The Psychology of Desmond Hoyte
by Frederick Kissson


All indications point to the retention of the leadership of the PNC by Desmond Hoyte at the PNC's congress in two week's time. It would not be wise for the favourite candidate, Raphael Trotman to contest against Mr. Hoyte. Some observers felt all along that Mr. Hoyte was reluctant to give up the headship and the spiral of uncontrollable events fitted in nicely with the plan. Others think that the whirlwind of events has made it strategically necessary for Mr. Hoyte to be at the helm. There can hardly be any question as to the fragility of the PNC at this moment. The sadistic impulses that find an outlet in village confrontations with the state, the ubiquity of anti-police attacks, the unstoppable criminal savagery with an anti-Indian prejudice are not manifestations of PNC's dynamism which makes it an indispensable factor in the political equation. On the contrary.

However unpalatable it must be for PNC cadres, its supporters, and its voters to accept it, the PNC has found in these perversities, a hand of survival. This explains the descent into the politics of the unimaginable by some leaders of the PNC whose texture was a refined one before the question of viability presented itself. Perhaps the most poignant example of this is Deryck Bernard. Prior to the breakdown of the dialogue, Mr. Bernard would have easily found a high place on anyone's list of PNC moderates. Mr. Bernard now appears as some who can be given the same classification as the conspiratorial talk-show hosts and the likes of Waddell and Benschop. Many PNC leaders see in the tempest of anti-Indian, anti-police and criminal violence, a methodology of survival at a time when the foundations of the PNC is shaking. A majority of decent Guyanese finds this unbelievable and it further alienates them from the PNC. With the exception of Hoyte and Trotman, PNC leaders are quite willing to use these events that they have no control of to embolden their political clout. A caveat is necessary though. Many would reject this analysis here seeing diabolical Machiavellianism at work in the plan. Put plainly and curtly, this is the investion of the PNC to enhance its demands.

Whichever theory you accept the fact is the PNC is playing not only a dangerous game, but also a self-destructive one. The PNC at the moment then is sitting on a Catch-22 cushion. If it joins with the political parties, civil society and the population at large and vehemently confront the perpetrators of mayhem, it feels this route will further deflate the expectation of its hard-core support. This situation is responsible for the high profile the extremist fringe has achieved in the PNC hierarchy the past year. On the other hand, the society has no stomach for the anti-human instincts that have been released into the Guyanese society. So fed up is the country with this unrelenting bestiality that the REFORM component has joined in the condemnation. The PNC then has to walk a thin line - it must be seen as a dynamic party confronting a government that its supporters want to see changed and it has to eschew the politics of devastation which appears to be taking Guyana on a path of annihilation. It is for Desmond Hoyte to find a way out of this labyrinthian cave. He can do it with the right people around him and the right mental thinking. It is for this reason, this congress will determine whether Desmond Hoyte recaptures his heroic status or go down in Caribbean history as a mediocre leader who undid the great things he once gave his country.

Before we explore the nature of the man and how he can restore his party's biology and the physiology of his country, an important observation needs to be highlighted. If one reads the emanations of PNC leaders with pointed carefulness, one finds that with the exception of Raphael Trotman, Hoyte does not follow the flock and get into the race hate thing. You have to look hard to find Hoyte commenting on violence on Indian people or defending the rhetoric of race hate. Hoyte eschews public comments on these topics. Isn't it strange that all though he invented the phrase MOH FYAAH, you cannot pin him down on a straight forward offensive racist statement as in the case Deryck Bernard and his outburst with Ryaan Shah. The closest Hoyte has come to that was in a Square of the Revolution speech in which he admonished members of the security forces to think about kith and kin. Though it does contain racial elements it falls outside the area of being offensive. Hoyte coats his outpourings with political colours. Isn't it strange for all his deportment of arrogance and inflexibility, he does not come across as one of the PNC leaders willing to openly endorse anti-Indian sentiments. It will not be easy for Hoyte detactors to believe it, but with the exception of Raphael Trotman, Hoyte is perhaps the only other democrat in the PNC's hierachy. The hands of fate may be working in Guyana's favour, for if Hoyte retains the PNC's number one position it may help Raphael Trotman's future role. Had Hoyte move off the scene this month, the night of long knives would have catch up with Trotman.

