267. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Schlesinger) to President Kennedy1


  • Memoranda on British Guiana to State and CIA2

The point of these two memoranda is that both State and CIA are under the impression that a firm decision has been taken to get rid of the Jagan government.

The desired effect is to make sure that nothing is done until you have had a chance to talk with Hugh Fraser.

The attached memcons will give you an impression of current British attitudes.

British Guiana has 600,000 inhabitants. Jagan would no doubt be gratified to know that the American and British governments are spending more man-hours per capita on British Guiana than on any other current problem!

Arthur Schlesinger, jr.3
[Page 549]


Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Schlesinger) to the Ambassador to the United Kingdom (Bruce)


  • British Guiana

I had lunch today with Iain MacLeod and Reginald Maudling. The subject of British Guiana came up; and MacLeod made the following assertions:

Jagan is not a Communist. He is a naive, London School of Economics Marxist filled with charm, personal honesty and juvenile nationalism.
The tax problem which caused the trouble was not a Marxist program. It was a severely orthodox program of a Crippsian” sort appropriate for a developed nation like Great Britain but wholly unsuited for an immature and volatile country like British Guiana.
If another election is held before independence Jagan will win.
Jagan is infinitely preferable to Burnham. If I had to make the choice between Jagan and Burnham as head of my country I would choose Jagan any day of the week.”

Maudling was rather silent during this conversation not, I think, because of disagreement, but because he preferred to let MacLeod take the initiative. He did say jovially at one point, If you Americans care so much about British Guiana, why don’t you take it over? Nothing would please us more.” As we were breaking up Maudling expressed privately to me his puzzlement over the Secretary’s letter to the Foreign Minister. I said I was returning to Washington at the end of the week. He said it might be a good idea for us to have a talk before I go back.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, jr.5
[Page 550]


Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Schlesinger) to the Ambassador to the United Kingdom (Bruce)


  • British Guiana

I had a talk this afternoon with Maudling, the Colonial Secretary, on the subject of British Guiana. He expressed total bafflement as to what the next steps might be. So far as independence is concerned, he thinks that the preparatory conference should be held as scheduled in May but that actual independence will certainly be postponed, perhaps as long as a year. He sees no point in holding elections before independence because he believes that an election campaign would only rekindle the racial animosities without changing the composition of the British Guiana Government.

[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] He does not regard Jagan as a disciplined Communist but rather as [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. He says that he would not trust Jagan [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. He added that it is his understanding that Burnham is, if possible, worse. He is reluctant to take any action which will make Jagan a martyr. He does not feel that Britain can consistently dislodge a democratically elected government.

His general view is that Britain wants to get out of British Guiana as quickly as possible. He said that he would be glad to turn the whole area over to the United States tomorrow. [1-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] He added that he is thinking of sending his Parliamentary Secretary, Hugh Fraser, over there next week to make an on-the-spot report. This has not been cleared with the Prime Minister but if Fraser should go he would probably stop in Washington on his way back.

Maudling said at one point that while he himself thought it inconceivable, “responsible people” had said that CIA had played a role in stimulating the recent riots. I said that this of course was inconceivable and that I could assure him that this was not the case.

He mentioned the Foreign Secretary’s letter and conveyed the impression that it had given the Cabinet great pleasure. He repeated [Page 551]with particular relish the sentence that the British might be willing to delay the independence process in British Guiana if the Americans would not insist on expediting it everywhere else. I took the occasion to correct Lord Home’s apparent belief that the revolution of 1954 had brought the Ydigoras regime into power in Guatemala.

We also had some conversation about Trinidad. Maudling, [1 line of source text not declassified] warned me to expect more trouble over the Chagoramas Base. Maudling said that he had taken a drive past the base and could not see why we needed it so desperately. He also said that Williams was disturbed over what he regarded as the American failure to finance certain projects mentioned in the Agreement with Trinidad. Though the language of the Agreement commits the United States only to participate” in the financing, Williams insists that Ambassador Whitney assured him that this was a form of language adopted to make things palatable to Congress and that the United States would in fact underwrite the project completely. Maudling says that the failure of the language to state the extent of participation leads him to believe that Williams may be correct on this point.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, jr.7
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Papers of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., British GuianaJagan. No classification marking.
  2. Neither printed.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  4. Confidential.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  6. Secret. A typed note at the bottom of the last page of the source text reads: (Page 2 was not proofed by Mr. Schlesinger).”
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.