272. Telegram From the Embassy in Guyana to the Department of State1

126. From Charge. Department pass Assistant Secretary-designate Todman, San Jose; USIA/ILA; AID LA/CAR. Subject: Guyana 1977. Ref: Georgetown 00512 (Notal).

1. The following is a brief analysis of US–GOG relations and political prognosis for Guyana from our vantage point here as we enter 1977.

2. US–GOG relations. As the new year begins, our relations with Guyana can be summed up in one word—impasse. Nevertheless, Guyanese official comments to me and those few favorable articles that appear about the United States in the local press seem to indicate that the GOG believes the Carter administration will be more sympathetic toward Guyana. While this may be true, my concern is that the recent deterioration of our relations beginning with Burnham’s accusations of indirect USG complicity in Cubana air crash3 and subsequent charges of destabilization, the characterization of the United States as the capitalist enemy, and unfavorable articles accusing the CIA of everything from climate control to political assassination make one wonder where we can begin. It now appears to be de rigeur for any high-ranking GOG official making public statements to claim Guyana’s economic problems are in part caused by destabilization from abroad. It is generally accepted here that USG is primary destabilizer although Cuban exiles, Venezuela and Brazil have also been mentioned.

3. This naturally leads one to ponder how we can improve relations with Guyana and indeed whether we should. I recognize that our interests and influence here are minimal. We have basically little in common except language and proximity. Our aid activities are limited [Page 656] to the implementation of ongoing projects. Since two planned new loan projects have been delayed for over one year, AID staff is being cut back. Moreover, it is apparent that the GOG is suspicious of our intentions toward Guyana. Obviously, if our relations are to improve or at least normalize, there is a need to develop mutual trust and confidence. On our part, we must continue to make clear to the Guyanese that we are not opposed to their socialist revolution and their close relations with the Cubans et al. On their part, the GOG must cease or certainly mute its statements accusing U.S. of destabilization. This may be an over-simplification of the present problems in our relations but credibility does appear to be at the heart of this present situation.

4. Whither Guyana in 1977—East or non-aligned? As the Department has noticed in our reporting over the past several months, we have expressed our concern over what we consider to be Guyana’s drift toward the Eastern world. Official GOG statements in the press and from Burnham on down parallel at times a political line that sounds straight from Havana. This rhetoric causes us to consider what we believe to be growing Cuban influence within the entire framework of the GOG. Even the trade union movement has also shown itself to be vulnerable to Cuban penetration. For example, the Guyana Trade Union Congress platform at the recent Caribbean labor conference in Antigua last week was developed in Havana as reported in Georgetown 0087 (Notal).4 In analyzing this unfortunate trend, I continually ask why. My analysis at this time leads me to believe that Burnham is pursuing this policy to neutralize his major opposition, the Moscow-line Communist People’s Progressive Party (PPP). To achieve this, the GOG must preempt in part the policies and doctrine of the PPP and the result has been an apparent increased receptivity to Cuban political influence and doctrine.

5. I also believe that this decision by Burnham to radicalize his political policy has directly affected the Guyanese economy. In reviewing GOG economic activity in 1976, I am convinced that political decisions were taken that have exacerbated the economic problems of the country in 1977. To be sure, bad weather and low sugar prices also hurt Guyana, but my opinion is that political decisions affecting the economy have been made regardless of the economic conditions at the time. In particular, the pouring of funds into the People’s Militia, national service and Upper Mazaruni Road project and other basically non-productive areas at the expense of capital investments in agriculture and other productive sectors has deepened the economic crisis. [Page 657] Plain mismanagement and some corruption has helped. Also in this connection, it is interesting to note that Burnham refused to reveal total defense expenditures for 1976–77 in the Parliamentary budget debate. Foreign assistance to date has not been forthcoming in any significant amount to cover Guyanese shortfall in the projected balance of payments deficit in 1977. Reportedly, the Venezuelans have offered to assist Guyana but for political reasons the GOG may not accept this offer. Libya and Nigeria have also been solicited for aid but at this time there are no indications any funds will be forthcoming. That leaves the Soviet Union and the West. Under present circumstances, it is hard to imagine any aid coming from the U.S. and if so would the GOG swallow its pride and accept Soviet aid, I have been told by the FonMin, depends in part on the strings attached to such aid. Other Western donors or banks have not indicated a willingness to bail out the Guyanese at this time. Therefore, some hard political decisions in the near future must be made which could decide Guyana’s future both domestically and externally.

