By Dr Vishnu Bisram
Randy Depoo passed away last week. He was a fierce proponent of free and fair elections in Guyana. He died championing FFE battling against the Mingo fraud. Guyanese are eternally grateful for his role in the FFE movement.
Depoo hails from Miss Phoebe, Port Mourant, my home village (I am from Ankerville), known for producing outstanding freedom fighters, scholars, and cricketers. (PM was the largest estate in Guyana in terms of population and productivity).
Depoo migrated with his family to the US in the mid 1970s and later made Trinidad his home. He came from a large family of aunts and uncles that was very activists close to the PPP. And naturally he supported the PPP though not necessarily its ideology.
In New York, he would meet Ravi Dev through law studies and they joined the struggle for free and fair elections for a few years in the mid-1980s; Dev remained with the struggle continuously till now. Depoo, like Dev, myself and several other activists (like Arjune Karshan, Chuck Mohan, etc.) were advocates for democracy, free and fair elections, and social justice in Guyana.
Depoo received an outpouring of tributes and remembrances from those who were acquainted with him especially in Trinidad where he spent almost twenty-five years. He was popular among Trinis who sought visas to visit America. He worked in the US Consulate and after retirement practiced immigration law helping people with US green card sponsorship. Basdeo Panday and Irfaan Ali wrote accolades describing him as a Guyanese patriot.
It was my good fortune to know Depoo. Although he did not spend as much time as others and myself in the political liberation movement, he was very supportive of our struggle. Whenever we met, he would lavish praises on Vassan Ramracha, Baytoram Ramharack, Ravi Dev and myself for our abiding commitment and dedication to the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Guyana. He knew us well because Vassan, Baytoram, and myself were in the struggle during our days at CCNY beginning in the fall of 1977. He noted that while he was away working for the State Department, we remained with the struggle against electoral fraud and the oppressive Burnham and Hoyte dictatorships.
Depoo once told me: “Guyana is lucky to have individuals like you all in the diaspora championing democracy and free and fair elections. Few stood up for democracy the way you all did”. Dev, Arjune Karshan, Mel Carpen, Chuck Mohan, among others also fought in that liberation movement. Ramharack, Vassan and myself belonged to a different organization. And Dev and Depoo had their own organization.
The last conversation I had about a week before he died, when he was in Mahaica, he described our group in NY as “political giants, fearless against dictators”. He referred to Dev, myself and others in the NY struggle as protectors of democracy and fighters for the people of Guyana.
At a restaurant in St. Helena, Piarco airport area, some years ago, I met him for lunch with a friend Prabhudial Partap. Depoo was glowing in tribute to me and by extension others in the freedom movement in NY in the presence of othrs at a social function. He told them: “Bisram, a Trini (referring to Vassan), and a few others (referring to Dev, Ramharack, Dev, and off course Karshan, etc.) gave strength, stamina, and passion in NY to the movement for free and fair elections in Guyana. These gentlemen were highly respected. And we are grateful to them for the return of democracy in our homeland. Their work and voice were in many fronts in the struggle – protests, writings, leafleting, pamphlets, etc.”
I am touched by the respect shown his description of us as freedom fighters, an acknowledgement that was never forthcoming from governments of Guyana.
Depoo studied law in the US and was called to the bar in NY and New Jersey. He applied for a job at the US State Department and was posted overseas. He is among a few Guyanese and Indo-Caribbeans who rose to an important position in the US government. Before and after his official State Department assignment, between 1989to 2001, he played a role in the struggle for free and fair elections in Guyana. He was known a fearless champion of free and fair elections after his studies in law. And he was in the midst in the three months struggle against the Mingo fraud. He spearheaded the petition to the State Department calling for sanctions who condoned electoral fraud.
I first met Depoo around 1986 through Ravi Dev who I had known about a year earlier through common friends Bhanu Dwarika and Ramesh Kalicharran. My association with Bhanu and Kali went back much earlier when I was doing research on Indo-Caribbean pioneers in America and Indo-Caribbean writers. Bhanu, Baytoram Ramharack and myself would meet would hold meetings at Bhanu’s apartment in Elmhurst discussing publications on Indo-Caribbean diaspora and V.S Naipaul and the need for a federation of Indo-Caribbean organizations. These discussions would eventually lead to the formation of the Indo-Caribbean Federation of North America that was launched at Kamla’s office in 1984. Bhanu and Kali informed Dev of the political activism on Guyana and Indo-Caribbean issues of Vassan Ramracha, Baytoram Ramharack, and myself. Dev made contact with us and we held discussions on uniting our efforts in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Guyana. We would meet at the CUNY Graduate Center where I was doing doctoral studies; Dev’s work office was near CUNY make it easy for meetings. We would meet almost every week for a few years until Dev re-migrated to Guyana.
