259. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Call of Premier Jagan of British Guiana on the President


  • The United States:
    • The President
    • Under Secretary of State Ball
    • Professor Arthur Schlesinger
    • Mr. Richard Goodwin
    • Mr. William R. Tyler, Acting Asst. Sec., EUR
  • British Guiana
    • Premier Cheddi B. Jagan

The greater part of the meeting was taken up by an extensive presentation by Premier Jagan of the economic and social problems of British Guiana and of the plans and goals which Premier Jagan’s government has under consideration.

[Page 537]

Premier Jagan described himself politically as a socialist and a believer in state planning. At the same time, he was at pains to emphasize the guarantees for political freedom which he had personally incorporated into the British Guiana constitution, such as the democratic freedoms, an independent judiciary, and an independent civil service in the British tradition. While professing to be a follower of Aneurin Bevan, he was evasive on all ideological and doctrinal issues, claiming that he was not sufficiently familiar with theory to distinguish between the various forms of socialism”, within which he appeared to include communism. He spoke at all times of the cold war as an issue in which he did not feel himself engaged or committed, but he stressed repeatedly his determination to keep British Guiana free and politically independent. The terminology he used was less forthright than in his speech, and in answer to questions, at the National Press Club luncheon on October 24.

Premier Jagan analyzed the political composition of British Guiana and the antecedents of the recent elections. He said that his political rivals (Burnham of the PNC and D’Aguiar of the UF) had made wild promises of obtaining vast sums of aid, if elected. He said that they had done this irresponsibly and that in the case of D’Aguiar he had undoubtedly received aid from the United States in his campaign. The President interjected to say that the United States Government had certainly not intervened in any way, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of British Guiana. Premier Jagan said that he had not intended to imply this, but that certain forces “had subsidized the political campaign with his opponents. He alluded to certain films shown on street corners by USIS” during the campaign, which were directed against Castro and communism in general, and which had been exploited by his political opponents against him and his party. He said he had no objection to USIS carrying out its program in normal times, but that these particular activities during the pre-election period had constituted intervention against which he had protested. He said he must obtain aid to carry out his urgent domestic program, and that this was a political necessity for him, as he was on the hot seat.”

The President stressed to Premier Jagan that the internal system and the political and economic philosophies of a country were, to us, a matter for it to decide. The important thing for us was whether a given country, whether we agreed with its internal system or not, was politically independent. The President pointed out that we had given very considerable sums of aid to Yugoslavia, which is a communist state. He also referred to the considerable amount of aid we had given to Brazil and to India.

Premier Jagan asked whether the United States would consider as a hostile act a commercial agreement between British Guiana and the communist bloc whereby British Guiana would export bauxite in return for the importation of commodities.

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The President pointed out that the United States and its allies were engaged in trade with the communist bloc, thus we would not consider trade per se to have political significance. However, if the nature and the extent of trade between British Guiana and the Soviet bloc were such as to create a condition of dependence of the economy of British Guiana on the Soviet bloc, then this would amount to giving the Soviet Union a political instrument for applying pressure and trying to force damaging concessions to its political interests and goals. Under Secretary Ball emphasized the experience of Guinea in this connection.

The President concluded the formal discussion by saying that he understood and sympathized with the political, economic and social problems which Premier Jagan was facing, and that the United States was disposed and willing to help British Guiana to move toward its economic and social goals within a framework of political freedom and independence. He pointed out that our resources were limited and that we had worldwide commitments, all of which made it necessary for us to examine very carefully specific projects on which we might be in a position to help. The President said that he had made it a rule not to discuss or offer specific sums of money, but that the United States would be prepared to send down to British Guiana as soon as feasible experts who could work with Premier Jagan’s government and make recommendations which we would consider sympathetically in the light of our other commitments and of our financial resources.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, British Guiana, Oct. 21-Nov. 6, 1961. Secret. Drafted by Tyler. The meeting was held at the White House.