6. We have not been able to determine what decisions, if any, were made at the recent Chiefs of Mission conference held on January 10–14 that would provide us with an idea of the direction to be taken in Guyanese foreign policy in the coming year.5 The only hint was reported in the press on January 18 in a short article disclosing domestic economic issues dominated the discussions.6

7. Internally, the government still appears secure although there are signs of disaffection. I am concerned that the austerity measures introduced by the GOG to alleviate some of the strain, if unsuccessful, could affect the stability of Guyana especially if insufficient assistance from abroad is forthcoming. As reported reftel, FonMin believes crunch will come in three to four months. I believe this is a valid assumption. I continually hear and read of opposition primarily from the East Indian community to the Defense Bonds Committee and apathy toward and suspicion of the purpose of the Guyana People’s Militia established last month. So far as I can determine, Burnham’s call for unity in face of external and internal pressures has not been successful.

8. At this point, I believe if the situation does not worsen, the GOG will somehow muddle through. However, the lack at this time of any apparent coherent economic or political policy enunciated by the government, coupled with unproven allegations of destabilization occurring within and without the country have created some confusion [Page 658] among the Guyanese population. The Guyanese people are also beginning to question why the GOG appears so strongly influenced by Cuba when purportedly the Cubans are in no position to offer any substantial economic assistance. When the Foreign Minister can express concern over the government’s drift, it is easy to imagine what people outside the government have been expressing to Embassy officers. One constant rumor we hear is that Burnham is losing control. I do not believe this; but I do believe that Burnham has moved further left in order to achieve tighter control within the government and isolate the PPP, his only real foe at this time.

9. In conclusion then, I am somewhat pessimistic about our opportunities to improve relations with the GOG in 1977. I believe that we could at best characterize our relations for 1977 as a holding operation with the U.S. maintaining a relatively low profile. Improvement of relations should depend upon a cessation of irresponsible attacks against the USG, our officials and our policies. However, if the opportunity presents itself, we should be prepared to help the Guyanese if only to provide an alternative for the GOG and to show the GOG and the non-aligned world USG intentions are good toward countries where our interests are minimal. It would bring us goodwill throughout Caribbean and certainly lessen suspicions about USG intentions in the area. One thing that has become clear to me in the past three months is that regardless of the official attitude of the government, Americans in Guyana still receive a hospitable welcome from the average Guyanese, choke-and-rob problems notwithstanding. This has made our lives here bearable under the pressures of almost unrelenting official hostility and calumny since last October.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770020–0052. Confidential; Priority. Repeated for information to Brasilia, Bridgetown, Caracas, Kingston, Nassau, Paramaribo, Port of Spain, and USUN.
  2. In telegram 51 from Georgetown, January 10, McCoy summarized his conversation with Guyanese Foreign Minister Wills regarding Cuba, the USSR, and the Non-Aligned Movement. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770009–0364)
  3. Cubana Flight 455 crashed on October 6, 1976, en route to Jamaica. A subsequent analysis of the crash concluded that the plane was brought down by two bombs on board killing 73 people, including 11 Guyanese passengers. In telegram 2076 from Georgetown, October 18, 1976, the Embassy provided the text of Burnham’s October 17 speech, which stated that the bombers enjoyed “the hospitality of the great American people in Miami.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760396–1184)
  4. Telegram 87 from Georgetown, January 14, summarized the Guyanese proposal to admit Cuba to the Caribbean Congress of Labor. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770014–0908)
  5. The Embassy described the Guyanese Chiefs of Mission conference in telegram 120 from Georgetown, January 18. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770019–0430)
  6. Not found.