History : Guyana



Cheddi and Janet Jagan

In this our second part of our history series, we bring excerpts of secret correspondence between America and Britain on Guyana (then British Guiana), as the country hurtled towards independence. These are part of declassified CIA documents. Both nations were wary of the emerging leadership, as is evident. They feared that PIO Cheddi Jagan might turn Guyana into another communist state in the Caribbean, after Cuba had become one under the leadership of Fidel Castro
Telegram from the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom
Washington, August 11, 1961, 7:14 p.m.

708. For Ambassador Bruce from Secretary. Due to extreme shortness of time I have today given Lord Hood a letter to Lord Home of which following is text: 

"Dear Alex: There was one matter of deep concern to us which I find that I did not take up with you in Paris. This has to do with the forthcoming elections in British Guiana and the prospect that Jagan may have a working majority in the new government. 

My colleague Ivan White went to London at the end of May to discuss this matter with your colleague Mr McLeod and others. Although your and our information about Jagan seems to be much the same, as is to be expected from our close collaboration, I believe that our estimates may differ somewhat about the man himself and the implications of his future leadership in British Guiana. No doubt you would expect us to show considerable sensitivity about the prospect of Castroism in the Western Hemisphere and that we are not inclined to give people like Jagan the same benefit of the doubt which was given two or three years ago to Castro himself. However, we do believe that Jagan and his American wife are very far to the left indeed and that his accession to power in British Guiana would be a most troublesome setback in this Hemisphere. 

Would you be willing to have this looked into urgently to see whether there is anything which you or we can do to forestall such an eventuality? Even if the electoral result was sufficiently confusing to lay the basis for another election, this could gave us a little more time. But the difference in four or five seats in the new legislature might well be decisive. 

Since this question is, as I understand it, largely one for the Colonial Office at this stage, I am taking the liberty of urging you to have a look because of the foreign policy ramifications of a Jagan victory. It would cause us acute embarrassments with inevitable irritations to Anglo-American relations. I do not refer to this last point to official circles but to problems of public and Congressional opinion. 
Cordially yours, Dean Rusk." 

246. Message From Foreign Secretary Home to Secretary of State Rusk 
London, August 18, 1961 

DEAR DEAN, Thank you for your message of the 11th of August1 about the elections which are to be held in British Guiana next Monday. Your people and ours have looked very carefully into the possibilities of taking action to influence the results of the election. You may recall that your Ambassador went over the whole ground with Fraser not long ago. I am convinced that there is nothing practical-i.e., safe and effective that we could do in this regard and that if we tried anything of this kind, we should only make matters worse. In any case, there would not now be enough time at our disposal. 

I can well understand your concern and the situation has its difficulties for us as well. Basically, and this is true over the wide field of our Colonial responsibilities we have had to move faster than we would have liked but now the choice before us in situations like this is either to allow the normal process of democracy and progress towards self-government to go ahead and do our best to win the confidence of the elected leaders, and to wean them away from any dangerous tendencies, or else to revert to what we call "Crown Colony rule." It is practical politics to take the latter course only when it is quite clear that a territory is heading for disaster. We have done this once already in British Guiana-in 1953. But since the restoration of the democratic process in 1957, the elected government has behaved reasonably well and we have had no grounds which would justify a second attempt to put the clock back.

If we do have grounds in future and they would have to be nearly serious if we were to have any possibility of justifying our action to world opinion, we have full power under the new constitutional arrangements to suspend the new constitution. We have also incorporated in the new constitution a number of checks and balances which limit the freedom of action of British Guiana Ministers, and we have, of course, reserved to the Governor responsibility for defence and external affairs. 

No one can say for certain how Jagan will behave if he is returned to power. He is a confused thinker and his mind is clogged with ill-digested dogma derived from Marxist literature. But he has learnt a good deal in the last eight years; he has not, since 1957, proved as difficult to deal with as he was earlier. It is true that he has during the election campaign made it clear that he expects to strengthen his relations with Cuba, and he has at times shown an interest in the possibilities of both trade and aid with the Soviet bloc. But he has also, during the election, promised to seek further aid from the United States; and, if we in the West show a real willingness to try to help, we think it by no means impossible that British Guiana may end up in a position not very different from that of India. 

This situation will not be without its anxieties and embarrassments, but we are convinced that the only possible policy can follow, and the most fruitful one, is to treat British Guiana like any other dependency and to try to "educate" its elected leaders unless and until we have clear justification for doing otherwise. It would be of the greatest possible help to us if we could have your support in this policy. I realise the difficulties to us that you face; if there is anything we can do to help you overcome those difficulties, you know that we should be very ready to do what we can. 
Yours ever, 

247. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom, Washington, August 26, 1961, 4:54 p.m.

Eyes only Ambassador Bruce. Unless you perceive objection please deliver following message from Secretary to Lord Home as soon as possible: 

"Dear Alex: 
As we feared, Cheddi Jagan's party emerged from the August 21 election in British Guiana with a majority of the seats in the Legislative Council. Unpalatable as the result is to us, our task now is to determine where we go from here. In your letter of August 18 you mentioned that our support for your policy would be of great help…”
Cordially yours, Dean Rusk" 































May 2009

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