379. Memorandum for the 40 Committee, Washington, November 14, 1972.1 2

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14 NOV 1972

MEMORANDUM FOR: The 40 Committee
SUBJECT: The Guyanese Elections

I. Summary.

The involvement of the United States Government in Guyanese politics has its origin in a 1962 exchange of letters between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain in which it was agreed that the then British Colony of Guiana should reach independence under the political leadership of someone other than Cheddi Jagan, the Moscow-line Communist leader of the East Indian majority. [text not declassified]

The only viable leadership alternative to Jagan at the time was Linden Forbes Burnham, political spokesman for the strong black minority in the country. As a result, Burnham and his party, the People’s National Congress (PNC), received [text not declassified] support in the 1964 as well as 1968 national elections and won both elections. The covert support which was furnished Burnham [text not declassified] was a significant factor in his ability to defeat Jagan on both occasions.

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Under the Guyanese constitution, the next national election must be held prior to March 1974. Because of Burnham’s uninterrupted special relationship [text not declassified] since 1962, he has assumed that serious consideration will be given to supporting him and the PNC in the next election despite his pursuit in recent months of increasingly radical policies. Burnham has not been impressed to date by U.S. Government efforts to persuade him to moderate his current policies, particularly with respect to the proposed nationalization of the Guyanese bauxite industry. [text not declassified] in September 1972, Burnham made clear his intention to ignore, considerations, a firm warning plans to recognize Cuba and to because of domestic political that implementation of his nationalize the Reynolds bauxite operation in Guyana would seriously jeopardize his prospects for U.S. election. Burnham said that he could not be re-elected unless he had made some definite moves toward recognizing Cuba and and negotiating for majority participation in the Reynolds bauxite operation prior to the election. In fact, he felt he would be able to win with greater ease having made these moves even though, in the process, he had to forego U.S. Government support.

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On 30 October 1972, Burnham discussed with his advisors the advisability of requesting $1,000,000.00 in special election funding from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). No decision was reached as to whether or not the request should be made.

Balancing Burnham’s current radical trajectory against the risks associated with manipulating a third election in his favor, leads to the present proposal that covert support be withheld from Burnham and his party in the forthcoming election. Should Burnham modify his attitude on key issues prior to the election, the 40 Committee would be advised of this development in order that it might re-evaluate the desirability of not providing covert support to him. In this connection it is interesting to note that Burnham has control over the machinery of government and is determined to use this power leverage to keep Jagan out of office.

[Omitted here are Section II, “Background;” Section III, “Proposal;” Section IV, “Coordination;” and Section V, “Cost.”]

  1. Source: National Security Council, NSC Intelligence Files, Country Files, Guyana, 23 May 1969–6 February 1973. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. A handwritten note at the bottom stated, “40 Committee Approved on 12 December 1972.” Kissinger indicated his approval the same date in a memorandum from Ratliff dated December 5. In the memorandum, Ratliff concluded, “The key factor in this negative proposal is that Burnham has made it clear that he will win the election with or without our help.” (Ibid.)
  2. The 40 Committee approved cutting covert subsidies to Prime Minister Burnham because his policy had become more anti-United States. But, if Burnham changed course prior to the national election in March, 1974, and implemented pro-United Stated policies, the 40 Committee would be advised of his new policies so it could re-evaluate the decision to terminate covert support.