RESERACH FILES /// CIA Covert Operations : The 1964 Overthrow of Cheddi Jagan in British Guiana


CIA Covert Operations : The 1964 Overthrow of Cheddi Jagan in British Guiana

Dr. Cheddi Jagan (source: Reality in Writing : Caribbean Political Economy)

Published: Apr 6, 2020

Briefing Book #700

Edited by John Prados and Arturo Jimenez-Bacardi

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

Declassified Documents Explore Little-Known Political Coup in Latin America

Exhibits from the Digital National Security Archive

SUGGESTED READING:

John Prados, The Ghosts of Langley: Into the CIA’s Heart of Darkness.
New York: The New Press, 2017.
ISBN: 978–1–62097–088–1.

John Prados, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA.
Lanham (MD): Rowman & Littlefield/Ivan R. Dee, 2006.
ISBN: 978–1–56663–574–5.

Washington, DC, April 6, 2020 – Cold War concerns about another Communist Cuba in Latin America drove President John F. Kennedy to approve a covert CIA political campaign to rig national elections in British Guiana, then a British colony but soon to be independent, according to declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive.

U.S. intelligence concluded that Prime Minister Cheddi Jagan, one of the main presidential candidates in the upcoming 1964 elections, was a communist, although not necessarily under the sway of Moscow. Nevertheless, Kennedy decided Jagan would have to go and urged London to cooperate in the effort. As early as mid-1962, JFK informed the British prime minister that the notion of an independent state led by Jagan “disturbs us seriously,” adding: “We must be entirely frank in saying that we simply cannot afford to see another Castro-type regime established in this Hemisphere. It follows that we should set as our objective an independent British Guiana under some other leader.”

Today’s posting details a clandestine operation that is far less well-known than other CIA actions in Latin America and elsewhere during the Cold War. It provides a behind-the-scenes look at the intelligence process as it gives shape to a complex covert campaign and offers fascinating insights into the anti-Communist outlook of Kennedy and his advisers. The documents were obtained through archival research in presidential libraries and from CIA declassifications. They are part of the Digital National Security Archive publication “CIA Covert Operations III: From Kennedy to Nixon, 1961-1974,” the latest in the authoritative series compiled and curated by one of the world’s leading intelligence historians, Dr. John Prados.

* * *

The Overthrow of Cheddi Jagan in British Guiana

By John Prados and Arturo Jimenez-Bacardi

Attempts at influencing elections—that is foreign interference—are not new. In fact, the United States, using the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was an early practitioner of this tactic. The agency’s intervention in Italy in 1948 and after, while details remain vague, is a known example. But in British Guiana (present-day Guyana) in the 1960s we now have a virtually unknown yet well-documented instance of use of this technique. What makes this an extraordinary case also is that President John F. Kennedy did not begin this covert operation until 1962, after the Bay of Pigs failure, when that disaster had supposedly taught him to rein in the secret warriors.

The bugaboo which led to this was political ideology, specifically communism. Throughout the Cold War, Washington had difficulty appreciating that different political traditions applied in different lands, and that “communism” was not a monolithic, Soviet-led international movement. This time CIA wielded the covert scalpel against British Guiana, in fact a British Commonwealth member located on the northern coast of South America. Such was the overconcern with communism that the United States-United Kingdom alliance did not keep Washington from political intervention in a land that answered to an American ally. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., President Kennedy’s court historian and adviser on Latin America, several decades later observed that “we misunderstood the whole struggle down there.”[1]

Schlesinger apologized, but by then it was too late. At the time, he wrote, “it was idle to suppose that communism in Latin America was no more than the expression of an indigenous desire for social reform.”[2] He joined American leaders and spies to take the Guianese leftist and socialist Cheddi Jagan as a communist and plot against him—or, more accurately, Schlesinger took a more relaxed view of Jagan, became isolated in the Kennedy administration, and eventually ceased to oppose the CIA’s project. That regime change operation is documented in this electronic briefing book.

* * *

Cheddi Jagan was a dentist. Born of Indian immigrants who arrived in British Guiana as indentured servants, Jagan studied in Georgetown, Guiana’s capital, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, where he completed training. He also met and married Janet Rosenberg in Chicago, returning to South America in 1943, at age 25. Jagan’s background inclined him to socialism from the beginning. In 1946 he founded a political action committee, which he merged with another group in 1950 to form the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). Linden Forbes Burnham, the head of that other group, served initially as the new party’s leader and Janet Jagan as secretary. Jagan, already a member of the British-sponsored legislative council, obtained a PPP majority in 1953 elections and then led a Guianese government under British tutelage. Though there were no apparent links between Jagan and any Marxist party, the British government suspected and pressured him, and Jagan resigned after 150 days. The British abolished his office of chief minister and for seven years kept Guiana under military occupation. Jagan they made a political prisoner. When released, Jagan was restricted to Georgetown, but nevertheless won the majority of seats in a new council elected in August 1957. Forbes Burnham took a faction out of the PPP to form the People’s National Congress (PNC) a few months later. But Jagan was the acknowledged national leader and in new elections, held in August 1961, the PPP again swept him to power. Cheddi Jagan became prime minister. Already that March, a CIA estimate, anticipating those elections, predicted the PPP would probably get the nod to form a government, and said of Jagan that while he was not an acknowledged communist, his wife was, and his statements and actions bore the marks of communist influence.[3]

This background shows the U.S. concerned with Jagan’s political orientation almost from the moment he emerged as Guianese leader, and it also introduces political competitor Forbes Burnham, who would become the CIA’s instrument against Cheddi Jagan in the project Kennedy mounted. Indeed, on May 5, 1961, at a National Security Council (NSC) meeting which considered new covert actions against Cuba and the Dominican Republic, the group agreed to have its Cuba task force look for ways (in cooperation with London) to forestall a communist takeover of British Guiana.[4] Secretary of state Dean Rusk wrote British Foreign Secretary Lord Home on August 11, 1961, to ask if anything could be done to forestall a Jagan electoral victory. The British minister said no, and advised that it would be better to educate the Guianese leader. By the end of August the State Department was advocating offers of help to Guiana, nudging Prime Minister Jagan in a pro-American direction, combined with a covert operation to expose and destroy communists in British Guiana. President Kennedy approved that essential program on September 3, 1961. A September 4 cable, about which Arthur Schlesinger complained (Document 1) several days later, actually went so far as to speak of Jagan as a “possible sleeper” agent.