Dev, Depoo, Lutchman Singh, and a few others formed an organization Guyana United Democratic Movement (GUDM) around 1986 that met every Sunday morning for religious service on 168 Place Jamaica; Dr. Prem Misir was also with the group.
The group occasionally put out a newspaper on Guyana related matters. Vassan, Ramharack and I would meet them for discussion on Guyana at that venue and occasionally at Dev’s building not too far away; Prem did not have a regular presence at our exchanges but met regularly with the GUDM activists. Several Guyana related events functions, and forums, including a talk by Kwayana, were held at that spacious office. Dr. Jagan and other PPP leaders also spoke at that location later on. I helped organizing several events there. I am thankful to Dev and Depoo for granting space for so many meetings and Indo-Caribbean related forums.
I should note that Depoo was gracious towards me for my academic achievements and student activism. He congratulated my student activism noting I was perhaps the first and probably the only Indo-Guyanese to rise to become President of a student government. I was elected as President of CCNY Graduate Student Council in 1984 and re-elected. Prior to that, I was elected as Treasurer of the GSC and Vice President of the Undergraduate Student Government and a Senator for several years. I was cited in two editions of “Who Is Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities”.
At the time of GUDM launch, Depoo had qualified in law and Dev was pursuing his law degree. Funds were tight all around. Yet, they spent their personal money to pay the rent for the second floor (to host GUDM office at a time when few made contributions towards Guyana effort or even care about Guyana) of the two-story building. These folks were committed and passionate about the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Guyana. Depoo was not as active as Dev, but he was very committed and supportive of the struggle. Depoo and occasionally his brothers, wife, kids and parents joined us for rallies and protests and walked the picket line to highlight awareness of human rights violations in Guyana. He was among a few Guyanese who came to meetings and rallies as a family. They even attended Indian Arrival Day celebrations that we organized in Richmond Hill. Depoo’s mother was a Jaganite to the core and was known in Guyana for her boisterous support for the PPP.
Depoo was called up for an assignment with the US State Department around 1989. After a brief stint in Washington, he was posted in Manila; when I visited Philippines during my teaching sabbatical he had already left and was posted in Caracas. (One of his brothers, with whom I studied the sciences at CCNY did a medical program in the Philippines but I did not meet him there; he later became a doctor specializing in Psychology working at Jamaica Hospital.) When I passed through Caracas on my way to Guyana from New York in the 1990s, Depoo had also left being posted in Trinidad. (The normal period of diplomatic posting assignment in a country is three years with an extension of a year or two). I would meet Depoo in Trinidad in the late 1990s. In between, we communicated via letters when he was in Manila, Caracas, and Port of Spain. I would meet him at various political meetings all over Trinidad where I used to conduct opinion polls since early 1990s. When Jagan died in 1997, Depoo accompanied then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday Depoo to the funeral services. Depoo retired from Foreign Service after his four years stint in Trinidad around 2001. We continued interaction. In Trinidad, he worked closely with UNC politicians and the Guyanese diaspora organizing various celebrations. I used to visit Trinidad regularly almost every a couple months over the last three decades and partook in some of these activities. I also met two of his brothers (Sherlock and Tilokee in Guyana; Tilokke and I studied at NYU – he Economics and myself Comparative Politics. Sherlock later became a public school teacher). Depoo also did massive fundraising drives in Trinidad for the PPP campaign effort including for funds to help defray costs relating to the CCJ cases.
Some time last year, during a breakfast meet in Trinidad, Depoo announced he would be remigrating to Guyana permanently and set up a law practice. Earlier, he was called to the bar in the US, Trinidad, and Guyana. He came to Guyana about a month before the election and worked assiduously to help PPP get elected. He told me he was posted on the East Coast where he was renting an apartment. He had also found a place for his law office in Georgetown. But God called him away.
I am saddened with is passing. I am deeply touched by his personal kindness whenever we met in Trinidad inviting me for breakfasts or lunch and even to stay at his condo outside of Port of Spain. At the last encounter in Trinidad late last year, where his son was also present, he introduced me as “among the guys in New York who fought for Guyana and who brought commitment and moral fortitude to the struggle for free and fair elections in the homeland”.
Depoo leaves behind a good legacy to be emulated. School children and other Guyanese need to know the role played by the diaspora in the restoration of democracy in that country. I express my condolence to his wife, daughter and two sons, and grandchildren and his kin folks. His service to the diaspora in Trinidad would be sorely missed.