275. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • U.S./Guyana Bilateral Relations, Southern Africa, Economic Assistance


  • Guyana

    • Frederick R. Wills, Foreign Minister
    • Rudi Collins, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    • Laurence Mann, Guyanese Ambassador
    • Rashleigh Jackson, Permanent Representative to the United Nations
    • Burnett Halder, First Secretary, Embassy of Guyana
  • United States

    • The Secretary
    • Philip C. Habib, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
    • Terence A. Todman, Assistant Secretary, ARA
    • Donald Tice, Special Assistant, P
    • Frank Tumminia, ARA/CAR (Notetaker)
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Foreign Minister Wills congratulated the Secretary on his appointment as Secretary of State and wished him well in his endeavors. The Secretary asked about Prime Minister Burnham’s health, and Wills assured him that the recovery was proceeding well.2

Bilateral Relations

The Secretary expressed his pleasure with the visit by the Foreign Minister and the opportunity that it gave him to discuss matters of mutual interest. He indicated his desire that relations between the two countries grow close again. He stated that he would do all he could to ensure that better relations materialized.

Wills, in reply, said that relations between Guyana and the United States had soured in 1976 and that Guyana was more aggrieved by this than the United States. He went on to say that relations between Guyana and the U.S. had been good when his party had first come to power. He added, however, that his government had been greatly disillusioned when it had not received U.S. economic assistance for the major industrial developments which it had planned. He noted that this lack of assistance had occurred in spite of Guyana’s excellent human rights record.

Wills went on to say that relations had worsened in 1975. He added that this turn of events had been due to a lack of communications. Guyana was strongly anti-apartheid. It had supported the MPLA in Angola, because the MPLA had been attacked by South Africa. In this context the Minister pointed out that he had full confidence in United States motives but could not agree with the methods followed in U.S. policy toward southern Africa. He noted that Guyana, contrary to Cuba, had withdrawn its athletes from the Olympic Games in Montreal because of its opposition to apartheid. Guyana had also been attacked, because it had been willing to permit Cuban use of its airfield during the Angolan airlift. He continued by saying that there had been bombings aimed at Guyanese establishments by Cuban exiles. (He was referring to the September, 1976, bombing of the Guyanese Consulate in Port-of-Spain.) He also remarked that Guyana had been subjected to pressure from its neighbors, because it was not willing to modify its policies. All of these acts, in Guyanese eyes, represented efforts to destabilize Guyana.


Wills went on to say that the bombing of the Cubana aircraft had been the climax in this chain of events. He stated that Prime Minister Burnham had reacted strongly to the crash, because he felt personally [Page 665] responsible for the loss of some of the Guyanese killed in the crash, since he had convinced them to accept scholarships to Cuba.

Wills stated that he had gone to Barbados himself to examine the evidence connected with the crash and that there was no doubt in his mind that the evidence pointed to Cuban exiles’ involvement. He admitted, however, that there was no evidence to indicate that any U.S. agency had been involved. However, in view of the lack of credibility because of previous activities by U.S. government agencies, there was reasonable doubt in the minds of many Guyanese in this respect. The Guyanese people had been shocked and distressed at the statement by a State Department spokesman that the Prime Minister’s speech about the crash contained “bald-faced lies.”3 He stated: “We are surprised that there has been no softening of the statement.” The average Guyanese was also wondering why Castro had not been called a liar when he had made similar statements. Wills remarked that the “grass roots” in Guyana thought that this smacked of racism. Wills added that too often the United States press published articles which were not helpful since they distorted Guyanese realities.

A New Beginning

Wills stated that he had come to Washington “to rebuild bridges between the two countries.” He said that Guyana had no human rights problem, had a working parliamentary system and yet was not receiving any significant economic aid. In this context, he noted that Jamaica and Guyana had even been removed from the GSP. While he personally understood that this was a decision reached by the U.S. government because of internal events, the average Guyanese would not interpret it this way.

