364. Telegram 1097 From the Embassy in Guyana to the Department of State1

1097. Subject: Some Reflections on Recent Elections and Their Implications.

Summary. Prime Minister Burnham, returned to office with the two-thirds majority he wanted, will probably prove even more difficult for the United States. He has an increased feeling of friendship for the PRC. Undoubtedly (and unreasonably) feeling the U.S. has backed away from a policy of supporting him, he may well turn to the USSR, Cuba and extremist Arab countries such as Libya in a search for new friends. He may well move against the Reynolds Bauxite interests before the year is out. Jagan appears washed up but will continue to be a source of trouble for some time to come. Burnham has everything just about his own way now. But we can still work with him if we accept his government “as it is.” End summary.

1. Prime Minister L.F.S. Burnham and his ruling People’s National Congress (PNC) have been returned to office for another five years. The U.S. could not really have wanted it otherwise.

2. We helped Burnham get into office in 1964 and to stay there in 1968, on both occasions viewing him as highly preferable to the alternative, i.e., the pro-Moscow and self-avowed Communist leader of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Dr. Cheddi Jagan.

3. This time Burnham did it on his own, without our help. We may question the way he did it and the magnitude of his victory, for there is considerable substance to the opposition’s accusations of election fraud [less than 1 line not declassified] and police and GDF intervention, and the two-thirds majority he now has in Parliament may make him even more difficult. Nevertheless, as a pragmatic nationalist with an ambitious (if somewhat unrealistic) development plan he remains preferable to Jagan from our point of view and the U.S. can continue to deal [Page 943] with the Government of Guyana under Burnham “as it is.” But what of Burnham? How will he view us?

4. In the draft CASP submitted by the Embassy last February it was stated that “once this year’s elections are out of the way, there is a chance that he (Burnham) may make some effort to mend his fences (with us).” We know that Foreign Minister Ramphal, to whom Burnham listens, has urged him to do so. Late last year Ramphal, assuredly with Burnham’s blessing, raised the possibility of a visit to Washington and meeting with the President as part of this effort. However, now that the elections are finally out of the way, we are not as hopeful as we were in February. On the contrary, it seems more likely that Burnham will intensify his search for new friends and alternatives to the U.S. and the West in general, although he is too smart to burn all his bridges behind him. He could draw closer to the USSR, Cuba and extremist Arab States such as Libya.

A. Burnham asked for our help in the elections again and was turned down. Specifically, he asked for another local currency loan for small civil works projects with political impact such as the 006 loan we gave him in connection with the 1968 elections and for a “P.L. 480 type” loan to finance imports from the U.S., the local proceeds to be used for development purposes. In making these requests, he asked pointedly “do you want Cheddi?” Our reasons for refusing were perfectly valid, but the fact is we did refuse. So he turned to the PRC. [less than 1 line not declassified] the Chinese provided some one and a quarter million dollars as an advance from their 23 million dollar line of credit. Burnham now reportedly is saying privately that the PRC is his only true friend among the major powers.

B. Again for perfectly valid reasons, we were not able to give Burnham any encouragement about a visit to Washington and a meeting with the President. From his point of view, the first was out of the question without the second. So when told there was little possibility of seeing the President he dropped the whole idea.

C. Burnham has been suspicious that we were giving financial and other assistance to the Liberator Party (LP). We know [less than 1 line not declassified] that he has a police report to this effect, inaccurate though it may be. He would be suspicious in any event. It is in his nature to be so, he knows we have helped political parties in the past, e.g., his, and he recognizes that we would be comfortable with the generally conservative business and professional groups which joined to form the LP. Party officials kept telling him to get his two-thirds majority. He obviously believed my rather sudden trip to Washington in June was in some way related to support for the LP, and he has not been convinced by my explanations and disavowals. I have discussed all this at some [Page 944] length with Ramphal, who concluded that “Burnham does not really believe it, but . . .”

D. Burnham will certainly note the absence of any formal USG congratulatory message following his election victory. He will assume that this Embassy’s reporting of the elections brought about the omission.

