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Remembering Independence
'There is no historical significance to May 26' - Hamilton Green
Hamilton Green

"Independence has special memories for me for several reasons. I was part of the team that attended the conference in Britain to negotiate independence [1965]. Briefly I should tell you what went on before that. Guyana, in 1953 had adopted the Waddington Constitution and for the first time we could have voted under Universal Adult Suffrage. In the circumstances, independence was the next logical step. After India had achieved its independence it was thought that Britain Guiana would be next. The '53 Constitution was advanced but Britain still had responsibility for our security, external and military affairs.

"The British accused Jagan of being Communist and McCarthy and others were hysterical at the thought that we were going to be part of the Communist bloc. Elections were in April of that year and by October (October 6) the Constitution was suspended and British troops came here to maintain the peace. An interim government was appointed which functioned until 1957. The PPP won the next elections. They won the elections in 1961...

"Jagan said that the election results reflected the views of all the people. Burnham wanted proportional representation and not the first the post since the PPP would have the obvious advantage...

"Britain... [decided on] the electoral system of proportional representation, to let the voting age be 21 (Jagan had wanted it to be 18) and that there should be elections before independence under proportional representation (PR).

"Jagan said no to proportional representation and there were slogan written up about the city which said 'No PR, CR'. CR is an unmentionable expletive.

"But at the 1964 election the PNC, United Force (UF) government took office. And in keeping with the agreement we went to Britain for the conference [to decide the date for independence]. Jagan boycotted.

"The team comprised members of the PNC, UF, sir Richard Luyt (the governor) sir Anthony Greenwood (the British Minister of Overseas Development), David Rose, the then advisor to the governor on Defence, Lionel Luckhoo and Sonny Ramphal, the Attorney-General.

"There was no historical significance to May 26. Burnham wanted independence to be in February because of the historical February slave rebellion and D'Aguiar wanted August since it was August (of 1834) that the British granted emancipation. May was the middle ground between the two months, a compromise.

"It was a cold November. The conference was well arranged and we were anxious to get it over with. We stayed at the Dorchester Hotel and the conference as at Lancaster House.

Ramphal and Luckhoo provided the link between the parties and we had good dialogue and were able to come to compromises.

"The PPP boycotted the conference even though the date had been fixed. The British had even tried to persuade him to attend. They asked him not to throw away his chance of making vital decisions that would greatly affect the country. He had declined telling them that the country was in a state of emergency and that several persons were in detention (which was true, we were just emerging from serious chaos) and that the electoral system was acceptable to the majority of people.

"We returned home with a sense of achievement."

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