the Guyana Prize for Literature. This was the instrument   for giving deserving recognition of the role of writers and poets. It was visionary and transformational. It was announced on February 23, 1987 and is the most prestigious literary award in the English-Speaking Caribbean. The aim and objective of the Guyana Prize for Literature is to recognize and reward outstanding work in literature by Guyanese authors at home and abroad. The distinguished awardees include: Wilson Harris, Janice Shineborne, Martin Carter, Fred D’Aguiar, Roy Heath, Harold Bascom, Ian McDonald, David Dabydeen, Marc Matthews and Mark McWatt and these have motivated the younger generation represented by talented writers such as Oona Kempadoo, Paloma Mohamed and Ruel Johnson.

In her book: Birth of Expression and the Birth of Stabroek News, Anna Benjamin writes:

Forbes Burnham died unexpectedly on 6th August, 1985, and was succeeded by his Prime Minister, Desmond Hoyte. It was Hoyte who initiated the process of opening up the society in every respect, including in relation to freedom of expression. Ultimately too, he was to allow free and fair elections[6].

Hoyte famously told the Heads of Mission Conference of 1985 that economic development had to be accompanied by:

“a certain intellectual climate…. We cannot develop if thoughts are inhibited and ideas snuffed out[7].

The continuation of the Guyana Prize for Literature over the years has been complemented by the establishment of an indigenous publishing house –The Caribbean Press, which has been facilitating the publishing of the Guyana Classics.

I believe that when Desmond Hoyte was free of the  challenges of his presidency in 1992, this extract of a poem:  “Middle Age: What Delighteth Me” by Dr Ian Mc Donald, in his prize–winning book of poetry “Between Silence and Silence”, aptly sums up what may have been Hoyte’s preference:

“What a pleasure it is now

opening a new book I have wanted,

alone in a chair that fits my back,

anticipating delight, fingers cracking the pages,

the first sentences making the mind water,

no debts or business until tomorrow comes.

This is better than I ever thought:

pleasures quiet down, they simplify”[8].

Third Decision-The Economic Recovery Programme

The third decision I focus on is the one he made as President to launch an Economic Recovery Programme, ERP. This was transformational in that it sought to break radically with the past and re-position Guyana’s economic recovery and growth. In fact, in 1983, the writing was already ‘on the wall’ as far as the economy was concerned. In this context, Forbes Burnham was being pragmatic when he recognized the need for change.   Dr Tyrone Ferguson was Head of the Presidential Secretariat during the tenure of President Hoyte, and he gave the Inaugural Commemorative Lecture in 2004.

In his book:

Structural Adjustment and Good Governance, the case of Guyana’, he wrote:

“The fact is that, in appointing a new Finance Minister in 1983, Burnham’s primary charge to him was that he should work towards the normalization of relations with the Breton Wood institutions”.[9]

That Finance Minister was Mr Carl Greenidge who delivered the Third Commemorative Lecture on March 9, 2010.

Presenting the 1987 Budget in the National Assembly, Finance Minister Carl Greenidge described it as:

“A bold, purposeful prescription for economic adjustment”[10].

He announced the devaluation of the Guyana dollar at a rate of 10:1 and the critical slogan adopted by concerned workers and their unions, was: “Ten- to- One is Murder”.

In his defence of the 1987 Budget, Hoyte said:

“It has an immediate impact but its long term effects tend to be equally crucial. These are serious times that demand strong and firm leadership”.[11]

The focus of the ERP launched in 1989, was macro-economic reform and in particular: sourcing external financing, exchange rate devaluation, price deregulation, privatisation, and public sector wage control. Towards the end of 1990, President Hoyte introduced the cambios where foreign exchange could finally be purchased legally. Prior to that, foreign exchange had to be bought on the black market.

Hoyte was also pragmatic enough to realize too that the ERP had to go hand in hand with other freedoms. No longer could he remain arrogant, stubborn and unmoved by the agitation of opposition parties, and civil society- including the churches, for freedom of expression and freedom from fear. He permitted the importation of newsprint and the establishment of a private newspaper the Stabroek News. He also took action to bring maverick organizations like the House of Israel to heel.

These should be seen as incremental gains, engineered as a result of pragmatic review of the inhibiting factors to governance, prudent financial management, and national development, as well as to enhance the credibility of a government striving to come to terms with the past and preparing to chart a new beginning into the future. The initiation of such transformational changes must have been the logical outcomes of latent and pragmatic strategies in the mind of HD Hoyte because Ferguson records that:

“crucially though during the last phase of Burnham’s rule it was apparent that Hoyte had held a different position from the one being pursued, regarding the solution of the economic crisis. This was not a publicly expressed view, and it was evident to some of his Cabinet colleagues at the time[12] .