The Secretary, in reply, stated that he understood what the Minister was saying. He added that “the past is past and we should build on the present.” We should find common grounds. We should not “chew on the past, but we should move forward.” He indicated that he himself would work toward this end and that, in doing so, he hoped to rebuild the bridges that once existed between us.

Guyana’s Policy

Wills replied by stating that it was important for the Guyanese government to be “believed.” He pointed out that Guyana follows a pragmatic policy. It will not allow the Cuban presence in Guyana to get out of hand, since this would only end up by helping “the other party.” He forcefully asserted that Guyana was a non-aligned country [Page 666] and did not intend to become the satellite of any state—the Soviet Union, Cuba, or any other.

The Secretary replied by saying that he believed the Minister’s statement. He added that, even though we have a different social system, there is no reason why we cannot work together.

1978 Elections in Guyana

Wills then made a reference to Guyana’s elections scheduled for 1978. He said that, if his party does not have to overcome external challenges, it can win the election; but if it is weakened because of pressure from outside the country, it could face serious difficulties. Wills emphasized that his party wants national consensus within the country.

U.S. Ambassador

He then stated that he wanted an Ambassador from the United States, since the Soviet Union and Cuba had Ambassadors in Georgetown. Under Secretary Habib pointed out that Charge Blacken had returned to Georgetown as soon as the new administration had taken over. He noted that this was a signal which he hoped the Guyanese government had understood. He went on to say that Ambassadorial appointments were being worked out and that within the next few weeks the panel which is presently screening candidates will have completed its work. Then Ambassadorial nominations will be announced. The Secretary agreed with Mr. Habib and stated that the delay was due to the fact that the President wanted to ensure that only qualified persons were chosen for Ambassadorial assignments. Wills added that his remark about the lack of an Ambassador was no reflection on Mr. Blacken, whom he held in the highest esteem. Mr. Habib pointed out that Blacken had done a very good job and that this was why we had sent him back.

U.S. Reaction to Burnham’s Speech

Ambassador Todman emphasized that, while he could assure the Minister that the U.S. government does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, he could not guarantee what the press might say about any given country, since we do not control it. He went on to say that we understand the reaction of people in other countries when certain statements are issued; but, by the same token, it should be clear that our Government, our Congress and our people cannot accept accusations such as the one made against us in connection with the Cubana crash. When such an accusation is made, our government is bound to respond to it. The Guyanese government and people should understand our response to the accusation leveled against us by the Guyanese government in this light. Ambassador Todman said that he [Page 667] was pleased to hear that the Minister had confidence in the motives, even though he did not agree with the methods in U.S. policy toward southern Africa. Todman added that he was convinced that the United States government was against apartheid. However, methods vary on how to find a solution to this problem. Above all, it is essential that we keep down public rhetoric in order to avoid the need for strong reaction.

Wills, referring to recent press reports regarding CIA funding of foreign leaders, stated that President Carter’s remarks that the reports were partially inaccurate had, by implication, inferred that some were accurate.4 In the same fashion, when Burnham had stated that the CIA could easily infiltrate the Cuban exiles and other groups, it could be inferred that some USG agency might have been involved in the bombing of the Cubana aircraft. Wills concluded by saying that, in these two statements of President Carter and of Prime Minister Burnham, there had been a logical gap leading to a wrong interpretation of what was said.

Southern Africa

Wills then turned to the problem of southern Africa. He stated that Guyana’s position was clear: it subscribed to the Lusaka Manifesto which, while accepting a military option toward the solution of the southern Africa problem, did not write off the possibility that an answer could be found through negotiations. He stated, however, that Smith was only procrastinating. Guyana did not believe, as former Secretary Kissinger did, that Vorster could twist Smith’s arm. Vorster’s party would not allow him to do so. He went on to say that, when the U.S. votes against resolutions in the U.N. which condemn interference in the internal affairs of smaller states or when it abstains on resolutions such as the one on Transkei, it takes a stand which the average Guyanese citizen simply does not understand.

Both the Secretary and Mr. Habib pointed out that we want to find a peaceful solution in southern Africa and stressed that we have worked and we are working in conjunction with the Frontline Presidents as well as the national movements of the area. Former Secretary Kissinger had been able to bring Smith to the negotiating table without the use of force. We want to pursue this line of negotiated settlement.

