Guyana Table of Contents
Guyana Defence Force guard of honor in front of the Bank of Guyana
Courtesy Embassy of Guyana, Washington
The Special Service Unit (SSU) began as a constabulary force in 1964. It became the Guyana Defence Force in 1965. Governor Richard Luyt created the SSU to aid the police in maintaining internal order in British Guiana, as the country was then called. The colonial government's goal was for the SSU to evolve into Guyana's army after independence was granted. A British officer, Colonel Ronald Pope, aided by a British military instructional unit, organized and trained the SSU. The Guyanese component of the SSU's officers and noncommissioned officers was drawn heavily from the Volunteer Force, a reserve unit composed predominantly of AfroGuyanese civil servants. However, officer candidates were also selected from outside the Volunteer Force and trained in Britain. Once training was completed, the Guyanese officers were rapidly promoted and positioned to assume command from the British upon independence.
The British government strove to ensure an ethnic balance within the SSU. Its reasons were twofold: Guyana was already racially polarized in the 1960s, and the police force consisted mostly of Afro-Guyanese. The British were successful in recruiting a balance of Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese cadets to fill the junior officer ranks. Indo-Guyanese were also well-represented among students at the Mons Officer Cadet Training School in Britain.
The SSU was renamed the Guyana Defence Force in 1965. The transition to complete Guyanese control of the GDF began in 1966, shortly after independence was granted. Prime Minister Linden Forbes Burnham, who also served as minister of defense, oversaw the transition. Major Raymond Sataur, an Indo-Guyanese officer and graduate of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, was heir apparent to the British GDF commander. But perhaps because of ethnic considerations, Burnham selected an Afro-Guyanese officer, Major Clarence Price, as the new commander. After the 1968 election, Burnham began to purge Indo-Guyanese from the GDF's officer corps. By 1970 Afro-Guyanese dominated both the officer and the enlisted ranks of the GDF.
Training of Guyanese officer cadets in Britain ceased in the 1970s. The Guyanese government then established a six-month cadet course at Timehri Airport, south of Georgetown. The ruling PNC began using political and ethnic criteria in selecting officer cadets, instead of relying on educational requirements as had been done in the past (see The Cooperative Republic , ch. 1).
The PNC attempted both to consolidate and expand the loyalty of the GDF by manipulating racial symbols and by materially rewarding loyal soldiers. Politically minded officers portrayed the PNC as the sole protector of Afro-Guyanese interests. These same officers also portrayed the opposition People's Progressive Party (PPP) as an Indo-Guyanese organization whose victory would result in economic and political domination of Afro-Guyanese by IndoGuyanese . In 1973, an aide to Forbes Burnham openly advocated that the GDF pledge its allegiance to the PNC in addition to its loyalty to the nation. This recommendation was made policy the following year. Although the recommendation was unpopular among career officers, disagreement was not voiced openly for fear of losing high salaries, duty-free cars, housing, and other privileges. Nevertheless, throughout the 1970s and 1980s an undercurrent of tension existed between officers who favored a politically neutral GDF and those who favored political activism.
Data as of January 1992