A round of U.S.-British talks took place in London during September. The general idea was to provide technical economic assistance on the one hand, with a covert intelligence gathering project to proceed alongside that. Then-CIA Director Allen W. Dulles worked on the concept. Ambassador David Bruce led the American delegation with Frank G. Wisner—CIA station chief and former head of the operations directorate—at his side. The British stipulated that the U.S. must in fact try and work with Jagan. Data on results on the intelligence side remains classified.[5]

The Guianese leader was aware that others harbored suspicions of him. Jagan arranged a visit to the United States and Great Britain for the end of October. The State Department announced he would meet with President Kennedy. The meeting was scheduled for October 25, and a briefing memo for the president was prepared. President and prime minister sparred at their meeting but no open break occurred, as Jagan represented himself as a socialist in the style of British politician Aneurin Bevan, though American participants found him evasive on matters of detail. The White House announced that the U.S. would provide British Guiana with technical assistance. Jagan went on to New York and then London. FBI informants supplied details of Jagan’s comments at social events in New York, and U.S. diplomats followed his movements in London. Early in December, Schlesinger met with a Guianese labor leader and one from the United Steel Workers of America (Document 2). The contemplated covert operation had begun taking form as a political action.

It was a feature of governance in British Guiana (which did not end with Prime Minister Jagan) that leaders acted unilaterally and not in a democratic fashion. Given serious economic problems, in early 1962 Jagan introduced an austerity budget and a tax increase that fell mainly on Guiana’s African and mixed population, without consultation with the opposition. This led to a strike, and rioting in Georgetown, where much of the city was burned to the ground. Jagan could see the flames from his official residence, the “Red House.” He became convinced the CIA had fomented the riots. This is likely not true—the labor organizers who, allied with the agency, represented the Americans’ link to the Guianese opposition were not in the colony at the time.[6]

But what did happen is that U.S. officials used the Georgetown riots as the excuse to write off Cheddi Jagan. On February 19, with smoke still rising from burned buildings, Secretary of State Dean Rusk wrote Lord Home calling for “remedial steps” to counter Jagan’s “Marxist-Leninist policy” and adding that “I have reached the conclusion that it is not possible for us to put up with an independent British Guiana under Jagan.”[7]

At the White House, Schlesinger countered that Cheddi Jagan was not a communist but a naïve “London School of Economics Marxist filled with charm.” The tax scheme, he added, had not been socialist but orthodox, something suitable for Britain.[8] British official views mirrored those Schlesinger expressed. London resisted moving against Jagan.

President Kennedy held in place for the moment, more impressed by the case put by London than by Foggy Bottom. On March 8, 1962 he issued an order on British Guiana which he sent as a memo explicitly addressed to Secretary Rusk and the Director of Central Intelligence John A. McCone. He also issued the same directive as National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 135. It was highly unusual for a covert action instruction to appear as both a NSAM and a directed missive, and suggests the president was trying to stop something he felt was out of control. As it happened, the same day British Guiana was up for discussion at the 5412 Special Group (Document 3). The contents of Kennedy’s order reinforce the impression of urgency, and the 5412 discussion shows that the commanders of the secret wars followed the president’s instructions. NSAM-135 declared, “No final decision will be taken on our policy toward British Guiana” until after further discussions. Kennedy, further, delineated three questions to answer before any decision was made.[9]

Within a few weeksof NSAM-135 the CIA weighed in with a pair of intelligence estimates on the Caribbean colony. In a memorandum to Director McCone the Office of National Estimates (ONE) commented on the Georgetown riots, agreeing that the tax bill had been the main catalyst, marking the PPP as “Communist-oriented” and the PNC as “socialist,” and portraying the British as much less concerned over the political orientation of Jagan and the PPP than was Washington. The CIA acknowledged that Jagan was not under Soviet control, but that did not satisfy some policymakers (Document 4). The ONE followed in April with Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) 87.2-62, discussing the short term outlook for British Guiana. The estimate argued that the “PPP leadership” had a clear record of “communist-line policies” and that Jagan was a communist (Document 5).

The CIA estimates answered two of President Kennedy’s three key questions—the agency projected that Cheddi Jagan would win the next election, even if opposed by a coalition of Burnham’s PNC and the United Force party, another small group led by one Peter d’Aguilar. The SNIE also estimated that there was no prospect that a Jagan government would agree to a coalition with the other parties, which it far outnumbered in the Guianese assembly. A Jagan administration could be expected to follow a non-aligned foreign policy to some degree friendly to the communist bloc.

Kennedy’s third question concerned the British—would they delay independence for British Guiana and provide for new elections there. Secretary Rusk held talks with Lord Home on the sidelines of a meeting in Geneva in mid-March, with British reluctance so evident that he reported back that covert action with or without London was necessary. Nevertheless, a program designed to bring about the removal of Cheddi Jagan became one option included in a State Department policy paper released on March 15.[10] At the 5412 Special Group session on March 22, Director McCone was asked to assess the chances of various lines of covert action that could be adopted.[11] The State options paper specified a covert political action. The main instrument for such a gambit would be international labor unions cooperating with the CIA. A month later, CIA support for labor operations would be the lead item at the 5412 Special Group, in a meeting attended by CIA operations chief Richard Helms and Deputy Director Marshall S. Carter (Document 6).[12]

During May 1962 President Kennedy and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan held direct talks, while the Guianese opposition leader Forbes Burnham visited Washington. These meetings cleared away some of the obstacles to covert action. Senior officials decided Forbes Burnham’s socialism was preferable to whatever-it-was that Jagan believed. Equally important, the British decided to delay independence, leaving an opening for a CIA operation. One key indicator of the crumbling of opposition to a covert operation would be when Arthur Schlesinger told Jack Kennedy, on June 21, that a Forbes Burnham government would cause many fewer problems for the U.S. than one led by Cheddi Jagan.[13]

On June 14 the 5412 Special Group considered a CIA paper outlining a covert political action but deferred judgment pending solution of the basic political problem. That same day Dean Rusk sent the meeting minutes, State Department intelligence and FBI reports, and a draft action program to Kennedy, with the comment that replacement of the Jagan government should be set as the U.S. objective. This was the first formal request for a British Guiana covert operation.[14] President Kennedy dictated a reply (Document 7), sent to Secretary Rusk, in which he expressed general agreement with Rusk’s position but preferred for the time being to follow the British line. Rusk temporarily withdrew his covert action proposal. In subsequent London talks, he then got the British to agree that Guianese independence would be delayed, and they began thinking more positively of a fresh election conducted by means of “proportional representation,” rather than a direct ballot. U.S. experts held that to be the only way to defeat Jagan at the polls. The U.S. plan was to change the electoral rules, then work to ensure Jagan’s party could not win an election.