/Writing a column on Mr. Hoyte in the Chronicle in 1999, I opined then that he was an enigmatic personality, and there is no reason since 1992 to suppose otherwise. His political career has been marked by esoteric occurrences and inexplicable decisions. One that will forever stand out was his decision not to reach out to the political opposition and civil society when he began to demote a school of Burnhamite PNC leaders when he became president. It brought about his isolation both in the PNC and the government. Today, Hoyte is a prisoner of some of the very PNC leaders he had no use for between 1985 and 1992. Another form of mysterious behaviour had to do with his unwillingness to consolidate democracy at a time when he was riding high and when he believed he would win any free election. He allowed the birth of the Stabroek News, he appointed Indian heads to the two most important branches of the security forces, he lifted Burnham's ban on me working at UG, he interdicted a high-level army officer for suspected underhand dealings, he abolished the power of Rabbi Washington. But for unearthly reasons that maybe only he knows, he never sought constitutional changes which if he did, Guyana would not be facing the precipice as it is now.

There is a theory that says had the PPP really understood his inexplicable personality, the fate of Guyana would have been different. It would seem that the PPP didn't see anything out of the ordinary about Hoyte. The PPP's interpretation of him was that he was forced into perestroika and glasnost by the logic of the international culture of democratization which had overtaken the authoritarian world in the mid-eighties. The PPP then felt no gratitude since Hoyte didn't bestow any generosity on them; he was forced to do what he did, and therefore there was nothing to be grateful for since the PPP's natural accession to power was undermined for almost three decades. Using the arguments of ontology, one can debate this approach.


/Hoyte need not have opened up the system after he became president. Power, the sheer love of it, makes leaders prefer its possession over love of country. This is the accusation made by Pakistani strongman Zia Ul Haq when he ordered the execution of former Prime Minister, Zulikar Ali Bhuto. Ul Haq felt that Bhuto had conceded West Pakistan to India just to stay in power in East Pakistan. The role of Bhuto in the succession of West Pakistan is still to be determined. Then there is the case of Forbes Burnham who renegotiated the Venezuelan claim. Many historians argue that Burnham did this to prevent a Venezuelan blockage of his accession to power in 1966. Look what it has done to Guyana. History is replete with case-studies of leaders taking their country down a path of disintegration because of the obsession with power. A new generation of Guyanese Indian scholars, some of which belong to the ROAR outfit, are researching the role of Cheddi Jagan in Guyanese history. They are searching for evidence to prove that Jagan's preoccupation with Soviet communism was inimical to the political economy of the Indian community in British Guiana and that Jagan was willing to put his ideology first.

One complex feature of Hoyte's acquisition of the PNC's leadership has escaped evaluation so far. Even if one accepts the inevitability thesis, that is, Hoyte had no room to manoeuvre, that he had to hold free elections, there are paths he could have turned his back on. Two of them need some attention. First, after it was clear on the afternoon of October 5, 1992 that the PNC would have lost the election, some of the elder statesmen of the PNC began to revert to their pristine selves Ptolemy Reid was outside the Elections Commission doing what he was long accoustomed to doing. As pandemonium spread in downtown Georgetown that afternoon, the US Embassy communicated with Hoyte for a firm guarantee of law and order. Hoyte agreed and the police perambulated the streets of Georgetown, while PNC strongmen returned to the reality that the election was lost. Again, using the tool of ontology, Hoyte had nothing to lose by allowing the rampage to continue to see how it could have played out to the PNC's advantage. His presidential days were numbered anyway. So what did he had to lose?

Secondly, Guyanese political discourse, which is at a shaky moment as I write, may have evaporated a long time ago, replaced by persistent anarchy and dissolution if Hoyte had not won the confrontation with long standing oligarchs in the PNC. If there was a PNC today as it was in pre 1992 with Rabbi Washington, Hamilton Greene, Odinga Lumumba, Aubrey Norton and Philip Bynoe, the culture of inflexible, uncompromising, confrontational politics would have dragged Guyana down. A cynic may say but we have reached that stage anyway. But maybe we would have gone down long before the 21st century ever came. There is still time left for compromise. All of these men were of the same genre they were schooled in a Burnhamite type of politics which see a philosophical justification in the use of thuggery and violence. Robert Corbin was spared Hoyte's crusade after he was interdicted from duty for reasons we will come to see. How ironic that Hoyte who exorcised the ghosts of bullyism in the PNC is now sharing company with it. It is possible that one can trace these incomprehensibilities to the psychological make-up of Hoyte. Desmond Hoyte was never a politician. As I tried to show in that Sunday Chronicle article, he is essentially a loner. Hoyte's entry into political affairs came about because of his admiration for the man Forbes Burnham and not Burnham's party. Hoyte, like most members of the urban African middle class, visualized Burnham as the guarantor of the status quo against Jagan's rural/religious/communist mix of politics. He also believed in the greatness of Burnham as a national figure.