Fourth Decision-Committing to the Iwokrama Rainforest Project

The fourth decision, made in his capacity as President while addressing the World Environmental Conference in Malaysia in 1989, was visionary. He offered to the World, on behalf of the people of Guyana, the Iwokrama Rainforest Reserve, 371,000 hectares or 2% of Guyana’s forests. He said:

Iwokrama is a place for research to develop, demonstrate, and make available to Guyana and the International Community systems, methods, and techniques for the sustainable management and utilization of the multiple resources of the tropical forest and the conservation of biodiversity[13].

This set in place the strategy for sustainable development, to show how tropical forests can be conserved and sustainably used for ecological, social and economic benefits to local, national and international communities.  It was transformational in that the outputs of research into sustainable development within the Iwokrama Reserve, and the partnerships established with the Amerindian communities that are contiguous with the Reserve, provide a crucible for the international community to assess the impacts of climate change, the valuation of our forests and ecosystem services, and for developing models of sustainable development through partnerships. The Centre has as its task to test the proposition that conservation, environmental balance and sustainable economic activities are mutually reinforcing and that it is possible to use a forest without losing it[14].

Since its formal commissioning in 1996, Iwokrama has acquired international reputation for research into community- inclusive rainforest conservation, has established comprehensive ecosystem inventories of the Iwokrama forests and wetlands, has collated a model for commercially sustainable management of tropical forest assets and resources, and has developed international academic links including for future research into mitigation of Climate Change by tropical forests.

The evolution of the Low Carbon Development Strategy is a creative application of the economic value of standing forest to garner substantial funding that would be used to finance alternative energy pathways, to reduce Guyana’s dependence on fossil fuels, to create opportunities through job-related training and utilization of information technology, for providing employment in enterprises that have a low carbon profile and footprint.

This is what President Jagdeo had to say about the Centre in 2008:

We in Guyana applaud the progress the Iwokrama International Centre has made over the past twelve months. Its new  science programme-with its emphasis on climate change impacts-and its evaluation of the contribution of the eco-system services to the Iwokrama forest and the well-being of local communities have all given the Centre  a new direction and profile of great relevance and assistance to my Government’s initiative for the creation of a low carbon economy. We look forward to the Centre’s continuing work”.[15]

Fifth Decision-Facilitating Free & Fair Elections of 1992

The fifth decision I include in this Presentation, was made while Hoyte was President and it was to facilitate the conduct of Free and Fair Elections in 1992. This decision cost him his Presidency but it was a pragmatic and transformational decision that would be the benchmark for ensuring the credibility of the electoral process. It was transformational in that it provided opportunities for embedding democratic principles and practices in the governance of the State and its Institutions. While credit must be given to the sustained advocacy role played by a groundswell of alliances among the political opposition, civil society and overseas supporters, it was President Hoyte who committed to a process that would be subject to local and international scrutiny, that would remove the Guyana Defence Force from any role in guarding polling stations or in escorting ballot boxes. It was the commencement of a process to ensure that Guyana’s Elections would be conducted in a transparent manner and that the process will respect the election results as the will of the people. Anna Benjamin wrote:

“As events played out, Hoyte’s policy of glasnost facilitated the activities of GUARD, a civic group formed in 1990, which emphasized moral reform, and urged the Guyanese people irrespective of political persuasion to take an active part in the electoral process. Following widespread criticism of a rigged election in 1985, Hoyte was invited on 25th January, 1986 to an informal meeting of six Caricom Heads on the island of Mustique. When he returned from the island Hoyte told the Chronicle that Caricom leaders were of the view that the problems of Guyana had to be solved by Guyanese”[16].

Benjamin continued: “That however was only the public position. What he did not tell the state newspaper was that the position was premised on a private agreement. Years after he left office, he was to tell former Guyana Ambassador to China, Ronald Austin, that the six Caricom Prime Ministers wanted him firstly, to give the opposition parties more political space to function; secondly to allow a free press; and thirdly, to hold free elections. Hoyte told Austin that he had assented to all of this. This was confirmed by Sir James Mitchell and Sir John Compton”.[17]

Further confirmation of Hoyte’s role in the process that delivered Free and Fair Elections came from his political adversaries:

Donald Ramotar, General Secretary of the PPP/C said:

“During Hoyte’s Presidency, he had displayed a keen understanding of the various currents that were operating both nationally and internationally. It was his grasp of the various tendencies that led him to make the historic reforms that helped to make the conditions for change less painful”[18].