On July 12 Rusk proposed anew that the United States aim to overthrow the Jagan government (Document 8). State presented essentially the same package with a more elaborate action plan that included diplomatic aspects, steps to influence the colonial congress about to take place in London, political action and propaganda in the colony, and economic aid. Commenting on the package, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy observed that “the case for the proposed tactics to be used in opposing [Jagan] is not so clear.” Specifically, “I think it is unproven that CIA knows how to manipulate an election in British Guiana without a backfire” (Document 9). Schlesinger also expressed nervousness about the CIA plan. As Bundy had suggested, President Kennedy took the action out of Rusk’s hands, and dealt directly with British ambassador Sir David Ormsby-Gore, following the line Rusk had suggested. Kennedy sought to lull the British by sidetracking the hard-charging secretary of state.

Thereafter things began to move. A short paper from CIA attempted to settle remaining doubts. That same day, July 20, Director McCone and Richard Helms met with the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board to discuss covert operations, including labor operations, secret funding of social and cultural groups, and a list of the political parties and leaders the CIA supported throughout the world. British Guiana came up in this discussion. Helms filled in details and answered questions. Then the agency’s June plan went back to the 5412 Group. The Western Hemisphere (WH) Division of the operations directorate carried the ball. Western Hemisphere was under long-time chief Joseph C. King. The branch of WH responsible for British Guiana was under another long-service veteran, Virginia Hall Goillot, who wrestled with the need to create an apparatus. In 1962 there was no CIA station in British Guiana, and even British counterintelligence was represented only by a regional officer. The agency recruited an expatriate psychiatrist whose brother was an aide to Forbes Burnham, and CIA officer Joseph B. Smith met the man in Barbados, training him in secret writing and other tradecraft. This was the link that led to Burnham’s Washington visit.[15] That visit gave the CIA the opportunity to inform the Guianese leader that the U.S. was considering action against Jagan, to which Burnham readily agreed.

Once President Kennedy had approved the political action the CIA assumed full responsibility for security and planning (Document 13). It informed the State Department but ran operations directly. At a State-CIA meeting on August 8, 1962, U. Alexis Johnson and Richard Helms agreed to a joint approach to British officials preparing for a constitutional convention in London that fall (Document 10). This memo to Bundy explained that Johnson and Helms agreed that they should make a proposal to the British with the goal, “to bring matters to a head by forcing a consideration of political factors.” The CIA wanted London to consider what a post-Jagan cabinet might look like. Helms also here established himself as CIA’s point man on Guiana.

Going into the London conference in October 1962, the CIA contacted Peter d’Aguilar, the United Force leader. Both D’Aguilar and Burnham pledged to support the notion of proportional representation. The Jagan government resisted that voting formula and the constitutional convention collapsed over this issue (Document 13). During a period of months the British government became increasingly frustrated at the impasse, while the Guianese political parties traded barbed charges in Georgetown.

In early 1963, the U.S. diplomatic representation in Georgetown was elevated from a consulate to a general consulate and given a CIA communications backchannel. Meanwhile the CIA approached Forbes Burnham, who provided assurances regarding his political program and began to receive financial assistance from the agency. Agency officers also approached a prominent New York politician to enlist him in revitalizing the Help Guiana Committee, identified as a political affiliate of Burnham’s PNC operating from Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The committee soon began supplementing its press releases with a biweekly publication “PNC Overseas News Letter.”

Now Prime Minister Jagan maneuvered to neutralize the Guianese Trades Union Council (TUC), dominated by ethnic African workers led by Richard Ishmael. Jagan anticipated a general strike but expected the unionists would exhaust their strike funds and the government would then prevail. Here is where the CIA labor operation hit its stride. Though William Howard McCabe, labor organizer, was not in Georgetown when the strike began, he arrived soon after and helped the strikers. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Retail Clerks International Union, the American Newspaper Guild, and the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) played the main roles in the strike. Ishmael, for example, received training from AIFLD. A Latin American labor council, ORIT, also trained and paid a group of junior assistants who worked alongside McCabe in the field. Labor organizer Gene Meakins worked directly for the TUC. Historians Robert Waters and Gordon Daniels established that roughly $800,000 ($6.7 million in 2019) went to support the strike, which began in April 1963 and went on into the summer, for an average amount of about $10,000 per day ($84,000 in 2019).[16] Whistleblower Phillip Agee identifies both McCabe and Meakins as CIA officers.[17] In March 1964, when the Jagan government moved to expel Meakins from the country, U.S. consul Carlson intervened to prevent that (Document 18). Operative McCabe made a practice of short trips, cycling among British Guiana, other Latin countries, and Washington, trying to avoid Guianese government interference (Document 19).

The strike escalated with arson and bombings at government buildings, incidents at private homes. British troops stationed in Guiana were unable to quell the violence. At one point the Coldstream Guards were called into action to protect a Cuban freighter unloading food for the relief of Guianese. Janet Jagan’s car was attacked. Richard Ishmael and Forbes Burnham were both named in police reports. Violence ran both ways. Cheddi Jagan would be accused of instigating PPP goon squads. The police discovered caches of alleged PPP weapons, but planting phony weapons caches was a tactic the CIA had used widely, including in Guatemala and Mexico, and the agency’s plan for Operation MONGOOSE included phony caches as a course of action, so the veracity of these discoveries cannot be assured.[18]

President Kennedy reviewed the state of play at the White House on June 21, 1963. John McCone and Richard Helms attended for the CIA. Kennedy was headed for talks with Prime Minister Macmillan. Helms reviewed the status of the general strike, commenting on Jagan’s insistence that trade unionists must return to work. Helms’s notes record, “It was clear that the President regards British Guiana as the most important topic he has to discuss with the Prime Minister.”[19] Those talks took place in England nine days later. They cemented a British decision to unilaterally impose a proportional representation electoral format on British Guiana for a December 1964 election, after which it would become the independent nation of Guyana. Howard McCabe met with the Guianese unionists the next day. On August 15, the CIA produced a paper, still classified, presumably proposing a project to influence that election.[20]

Cheddi Jagan was not blind to the forces gathering against him. As early as April 1963 he had written at length to President Kennedy, arguing his position and asking for Arthur Schlesinger to visit. Kennedy was noncommittal. The Guianese government maintained a public information office in New York City, pretty much inactive in 1962, but which suddenly erupted with materials arguing against elections before independence, and against proportional representation, spending over $6,000 ($50,600 in 2019) to get out the message. Jagan also unsuccessfully tried to meet with U.S. ambassador Adlai Stevenson on the sidelines of the 1963 U.N. General Assembly. When London went ahead to set the table for the elections, Prime Minister Jagan obtained, as he understood it, assurances from Forbes Burnham that a coalition would be acceptable, and approved only on that basis.

