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419. Telegram From the Ambassador to Guyana (Carlson) to the Department of State1

[telegram number not declassified] Please pass foll to Mr. Cobb from Ambassador. Proposed action program designed to ensure government victory in the next general election.

1. It is believed that the action proposed in this paper, designed to ensure a victory in the next general election (1968–69) for the parties of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, must be tempered and weighed in light of the following basic considerations:

A. Present indications are that the East Indian people, as a whole, dislike the African, distrust him, especially fear him, and believe that they must stay together, particularly as a voting unit, if their rights are to be protected and their aspirations achieved.

B. The East Indians, generally, believe that if they maintain their solidarity, they can, by virtue of their rapidly increasing numbers, win any future election.

C. Most East Indians do not now think, and will not easily be convinced, despite a plethora of anti-Communist and anti-Jagan propaganda, that Cheddi Jagan is anything less than an altruistic leader who, although perhaps capable of error, loves his people and is motivated by a desire to act in their best interests. His charismatic appeal continues basically undiminished, although apparently some of the gloss has gone from his image.

D. Within the PPP, those relatively few East Indians who question Jagan's motives and leadership and might even welcome a replacement are most reluctant to oppose him openly for fear of intimidation–which [Page 925]the government cannot prevent. The February 1966 murder (undoubtedly inspired by Jagan's People's Progressive Party—(PPP)) of Ackbar Alli, a PPP activist who turned on Jagan, is one of many incidents that have made a strong impression on the East Indian mind. The few PPP leaders who oppose Jagan also realize that the mass of party supporters are likely to favor Jagan over them in any open contest.

2. As sobering as the foregoing observations may be, the seemingly solid East Indian, Jagan-built wall must inevitably develop some cracks. There are a few indications that economic improvement, especially the road program, is making a favorable impression on some East Indians. It is too early to tell how significant this may be. The following proposals are of the type which seem best designed to hasten the development of East Indian disaffection from Jagan, enhance the position of the government and provide a much-needed assist to the economy of the country—which if not improved can only further complicate the political situation:

A. Intensify and expand the road building program, giving special emphasis to the predominately East Indian areas such as the Corentyne. The major artery from New Amsterdam to Crabwood Creek (the last village in the Corentyne) should be paved before the election.

B. By means of a soft loan, assist with the re-organization and modernization of the rice industry. While this effort may not attract any new support for the government, it is needed as a means of stabilizing a major industry of importance to the economy.

C. Give consideration to special assistance to the anti-Jagan Man Power Citizens' Association (MPCA), the largest labor union in the country and the one officially representing some 20,000 sugar workers. Such assistance might include establishment of a credit union to assist the predominantly East Indian MPCA-affiliated worker to satisfy his basic needs. Obviously, it would enhance the position of the MPCA and weaken its arch rival, the Guyana Agricultural Workers' Union—Jagan's principal pirate labor arm. Most important, it would give the East Indian tangible evidence that his individual lot was being improved under the government, actively assisted by the U.S.

D. Carefully examine the extent of need and the feasibility of Jagan. This might also be an opportunity to promote a diversification program in agriculture by giving priority consideration to the farmer willing to plant some of the basic agricultural commodities which the country is now forced to import. A new rural credit agency, initially endowed by [Page 926]the U.S. and geared to give rapid small loans to the farmer on a non-racial basis, might have merit.

E. Explore assisting the government in the construction and renovation of small school buildings in the rural areas. This would include assistance in the acquisition of basic educational tools such as books.

F. Assist with the modernization and expansion of medical facilities in the small medical stations in the rural areas. Again, in this effort the East Indian would receive considerable benefit.

G. Consider assisting the government to greatly expand its present youth program, including a CCC-type project involving rehabilitation, training and trail building in the interior.

3. Activities of a less orthodox nature which are recommended or are now being conducted would include the following:

A. Consider giving financial assistance and active encouragement on a selective basis to East Indian individuals or groups which might emerge and show promise of being able to influence politically a significant segment of the East Indian population. (At the present time, the prospects in this area are not particularly encouraging. The anti-Jagan East Indian Justice Party and the Guyana United Muslim Party have been discredited, and consequently offer little, if any, hope of being able to contribute substantially to any future anti-Jagan effort. However, if nothing new appears before 1968, and there is reason to believe that these basically defunct organizations can still play a useful role, consideration should be given at that time to pumping new blood into their emaciated bodies. It is not believed that any action in this regard is justified at present.)

B. Continue to promote the growth and attempt to extend the influence of the small moderate group within the PPP in the hope that its members might succeed in replacing the Jagan leadership or gain sufficient strength to break away and form a new viable East Indian party.