Wills stressed the fact that apartheid in countries such as Guyana, where the majority of citizens are descendants of slaves, is equated to slavery. He expressed his belief that Smith accepted the so-called [Page 668] Kissinger Package only as a delaying tactic in the hope that he could merge the southern Africa problem in the East/West confrontation. Wills repeated that he appreciated United States efforts. Guyana, too, did not wish a blood bath in southern Africa.

Southern Africa: A Three-Pronged Problem

Secretary Vance noted that in southern Africa we have three separate problems, each with its own nature and each requiring its own solution—namely, Rhodesia, Namibia, and South Africa. However, regardless of the nature of the problem, the trend is toward majority rule; and this trend is irreversible.

Wills replied by saying that Guyana recognizes that the trend is irreversible, but it objects to its time frame. He stated that Vorster is as liberal as any South African can ever be, but even so, dealing with him is unlikely to produce any positive results. Mr. Habib pointed out that the Frontline Presidents have been saying that Smith can be convinced through Vorster. Wills said that President Nyerere of Tanzania now believes that Vorster cannot convince Smith to bring about changes. Wills remarked that U.S. policy toward southern Africa had changed considerably since 1973 and that the U.S. now was much more active in Africa.

Mr. Habib pointed out that a solution to the southern Africa problem is difficult to find because, over and above all the other difficulties, there is no unanimity among interested parties on how to approach it. However, although methods differ, the aspiration and commitment of those who seek a just solution are deep and are identical.

The U.S.: Major Influence in Southern Africa

Wills noted that the U.K. no longer has a great influence in Africa. In his estimate, such influence had passed to the United States. He added that basically the problem of Namibia “was a simple one with a difficult solution.” He stated that Namibia is Vorster’s Sudetenland; the South African Prime Minister is using Namibia as a buffer zone.

Wills also indicated that countries such as France, which sold arms to South Africa, were not helping matters. Namibia should be turned over to the U.N., which should prepare it for independence. He said there must be sanctions against South Africa and they must be enforced. He said that South Africa is defending its apartheid policy on the border of Angola. He concluded by expressing the hope that the U.S. can get Vorster to move.

Secretary Vance said that, so far, we have been able to move Vorster somewhat, but not all the way. Wills said that we should know how to make him move. We could count on Guyana’s support in our effort to do so.

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Bilateral Economic Assistance

At this point, the Secretary stated that he had to attend another meeting but that he wanted to raise three points before leaving. With regard to the sugar question, he stated that we are now reviewing our entire policy in this area and that we will keep in mind the needs of countries such as Guyana. Turning to the $1 million Manpower Training Loan which has been awaiting signature since 1975, he asked whether Guyana was still interested in it. Wills replied that Guyana certainly was interested. The Secretary told Wills that we would go ahead with it. He then referred to the overview of the Mazaruni hydroelectrical project which had been sent to the Department by Ambassador Mann and stated that we would study it.

Multilateral Economic Assistance

Ambassador Todman pointed out that the Food Crops Production Loan had now apparently been taken over by the Inter-American Development Bank. He said this was a good thing, since the United States preferred to work through multilateral organizations such as the Bank, to which it contributed.

Ambassador Mann stated that Guyana would very much like to have us look at the Mazaruni project. Mr. Habib remarked that we would study the overview in the new spirit which he hoped would now prevail in our bilateral relations.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country, Box 24, Folder: Guyana 1/77–12/78. Confidential. Drafted by Tumminia; approved by Twaddell. Foreign Minister Wills visited Washington March 5–9, and met with Secretary Vance on the last day of his visit. The meeting was held in Habib’s office.
  2. Burnham suffered a mild heart attack in January.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 274.
  4. See, for example, David Binder, “More Heads of State Are Reported To Have Received C.I.A. Payments,” The New York Times, February 19, p. 9. For President Carter’s remarks regarding CIA activities made during his February 23 press conference, see Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 218–219.