Jagan’s opposition, however, existed within the framework of a British colonial relationship. The United Kingdom had the option of re-imposing direct rule over British Guiana. That was the U.S. preference. John Kennedy’s assassination and the advent of President Lyndon B. Johnson did not alter Washington’s stance toward British Guiana. Talks with the British and Canadians in December 1963 gave Washington the opportunity to advocate for that. In a memo to McGeorge Bundy in advance of those talks (Document 15), Helms recounted the latest views of British colonial officials on direct rule. The next day (Document 16) Bundy gathered senior officials to discuss pressuring both commonwealth nations on the direct rule option. The demarche failed. A February 1964 report (Document 17) confirms that the “Sandys Plan”—named for the British commonwealth secretary Duncan Sandys—which sought to keep down the level of controversy by not recognizing Jagan’s opposition—remained London’s policy.

London announced voting districts in mid-April 1964. Voter registration took place in May. An election monitor certified the lists in June, but there were irregularities. The list for Georgetown, a PPP center, had been culled from the last election. More overseas votes would be cast than there were voters on the rolls. Around the turn of the year the CIA had moved to start a political party among Cheddi Jagan’s own East Indian ethnic group in order to draw off PPP support. In 1964 this operation got underway. The Americans also got Forbes Burnham and Peter d’Aguilar to agree on mutually supportive measures. U.S. money financed campaign activities, with leaflets, political buttons, and other paraphernalia, some of it produced in the United States and delivered free—as were advertising slogans and marketing tactics. Labor operatives, some Latino interns, and even some campaign workers were paid by the U.S., and Bundy had also approved paramilitary training for some PNC cadres.

Forbes Burnham pretended to cooperate but dragged his feet with allies all around. His PNC was also violent. Police Special Branch had collected evidence on PNC political violence back to 1962. As home minister the reports would have gone to Janet Jagan, so Cheddi’s protestations of ignorance in the fall of 1964 rang hollow. And there was reciprocal PPP violence to take into account. A United Front activist even suggested a coup d’état be mounted against the Jagan government (Document 20). By the summer, houses were being torched at a rate of five or more a day. More than 2,600 families (15,000 persons) had been forced from their homes. The political season brought nearly two hundred murders and a thousand persons wounded. That was real violence.[21] Cheddi Jagan, Forbes Burnham, and Peter d’Aguilar were actually conferring one day in August 1964 on tamping down the violence when, down the street, the PPP headquarters and the import-export company it ran were bombed. “My God, it’s Freedom House!” Jagan exclaimed (Document 21).

All this afforded the Americans one more chance to step back. By the fall of 1964 Cheddi Jagan had offered concessions, the violence was being widely attributed to black Guianese (PNC), the CIA’s East Indian political party project had stalled, and the British continued to worry that Jagan would win anyway. Instead, at the end of July (Document 22) a high-level U.S. group rejected any visit by a Jagan emissary. Then, to top it all, in October a British election threw out Douglas-Home’s Conservative Party government and installed a Labor cabinet headed by Harold Wilson. Lord Home had been reluctant to play with the CIA in Guiana; the position of the leftist Laborites was even more in doubt.

Washington’s questions were answered in a most unusual way. For more than a year, London and the United States had been fencing over the prospect of a British sale of Leyland buses to Cuba, which the Americans wanted to block and the British needed for economic benefit. At length the British quashed U.S. objections—this still under Lord Home—and went ahead. In late October 1964 some 42 of these Leyland buses were loaded at the port of London on an East German freighter, the Magdeburg, which set sail in the wee hours of October 27. The Yamashiro Maru, a Japanese merchant vessel inbound on the Thames, promptly collided with the Magdeburg, which capsized and grounded with her load of buses for Castro. There were suspicions about what the CIA had to do with the collision—given the hostility between Washington and Havana. The new British foreign secretary, visiting Washington, was promptly asked if the incident was “an omen.” He rejected omens as a basis for foreign policy, but added, “However, I am as superstitious as the next man.”[22]

Very promptly (Document 23), Anthony Greenwood, colonial secretary in the new Wilson government, rendered his account of the first Labor meeting with Cheddi Jagan to the American embassy in London. The new government shut out Jagan on every sally. Greenwood rejected the Guianese leader’s protest he would never have agreed to the Sandys Plan had he known the extent of Forbes Burnham’s meddling. The British replied he should have known, and defended their police performance in Guiana. It was too late to postpone the election or take other action.

Something now occurred that froze the Labor government into its position. The “Smithers affair” remains obscure to this day, but it concerned remarks from Peter H. B. O. Smithers, parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Foreign Office, which the Wilson government considered having openly denounced by Colonial Office officials in British Guiana (Document 24). Smithers was a Conservative Member of Parliament. The Americans considered it important. In Washington on November 2, the CIA sent a memorandum to the State Department clearly based upon “OPERATIONAL IMMEDIATE” reporting in agency channels. Frank Wisner, London station chief, had been approached by James Fulton, a senior aide to MI-6 director Sir Dick White, with an appeal for Ambassador Bruce to take up the “Smithers affair” with the Foreign Office, taking it out of intelligence channels and putting it into policy ones. Apparently there was a feeling at MI-6 that British diplomats were more flexible than the Colonial Office on a joint “CIA/MI-6 role” in British Guiana, while Anthony Greenwood had less political strength in the cabinet than his predecessor. By then, however, the election was just about a month away and it is not clear what a “CIA/MI-6” role could have been.

