295. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • British Guiana


  • United States
    • The President
    • The Secretary of State
    • Ambassador Bruce
    • Mr. McGeorge Bundy
    • Mr. William R. Tyler
  • United Kingdom
    • Prime Minister Macmillan
    • Lord Home
    • Sir David Ormsby Gore
    • Lord Hailsham
    • Sir Harold Caccia
    • Mr. Duncan Sandys
    • Mr. Peter Thorneycroft
    • Lord Hood
    • Mr. Philip de Zulueta


The Secretary reviewed his talks with Lord Home and Mr. Sandys. [4-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

Mr. Sandys then spoke and confirmed the Secretary’s account of the conversations which had been held in London. He said he thought that, theoretically, there were four courses open: (1) To muddle on as we are now doing, which he thought should be rejected as a choice; (2) To move forward by granting British Guiana independence now (he said that although this would be a move forward it obviously presented grave problems); (3) To suspend the constitution and institute direct colonial rule (he said that this would be a move backward politically); (4) to establish a Burnham-D’Aguiar government and then grant British Guiana independence.

He said that if we were to persevere with the present exercise and succeed, we could perhaps give British Guiana independence. [2-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] On the whole he thought that a referendum on proportional representation would have a favorable outcome, though this was not certain. The reaction of the people was problematical. If the referendum was successful, there would have to be new elections. He said another factor in the situation was the predictable increase in support for Jagan as time went by. He said that presumably Burnham, if he came to power, would make a defense agreement with the United States, and that the US had the legal right to reactivate the base in British Guiana, [1-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]. He thought that a Burnham-D’ [Page 608] Aguiar government would certainly wish to have a defense agreement with the United States.

The President asked Mr. Sandys how long he thought the UK could string out the process of establishing proportional representation. Mr. Sandys said he was not sure, as it depended on the outcome of the present strike situation. He said there was a financial problem if the UK was prepared to keep Jagan going. In the meantime, the UK could string out the process for a number of months. He said we had to be careful that Jagan should not be put in a position where he would ask for dissolution and new elections, because he would certainly win again. Under the present constitution he had the right to ask for dissolution, and the governor would have to grant it. He said that under direct rule, two serious problems would emerge, apart from the financial one: (1) it was not certain that after five years we would be any better off than we are now, (2) it was quite likely that Jagan would take off and create a movement of underground resistance of the Malayan type. Mr. Sandys said he did not know whether in this case the Indians and the Negroes would fight against each other, or band together against us. There was also the consideration that, in the event of the UK resuming direct rule, it would be greatly criticized. Its image would be pretty severely tarnished, “said Lord Home. There would also be the effect on Southern Rhodesia. People would say that if the UK could resume power in British Guiana, why would it not be able to do the same thing in Southern Rhodesia.”

The President said he thought that Mr. Sandys had made a very good and fair presentation. It was obvious that if the UK were to get out of British Guiana now it would become a Communist state. He thought the thing to do was to look for ways to drag the thing out. The situation was inflammatory at this time. He thought that Latin America was the most dangerous area in the world. The effect of having a Communist state in British Guiana in addition to Cuba in 1964, would be to create irresistible pressures in the United States to strike militarily against Cuba. There would be great US resentment against the UK for having pulled out. He thought the UK should say that it could not make British Guiana independent because of the danger of unleashing a racial war, and that the UK should not say that it was because of the danger of British Guiana becoming Communist. The Prime Minister asked whether it was not worth while going on with the present strike pressure. Mr. Sandys asked what the US reaction would be to the UK granting independence to a Burnham-D’Aguiar government. Under present conditions, such a government would collapse by itself. However if the United States Government was prepared to shore it up, this would change the situation, specifically if the US could provide money [1-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]. The Secretary pointed out that Africans control the police and the towns, so that Jagan would be relegated to agitating in the countryside. [Page 609] The President asked Mr. Sandys if the UK could tell Jagan that HMG was going to hold on for another two years. Mr. Sandys said that Jagan would then ask for dissolution. The Secretary asked whether, in this event, the UK could insist on holding a referendum on proportional representation. Mr. Sandys said that this would be in the worst circumstances, because it would be clear to everyone that we were only doing this because we were afraid of the outcome of elections.

The President said he agreed with the analysis of all the difficulties, but that these still paled in comparison with the prospect of the establishment of a Communist regime in Latin America. Mr. Sandys said he thought the best solution was that of a Burnham-D’Aguiar government to which the UK would grant independence. [5 lines of source text not declassified] The President again repeated his view which he had previously expressed, that the great danger in 1964 was that, since Cuba would be the major American public issue, adding British Guiana to Cuba could well tip the scales, and someone would be elected who would take military action against Cuba. He said that the American people would not stand for a situation which looked as though the Soviet Union had leapfrogged over Cuba to land on the continent in the Western Hemisphere. Mr. Sandys asked whether the United States Government was prepared to give the UK real support in the United Nations and publicly, if the UK were to resume direct rule in British Guiana. It would be a pleasure, “said the President, we would go all out to the extent necessary.” You didn’t give us that much support on Southern Rhodesia, “piped up Lord Home. Well, for that matter,” said the President, in a light tone of banter, you haven’t given us that much support on the MLF.” The President added that we would be willing to review our stand on the resolution of the Committee of Twenty-four. He said he thought that the aspects of the situation in British Guiana which we should stress were its instability and the danger of racial strife.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL BR GU-US. Secret; Eyes Only; Limited Distribution. Drafted by Tyler.