Monday, December 23, 2002

But the big news out of Guyana today is that Desmond Hoyte, former president & leader of the PNC since 1985, died yesterday of a heart attack.

Read the Chronicle's coverage here; the Express runs a report by Rickey Singh. Most Caribbean newspapers outside Guyana base their reports on the wire stories. Here is an excerpt from today's editorial in the Stabroek News:

"The death of Hugh Desmond Hoyte yesterday at the age of seventy-three shocked the nation. The passing of time will enable a fuller evaluation of his legacy and the important role he has played in the modern history of Guyana but few will disagree that the high point of his career was his period as president from 1985 to 1992. Inheriting a bankrupt economy and a society in which there had been no free and fair elections for some time, which had led to some degree of repression, he had the fortitude, despite internal opposition in his own party, to introduce a period of glasnost and perestroika where there was a reversal of the failed policy of state capitalism and the introduction of a programme of privatisation and the encouragement of new investment.... There was a rebirth of press freedom and the introduction of electoral reforms which led to free and fair elections in 1992. It is no exaggeration to say that under his stewardship substantial progress was achieved in many areas.

"The loss of power in 1992 may, paradoxically, have been among his finest moments. Announcing on the night of October 7th that his party 'in keeping with the requirements of democracy ... will accept the results of the poll', he stated: 'I expect all citizens to accept these political developments, maintain a peaceful and harmonious climate in society and keep the welfare and good name of Guyana foremost in their minds.' At a time when the situation was still unsettled as a result of polling day violence it was an act of statesmanship that restored some level of normality. However, the immense disappointment he suffered as a result of the loss of the opportunity to continue with the economic recovery he had started led to a bitterness that was evident in his subsequent career as leader of the opposition."

(It was Hoyte who gave permission for the founding of the independent Stabroek News in 1986, ending decades of media repression in Guyana.)

And, with the 2002 shortlist just released, the Chronicle's editorial reminds us that it was Hoyte who established the Guyana Prize for Literature in 1987 (no link, because the Chronicle's editorials are not permanently archived online):

"Mr. Hoyte’s Presidency can be credited with several other positive developments. They include ... the establishment of the Guyana Prize for Literature with prizes of US$5,000 every two years.

"When asked by a member of the Committee for the Guyana Prize why Guyana with massive economic problems was in 1987 offering such generous sums for successful writers, Mr. Hoyte, with characteristic aplomb, quoted an obscure 13th century poet, who once wrote in so many words: 'If you have two pennies, use one to buy yourself bread and the other to buy some flowers to bless your eyes!'"

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