Prime Minister Jagan saw his future pass before him. A CIA field report on November 6 (Document 25) observed that he was very much concerned about the prospects for his People’s Popular Party. Jagan had no desire to make a coalition government with Forbes Burnham and the People’s National Congress.

Others were looking at the prospects too. The CIA did a number of assessments of the election’s likely outcome. In his stream of reports to the White House, Richard Helms took a guardedly optimistic view. We include one of these reports in this posting (Document 26). CIA foresaw that Jagan’s and Burnham’s parties would each take about 40 percent of the vote, D’Aguilar’s United Force would carry about 15 percent, and the CIA’s false-flag East Indian group, the Justice Party, would take about 5 percent.

The big day was December 7, 1964. The Americans thought it started well but then became more and more anxious. The election can usefully be viewed through the eyes of Gordon Chase, who was the NSC staff officer for intelligence activities. On the day, Chase reported very high turnout, perhaps even more than 90 percent, commenting “this is a good thing, assuming everybody votes the way we think” (Document 27). By the next day the outlook was not quite so rosy: “Cheddi is doing much better than expected,” and “this promises to be a real cliff hanger” (Document 28). Suddenly the odds that a potential Forbes Burnham coalition might have a majority of even one seat were judged no better than 6 to 5. On December 8 (Document 28), it finally looked like a defeat for Jagan and his PPP, and so it turned out to be.

But not without some further manipulation. In the 1961 election the PPP had received 43 percent of the vote, and that had sufficed to obtain 20 seats in the assembly. Despite all CIA’s political action efforts, in the 1964 election the PPP vote increased to 46 percent, but this was sufficient for only 24 seats in an expanded parliament. Burnham’s PNC got the same share of votes in both elections—41 percent—despite heavy gerrymandering of Guianese expatriate votes. With that relative failure, the number of PNC representatives nevertheless doubled, from 11 in 1961 to 22 in December 1964. The United Force party got 12 percent of the vote and 7 seats in the assembly. CIA’s child, the Justice Party, got no seats at all. Cheddi Jagan won the popular vote. Even under the proportional representation scheme his party obtained more seats in parliament. The British governor of Guiana turned away, however, offering Burnham alone the chance to compose a coalition. Peter d’Aguilar became finance minister.

An October 1965 estimative memorandum by CIA’s chief analysts (Document 30) looked ahead to the approaching day of independence. Conceding Burnham’s weaknesses, the estimators also acknowledged Cheddi Jagan’s continuing strength. The analysts believed that after independence Burnham would no longer need to show unity, and differences between the PNC and UF would emerge. The CIA believed that Burnham would need to gain a modicum of support from East Indians to be successful, would best do that through development projects favoring them, and would turn to the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada for aid to accomplish that.

The CIA got its way but the United States lost in this covert operation. Forbes Burnham turned out to be corrupt, arbitrary, and self-dealing. After a 1968 election—again with the CIA subsidizing Burnham, the leader of a renamed Guyana increasingly turned away from the United States, becoming a dictatorial figure. In 1970, despite all that CIA aid, Burnham turned to the left and adopted the very politics the United States had sought to fend off. He assumed the position of president and governed until his death on August 6, 1985.

In 1992, Cheddi Jagan finally ascended to the presidency of Guyana. He suffered a heart attack in 1997. Ironically, Jagan would be flown by U.S. military aircraft and treated at Walter Reed, the U.S. military hospital. He did not recover, passing away on March 6, 1997. Days later, Janet Jagan became the prime minister of Guyana, and in December 1997 its president, a post she held for two years until suffering heart ailments herself. She remained active in PPP politics.

Read the documents

Document 01

White House, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Special Assistant to the President, memorandum for U. Alexis Johnson, State Department, "British Guiana," September 7, 1961.

1961-09-07

Source: John F. Kennedy Library, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Papers, Box 27, Folder," "British Guiana: Background Cheddi Jagan."

In this dissenting memorandum, Arthur Schlesinger criticizes Secretary Rusk’s characterization of Jagan as a "sleeper," explaining that "sleeper is a technical term meaning a disciplined agent who pretends to be one thing and then, at a given moment, tears off his mask and reveals himself as something entirely different. I have not heard this seriously suggested about Jagan…" Instead, Schlesinger notes that Jagan is, "probably something more dangerous than a sleeper – he is a muddlehead. Confused idealists have caused the world far more trouble than conspirators." Nonetheless, Schlesinger hopes that U.S. Ambassador David Bruce does not give the British a "misleading impression" of the U.S. position on British Guiana and Jagan. The President’s special assistant also stresses that diplomacy should be given a chance-"my guess is that the President has been thinking in terms of a cordial try at bringing British Guiana into the hemisphere."

Document 02

Department of State, Memorandum of Conversation, "Labor Situation in British Guiana," December 4, 1961.

1961-12-04

Source: John F. Kennedy Library, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Papers, Box 27, Folder, "British Guiana: Background Cheddi Jagan."

This memcon of a White House meeting between Schlesinger and Wendell Bobb, the general secretary of the British Guiana Mine Workers Union, outlines the latter’s views on labor politics in British Guiana as well as possible courses of action for the U.S. Bobb began by explaining that the "Jagan government was actively pushing to enter the labor field and, if possible capture political support from the trade union." Schlesinger then asked about rumors regarding "an impending separation of Janet Jagan and her husband," to which Bobb first argued that it would be politically insignificant but would then change his mind, noting that it would "hamper substantially the PPP’s effort to penetrate British Guiana’s trade union movement." Schlesinger also asked about Forbes Burnham, given British concerns regarding "Burnham’s reliability and financial honesty," to which Bobb responded by explaining that "there was no alternative to Mr. Burnham." Concerning U.S. aid to British Guiana, Schlesinger explained the paradox: "if the U.S. should extend assistance, it would to some degree help Dr. Jagan politically. On the other hand, if the US should deny any assistance to British Guiana, it would mean that the legitimate needs of the people would not be met and those who are fighting for freedom would not receive help." Bobb argued in favor of U.S. aid but to "make every effort to prevent Dr. Jagan from and the PPP from getting all the credit."

Document 03

Memorandum for the Record, "Minutes of the Special Group Meeting, 8 March 1962."

1962-03-08

Source: CIA CREST.

