The publisher of Barbados Nation newspaper, Harold Hoyte, passed away a week ago. Mr. Hoyte will be long remembered for championing freedom of the press, for which he received widespread accolades. But he always supported democratic governance in the Caribbean region, and more specifically in Guyana during the critical period of authoritarian rule (1966 to 1992).
I don’t recall ever meeting the Bajan gentleman although I attended several Caricom summits where he may have been present and we could have expressed pleasantries. But if spoke with Harold Hoyte on the phone (from New York) during the period of the struggle against the dictatorships led by the tyrannical Forbes Burnham and Desmond Hoyte. From New York, I was closely affiliated with the struggle against the fascist, racist Burnham dictatorship and was charged, along with Dr. Baytoram Ramharack, with the task of public relations reaching out to media people and support groups across the Caribbean region, Canada, and UK. We spent considerable amount of time interacting with others to bring about free and fair elections in the homeland. Harold Hoyte and myself also spoke on a few occasions after the restoration of democracy in Guyana in 1992. Pieces of mine were published in the Nation relating to Guyana.
I know of Harold Hoyte (no relationship with the dictator Desmond Hoyte) through the Black nationalist Contrast newspaper in Toronto, of which he was a writer. When he returned to Barbados, he started a paper that catered to all nationalities. Although a Black nationalist, Harold did not seek to oppress or marginalize other ethnic groups, as currently happens in state media in Guyana, and he provided media space for responses to letters critiquing articles and viewpoints. Mine were published.
I am most grateful for Harold’s support for an end to ethnic supremacist rule in Guyana during the Burnham/Hoyte dictatorships and the struggle for democratic governance. Harold understood the political struggle in Guyana against the ethnic racist dictatorship and was very supportive of our struggle. He developed the courage to call a spade a spade unlike other media stalwarts in the region. He knew Burnham, Hoyte, Hamilton Green and others rigged elections, and he called them riggers. He recognized that Burnham and Hoyte were oppressors and persecutors, and he boldly referred to them as such. He held Burnham responsible for the murder of Dr. Walter Rodney. Few other media in the Caribbean region gave support to the Guyanese people struggle against the dictatorship. Like other democratic loving media personnel, he courageously called for an end to food ban that denied ethnic groups access to their cultural diets and religious paraphernalia in Guyana. He also called for the restoration of democratic governance in that country.
Harold Hoyte was enamored with the persistence and long years of struggle of Dr. Cheddi Jagan for free and fair elections in Guyana and for championing workers’ rights. Jagan was overthrown by the American CIA in 1964 and kept out of office in Guyana by the US and Britain (in favor of the opportunistic Forbes Burnham and PNC) because of Jagan’s communist ideology that hurt his supporters. Had Jagan abandoned communism, the US and UK would have restored democratic rule and free and fair elections decades earlier.
Eventually when communism collapsed in the USSR in 1990, the US forced the Hoyte dictatorship to restore democratic governance in Guyana. Jagan was allowed to return to office in relative free and fair elections, after mellowing and embracing capitalist economics in line with the perestroika model promoted by Mikhail Gorbachev. Harold saluted Jagan’s victory.
Harold also tried to bring the region closer together and was critical of the policy of his country that unfairly targeted (and maligned) Guyanese migrants who were fleeing the oppression of Burnham/Hoyte dictatorships and the economic difficulties experienced by that country in subsequent years.
The region and the Guyanese people in particular remain indebted to Harold Hoyte for championing of freedom of the press, speaking out against ethnic marginalization that was practiced by the PNC dictatorship, and supporting democratic rule.
Vishnu Bisram (PhD)