by Malcolm Haripaul
(former GDF Officer)

Around the First World War the British established the British Guiana Volunteer Force to serve with the British Army. It was almost 100% Afro Guyanese in composition. The Police force was almost 100% Afro Guyanese too. Two factors served to keep Indians out and there were:-

  • Physical criteria such as height and chest measurement meant that only a few Indians would qualify since we did not measure up.

  • Indians were not encouraged to enlist because our labor was needed on the estates.

The predominantly Afro Guyanese membership of the Security Forces continued until the early 1960's. Then the British, acting on the advice of the International Commission of Jurists, established the Special Services Unit (SSU), which was a military wing of the Police Force. It was identified to be the fore runner of the Army in an independent Guyana.

The ICJ had recommended an ethnically balanced Security Force. This was against a background of racial conflict in the early 1960's. The membership of the SSU comprised an equal percentage of Indians and Africans, and it was commanded by Major Sattaur. Burnham came to power in December 1964. On November 1, 1965 he created the Guyana Defense Force.

The SSU was to become the Guyana Defense Force. However Burnham brought in the BGVF and the SSU into the GDF. The new Army then became lopsidedly Afro Guyanese in membership. Burnham dispensed with the Services of Major Sattaur. Recruitment of the Officer Corps immediately underwent a drastic change. Instead of recruiting an equal member of Indians and Africans, as was the case of the SSU, the GDF began inducting mostly Africans. By 1970, most of the Indian Officers were forced out.

The GDF was forced into operation thrice in the late 1960's. It brutally put down the Rupunni Uprising amidst numerous allegations of rape of Amerindian women by Afro Guyanese soldiers. The army also evicted the Surinamese from the New River Triangle and it clashed with the Venezuelans at Ankoko. Indian Officers and NCO’s played a big part in the military aspect of those operations.

By 1970, Burnham had already established the Education Corp and a PNC group in the GDF. The objective of the Education Corp was to brainwash the new recruit with the PNC’s Ideology. Cadet courses were especially targeted and they had to spend weeks at Cuffy Ideological Institute. The PNC group in the GDF comprised Officers only and included the current Chief of Staff Joe Singh and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Fabian Liverpool. The PNC group was required to sell New Nation. The Army also established the Scarlet Beret, a journal, around this time.

In 1973, when Burnham realized that fraud alone could not secure the elections for him, he ordered the GDF to seize and destroy all ballots. In executing this order, two Indians were shot to death and several more were injured on the Corentyne. A reign of terror was unleashed on Indians in PPP straight holds via patrols, house searches, detentions, beatings, setting dogs on people and general intimidation.

In 1977 the Army COS, Col. Price publicly swore loyalty to the PNC at its congress. The period 1977-1980 saw a virtual occupation of the costal belt by the GDF. By then Burnham had already created the GNS in 1973 and the GPM in 1976. Both were almost 100% African in membership.

During this time Burnham also created the Joint Intelligence Committee which was headed by the current Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis. The JIC exercised control of the police Special Branch and the Intelligence Corps of the GDF, GPM and GNS. The JIC front was the National Guard Service that was also created by Burnham. Laurie Lewis was the General Manager of the NGS and the Chairman of the JIC.

The later 1970's saw the infiltration of the WPA by the Intelligence Community. This culminated with the assassination of Walter Rodney in June 1980. In 1978 on orders from the JIC, the GDF issued assault and sniper rifles, grenades, bayonets, submachine guns and ammunition to the House of Israel and PNC leaders. The YSM was armed and it marched with the Disciplined Services.

This period also saw the assassination of over twelve WPM activists. One Catholic Priest, Father Darke was killed with an Army bayonet by a House of Israel thug. Burnham had also created a Death Squad in the Police Force.

The early 1980's saw the Army on heightened alert as Burnham made use of the border problem with Venezuela to detract from the domestic situation. He had already rigged the 1978 Referendum and the 1980 elections which ushered in the new constitution that gave him absolute power. By then he had become suspicious of some senior officers in the GDF. In 1979 he replaced Col. Price with Norman McLean as COS. The latter was related to his wife and he was a Police Officer. This caused resentment in the Officer Corps.

Several senior GDF officers were given diplomatic postings and there was a steady shifting around of others. Some senior officers home were "covertly" searched by Special Branch agents. The intelligence agencies not only had the PPP and WPA under surveillance but army officers too. Norman McLean used his political power to run the GDF on fear.

The GDF began to feel the economic crunch in the early 1980's. Many senior officers and other ranks began to leave in large numbers. By the time Burnham died in August 1985, the size of the GDF, GPM and GNS had shrunk drastically due to several factors.

Economic hardship
Instability in the upper ranks
Poor management

Hoyte became the President and Commander-in-Chief in 1985 and he also used the Security Forces to rig the elections that year. However, he had issued special orders that the Army was not to touch ballot boxes, just escort them to counting stations. Hoyte made Joe Singh the COS and Laurie Lewis the Commissioner. He had a fall out with Norman McLean. The Force Commander, Granger, went off to UG. Laurie Lewis incorporated the NGS into the Police force, and he retained control of the Intelligence agencies.

The period 1989 to 1992 saw intensive intelligence activities against the PPP and the WPA. During this period a group of Indian Police and Army officers were jailed for treason. It was alleged they had created and trained an insurrectionary force. It was alleged they were betrayed by the PPP.

In the 1992 elections, the Police stood by as Afro Guyanese looted Georgetown. The Army and Police restored order after they were ordered by Hoyte to do so. An impartial Force would have prevented the street violence against Indians. Upon assuming office Dr. Jagan made no changes to the security forces. In the aftermath of the 1997 elections, Indians were again violated whilst the Police stayed off the streets for six hours. Hoyte made the infamous "Kit and Kin" call to Security Forces when he defied the PPP’s ban on street marches.

The current President, Janet Jagan, is pursuing the same policy her husband did and that is to leave the security Forces as they are. No changes will be made to the Forces despite their imbalances and partiality Janet Jagan will continue to make nice talk with the military as Cheddi did. She will continue to shower them with their praises and rewards.

The current COS will continue to ride two horses. He has to say things that will be satisfactory to his PNC subordinates on one hand and the political directorate on the other. He will try to offend no one and will always think of his survival first.

At this point I wish to explain how Indians are marginalized in the Security Forces.

    1. Low recruitment
    2. No provision for diet in training and on other job
    3. Racial insult on training
    4. Discrimination on training courses
    5. Non promotion
    6. Attempts at brainwashing on course
    7. Sheer intimidation

Editors Note:

With regard to the police force, the International Commission of Jurists in 1965 assessed the forces' representation to which Africans made up 71.9%, Indians 20.7%. Other ethnic groups made up the remaining 7.4%. The ICJ recommendations were put in cold storage under the PNC when it quickly dismantled the Special Services Unit, which was supposed to be the recommended vehicle for ethnic representation and balance.

Despite the fact that Indians generally considered the police (and the army) as menial jobs, several factors militated against Indians becoming police officers.

Page 41 of the ICJ report regarding special recruitment criteria notes:

"requirements as to height and chest measurements automatically exclude a large number of Indians who, as a race, are smaller than the Africans".

"the requirements that recruits should normally be unmarried militates against the Indians, who customarily marry at a younger age than the African."

These factors were, historically, partial explanations for the preponderance of Africans in the police force despite the fact that Indians constituted a 51% majority of the population.

May 19, 2002
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