These Special Group meeting minutes show some hesitation in the U.S. approach to British Guiana until they get the British on board. Alexis Johnson opens by explaining to the rest of the Group’s members that "Secretary Rusk wants action deferred on this matter until he has an opportunity to discuss it further with Lord Home." Johnson then explains that he recommended that Rusk "press Lord Home to agree to a joint U.S.-British examination of alternatives to the present situation," and handed out an INR intelligence assessment of the opposition parties in British Guiana. The Group members agreed to table the subject until after the Rusk-Home meeting.

Document 04

Sherman Kent, CIA, Office of National Estimates, Memorandum for the Director, John McCone, "The Situation and Prospects in British Guiana," March 14, 1962.

1962-03-14

Source: CIA CREST.

This sobering intelligence assessment concludes that the situation in British Guiana is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon given that "The February disturbances in British Guiana cast in doubt the ability of any one of the established political parties to administer the colony successfully once the British relinquish their authority. Only British military power-requested by Premier Cheddi Jagan to restore order-prevented the downfall of the government." Furthermore, "Whether or not the British hold on to Guiana, the prospect there is for a long period of instability and, at best, labored and meager economic progress dependent largely on financial assistance from abroad." While the British were likely to temporarily postpone independence for British Guiana, they were unlikely to maintain control over the colony given its costs and British assessments that "are considerably less concerned than the US about the threat of communism emerging in the colony. They estimate that Jagan would seek, after independence, to assume a neutralist stance and obtain aid from both the West-principally the U.S.-and the Bloc. They probably anticipate that Jagan would have serious difficulty in maintaining order and, indeed, in maintaining a government, but feel that the alternative of delaying independence for long would be worse." The Agency-while acknowledging that Jagan was not controlled by Moscow-presented a more bleak future, "Should the West not provide the help Jagan considers necessary, he almost certainly would seek to fill the gap by working with the Bloc. In any case, his associations with communism and his ideological orientation would make him a good subject for manipulation by the Bloc. Although there is no evidence that he is now under Bloc control." Ultimately, while the CIA concludes that new elections would be unpredictable, they remain a viable option for getting rid of Jagan, "The outcome of such new elections is unpredictable, particularly if the electoral system is changed to proportional representation, as desired by PNC leader Burnham. Jagan might again win, but if so his forces probably would have even less of a margin than in the August 1961 elections."

Document 05

Special National Intelligence Estimate No. 87.2-62, "The Situation and Prospects in British Guiana," April 11, 1962.

1962-04-11

Source: CIA CREST.

Expanding on the March 1962 intelligence estimate (Document 4), this NIE is more assertive in its conclusion that Jagan was a communist, "The PPP leadership has a clear record of Communist association and of Communist-line policies, but the evidence does not show whether or to what extent they are under international Communist control. We believe, however, that Jagan is a Communist, though the degree of Moscow’s control is not yet clear." The evidence presented against Jagan is slim and as the report concludes he appears to follow in the footsteps of other postcolonial leaders, "We believe that a Jagan government in the postindependence period would be likely to identify itself-as it has in the past-with anticolonialist and independence movements. It would probably follow a policy of nonalignment and seek to benefit from relations with both the West and the Communist countries, but would probably lean in the Soviet direction." The report is also more skeptical about the possibility of Jagan losing elections in the near term given that "the February crisis strengthened Jagan by consolidating the support of his East Indian followers" and "…sufficient defections to cause the legislative defeat of the Jagan government are not considered probable in the near future under existing circumstances." As such, new elections under the same legal structure would likely "return a Jagan government again, even in the face of a PNC-UF electoral coalition."

Document 06

Memorandum for the Record, "Minutes of the Special Group Meeting, 19 April 1962."

1962-04-19

Source: CIA CREST.

These meeting minutes show deliberations over expenditures for a CIA project (project and country remain redacted) to "achieve the objectives of the project through the 1964 election." The project likely refers to British Guiana’s expected elections. A goal of the operation is that "there would be no knowledge on the part of the recipients as to the true source of the funds."

Document 07

White House Memorandum from President John F. Kennedy to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, "Eyes Only for the Secretary from the President," c. June 15, 1962.

1962-06-15

Source: John F. Kennedy Library, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Papers, Box 28, Folder, "British Guiana 1 od 2."

In this memo, JFK informs his secretary of state to write a letter to British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan explaining that an independent British Guiana led by Cheddi Jagan "disturbs us seriously" and making it clear that the President of the United States believes that, "We must recognize that Jagan is now thoroughly distrustful of our own motives. We have concluded, therefore that it is unrealistic to hope that a British Guiana led by Cheddi Jagan could be kept on the side of the West through a policy of cooperation as was envisaged during the talks held in September of last year. We must be entirely frank in saying that we simply cannot afford to see another Castro-type regime established in this Hemisphere. It follows that we should set as our objective an independent British Guiana under some other leader."

Document 08

Secretary of State Dean Rusk Memorandum for President John F. Kennedy, “Subject: British Guiana,” with attached “Action Program for British Guiana,” July 12, 1962. Two versions, A and B, show different redactions.

1962-07-12

Source:
For version A: Gerald R. Ford Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, President’s Handwriting Files, Box 31, Folder, “National Security Intelligence (8).”
For version B: John F. Kennedy Library, National Security File, Box 15, Folder, “Country British Guiana 6-62 – 12-62.”

This alarming memo by Secretary Rusk warns the president that U.S. intelligence (Document 5) as well as recent statements made by Jagan prove that he is a communist; therefore, "I believe we are obliged to have our policy on the premise that, come independence, Cheddi Jagan will establish a ‘Marxist’ regime in British Guiana and associate his country with the Soviet Bloc to a degree unacceptable to us for a state in the Western Hemisphere." Furthermore, "a policy of trying to work with Jagan, as urged by the British, will not pay off. Jagan is already too far committed emotionally and suspicious of our intentions." Rusk makes it clear that the only alternative is to make sure Jagan does not emerge as the leader of a newly independent British Guiana, "My conclusion, therefore is that we should set as our objective the replacement of the Jagan government prior to the independence of British Guiana which it now seems will take place in 1963" (version B). Rusk then recommends that the president should approve that an "objective of U.S. policy" should be "to bring about the replacement of the government of Cheddi Jagan by one friendly to West, prepared to follow multi-racial policies and to carry out a realistic economic and social development program" (version B). Rusk also recommended that "we inform the British of our intentions…" (version A) and "initiate [REDACTED] discussions of political action with Burnham, Rai and D’Aguilar" (version A).