But Hoyte had almost nothing in common with Burnham except class origin. Not being a politician, Hoyte couldn't understand the enduring Orwellian games of Burnham and his politics. But one thing Hoyte understood very well the concept of loyalty. Desmond Hoyte is a person who believes in loyalty, The combination of loyalty and admiration made him a Burnham faithful. This can be cited for his acquiescence to Burnham's request to do duties at Linden even though at that moment there was a deep, personal tragedy in Hoyte's life. It is this emphasis on devotion to a relationship that has caused Hoyte to continue to elevate the profile of Robert Corbin in the PNC even though Hoyte knows Mr. Corbin is a figure of the past. Mr. Corbin's patronage was crucial in the deadly battle for power between Mr. Hoyte and Mr. Green after Burnham died. Had Corbin threw his support Green's way, Mr. Hoyte would never have been on the front page of Guyanese history. Hoyte believes he owes Corbin a life-long debt.

After his installation of the presidency, the loner in Hoyte became more pronounced. He sidelined Burnham's underlings who he didn't know and ran the government as he Desmond Hoyte understood it. Since he adored Burnham and not his party, Hoyte felt that with Burnham no longer around, there was no need to continue his loyalty to a group he hardly had any meaningful relationship with. He concentrated his effort on the presidency and not the party. But Hoyte the technocrat, Hoyte the Burnham fan, didn't know politics and the mistakes of his presidency were to cost him dearly. He turned his back on a reasonable dialogue with the PPP. He offered no appreciation for the WPA. His marriage to the business class prevented him from understanding the economics of class divided society. As the economy took shape, as his ERP took shape too, poverty in Guyana was getting an uglier shape. By the time 1992 came, Hoyte had done sufficient to propel him into the history books. But it was too little too late.

After the loss of power in 1992, the psychology of Desmond underwent a metamorphosis (a word his mentor, Forbes Burham loved to use). He became a frustrated person because for him human nature had failed him. But Hoyte didn't understand politics and an understanding of politics better equips one to under the nature of the human being. First, he silently accused the population of Guyana of ingratitude for not voting him in into power in 1992. Hoyte honestly believed he would have won the election and he communicated this thought to a senior retired security official. But a Hoyte victory was not guaranteed. Indian people chose Cheddi Jagan over him and this was understandable. Jagan didn't lose his charisma over the years and a majority of Indian people felt that he was denied power for so long that respect for history demanded that he be given his rightful place. This was a powerful argument and it was unreasonable to ask Indians not to vote for him. Hoyte's ERP benefited a cabal of rich Indian businessmen not the average working-class Indian. Though Hoyte was facetiously nicknamed Desmond Persaud, it was not justified because his Indian relationships did not extend to the rural poor.

If Hoyte became annoyed at the election results, his loss was nothing compared to that of the WPA's. By the time the moment for free election came to Guyana, the WPA had left a trail of dead bodies, broken frames, tortured souls and victimized beings. It was colossal struggle to free Guyana from three decades of inhuman government but in the end the electorate turned its back on the WPA. Like the WPA, Mr. Hoyte let loose his wrath on the PPP but Guyana suffered in the process.


In part two , we looked at the nature of post 1992 Desmond Hoyte and his lost of faith in the maturity of the electorate. Coupled with this was Mr. Hoyte's anger at the Indian business class. But here again a lack of familiarity with politics is to be blamed. Mr. Hoyte should understand that the entrepreneurial class does not have political affiliations, they can't. This is a class with silicone smiles that plays for keeps. Capitalist people are not white-collar workers, blue-collar employees, philosophically driven academics, and ideologically hardened labourers. They think of the preservation of their investments only. These are people that swim with the tide to protect their money. Their role is to placate the government of the day. A number of Indian entrepreneurs benefited immensely from Hoyte's ERP but these people were born under a repressive system controlled by the PNC and though Hoyte's ERP liberated them, their suspicion of the PNC was cerebrally driven. And once Hoyte went out, they felt more comfortable with Jagan. This Hoyte found confusing. Hoyte was more capitalist than Jagan therefore why would the Indian business class abandon him after 1992. The reason was simple Hoyte was no longer in power, a new titan held the keys. It is not that the capitalist class is a fragile one, it is that it is not a loyal one; loyalty is a luxury capitalism can ill afford. Mr. Hoyte should know that if he ever returns to power before he can ink his swearing-in papers, he will have business visitors.

The loss of the 1997 election was a turning point for Hoyte. The remnants of the Burnhamite factions which was perhaps always kept alive by Corbin and which expanded through his initiatives were now demanding the return of the Hamilton Green methodology but without Green. In a strange twist of faith, Hoyte was being called upon to invoke the ghost of Green and transform this spectre into a living human being. Hoyte had no choice. He had to. And this brings us to 2002. One interjection is necessary at this point. What would the course of events be like if the PPP had different conceptions of Hoyte and had adopted a more open arm policy towards him? We will never know but it may have been a strategic mistake by Dr. Jagan that has cost this country dearly. In another twist of faith, Hoyte may still come good. There is still one more opportunity left for Hoyte to restore his glorious page in Guyanese history which at the moment is hanging by a single thread in the book. But one more digression before we come to the PNC's August congress.

