People's National Congress

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People's National Congress

The origins of the People's National Congress (PNC), the political party founded in October 1957 by Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, the first executive president of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, was the 1955 fracture of the People's Progressive Party (PPP), of which Burnham had been a founding leader with Dr. Cheddi B. Jagan. Among the founding members of the PNC were such African-Guyanese women as Winifred Gaskin. Gaskin had been a founding member and one-time president of the first women's political organization in the country, the Women's Political and Economic Organisation (WPEO), formed in 1946. Other women who participated included Jane Phillips-Gay, Jessica (Jesse) Burnham, and Margaret Ackman, and men included Claude Merriman, Andrew Jackson, H. M. E. Cholmondeley, Albert Ogle, Hamilton Green, Dr. J. P. Latchmansingh, Jai Narine Singh, Flavio Da Silva, Eugene Correia, Stanley Hugh, and Clinton Wong. Although the PNC became known as the political party of the African Guyanese because of the mass support of members of that group, effort was always made to include all racial groups in its rank and file.

The first annual congress of the party was held in Georgetown on October 57, 1957. At the congress the name of the party was changed from the PPP (the party of the Burnhamites) to the People's National Congress. The New Nation was adopted as the official name of the party's organ, changing it from the PPP Thunder. The three sessions of the congress focused on problems facing the colony's youth, women's role in politics, and the party's business affairs with the PNC's Young Socialist Movement (YSM) and the Women's Revolutionary Socialist Movement (WRSM) as important participants. To distinguish the ideologies, political philosophies, and direction of the PNC from the Marxist-Leninist leanings of the Jagan-led PPP, the new party defined itself as socialist and embraced the struggle for independence, nationalism, and racial integration. Socialism meant a society organized to produce for use rather than profit. Nationalism signified the struggle for independence from Great Britain and the power to control the country's affairs. Initially, the party operated in Georgetown out of the legal chambers of its leader, Burnham, but the first official headquarters of the PNC, Congress Place, was located on King Street. Next, it moved to Carmichael and Newmarket Streets, then to 227 Camp Street. The current headquarters of the PNC is in Sophia, Greater Georgetown.

In 1958 John P. Carter's United Democratic Party (UDP) joined the PNC, with Carter becoming the first vice chair, the number three position after Burnham, and J. P. Latchmansingh becoming chair. The executive committee of the PNC comprised eighteen members, nine each from the PNC itself and the former UDP. A general council of thirty members was established. At its annual delegates conference in 1961 the party was reorganized to include an executive committee of ten member and a general council of twenty-four. Burnham remained the leader of a party committed to all the people of the country under the slogan "One People, One Nation, One Destiny." This slogan became the national motto of independent Guyana.

The PNC was the main opposition party in the legislature until the general elections of December 1964. Following that election, the PNC won enough seats to lead a coalition government with Peter D'Aguiar's United Force (UF). The PNC-UF coalition gained 53 percent electoral votes, which translated into twenty-nine seats in the fifty-three-seat House of Assembly. The PPP became the opposition in the legislature with twenty-four seats. The forming of the coalition government ended the riots, killings, and destruction of property that had occurred during the previous three years.

The policies and programs of the PNC-UF-led government included the attainment of independence from Great Britain, the pursuit of racial harmony, and the equality of all citizens. Steps were taken to include Amerindian or indigenous citizens into full national participation to enable them to share in the benefits and responsibilities of the country. Soon after taking office and for some time thereafter, the coalition government discussed the possibility of a consultative democracy in Guyana with various groups, including the Maha Sabha (Hindu), the United Sadir Islamic Anjuman, the African Society of Cultural Relations with Independent Africa, and the Chinese Association, as well as with the Anglican archbishop of the West Indies, the Roman Catholic bishop of Georgetown, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Methodist Body, the Congregational Conference, and other religious and cultural organizations. The coalition government envisioned that engaging diverse groups would promote harmony and that these groups would advise the government when matters likely to affect any section of the population arose.

