March 9, 1929
December 22, 2002
Hugh Desmond Hoyte was born into a family of modest circumstances in Georgetown, British Guiana, and became president of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana in 1985. His life reflected the process of social transformation that accompanied the transition of the colony—British Guiana—to an independent state—Guyana—over the course of the twentieth century. Hoyte was both a product of the colonial order and an agent of the new nationalist political order that sought to grapple with the challenges of independence in the late twentieth century.
Education and Early Career
Hoyte attended Saint Barnabas Anglican School and the Progressive High School at a time when the education of children represented a major investment for parents, since public education was not widely available in the colony. He later obtained an external B.A. degree from the University of London and after a stint of teaching in Grenada studied law in London beginning in 1957. He received an LL. B. in London in 1959 and was called to the bar. He returned to Guyana in 1960 to begin practice as a lawyer. In his education and career path, Hoyte was representative of the commitment to education and professional development that marked the generation of Guyanese who emerged as the standard bearers of the nationalist struggle. His erudition and commitment to education were never compromised by his pursuit of a political career.
In 1961 Hoyte joined the legal firm of Clarke and Martin, among whose members were Forbes Burnham, Fred Wills, and Fenton Ramsahoye, who would all go on to prominent political careers in the nationalist era. Forbes Burnham became his professional and political mentor—a relationship that led to Hoyte's eventual ascension to the presidency of Guyana upon the death of Burnham in 1985. Hoyte's legal career lasted until 1968, when he was elected to parliament on the People's National Congress (PNC) slate in the first of a series of fraudulent elections that allowed Burnham to consolidate his power in an independent Guyana.
Hoyte's formal entry into parliament as a result of the 1968 election was preceded by his 1966 appointment to the National Elections Commission, the agency that supervised the disputed elections of 1968. He had also served as a legal advisor to the pro-PNC Guyana Trades Union Congress and as a member of the General Council of the PNC since 1962. His entry into national politics reflected his close collaboration with Burnham and the grooming process he had undergone as a prelude to his entry into the cabinet as minister of home affairs in 1969, with responsibility for the police and a section of the state security apparatus. Hoyte's portfolio was critical to another major post-independence political transition in 1970, when Guyana became a republic, with an appointed president serving as ceremonial head of state.
A Major Influence
Hoyte served as finance minister from 1970 to 1972; as minister of works and communications from 1972 to 1974; and as minister of economic development from 1974 to 1980. He was also elevated to membership of the central committee of the PNC in 1973. He had emerged as a major figure within the government and ruling party. The 1970s saw another fraudulent election in 1973, and the introduction of a new constitution creating, by way of a rigged 1978 referendum, an executive presidency.
The 1970s also saw a rapprochement between the PNC and the opposition Marxist-Leninist People's Progressive Party (PPP) as the country's political trajectory allowed it to foster closer relations with the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba. Hoyte, as minister of economic development, oversaw the nationalization of the bauxite and sugar industries and the expansion of the public sector. The increasing state control of the economy was driven by a desire to use profits from the export sectors to promote the diversification of the economy as a whole. Unfortunately, this strategy was adopted as the oil shocks of the 1970s wreaked havoc with the global financial and trading systems and undermined the economies of all exporters of primary commodities. This expansion of state control led to the imposition of limits upon freedom of the press and the ruling party's resort to militarization of the state through the creation of the Guyana National Service and the Guyana People's Militia. It also led to capital flight and the migration of skilled Guyanese.
Hoyte's increasing influence was evident when he was appointed vice president to Burnham, who became executive president in 1980. Hoyte was named prime minister and first vice president in 1984. A year later Hoyte became president upon Burnham's death. His accession to the presidency in 1985 was the capstone of his political career. In a surprising turnaround and disavowal of his mentor, and despite a flawed election in 1985, Hoyte initiated an era of political reform. Intimately aware of the possibility of state financial collapse due to its debt burden and the crisis of management at all levels of the vastly expanded public sector, Hoyte abandoned Burnham's flirtation with the socialist bloc. He adopted International Monetary Fund advice and a structural adjustment program. He also re-established freedom of the press, encouraged the establishment of the Iwokrama project to support sound environmental management of Guyana's rain forest, and created the Guyana Prize for Literature. The changes he introduced extended to the electoral reforms that led to his ouster in 1992 in an election at which former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was the lead international observer. Hoyte's decision to embark upon the process of reform reversed the course of economic decline that had preceded his assumption of the presidency.
After 1992 Hoyte remained leader of the opposition until his death in 2002, although he lost the general elections of 1992, 1997, and 2001 to the PPP. His death marked the passage of the generation nationalists who led Guyana to independence but whose legacy for the future of the country remains ambiguous.
Ferguson, Tyrone. Structural Adjustment and Good Governance: The Case of Guyana. Georgetown, Guyana: Public Affairs Consulting, 1995.
Ferguson, Tyrone. To Survive Sensibly or to Court Heroic Death: Management of Guyana's Political Economy, 1965–1985. Georgetown, Guyana: Guyana National Printers, 1999.
Fraser, Cary. Ambivalent Anti-Colonialism. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1994.
Glasgow, R.A. Guyana: Race and Politics among Africans and East Indians. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1970.
Hintzen, Percy C. The Costs of Regime Survival: Racial Mobilization, Elite Domination, and Control of the State in Guyana and Trinidad. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Singh, Chaitram. Guyana: Politics in a Plantation Society. New York: Praeger, 1988.
Spinner, Thomas J., Jr. A Political and Social History of Guyana, 1945–1983. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1984.
cary fraser (2005)