Washington, December 7, 1967.
To consider the prospects for Guyana, with particular attention to problems and consequences of the coming parliamentary election.
A. Voting in the coming election, which according to the Constitution must take place by the end of March 1969, will again be predominantly along racial lines. Cheddi Jagan, the East Indian leader and an enthusiastic Marxist-Leninist, has a basic advantage: The East Indians are now probably a slight majority of the population. The Negroes, almost all of whom support Forbes Burnham, the present Prime Minister, constitute about 44 percent.
B. Burnham, whose coalition with the small, conservative United Force (UF) has always been fragile,2D'Aguiar resigned from the Cabinet on September 26 despite Carlson's best efforts to dissuade him. (Telegram 295 from Georgetown, September 25, and memorandum from Bowdler to Rostow, September 25; both Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Guyana (Brit. G.), Vol. I, Cables, Memos, and Misc., 5/66–11/68) is working on various schemes to enlarge the Negro vote. He will try to obtain a substantial number of absentee votes from Negro Guyanese residing abroad. Beyond this, he is exploring means to merge Guyana with one or another Caribbean island (most likely St. Vincent)3An October 24 memorandum from Trueheart to Hughes reported that the move to associate with St. Vincent would probably not succeed. It stated that “we understand that the Commonwealth Relations Office in London is negatively disposed.” (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Guyana 1969, 1970) so as to increase the proportion of Negro voters.
C. If Burnham became convinced that such arrangements would not suffice to keep him in power and Jagan out, he would probably rig the election. In any case, he would have to rely on the small civilian police and Guyana Defense Force (GDF), both of which are predominantly Negro, to maintain order. They probably could do so, except in the unlikely event of a major East Indian uprising.
D. Prospects for a second Burnham Administration would depend in major part on how he won. A merger with St. Vincent, for instance, would almost certainly raise fears, among East Indians and UF supporters, of discrimination and possibly even of persecution under a government completely controlled by Negroes. Such fears could produce unrest and some violence. If Burnham returned to power as head of a coalition in an election that appeared reasonably fair, prospects would be good for continuing stability and further gradual economic progress. The need for outside economic aid would nonetheless continue.
E. If Jagan's party won, he would probably not be permitted to exercise power. Burnham could use force to keep him out, or suspend the Constitution and rule by fiat, or even press for a grand coalition which he himself would seek to head. Alternatively he could permit Jagan to take office—only to subvert his government at a later date.
F. In the unlikely event that Jagan did take and hold power, the Communist orientation of his government, more than its actual capabilities, would make it a new disturbing factor in hemispheric affairs, especially in the Caribbean area. Communist countries would make considerable propaganda capital of the fact that such a government had come to power by free elections. The USSR and some other Communist governments would move quickly to establish diplomatic or trade missions in Georgetown. Both the Soviets and Castro would probably provide Jagan with small amounts of economic aid.
G. A Jagan administration would, however, be beset by powerful internal opposition and would not have the resources for an adventuresome program abroad. Thus, Jagan would not try to launch an independent Communist revolutionary effort on the continent or in the Caribbean, though he probably would cooperate in the overt and clandestine activities sponsored by the USSR or Cuba. Such actions would encourage Venezuela to press its territorial claims against Guyana and perhaps even to undertake military action.
[Omitted here is the Discussion portion of the estimate including sections on Background, the Burnham Government, Preelection Maneuvers, and Security Forces.]
V. Postelection Prospects
21. If Burnham wins, the postelection prospects will depend in major degree on how he manages to do so. If he were returned to office as head of a coalition, and as a result of a more or less normal and reasonably fair contest, the prospects for his government would be good. He would require continuing economic aid from the US, and if he got it, Guyana would almost certainly make gradual further economic progress. He would more than likely again have trouble within the coalition, and opposition on the part of Jagan and the East Indians would become increasingly bitter. But there probably would not be disorders and violence of such magnitude that the Guyanese security forces could not control them.
22. If, however, he blatantly rigs the election, or if he wins by means of a merger with St. Vincent or another Caribbean island, the political situation is likely to be more unstable. Should Guyana join with St. Vincent, for example, the additional number of Negro voters in the new nation would produce fears among East Indians and UF members alike that the Burnham government would become solely a Negro-run institution and that they would be excluded from power indefinitely. Jagan would be the first to claim that the merger was engineered by the US and would use it in his anti-US propaganda in Guyana and abroad. At least initially, some unrest and violence would be likely. The Guyanese security forces would probably remain loyal to Burnham and be capable of preventing violence from getting out of hand.
23. If, in spite of Burnham's preelection activities, Cheddi Jagan's PPP gained a majority of seats in the Assembly, Cheddi probably still would not be permitted to form a government. Burnham might call upon the security forces to keep Jagan out, or suspend the Constitution and rule by fiat, or even try persuading Jagan to join in a grand coalition which he, Burnham, would head. Any of these actions, with the possible exception of the last, would raise racial tensions and produce danger of violence—both probably more inflammatory than the merger possibility discussed above.
24. It is possible that for appearances' sake Burnham would let Jagan take office—only to subvert his government at a later date. It is unlikely that Burnham would go into loyal opposition, but if he did, Jagan would still face a highly troubled tenure. The Negroes in opposition would probably be more militant than the East Indians have been, and Jagan could not count on the security forces.
25. However determined Jagan was to take measures to favor the East Indians or to carry out Marxist economic policies, he would be severely inhibited by circumstances. Sooner or later, he would have to make numerous concessions to the Negroes or risk being deposed. He has talked of nationalizing the important foreign enterprises, but he is probably aware that expropriation of the foreign aluminum companies or of the big British-owned sugar properties would be disastrous economically. He would, in any case, encounter certain economic difficulty. There would be a loss of confidence on the part of private investors, and most of the economic assistance from which the Burnham government has benefited would probably not be forthcoming to Jagan.4In 1965–1966, the US committed $18 million in aid to Guyana of which $13 million has been drawn down. [Footnote in the source text.]His friends among the Communist countries would probably provide some help, but less. Cuba would most likely give Jagan a favorable price for Guyana's rice crop and the USSR would probably give limited credits.
26. In the unlikely event that Jagan did take and hold power, the Communist orientation of his government, more than its actual capabilities, would make it a new disturbing factor in hemispheric affairs, especially in the Caribbean area. The USSR and other Communist countries would make considerable propaganda capital of the fact that such a government had come to power by free elections, and the Jagan government would support the Communist nations in international forums on basic issues. The Soviets and some other Communist governments would move quickly to establish diplomatic or trade missions in Georgetown. Yet a Jagan administration would be beset by powerful internal opposition, and its internal weakness would require it to move cautiously in order to retain power while trying to strengthen its political base. It would not have the resources to carry out an adventuresome program abroad. Thus, Jagan would not try to launch an independent Communist revolutionary effort on the continent or in the Caribbean. He probably would cooperate in the overt and clandestine activities sponsored by the USSR or Cuba. All actions of this kind would encourage Venezuela, certain to be suspicious of Jagan regardless of his policies, to press its territorial claims against Guyana and perhaps even to undertake military action.