Under the PNC-UF coalition government from 1965 to 1967, initiatives to launch a three-state Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) with Antigua and Barbados developed into the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), with most Caribbean countries as members. With independence in 1966, Guyana became a member of the United Nations and subsequently the first

Caribbean state to be elected to the Security Council. After the PNC won an outright victory in the general election in December 1968 and became the sole party in power, it pursued its commitment to regional integration and unity. By August 1973, when CARICOM became fully operational, its headquarters was located in Georgetown. In 1972 Guyana hosted the first Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA), and seventeen countries participated. Regional integration remained a key feature of the PNC-led government's external policy. The government also played a significant role in promoting economic self-reliance for developing countries. Guyana initiated the meeting of economists from those countries in August 1972 in Georgetown to draft a program for economic cooperation among developing countries.

The country's government, led by the PNC, believed in territorial integrity and national sovereignty. The neighboring countries Suriname and Venezuela had long claimed significant portions of Guyana, and their illegal incursions into the country began to be met with resistance. In December 1967 Suriname invaded and occupied an area of Guyana called the New River Triangle. On August 19, 1969, the Guyana Defense Force, established by the PNC regime, routed the invaders and secured the entire disputed area as Guyana's sovereign territory.

By the 1970s, the PNC adopted the doctrine of Paramountcy of the Party, or the Declaration of Sophia, which enunciated that all organs of the state were agencies of the PNC and subject to its control. During that same decade PNC politicians supported a policy of nationalizing resources for the benefit of the Guyanese people. The National Development Program focused on promoting an economic revolution, national reconstruction, and encouraging a cooperative way of life. The Guyana National Service Secretariat (GNS) was established in 1973. It combined paramilitary, educational, and development activities for youths and students. Although the GNS aimed at interior settlement, development of the country, and national unity, the agenda also served to reduce criminal activities of Guyanese youths. In 1976 the PNC government took over all the schools in the country and promised free education from kindergarten to university.

In Guyana, the first half of the 1970s was relatively prosperous economically, with prices of the country's main exports increasing on the international market. The PNC-led government took control of foreign trade with the establishment of the External Trade Bureau. Important government bureaucracies like the National Insurance Scheme provided pensions and other benefits for many. Political and administrative plans included a "feed, clothe, and house the nation" program (FCH), aiming to satisfy the basic needs of the people, to create employment opportunities, to generate self-reliance, to reorient consumption patterns in favor of locally produced products, and to reorganize foreign trade. Remarkable developments of the infrastructure of the country, including improvements to the pure water supply and health care services, were obvious. National development included a remigration scheme that encouraged skilled Guyanese living overseas to return home and to contribute to nation building. By 1976, however, oil price increases by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and decreased revenues from two of the country's major exports, bauxite and sugar, adversely affected Guyana's national development.

As the 1970s drew to a close, the challenges that the PNC-led government faced increased, partly due to a policy of nationalizing foreign companies that produced the major export earners of the country, bauxite (1971, 1974, and 1975) and sugar (1976). In November 1978 the Jones-town tragedy, when an American group in Guyana's interior committed mass suicide, added fuel to the fires of opposition forces. As the 1980s unfolded, the untimely and still unsolved tragic death of historian and political activist Dr. Walter A. Rodney, along with pressing economic issues, presaged the demise of the PNC-led government of Guyana. Unwittingly, this government, in its haste to dismantle economic relations with traditional trading partners and to initiate new relations with Cuba, the Soviet Union, North Korea, and other Soviet-bloc countries, found itself needing to govern with excessive authoritarianism.

In the 1980s the PNC-led government addressed the deteriorating social and economic situation by establishing the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP), following the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP). SIMAP was meant to assist those most affected by the economic downturn. The World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Union, the United Nations Development Program, and other donors provided SIMAP with financial assistance.

Following President Burnham's death in 1985, the new PNC leader, Hugh Desmond Hoyte, Queen's (Senior) Counsel (19292002), became the country's second executive president, a position he held until the PNC lost the elections held on October 5, 1992, to a coalition of the PPP and other political parties. On assuming office President Hoyte embarked on a course of privatization. From 1986 the government sought foreign investment in the country's economy. Hoyte marketed Guyana abroad, endeavoring to normalize and to improve relations with Western nations. As head of the PNC-led government, he promoted economic growth and prosperity in the country. Interestingly, Hoyte, a lawyer like Burnham, also died in office, paving the way for the third leader of the PNC, now called the People's National Congress Reform (PNCR), in 2003: Robert Corbin, a lawyer like his forerunners, Burnham and Hoyte.

See also Burnham, Forbes


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barbara p. josiah (2005)

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People's National Congress

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