Manzoor Nadir, Leader of The United Force, described Hoyte

As the ‘President of Change’ for agreeing to electoral reforms which introduced changes that are now irreversible as well as making the economic reforms which lay the foundation for Guyana’s recovery. Hoyte was one of those rare breed of men who dedicated their lives to the service of their people[19].

Sixth Decision-Facilitating Peaceful Transfer of Power

The sixth decision I have included in my Presentation was made by President Hoyte in October 1992 as the nation transitioned from a PNC-R led government of 28 years to a PPP-C led government. There were concerns that there would be racial disturbances, violence and even a coup. Such fears did not materialise because Hugh Desmond Hoyte led the way in facilitating a process for the peaceful transfer of power and authority from the PNC-R to the PPP-C.

This was an act of pragmatism but it also reflected a degree of statesmanship, for which I believe, he has not received enough credit. While there were attempts to derail the electoral process   and there was potential for violent upheaval on both sides of the political coin, President Hoyte, no doubt conscious of the presence of the international and regional observers, but also committed to respecting the results of the elections, did not waver even in the face of criticisms from supporters of his party. In reacting to the results of the 1992 elections, this is what he had to say:

“I expect all citizens to accept these political developments maintain a peaceful and harmonious climate in society and keep the welfare and good name of Guyana foremost in their minds”[20]

This decision was transformational and has been hailed as an act of great statesmanship.

Sir Shridath Ramphal, speaking about Desmond Hoyte’s Intellectual Honesty said:

“It was Desmond’s absence of hunger for personal primacy that led to the 1992 General Elections and a democratic change of government, one that could not have occurred unless Desmond Hoyte had acknowledged to himself before the Election that he could live without being President. Guyana owes him a monumental debt for establishing that democratic benchmark”.[21]

It marked the commencement of a long awaited process of reform which to this day is still in need of refinement, based on sustained public advocacy for implementation of already agreed upon constitutional and electoral and other reforms, and for transparently managed national conversations on the future of Guyana.

How would history remember Hugh Desmond Hoyte?

The famous Greek historian Herodotus was active in Athens during the middle years of the fifth century and was nicknamed the Father of History by Cicero. In his writings, he describes the history of the Persian invasions of Greece in 490 and 480-479 B.C. Like all other Greeks, he saw these events as the story of Greek freedom triumphing over Persian slavery. In her Introduction to ‘The Histories of Herodotus’, Rosalind Thomas wrote:

“Herodotus’ explanation for historical action often demands knowledge of previous events which he then describes: later misfortune may ultimately be a punishment for ancestral misdeeds and warnings for the present often involve parallels drawn from the past”. She also points out that: “ in a world without chroniclers or any automatic system for recording past events, recollection is left to oral tradition. Occasionally, memorials, trophies and tombstones might record memories of specific events or individuals; indeed the main purpose of the memorial was to preserve the memory and fame of what otherwise would be forgotten”[22].

In an era when there are some who seem bent on  demonising persons who are not of their political, ethnic or religious persuasions, it is apt to note Rosalind Thomas’s admonition that:

“effectively the past was at the mercy of memory and oral tradition, and thus of political, familial or other rivalries and preoccupations of the teller, a fluid and endlessly changeable resource. And of course for a country to have an official collective memory of some kind, it needs to have a collective identity. Many traditions seem to have seen their recent past as a story of triumph against tyrants: that image of success tends to push out other memories and other versions”.[23]

It is useful therefore to reflect on how history is likely to judge Hugh Desmond Hoyte from the words of persons who have attained   eminence in our time.

Dr Rupert Roopnaraine remembers his meeting with President Hoyte, who during their discussions on matters of national import, was moved to remark on Mrs Hoyte’s grief at having to put down her dog: Dr Roopnaraine said:

“For a man with an earned reputation for stubbornness and severity, he had a way of changing his mind when it most mattered for Guyana. In my exchanges with him all were cultured and patriotic. These are the ones I shall remember most keenly, when gravitas fell away and revealed a man, moved by the grief of his wife over the loss of her dog”.[24]

PJ Patterson, former Prime Minister of Jamaica said:
“Hugh Desmond Hoyte belonged to a generation of Caribbean leaders who relentlessly and unashamedly stood from the beginning for the independence of thought and action by the people of the Caribbean. He led Guyana for seven years from 1985 and is credited for a programme of economic liberalization and political opening that ultimately led to the 1992 election victory of the PPP[25].

Dr Mohamed Shahabudeen, recalling the place Hoyte had in the national psyche, said:

“There was no need to speak of Hoyte’s integrity and his lifestyle was anything but grand. His intellect was searching and powerful,- encyclopaedic in its range and profound in depth. He had a profound grasp of the historical development of the nation, a sense of civilization, and a reverence for the diversity of the country’s people”[26].