The attached action program explains that "Our objective of replacing Jagan will, therefore, probably be resisted by the British. They will mistrust the efficacy of a U.S. political action program in the Colony and fear that the result could require reinstitution of direct British rule." Nonetheless, "[w]hile further consultations are unlikely to result in agreement, we hope to secure British acquiescence" (version A). The attachment outlines a number of political actions to oust Jagan with new elections. These include, "Tacit election arrangements between Burnham and D’Aguilar to avoid election conflicts…" (version A). As for an independent campaign by former PPP member Balram Singh Rai, "[w]e believe that he could carry with him an appreciable number of moderate Indian voters… his influence is needed to swing the balance against the PPP" (version A). Finally, there would be an effort to flip six competitive seats in the Legislative Assembly to deny Jagan a majority: "it is on those constituencies that our efforts would be focused" (version A).

Document 09

National Security Council, McGeorge Bundy memorandum for President John F. Kennedy, "British Guiana," July 13, 1962.

1962-07-13

Source: John F. Kennedy Library, National Security File, Staff Memoranda, Ralph Dungan, Box 391, Folder, "British Guiana, 6/1/1962 – 8/15/1962."

After reading Rusk’s "hard" memo to JFK (Document 8) recommending presidential approval for getting rid of Jagan, Bundy cautions the president against such a decision, explaining that, "while the papers make a clear case against supporting Jagan, or even trying to sustain peaceful coexistence with him, the case for the proposed tactics to be used in opposing him is not so clear. In particular, I think it is unproven that CIA knows how to manipulate an election in British Guiana without a backfire." Bundy wants a final decision to be delayed and recommends that Secretary Rusk not "go to the British Ambassador with the proposed talking paper until we are a little more sure of our own capabilities and intentions." Furthermore, if the President decides to approve the anti-Jagan project it should not be Rusk that tries to sell the policy to the British but, "I think you may want to go all out with David yourself on this one."

Document 10

Department of State, William H. Brubeck memorandum for McGeorge Bundy, National Security Council, "British Guiana," August 8, 1962.

1962-08-08

Source: John F. Kennedy Library, National Security File, Box 15, Folder, "Country British Guiana 6-62 – 12-62."

This memo to Bundy explains that Alexis Johnson and Richard Helms agreed that they should make a proposal to the British for British Guiana with the goal "to bring matters to a head by forcing a consideration of political factors [REDACTED]." The agenda should include the "Nature of a successor government to Jagan."

Document 11

National Security Council, McGeorge Bundy memorandum for Arthur Schlesinger Jr., "British Guiana," September 19, 1962.

1962-09-19

Source: John F. Kennedy Library, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Papers, Box 28, Folder, "British Guiana 2 of 2."

In this conspiratorial memo from Bundy to Schlesinger, the national security adviser explains that the British have responded satisfactorily to American requests on British Guiana. However, President Kennedy wants to make sure "that its exact character not be put on paper anywhere. He has also asked that it be kept away from the State Department [REDACTED]." As a consequence, Bundy tells Schlesinger that "we are not cluing the State Department below the highest levels, and we are all enjoined by the President to keep out of it ourselves other than for the transmission of traffic to those who are directly concerned."

Document 12

National Security Council, Carl Kaysen memo to McGeorge Bundy on cataloguing important papers for the President to read, October 5, 1962.

1962-10-05

Source: John F. Kennedy Library, John F. Kennedy Papers, Meetings and Memoranda, Box 320, Folder, "Staff Memoranda: Kaysen 8/1962-12/1962."

This memo shows the high interest that JFK and his top advisers placed on British Guiana. In preparing the president’s weekend reading material, NSC Deputy Carl Kaysen writes to Bundy that on matters of British Guiana, "I think you know about the most interesting developments here."

Document 13

CIA, "Summary of Development of REDACTED Operation Concerning British Guiana," c. June 1962.

1962-06-00

Source: John F. Kennedy Library, National Security File, Box 15, Folder, "Country British Guiana 6-62 – 12-62."

This top secret document explains that the CIA has contacted the two main opposition figures in British Guiana, Linden Forbes Burnham and Peter D’Aguilar, and "they both agreed to insist on an electoral system of proportional representation for British Guiana at the Constitutional Conference, which began in London on 23 October." The CIA was able to get the support of both men "in return for promise of financial assistance…" Furthermore, in the U.S. there is an effort to revitalize the Help Guiana Committee, a small organization of British Guianese in New York.

Document 14

CIA, Cord Meyer Jr. Covert Action Staff, Memorandum for the Record, "Meeting on CA Matters with the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board," April 17, 1963.

1963-04-17

Source: NARA, JFK Assassination Records, RG 263 Records of CIA, Misc Plans Box 1, Folder, "JFK-M-02:F1 PFIAB."

This memo describes details of a briefing by the CIA to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) concerning covert actions and likely including British Guiana. The memo explains that the State Department has been "putting considerable pressure on the [REDACTED] regime to persuade it to hold the elections scheduled for [REDACTED] 1963." Nonetheless, the CIA acknowledges that "despite the pressure, there was still considerable doubt whether the elections would actually take place." The memo also describes U.S. "covert support" to some political parties for the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Murphy, representing PFIAB, was surprised with the decision of supporting some political elements and described it "as quite a switch."

Document 15

CIA, Richard Helms memorandum for McGeorge Bundy, National Security Council, "British Guiana," December 5, 1963.

1963-12-05

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, Lyndon B. Johnson Papers, National Security File, Intelligence File, Box 5, Folder, "British Guiana Special File."

This memo by Richard Helms summarizes recent decisions by the British government to change the electoral system of British Guiana, making it likely that Jagan will not be reelected after independence. Duncan Sandys, the British colonial Secretary, declared a series of decisions, which Helms explains, "do not involve British Guianese legislative action. Instead, HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] Orders in Council will be used. Four are now contemplated to cover electoral registration, the special force, the new electoral system, and the ultimate constitution (except for the electoral provisions. The letter would become effective after independence)." Helms writes that Jagan was not cooperating with British authorities but was also not taking any provocative actions. Helms concludes by assessing British thinking, "My net impression of the Colonial Office thinking is as follows: While not sure how Jagan will act in the future, the Colonial Office is working on the assumption that direct rule will become necessary. But since such action is likely to heighten domestic (particularly from the Labor party) and international criticism of British handling of the British Guiana situation, HMG will wait until Jagan’s actions provide clear-cut justification… but will not try to deliberately force him into a corner or find a pretext to oust him."

