263. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Tyler) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • British Guiana


U.S. policy towards British Guiana as approved by the President on September 3, 1961, has had two principal components: (a) an effort to work with Premier Cheddi Jagan; [2 lines of source text not declassified].
Agreement was reached with the British in September on a coordinated program in accord with this policy. The British attached major importance to a wholehearted effort by the U.S. to work with Jagan involving, among other things, his visit to the U.S. and a U.S. economic assistance program. [51/2 lines of source text not declassified]
In implementation of this program the President received Premier Jagan in October2 and a real effort was made by top U.S. officials to impress Jagan that we sincerely wish to work with him. Jagan came with exaggerated expectations of what economic assistance we might provide. He was disillusioned by our unresponsiveness. Since October, for a variety of reasons, we have been unable to get our economic assistance program off the ground.
In response to pressure from Jagan including action at the UN, the British have announced readiness to hold a conference in May to approve a constitution and set a date for British Guiana’s independence. Independence would presumably occur before the end of 1962. We concurred reluctantly in the British timetable for independence, but in doing so strongly stressed the hope that new elections would be held. The timetable may be stretched out as a result of the current disorders.
A strike broke out in Georgetown the week of February 12 in protest against an austerity budget proposed by Jagan sharply increasing rates of taxation. The budget was bitterly attacked by the business community and included measures which would bear upon the low income groups. Our information on the situation in Georgetown is incomplete. However, matters have worsened, the British have moved troops in from Jamaica and flown in two companies from the UK at Jagan’s request. The first disorders occurred on February 16 and two people were reported killed when police fired on demonstrators. A series of fires and looting occurred in the main business district. According to the latest report (noon, February 17) the security situation was under control. It should be noted that the strike so far has been limited to Georgetown, the stronghold of the UF and PNC. It has not extended to the country areas where Jagan’s strength lies.
We asked the British Embassy on February 16 to obtain if possible by February 19 HMG’s assessment of the situation including implications for future policies.


1. The policy of trying to work with Jagan has not been really applied in practice subsequent to Jagan’s visit to the U.S. Economic assistance was an indispensable part of this program and the U.S. has not carried out the agreement on economic assistance reached during Jagan’s visit. Factors beyond the control of State have also intervened. [Page 544] Latest reports indicate that Jagan is increasingly suspicious of the U.S. It is now doubtful that a working relationship can be established with Jagan which would prevent the emergence of a communist or Castrotype state in South America.

[10 paragraphs and 1 heading (21/2 pages of source text) not declassified]

3. That you sign the attached telegram to London containing a message to Lord Home.3

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, British Guiana II. Top Secret. Sent through U. Alexis Johnson.
  2. See Document 259.
  3. See Document 264.