This is what President Jagdeo said in relation to President Hugh Desmond Hoyte:

Our strategies may have differed and our perspective varied but none dare challenge his patriotism, doubt his resolve, or contest his commitment to serving his country. Away from the glare of the media and without the technocrats and advisers, we held long hours in intensive discussions and together we drafted documents reflecting positions agreed on and new areas of cooperation. His personal grace, delightful banter and rich anecdotes transformed our waiting to have these documents prepared, into pleasant human encounters not merely as two individuals with political mandates but as countrymen who realized and accepted the enormous responsibility for the future of our people and country. He played his part to the end in tireless work for the nation and in his honour and memory let us play our part”[27].


My contribution through this Commemorative Lecture was to reflect on the transformational role played by Hugh Desmond Hoyte and the decisions that he took that were in keeping with his own vision of the future or which he chose to take because, faced with the realities, he was a pragmatist. I presented six such decisions, which in my opinion have had a transformational impact on Guyana.

I gave my own assessments relating to each decision and complemented my perspectives with the views of others, who were also active participants or witnesses to that time in our history. As Thucydides, the historian, whose work was influenced by his great predecessor Herodotus contended, ‘the only true observer is the participant’.

In concluding my Presentation, I am reminded that we are gearing up for that time in the life of our nation when we hold our General Elections. This is a period that some people cynically refer to as ‘silly season’-an irreverent view of an event and an outcome that should be regarded with great seriousness; as adherence to and compliance with a signpost of democracy, and a benchmark of good governance. So we need to change such cynicism and negative perspectives about General Elections.

I therefore asked myself  what message  can we take away from this 4th Commemorative Lecture that encapsulates the vision and pragmatism of the  transformational leader Hugh Desmond Hoyte  and one that resonates with our current circumstances. The message I leave with you and all my fellow Guyanese is the same message delivered nine years ago by Hugh Desmond Hoyte at what was his final address to his political comrades:

“As we face the future, we cannot and must not dissipate our time and energies in sterile political polemics, in fruitless disputations and controversies. We have had enough of words, of useless verbiage. We must now let our actions speak for us in eloquent and passionate terms. For us, it would be more beneficial to concentrate on the policies to be crafted, the programmes to be designed, and the work to be done to stimulate development in the interest of all the Guyanese people”.[28]


[1] Nelson Mandela Long Walk to Freedom(Little, Brown and Company, USA, 1995) p390

[2] Mitchell, Sir James Reconstructing the Guyana Stage, Second HDH Memorial Lecture, 2008

[3] Angoy, W.A. Guyana Man, Triumph Publications, Barbados (1990) Ch. 23

[4] Angoy, W.A. Guyana Man, Triumph Publications , Barbados, 1990, Ch 23

[5] Young, M. F. Guyana The Lost El Dorado (Peepal Tree Press, 1998)

[6] Anna Benjamin Birth of Expression and Birth of Stabroek News, (Guyana Publications Inc, 2007) page 65.

[7] Ibid page 69.

[8] Ian McDonald; Between Silence and Silence (Peepal Tree Press, 2003): (Middle Age: What Delighteth Me;p35)

[9] Ferguson, T; Structural Adjustment and Good Governance, The Case of Guyana, page 25. (1995)

[10] Stabroek News of January 23, 1987

[11] Ibid

[12] Ferguson T; page 57

[13] CHOGM Address 1989, Malaysia

[14] Iwokrama Annual Report 2008

[15] Ibid

[16] Anna Benjamin Freedom of Expression and Birth of the Stabroek News (Guyana Publications Inc.2007)p.66

[17] Ibid p.67

[18] Denny, P Stabroek News, December 30, 2002

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] Tributes, Stabroek News, January  04,2003

[22]Thomas, R ,The Histories of Herodotus (David Campbell Publishers, 1997)

[23] Ibid

[24] Stabroek News of December 30, 2002

[25] Patterson, P.J. in the Jamaica Gleaner of December 22, 2002

[26] Denny, P Stabroek News, December 30, 2011


[28]Hoyte, H.D. Address to the Biennial Congress of the PNC, 2002

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Ingrid King  On 03/30/2011 at 4:14 am

    Quite lengthy but an excellent read.

  • edmund forde  On 03/30/2011 at 4:33 pm

    good reading material

  • Clavel  On 04/15/2011 at 9:37 pm

    I think history material of this nature should be posted at every school in Guyana for refrence. Very well put together. Thank you

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