Desmond Hoyte, statesman (This column by Ian McDonald was first published on October 11, 1992 just after the results of the October 5 general elections were announced) Stabroeknews -Monday, December 23, 2002

An ordinary politician places the nation at the service of himself. A statesman is a politician who places himself at the service of the nation.

Mr Hoyte - who deserves more than most to be addressed by the honorific “Mr President” even after leaving office - has placed himself at the service of the country on a number of crucial occasions - none more so than in the desperately anxious hours of October 5th to 7th when what hung in the balance may well have been Guyana’s future as a whole and healthy nation or one shattered beyond repair.

At the time of Forbes Burnham’s death, when Guyana was not simply headed for the rocks but actually on the reef and holed and sinking, Hoyte baled out the vessel, fixed the riven fabric for a new voyage and set a course away from the ugly shore where we were stranded. It is easy to take for granted what we now enjoy but not so long ago despaired ever of achieving. Three fundamental changes engineered by Hoyte transformed our lives. Let us not forget.

Setting Expression Free. President Hoyte recreated an atmosphere in which it was possible to voice opinion again whole-heartedly and robustly. I believe he would have gone on to increase the autonomy of the state newspaper and end the monopoly of state radio - and certainly that is a course which his successor must pursue if what Hoyte started is to be completed.

Promoting the Primacy of Private Enterprise. President Hoyte, before it became fashionable, made a decisive break with the nonsense side of socialism and changed Guyana decisively, and I believe irrevocably, into a country where the state gets out of the business of creating wealth and devotes itself to ensuring that people at every level share in basic goods, essential services, personal security born of the rule of law, and educational opportunities.

Returning Guyana to Democracy. Though many doubted he would ever do it, and after much travail, President Hoyte has returned the country to democracy. Under him Guyana has rejoined the mainstream of West Indian democratic life where in principle, and largely in practice, the full range of basic human rights is protected. That alone assures him of honour in our annals.

Desmond Hoyte was the most impressive candidate in the Presidential race and in many ways it would have been good if he had won and had continued to head the nation. Yet I do not think I am the only one of his admirers who had a gut feeling much deeper than admiration that to prove the democratic process completely valid, to put the seal on his own achievement, it was necessary that his party should lose this election. Perhaps in this feeling there was the sub-conscious impression also that he was the best man, perhaps the only man, who could preside over such a fundamental, and to many of his supporters such a frightening, change.

It could have gone horribly and terminally wrong. The results of the election could have been viciously opposed and the country could have virtually fallen apart as it did in the early 1960s. But it went right and Hoyte’s role in achieving this can never be underestimated. That short, simple, unadorned, dignified speech on Wednesday night conceding Dr Jagan’s victory will be seen as time stretches into history, to be one of our great state documents. To base concession of defeat on the reports of his own party agents was a subtle master-stroke, at once and conclusively stamping on potential, very dangerous, rejection of the results in his own ranks.

More than most, Desmond Hoyte - a man of wide and cultivated interests - could retire from the hurly-burly with a sigh of considerable relief.

But that would be an inestimable national loss. There are many public tasks for him to perform of the highest seriousness and importance. Most obviously, of course, he has the extraordinarily important and very complicated task of training his party in the arts of opposition and preparing it for new, legitimate leadership in the future. But should he for some reason prefer to remove himself from local politics, it will surely occur to President Jagan that Mr Hoyte, a world class statesman in the field, might be perfectly employed as an Ambassador at large for Guyana and the West Indies in protecting the region’s environment. Or, even more interestingly in my opinion, he could be nominated to the four-man Caricom Commission if West Indian leaders pick up their courage and appoint that body to carry the concept of West Indian integration into day-to-day practice.

We owe a debt of gratitude to President Hoyte. And we will find, I think, his days of achievement are far from over.