Even though Hoyte was on the burner after 1997 with Mr. Corbin and company stoking the fire, Hoyte's democratic instincts were not all extinguished. Because of his contacts with the business community and parts of civil society, he could have been contacted for offers of compromise. And it would appear this is what he gave in 1997 and 1998. In 2001 after the election, the PNC's traditional modus operandi took over and Hoyte's control had diminished. The extreme fringe was now demanding the jugular. After Hoyte accepted a presidential invitation to dialogue one to one with the President, Congress Place came under siege. The talk- show hosts who are intricately connected to the extremist fringe were now fanning out as part of the "GET THE JUGULAR plan. The conspiracy to derail the dialogue was now set in motion. Some person or persons who learned a lot of deadly political tricks under the triumphirate of the sixties Burham, Reid and Green were now reborn. But the democratic instincts of Hoyte led Hoyte to the Presidential Complex a fateful afternoon when his car came under siege that brought back memories of the assault on Haslyn Parris in Congress Place compound the day after the election in 2001. Was it coincidental that the most fiery conflagrations since 1962 took place in 2001 with Robert Corbin being a factor after he sat down in front of the presidential complex and was forcefully removed? Was it coincidental that the most ominous decline since the fires on Regent Street last year was the invasion of the Presidential Complex and again there was the controversial role of Robert Corbin. We come now to the congress later this month.

There are onerous and painful choices facing Hoyte. But if he is going to save Guyana he cannot do it alone. If Hoyte continues in the hegemonic seat as mandated by the congress and he moves towards a more conciliatory role for the PNC, then his longevity will be cut short drastically if the PPP adopts a hands off stance towards him. Two moves are now required to save Guyana. Both are compulsory and cannot be avoided. One Hoyte has to restore his power and prestige in the PNC and reorganize the PNC towards a democratic reconciliation with Guyana. Two if Hoyte does that, the PPP has to go out on a limb to meet Hoyte so as to provide him with a canopy. There is a third move which has already taken place and that is the return of Hoyte has preserved the political life of the PNC's best hope for the future Raphael Trotman. Had Hoyte moved off in the prevailing circumstances, Trotman would have been a goner. In this respect, Hoyte has already moved in the direction of positive politics.

It will not be easy for Hoyte later this month. Because he is a towering figure in the PNC he is likely to get his way. Two figures are viewed with suspicion by a majority of Guyanese now that Aubrey Norton is out - Robert Corbin and Vincent Alexander. Why this is so is because people think they are a throwback to the Burnham days. It would be unfair to categorise Alexander with Corbin. Vincent is a childhood friend from Packoodam (Wortmanville) and is an astute politician who knows when to retreat and when to advance. The quality that he has in his favour is that Indian people do not see him as violent and anti-Indian. They view Corbin as both. Alexander would never have found himself in the slinging match that Corbin found himself in with the PRO of the Georgetown Hospital when the PRO accused Corbin of threatening behaviour. There can be no denying the fact that Vincent Alexander comes from good Wortmanville stock. Should he be the chairman of the PNC?

Because the future of the PNC rests with Raphael Trotman after the exit of Hoyte, it may be best for Hoyte to start the grooming period now and allow Trotman to assume the PNC's chairmanship. Hoyte's problem is that he accepts his external debt to Corbin. The question is whether Robert Corbin can mellow. With the gradual withdrawal of Mrs. Jagan, the downgrading of Reepu Daman Persaud, it may be best for the future of both the PNC and Guyana for Mr. Corbin to commence his withdrawal too. I now say with all analytical sincerity what moral claim Robert Corbin has to leadership given his track record, what moral right Corbin has to criticize his opponents in the PPP? Please ladies and gentlemen, let's be honest to ourselves and our country.

Mr. Hoyte has to create some history for himself at the PNC's upcoming crisis. I would recommend the following policy changes: (a) the immediate grooming of Raphael Trotman; (b) the insertion into the PNC hierarchy of a group of high profile Indians of which Winston Murray must be one; (c) a no-nonsense disciplinary approach to the extremist fringe; (d) a program of rapprochement with the Indian population who are fearful of the PNC and believes the PNC is involved in a pathological conspiracy of criminal violence against them. This is definitely the last chance for Mr. Hoyte to relive a great moment. Guyana should not forget his heroic role in democratic restoration. You owe to yourself Mr. Hoyte.

[Editor's Note: All credits to the author, Mr. Frederick Kissoon, who penned this critical article on August 9, 2002.]        <<< Page X                                                                        Page X>>>                       

© 2001