5. In sum, then, the odds are that Burnham will now tend to be even more independent of us, and will worry less about what we think and how we might react to his actions. He has already sent his Deputy Prime Minister and a trusted member of his Cabinet off to attend Fidel Castro’s July 26 celebrations. Two Cubans are now in Georgetown negotiating a civil aviation agreement. The Soviet Embassy which will be opened in Georgetown shortly may well be received more warmly than had been anticipated. Our guess here is that Burnham will move fairly promptly to carry out his campaign promise to begin negotiations for “meaningful participation” in Reynolds’s Guyana mines, perhaps when he returns from the Algiers Non-Aligned Summit meeting. Unless the company is more flexible and imaginative than we believe it will be, the outcome almost inevitably will be nationalization. Burnham will offer compensation, as he has stated publicly he would do, but it will be an offer along the lines of the consensual agreement with Alcan. He will feel he can offer no more, for domestic reasons, lest he be charged with discrimination against Canada and to avoid seeming to give in to U.S. pressure. We sense that Reynolds and OPIC would find such an offer unacceptable as not constituting “prompt, adequate and effective” compensation. What then? The prospects are not bright.

6. And what of Cheddi? When my Canadian colleague paid a farewell call on Jagan a few days before the election he found him in high spirits and exuding confidence. He professed to have no doubts whatsoever that he could win an overwhelming victory in a free and honest election. He said he had been tremendously impressed by the turnouts during his campaign. On the air the morning of the election he said he sensed a spirit among his followers “reminiscent of 1953.” He obviously had grounds for optimism, about his followers if not about how the election would be conducted, since he and his party had deliberately inflamed racial antagonisms and campaigned on the time-tested racial appeals of Apanjat—“stand together” and “vote for one of us.” His party used its old brutal tactics of intimidation, reprisal and violence to keep East Indians in line, apparently with considerable success. His campaign was otherwise sterile, although on election eve the PPP did issue a manifesto of sorts. It called inter alia for the takeover by government of the bauxite and sugar industries, an end to restrictions on trade with socialist countries and the subsidizing of essential foodstuffs.

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7. Jagan reacted to the election results by saying his party could never accept them, just as he did in 1968. He has been cruising through the East Indian strongholds in Berbice and the Corentyne, reportedly ordering attacks on those suspected of deserting to Burnham and laying plans for industrial strife and, perhaps, more acts of violence. He has refused to provide the elections commission the names of fourteen party members to occupy the seats in Parliament allotted to him, and Parliament will probably be convened Thursday without a PPP presence. He also has issued a call for “test polling” in one or more districts to prove the extent of the fraud perpetrated by the PNC. It is doubtful that all this will get anywhere, however, and Cheddi is probably about washed up. He must know this. Hence his great anger and frustration. He can still cause trouble, nevertheless, and we do not see real tranquility in Guyana for some time ahead.

8. The LP has designated its two members of Parliament but now refuses to seat them. It too will continue to complain bitterly about the conduct of the election, but by itself it is relatively impotent.

9. The remaining party, the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) of Llewelyn John, like the LP had no election platform other than to attack the government and promise to undo all it had done. The PDM now can be expected to fade away into oblivion.

10. The political scene will thus continue to be dominated by Burnham and Jagan as it has been for two decades. No viable alternative to either appeared during this election. But Burnham clearly has the upper hand now and Jagan’s ability to influence events is declining and will continue to do so even though he still has the capacity to cause unrest and violence. Burnham is now very close to having it all his own way.

  1. Summary: Commenting on Burnham’s reelection, the Embassy predicted the Guyanese Prime Minister would cause the United States difficulties, adding that he might seek support from China, the Soviet bloc, and extremist Arab nations.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P750007–1770. Secret; Exdis. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text that remains classified. The Embassy submitted the draft CASP to the Department on February 5 see Document 360. On July 24, the Embassy reported that the PPP and the LP had announced a boycott of the newly-elected National Assembly. In telegram 1093 from Georgetown, July 24, the Embassy predicted that the boycott would not pressure the government enough to force new elections. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number])