Republic Day Address 2001 Hugh Desmond Hoyte, S.C.
Tomorrow, we celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Republic. When we took that step 31 years ago, it was a defining moment in our history. As a people, we had passed through harsh and cruel times - from slavery and indenture, through the bitter colonial period, to the status of a free, proud and independent people. By that act, we had assumed the awesome responsibility of creating a nation out of our diverse ethnicities, religions and cultures. We eagerly took up the task of building a cohesive society with great courage and optimism; for we had decided to be masters in our own house and together carve out our own destiny.
At that juncture of our history we had the good fortune to have had at the helm of government, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, a man of towering intellect, incisive intelligence, great courage and stubborn determination. Burnham was both leader and teacher. He taught us that real independence was not evidenced by the formal symbols of sovereignty – a flag, an anthem, a seat in the United Nations – but by an independent mind, the ability to do our own thinking and make our own decisions. He relentlessly instilled in us the importance of self-esteem, pride in our country and the obligation to work hard and to respect one another.
For him, true independence also meant the pursuit of certain objectives as ideals: food
self-sufficiency, the use of indigenous raw materials, respect for one another, the acceptance and promotion of local cultural expressions and manifestations. He saw all of these things as reinforcing national pride and our sense of achievement. He advocated, too, the development of a cohesive national culture as the best means of promoting understanding among our people, breaking down prejudices and reinforcing our sense of nationhood. And in the early days we pursued these ideals with a restless energy.
We engaged in extraordinary feats of self-help work, from building of small bridges, to the
construction of schools, to the repairing of sea defences.
Our cultural life flourished. We established the National School of Dance and the National Dance Company; and Guyanese participated enthusiastically in the regional and the national Music Festivals which became important periodic events. Our sportsmen and women, being greatly encouraged, turned in significant achievements and triumphs. And the arts – sculpture, painting, theatre, flourished. Those were heady days when it seemed that nothing could stop our progress and development as a nation.
But, the course of human history is not a straight line. We faced difficulties of one kind or another. We had our ups and downs, our vicissitudes; but thanks to our resilience, our courage and our determination, we survived. We acknowledged our setbacks and have been rebuilding again.
Today, it is fashionable for some politicians of pygmy proportions to try to belittle Burnham’s achievements and sully his reputation. But they try in vain; for his solid achievements cannot be obscured or diminished, nor can his reputation be destroyed. Tonight, we acknowledge his heroic stature and his monumental efforts in the interests of this great land of ours and its people.
Within recent years, we have seen a decline in the ideals of national pride, self-confidence, respect for one another, and the achievement of a cohesive society. Selfish men and women have jeopardised these ideals as they desperately strive after narrow partisan goals and personal agendas.
Today, the nation is at a low ebb. Cultural life has virtually disappeared; national cohesiveness is undermined as some people promote ethnic and religious apartness as a virtue. Educational standards have deteriorated; opportunities contracted; and thousands of young people, as they leave school, face a bleak prospect. They can no longer see the horizon. The pervasiveness of a feeling of insecurity and despair is evidenced by the increasing number of suicides in our society, by the frequency of crimes against the person and property. And the illiteracy, drug addiction and HIV/ Aids threaten to destroy a whole generation.
Many of our important national institutions have been weakened and are threatened with decay: the army, the police, the judiciary, the public service, for example, and proud traditions such as the flag raising ceremony on the eve of Republic Day have been arbitrarily abolished. Tonight, however, the Guyanese people are showing that they will not allow this tradition to be destroyed.
It is understandable, then, why so many people are despairing.
But tonight I bring you a message of hope. Do not despair!
We Guyanese are a proud, courageous and resilient people. We have overcome many obstacles and impediments in the past. There is no reason why we cannot now overleap the hurdles that lie in our path. Indeed, we must. We have overcome in the past and we will overcome again.
At this point in time, we are now about to face another defining moment in our history. On March 19th, we will be having national and regional elections. These will not be the usual run-of-the-mill periodic elections. For the nation, their outcome will be a matter of life and death. They will determine whether the people of this country will remain in the thrall of corruption, incompetence and backwardness and suffer a lingering social death; or whether they will, by their votes, throw off the yoke of oppression and burst forth into a new dispensation of freedom, security and opportunity –and so survive and prosper.
For us, the choice is stark and clear. On the one hand, it is to allow the illegal PPP regime to remain in office and complete the destruction of our people and our country. On the other, it is to install a government that will guarantee that you and your children survive in conditions of dignity and prosperity. Such a government will be a PNC Reform government.
The Guyanese people are shrewd and sensible. They will choose to survive. They will elect a PNC Reform government – a government that will have no time for victimization or witchhunting or settling political scores; a government that will administer the affairs of Guyana in a fair just and equitable manner in the interests of all the Guyanese people.
Come the 19th March, 2001, let us all do our duty to ourselves, our children and our country. That duty requires us to rescue our nation from the abyss in which it now finds itself and install PNC Reform government to oversee the task.
My dear citizens, friends and comrades enjoy yourselves tomorrow. Have a happy and joyful Mashramani! But after the celebrations, “time for seriousness come”. We have a serious duty to perform, we have an election to win.
Are you ready to do your duty? I urge you to be ready – and steadfast.
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