258. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hilsman) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson)1


  • US Policy in British Guiana

In reviewing materials recently on Jagan and his associates, we have multiplied our doubts about the feasibility of the policy adopted for British Guiana. Our position is set out below and, though it has been discussed with BNA, it is very much INR’s point of view.

The current US program for British Guiana is based upon general agreement with the UK for a coordinated effort to get along with Jagan. At the same time resources are to be built up to enable a harder line to be put into effect if, after a reasonable time (but before British Guiana becomes independent), it is clear that British Guiana is going the way of Castro Cuba.

This approach is based upon such considerations as (1) Jagan’s apparently firm hold on British Guiana politics; (2) the lack of cohesive opposition; (3) the unwillingness and stated inability of the UK to resist pressure for British Guiana’s independence at this time; (4) the hope that the assumption of political power by Jagan under the new constitution will be followed by the exercise of political responsibility in a manner acceptable to USUK interests; (5) the belief that Jagan himself is not a controlled instrument of Moscow; that he is instead a radical nationalist who may play both sides of the street but will not lead British Guiana into [Page 535] satellite status; and (6) the assumption that regardless of Jagan’s orientation, the mass of people in British Guiana are not and will not become communist.

Without debating the pros and cons of these considerations, it is another matter to accept the general thesis that we should support and live with a British Guiana under Marxist leadership with what this implies for the structure of the economy and the character of its political and social institutions. Moreover there is the possibility, if not the probability, that strong, direct ties with Moscow will emerge as British Guiana achieves independence. Yet a successful US policy in British Guiana should start from the assumption that the Bloc must be precluded from a position of direct or indirect control or even substantial influence.

The UK, which remains the responsible power in British Guiana, is not willing to take a hard line. So long as HMG is prepared to try and get along with Jagan, the United States is faced with a dilemma in its own approach—whether to take a line contrary to the UK, or to accept the UK thesis and hope for the best while seeking to build in safeguards in the form of contingency plans for a reversal of policy. Because of the strength of UK conviction, and given the international climate regarding colonial status, the United States has apparently had no option but to agree with the major lines proposed by the UK.

If, as we suspect, the UK policy cannot be successful in the short time that remains before independence, then US planning should be directed to converting the UK to a program of direct anti-Jagan action. The safeguards built into the USUK working party report should be strengthened and become the focal point for US policy. The time factor—independence for British Guiana is proposed in 1963 at the latest—has not been sufficiently weighed in the current program. It does not seem realistic to expect the institutional, political and economic readjustment of Jagan’s thinking in so short a time.

Our pessimism as to the chances of success for the UK approach is also based upon the expected dissatisfaction (already evident) of Jagan with proposals to aid British Guiana’s economic development. It is on this question of economic aid to British Guiana that there is likely to be a clash between Jagan’s expectations and USUK plans. A key factor in the proposals to get along with Jagan has been the hope that cooperation in British Guiana’s development will bring the US and UK into a position of influence while at the same time Jagan and his government would be seized of their internal problems and concentrate their efforts on economic development. This seems a forlorn hope (again given the time factor), and it is more likely that irrational and Marxist dissatisfaction with our methods and deliberateness will work against achievement of our objectives. Certainly the amount of aid which has been offered to Jagan is not sufficient in his eyes. It may be better to stop talking about a fixed [Page 536] sum of money and talk more about the orderly progression of economic planning and assistance on a phased basis. The $5 million in aid being offered is not enough to engage Jagan. We should recognize that it is going to take a lot more money if we pursue a course so heavily dependent upon economic blandishments.

The testing period for this conclusion is the next few weeks. If Jagan is unshakeable and insatiable in his expectations, we will be in a better position to judge our course of action. We should not feel bound by the USUK working party agreement if the premises and the chances of success are shaken. If the possibilities remain obscure after Jagan’s visit, we should still seek to strengthen the safeguards which we have built in, and be prepared on short notice to recast our approach. In the final analysis we should plan for the possibility that we will have no reasonable alternative but to work for Jagan’s political downfall, which would have to precede the granting of independence. To bring about such a result will require an extensive and carefully coordinated effort, for which much planning has already been done.

It is, therefore, proposed that the present policy for British Guiana be reviewed immediately following the visit of Jagan to Washington. If it develops that the premises underlying policy are clearly questionable, we should be prepared to reopen the matter with the UK.

  1. Source: Department of State, ARA/NC Files: Lot 67 D 77, Br. Gu.-US Policy Toward Jagan. Secret. Drafted by Bernard S. Morris and Philip C. Habib and cleared with Richard H. Courtenaye and Charles G. Bream.