C. Encourage the government to consider the feasibility of exiling Cheddi and Janet Jagan. Without them the PPP, as presently constituted and oriented, would be hard-pressed to continue. The exiling of Janet alone would probably not be sufficiently useful in the light of the problems involved, including that of splitting a family. While she is highly important as the organizer, Cheddi is the vote getter and could probably keep the Indian community largely intact. As a practical matter, the government is not likely to take any such action unless the Jagans provide it with some good pretext; and this may never happen.

D. Encourage the government, and assist where necessary, to conduct a survey of its supporters who live abroad for the purpose of ascertaining their exact numbers and qualifications to cast absentee ballots in the next election. Government offices in London, Washington, [Page 927]New York, and Ottawa should be able to assist by requesting Guyanese in their areas to register.

E. At the Washington level, have election experts conduct a study and make detailed recommendations as to how best (preferably in the simplest and most fool-proof manner) the government might proceed to rig, if necessary, the next election. Particular attention should be given to the absentee ballot which would seem to lend itself to manipulation, as well as to any maneuver in Guyana.

F. Consider the possibility of buying East Indian votes. (Circumstances do not now appear to lend themselves to this practice. For fear of being exposed to the wrath of the PPP, the East Indian would most likely immediately denounce to the PPP any such attempt to influence his vote, or, at best, quietly take the money and then proceed to vote as his blood line dictated.)

G. Continue to assist the coalition parties of the government to maintain their organizational structures; and be prepared in the next election to give all the support necessary to enable these parties to register all their potential supporters, conduct a vigorous campaign and ensure that all their people arrive at the polls on time.

H. Continue to encourage the government to pursue a benign policy toward the East Indian, attempting to convince him of the government's impartiality and genuine desire to improve his standard of living, etc.

4. Prime Minister Burnham is reasonably convinced that West Indian (Negro) immigration might well solve his electoral problem. More objective observers tend to be more skeptical, primarily because there is not enough time before the next election. While there is no doubt that additional human resources will be required to subdue the extensive Guyana wilderness, with local unemployment still high (at least 15 percent of the total work force) it would seem that immigration cannot proceed in the next year or so at an inordinate rate. The East Indians are, understandably, solidly against this migration scheme and many of Burnham's supporters will oppose it unless they first have jobs. As a short term election device, immigration does not seem to be very practical. In fact, Burnham might easily lose more supporters from within than he hopes to gain from without—particularly if he immediately pushes for the fifteen-twenty thousand immigrants he has in mind.

5. Burnham is pressing for some type of Caribbean grouping and envisions himself as a likely leader of whatever might emerge. Also, he has entertained the possibility of putting together some form of unitary state with Barbados or Antigua, or one or several of the smaller islands. (Burnham told the U.S. Ambassador on July 4th that Grenada and St. Lucia had recently expressed an interest in merging with [Page 928]Guyana.) This plan might prove workable, but again there is no assurance that anything will materialize within the next two to three years. Arrangements of this nature, obviously, cannot be unduly pushed; but they should certainly be discreetly encouraged where possible.

6. Best estimates available indicate that the domestic non-East Indian voting population in 1968–69 will still exceed the East Indian electorate by five to eight thousand. No provision is made in these estimates for new immigrants. Absentee voters probably number between ten and fifteen thousand, with the non-East Indian in the majority. Balanced against this apparent margin in favor of the government, is the fact that the government could easily lose the votes of as many as ten thousand of its nominal supporters. They would be the dissatisfied and the disgruntled who might well refuse to go to the polls or in some cases conceivably even vote for the PPP. Facing a contest such as this, a man as astute as Burnham, will probably want to enter the game with at least a few extra aces. (In 1964 the PPP received 109,000 votes; the coalition parties a total of 126,000; the total vote was 238,530 out of 247,495 registered, the projected registration in 1968–69 is estimated at 284,387.)

7. Burnham is not considering calling an election before 1968, and apparently there is no great advantage in doing so. Prior to that time, he will not be able to demonstrate major accomplishments, such as substantially reducing unemployment, etc. In short, he can probably afford to give Jagan a few more votes conceivably by virtue of the greater numbers of East Indians who will have arrived at the voting age by 1968, in the hope that by waiting, he, Burnham can not only better satisfy his own supporters but hopefully wean away a few of the East Indian voters.

8. Burnham has confided to close colleagues that he intends to remain in power indefinitely—if at all possible by constitutional means. However, if necessary, he is prepared to employ unorthodox methods to achieve his aims. In these circumstances, probably the best that can be hoped for at this time, is that he might respond to guideline and thus take the most effective and least objectionable course to attain his goals.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Director of Operations Files, Job 89–00998R, Latin American Division. Secret.