Chowtie's Last Stand
by Ravi Dev

There’s an old truism: “truth will eventually triumph”. While it appears that the “triumph” is not nigh upon us, recent events do suggest that, at least as political violence in Guyana is concerned, some truths are rising inexorably to the surface. The death of Gopaul Chowtie, killed after he committed a robbery under arms on the East Coast exposes another such truth. Even though our politics has been intertwined with violence since the sixties, as I attempted to show last week, many of us refuse to face the truth: both the PPP and the PNC have dirty hands. What can Chowtie’s death teach us about the culture of political violence in Guyana?

Anyone who grew up during the sixties would be aware of the organised nature of the violence of the era. Both the PPP and the PNC had cadres well trained in the “black arts”. The PNC had lucked out then, in that their African and Coloured constituencies formed the bulk of the Police and Volunteer Forces and they had little difficulty in obtaining trained manpower to induct eager young recruits into those “black arts”. The PPP had to send their cadres to Cuba for their training.

Che Gueverra

Dr. Jagan appeared to have concluded two truths after the debacle of the sixties, when he was ousted: that the PPP’s cadres couldn’t defeat the armed forces of the state – which were partial to the PNC and that because of the uni-ethnic nature of the support base of both the PPP and the PNC, any armed struggle would descend into a race war. However, many in the PPP (especially the youths – but including the Chairman Brindley Benn, who walked out) disagreed vehemently. It was the climate of the times. Che Gueverra had persuaded many, but not Dr. Jagan, that the “subjective conditions could change the objective conditions” or more concretely, that a small band of believers could alter the imbalance of power through armed struggle.

To maintain his credibility (after all, he was supposed to be an “official” radical Communist by 1969) Dr. Jagan kept on the military training of young cadres both internally and in Russia, up to 1990. Gopaul Chowtie received military training in the Soviet Union during the 1970’s. We have to remember that during the 1970’s the PPP was sorely pressed to match the radicalism of the WPA, which had vowed to bring down the PNC by “any means necessary”. Even though in the season of Easter, high officials of the PPP thrice denied that Chowtie was at his death “a card-carrying PPP”, they will not be able to deny that he was in Russia on a PPP “scholarship”. They have to explain what subject he studied. On the other side, as we pointed out last week, the PNC maintained its illegal rule up to 1992 through its phenomenal build up of the military and para-military forces. The YSM, and even the WRSM received military training and in conjunction with individuals who left the armed forces, constituted a formidable battery of individuals trained to inflict violence. These were the “sharper steel” that Burnham boasted about. Both the PPP and PNC knew the capabilities of each other.


Because of such knowledge, Dr. Jagan insisted to countless batches of militarily trained personnel between 1964-1990 that “the objective conditions” were not right for an armed struggle – the economic sabotage program had to suffice. Since those times most of those cadres have had to return to civilian life to eke out a living. They added to the reserve of violence-knowledgeable individuals in our society, some of whom not unsurprisingly fell back on their training, to commit crimes. A study conducted by U.G. in 1974 showed that Indians and Africans showed that obviously both Africans and Indians committed crimes, the rates and types of crimes were radically different – because of their historical experiences. The Indian would typically commit his violence in fits of “passion” to those around him, while Africans would commit his in tandem with robberies. (See “Crime, Race and Culture” by Dr. Howard Jones)

In the Indian community, these Moscow and local-trained individuals became the enforcers to ensure adherence to the PPP’s line. Gopaul Chowtie and several of his Moscow-trained cohorts, for instance, showed up at several ROAR rallies to take notes and, in general, to intimidate the crowd to whom they would have been known. In Reliance, Essequibo where most of the ROAR officials were ex-PPP officials (including Rabindranath Mohan, ex-PPP organiser and ex-PPP deputy Mayor of Anna Regina- whose father was murdered during the campaign, in an apparent confusion of identity with Mohan) this was pointed out to us. Another “trained” individual “Chippie” stabbed ROAR’s Organiser Baldeo Chaitram in Bath and was hidden in Freedom House, we are told, while the Police was looking for him. Another, Ramanaha, now national organiser for the PPP, burnt our banner in full view of the Police and was released within hours (upon the intervention of Khemraj Ramjattan) and the police ranks were reprimanded.


The death of Gopaul Chowtie, while committing a robbery under arms, proves conclusively that some of the Moscow-trained Indian operatives went over to a life of crime. This could not have begun with Chowtie. While the total numbers were small, they were there - the Essequibo bank robbery a few years ago another. One has to wonder whether robbery was the only motive. Evidently Chowtie was not a poor man. In 1999, the Minister of Fisheries declared open Chowtie’s “$9 million fish farm”. (Guyana Chronicle, Oct. 13th 1999, p. 8.). However those who are claiming that all of the robberies and the mayhem that have been committed since 1998 – or even before - are the work of Indians like Chowtie and other “free-lancers” are not doing justice to the uncovering of the truth that can make us all “triumph”.

Those trained by the PNC have been involved in crimes from the “choke-and-rob” phenomenon of the sixties, the “kick-down-the-door” banditry of the eighties and nineties and the “resistance fighters” of the new millennium. We cannot ignore the political nexus and dividends to the PNC. However, that some of the Buxtonions may have even been trained or influenced by the WPA of the late seventies – and now the truth of the PPP Chowtie - just proves the point that if Guyana is to know any peace, politically or otherwise, all players have to denounce and reject violence as an option. Unequivocally, or we will all be consumed.

Even as the Minister of Home Affairs declared in Parliament last Friday, in reference to Death Squads – they will become “Frankensteins”. Meaning, I am sure, that sooner or later, the monsters created will destroy their creators. Truth will triumph.


April 14th, 2004
© 2001