Today marks sixteen years since Forbes Burnham died mysteriously at the Georgetown Hospital. Burnham lived a controversial life, died in controversial circumstances and even before he made his last breath, said something controversial. On his hospital bed, he asked for a taste of condensed milk; an item he had banned in Guyana.
There is no biography of this powerful, erudite and politically astute Third World leader. The PNC, the party he founded, should ask their scholarly friends abroad to do a computer search to find out if a doctoral dissertation has been completed on him at any university in North America. In Ohio, there is a data base for such a search. One of Burnham's proteges, Festus Brotherson, lives in Ohio. He once expressed a desire to do a definitive study of the Kabaka. Brotherson is an admirer of Burnham but is caught in a really weird circumstance. He does a weekly column for the Sunday Chronicle made possible by Mrs. Janet Jajan so it may not be a wise venture to go on a eulogy of Burnham in the state media at this time.
It is not possible to treat such a complex subject in a newspaper column; lack of space would not permit it. I have decided therefore to look at the mystery of Burnham's death rather than an analysis of his long rule over Guyana. But one opinion of mine that is irremovable and must be said when one is writing about Burnham was that he was obsessed with power and had total contempt for fair play, democratic procedures and accountability of power. The fact that he was intellectually brilliant and he built roads and bridges is completely irrelevant in any analysis of his use of power
I was on the ferry returning home from Berbice from teaching duties at the Tain campus of the University of Guyana when my contemplation of the river was interrupted by this gentleman who introduced himself. After the conversation, I told him I would print what he described to me. He agreed but instructed me not to reveal his exact blood relation with Vincent Teekah -- the resemblance is unbelievable. All I can say here then, is that this man is related to Teekah and in a very, very close way. You, the reader can figure out the nature of the connection. He told me how Teekah met his death. Teekah called his friend, a visiting female American doctor, Oswaldene Walker to fix a bleeding tooth. They met at the headquarters of the Guyana Defence Force where a senior police officer whose name he gave me and who now lives in New York was instructed by Burnham to kill Teekah. The relative stated that contrary to what most Guyanese believed at that time, and perhaps still do, it wasn't a certain strong man in the PNC leadership who killed Teekah.
After he died, the dentist was conspiratorially involved in covering up the crime. After she drove the body to St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital, she gave the police a statement of being attacked by bandits while she and Teekah were in a deserted lover's lane. The next morning, Shirley Field-Ridley arranged for her return to the US. The man on the ferry told me that Burnham subsequently arranged for the dentist to be killed because she saw the assassination and could implicate him, and was beginning to crack unlike the senior police offficer who did the hit. Like Vincent Teekah, Oswaldene Walker died in a strange context. While she was emerging from her car, a fast moving vehicle smashed her into pieces.
Why did Burnham kill Teekah? There is one explanation the relative gave me. I believe there is another. The relative's thesis was that the Cubans admired and loved Teekah and saw him as the best hope for Cuban-style socialism in Guyana. The communist islanders felt Teekah was more committed to them than Burnham. The relative was keen to point out to me that Burnham killed Teekah soon after he returned from a trip to Cuba. The story I heard on the ferry was indeed fascinating. Burnham was mad at Teekah because he believed that Teekah was conspiring with the Cubans to undermine his hold on Guyana. In others words, there were two sources of Burnham's wrath. One was that Teekah was ungrateful because he was made into a powerful figure over and above other founder-members of the PNC. The other was that he used that position to subvert the power of his benefactor.
I was silent, and just kept listening. I was further told that the Cubans were mad, really mad that Burnham had wasted Teekah so senselessly. And planned to get their revenge. He opined that the Cubans were now eager to win Burnham's confidence so he wouldn't suspect that they wanted to kill him. They got closer and closer to him until August 6, 1985 came. The doctor was instructed to kill Burnham, he killed him and then the next day went back to Cuba. The other explanation is that maybe indeed Teekah was plotting against Burnham but the relative didn't want to blemish Teekah's character by telling me this. We will never know if the Cubans killed Burnham but you have to be stupid to think that Burnham had nothing to do with the deaths of Vincent Teekah, Walter Rodney and Oswaldene Walker. And that is three we know of.