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

1338. For Asst Secretary Todman. Subject: Presidential Letter to PriMin Burnham. Ref: Georgetown 5012 and previous.

1. As the Department is aware, we have had before us in our relations with Guyana, even pre-dating my arrival last Sept., the outstanding request of PriMin Burnham that he be permitted to pay a courtesy call on President Carter. In the various exchanges on this request certain essential elements were defined:

(A) Burnham wanted this appointment to precede a visit which he had planned during 1978 to the USSR, other Eastern European countries and North Korea;

(B) Burnham felt that such a meeting was necessary as a prelude to visits he hoped to make to various communities of Guyanese located in some of the major cities of the United States such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles;

(C) We felt that such a meeting would provide an opportunity: to review with Burnham the administration’s stand on human rights; demonstrate our acceptance of ideological pluralism; indicate our interest in obtaining Guyana’s understanding (as a Third World bellwether) of our position on such issues as the North-South dialogue, Caribbean development, etc.; and to convey our belief in the importance of preserving a democratic framework in Guyana.

2. As time went by and it became apparent that more pressing domestic and international demands on the President’s schedule were conspiring to diminish the likelihood of a Burnham-Carter meeting within the timeframe the Prime Minister had hoped for, it was decided to inform him candidly that this was the case. In response to my proposal I was authorized to so inform him before my departure from Georgetown for the Chiefs of Mission Conference meeting (State 42625).3 Unfortunately, an unexpected event occurred (i.e., the sudden firing for unexplained reasons of ForMin Wills who had been associated with the request for the Carter meeting) and it was decided that delivery of the oral ‛turn down’ of the request for a meeting should be deferred lest it be linked with Wills’ sacking in the minds of Burnham and his people.

3. While in Washington for the Chiefs of Mission meeting in February I discussed the situation with your staff and with the NSC. From [Page 687] these talks it was agreed that a Presidential letter, full of ‛cotton candy’ and little substance would be the best way to pass the word that a Presidential appointment was not likely to be forthcoming before 1979, and at the same time making clear to the PriMin that the turn-down of his request was unrelated to any change in USG attitude toward him or Guyana.

4. On the expectation that such a letter could be generated, approved and signed within a reasonably brief period—by mid-March, at the latest—I was convinced that this was the best way to proceed. Unfortunately, for various reasons this was not possible. In the meantime, Burnham announced his trip to Moscow, North Korea, and East Germany, and is now embarked on it, and though the total impact of the trip and the commitments he has made along the way are not yet fully known, it seems apparent from Moscow’s 088114 that he may have gone far to accommodate himself and his government to the USSR during his talks. Domestically, he has rammed through the PNC-controlled Parliament (on April 10, the eve of his departure for Moscow) a bill to change the key article of the Constitution, which, if adopted by a simple ‛yes-no’ referendum, will give him and his party carte blanche to introduce a new Constitution, and insure his and his party’s control of the Government of Guyana for the foreseeable future.

5. In view of these developments, I am convinced that a personal letter from the President would be inadvisable at this time. I am certain that Burnham would use such a letter publicly for his own purposes and, until we have a clearer idea of the nature of the Constitution which he and the People’s National Congress (PNC) intend to impose, we should avoid any gesture which could be construed as approval of this effort. I recommend, therefore, that that initiative be canceled and that I be authorized to inform the Prime Minister orally and privately on his return that unfortunately the President’s schedule is committed for the remainder of 1978 due to the press of domestic and international obligations and as a consequence there is no possibility of an appointment before sometime in 1979 at the earliest.5

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country, Box 24, Folder: Guyana, 1/77–12/78. Secret; Stadis; Exdis.
  2. Not found.
  3. Dated February 17. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780074–0408)
  4. Dated April 24. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780174–1080)
  5. Despite Burke’s concerns, the text of a letter from Carter to Burnham was transmitted in telegram 124767 to Georgetown, May 16. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780207–0105) In telegram 1587 from Georgetown, May 17, Burke reaffirmed his position. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country, Box 24, Folder: Guyana, 1/77–12/78) On June 8, the Department instructed Burke to deliver the letter. On June 9, he gave it to the Acting Foreign Minister since Burnham was away from Georgetown. (Telegram 144877 to Georgetown, June 8, and telegram 1865 from Georgetown, June 9; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780238–0900 and D780242–0332)