375. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Meyer) to the Undersecretary of State (Irwin), Washington, June 18, 1971.1 2

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JUN 18 1971

TO: The Under Secretary
FROM: ARA - Charles A. Meyer
SUBJECT: Guyana

Before leaving tonight for a long-planned trip to Nicaragua and Guyana, I wish to register once again my concern over the effect of US actions upon the political situation in Guyana.

Most U officials dealing with the Guyanese political situation believe that only Forbes Burnham’s method of vote counting and US extraordinary support for Burnham prevented Cheddi Jagan, a Moscow-lining avowed communist, from winning the Premiership of Guyana in the elections of December 1968. Since that time, Burham’s political position has eroded and it is the current consensus of inter-agency analysts that were free elections to be held in Guyana today, Jagan would be elected.

Although Burnham has adopted some economic policies that we find contrary to some of our interests and that from an economic standpoint are dubious at best, Burnham is not a Marxist, has manifested a generally friendly attitude toward the US, and has shown himself susceptible to our influence. For example, when he decided to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union (a widespread practice these days in the hemisphere), he agreed at our urging not to permit the establishment of a resident Soviet mission in Guyana. A Guyana governed by Jagan would quickly become a hostile communist state and give the Soviet Union a firm foothold on the South American continent. To equate Burnham with Jagan, who most recently documented his political ideology by attending the 24th Soviet Communist Party meeting in Moscow at Soviet invitation, would make about as much political sense from the US standpoint as would equating the East Indian Jagan and the negro Burnham in cultural anthropological terms.

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Given Burnham’s present precarious political position and the possibility that a rival negro leader may emerge and split the black vote to the benefit of Jagan’s solid East Indian support, the next general elections in Guyana, which are scheduled no later than December 1973, do not augur well for US interests. In this political context, US policies and actions are particularly significant. Burnham’s political rival, Jagan, or any other that may emerge is closely watching for US signals of continuing or waning support for Burnham. In addition, our ability to influence Burnham is a function of our posture toward his government.

For these reasons we have, as you know, pursued a policy with regard to US economic assistance for Guyana of applying usual developmental and banking criteria, unless the assistance were required directly to bail Burnham out of his bauxite expropriation mess. The US abstention vote yesterday on Guyana’s IBRD loan application was contrary to this policy and has already had one of the predicted results: Burnham summoned Ambassador King to protest our action formally and expressed his “deep concern” that the US appeared to have adopted an anti-Guyana position and he could only conclude that the US had embarked upon a new and unfriendly policy toward his country. I wish that I could be confident that other predicted effects which an abstention vote might cause will riot conic to pass: Jagan will be comforted; a potential black rival will be encouraged; and our influence with Burnham will be significantly eroded. I shall do what I can with Burnham during my visit.

You should know that Mr. BROE, the CIA Western Hemisphere division chief, after consulting with Mr. Helms made it a point of formal record with ARA last month that CIA opposed any US policy or action that could be detrimental to Burnham’s political position. CIA has intimate knowledge of the political situation in Guyana [text not declassified]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Subject and Country Files: Lot 73 D 395, Guyana. Secret; Exdis. It was drafted by Hurwich. The memorandum is an unsigned copy.
  2. Assistant Secretary Meyer argued for caution in taking action, such as abstaining on an IBRD loan to Guyana, that would weaken Burnham’s support and strengthen Jagan.