Document 16

National Security Council, McGeorge Bundy, Memorandum for Record, "Meeting on British Guiana, December 6, 1963."

1963-12-06

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, Lyndon B. Johnson Papers, National Security File, Intelligence File, Box 5, Folder, "British Guiana Special File."

This memorandum shows that the U.S. is still frustrated with British hesitation to reestablish direct rule over British Guiana. Helms, Bundy, and others agreed that, "all hands would apply as much heat as possible to Mr. Ambler Thomas [British Colonial Office], showing him all the agreeable ways and means of finding causes for the resumption of direct rule." They also agreed to think of recommendations for how JFK should approach the matter with the British prime minister in the future.

Document 17

Eyes Only Back Channel Cable for William C. Burdett on Latest Thinking of British Government on British Guiana, February 7, 1964.

1964-02-07

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, Lyndon B. Johnson Papers, National Security File, Intelligence File, Box 5, Folder, "British Guiana Special File."

This assessment of British thinking explains that Her Majesty’s Government continues to prefer a more cautious approach than the direct confrontation the U.S. wants to see, "proceeding with the modalities for implementing Sandys plan, it hopes to avoid a showdown with Jagan or at least postpone it as long as possible." Therefore, it is recommended that "it might be advisable to explore further Secretary Rusk’s suggestion to Sandys that the U.S. and U.K. look for some way other than direct rule for coping with some of the problems direct rule would solve."

Document 18

Department of State, Cable from Georgetown to Secretary of State, on Dispute with U.S. Trade Unionist in British Guiana, March 26, 1964.

1964-05-26

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, British Guiana, Box 55, Folder, "British Guiana Vol 1, (12/1963 – 7/1964 [2 of 3]."

This cable explains a brewing crisis in bilateral relations after a U.S. trade unionist is asked to leave British Guiana, "voluntarily or be declared ‘prohibited immigrant’ and deported." The cable explains that allowing the deportation to take place would "presumably provide some propaganda ammunition against GOBG [Government of British Guiana] in U.S., Caribbean, and Latin American unions." The cable also explains that Jagan "now professes believe that all his labor troubles largely due to presence US trade unionists here." The cable concludes by recommending that "it might be good idea if U.S. union movement could find Canadian to send in to take Meakins’ work. GOBG would find it very difficult refuse since Canada seems stand high with Jagan regime."

Document 19

Department of State, Telegram from Georgetown on Developments in the Meakins Case, March 27, 1964.

1964-03-27

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, British Guiana, Box 55, Folder, "British Guiana Vol 1, (12/1963 – 7/1964 [1 of 3]."

Here the State Department explains it concurs with the "approach Congen [Consul General] has made to Governor expressing concern regime’s policy trying to bar foreign labor leaders unfriendly to PPP." Of particular interest to the U.S. is the Eugene Meakins case, but the AFL/CIO has informed the embassy that the union "prefer[s] continue to pursue possible legal steps without any USGovt intervention." The U.S. seeks clarification on the probability that legal recourse will work and explains, "In any case BG TUC [Trade Unions Council] and American trade unionists concerned with matter intend maximize propaganda advantages should Meakins be deported."

Document 20

Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Information Cable, "Plans to Overthrow the Government of Premier Cheddi Jagan in British Guiana," July 7, 1964.

1964-07-07

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Latin America, Box 55, Folder "British Guiana Vol 1 (12/63 – 7/64) [1 of 3]."

This explosive intelligence cable explains that a former citizen of British Guiana-with the alleged approval of the Venezuelan government-has met with Burnham and D’Aguilar, the main opposition leaders in British Guiana, to discuss plans of a possible overthrow of the Jagan government. The plan consists of "the training of 100 men for 30 days in Venezuela." The men will be trained by a "General" who "was said to have conducted similar training in Vietnam." Burnham and D’Aguilar are "being urged to form a ‘revolutionary government,’ then use the trainees to launch a coup by seizing key points and declaring a new government," Finally, Cheddi and Janet Jagan are to be "kidnapped and hidden in Venezuela."

Document 21

Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Information Cable, "Bombing of Freedom House and the Guyana Import/Export, Ltd., During a Meeting of the Three Political Leaders," July 18, 1964.

1964-07-18

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Latin America, Box 55, Folder, "British Guiana Vol 1 (12/63 – 7/64) [1 of 3]"

This intelligence memo describes the reactions of the three national leaders of British Guiana, Jagan, Burnham, and D’Aguilar, to a series of bombings that occurred as the three men were gathered to discuss the country’s growing troubles. The bombings took place at Freedom House, the headquarters for the People’s Progressive Party, and at the Guyana Import/Export, Ltd. Jagan "turned white and became incoherent and extremely nervous when told that Gimpex and Freedom House had been bombed." D’Aguilar seemed to want to exploit the situation as he, "extended his sympathy, but told Jagan that this was all the more reason to halt the violence and urged Jagan to act on the recommendations he and Burnham had been making." Burnham "jocularly suggested that D’Aguilar’s business had been destroyed." The CIA speculated that the bombing was of the PPP’s own making, given that "the timing of the blasts while the meeting was in progress suggested that it might have been a plot of the PPP, especially since Jagan had initiated the meeting and the PPP knew exactly what time it was taking place."

Document 22

White House, National Security Council Memorandum for the Record, "British Guiana Meeting, July 27, 1964," with attached telegram from Consul General Carlson re envoy from British Guiana, July 29, 1964.

1964-07-29

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence Files, Box 5, Folder, "British Guiana Special File."

This meeting focused on reacting to a critical telegram from Consul General Carlson that warned of his "apprehension about telling Cheddi Jagan we are not ready to receive an envoy." Carlson stresses that officials should be aware of the potential costs of revealing that Jagan’s "last faint hope of peace … is dashed by the governor’s message to effect that U.S. will not even listen." Carlson expects Jagan’s response will be: "The U.S. will become principal villain" and violence against U.S. targets could follow. The envoy advises that the "question therefore arises whether any consideration should be given to keeping Jagan slightly on hook." The participants at the staff meeting, including Helms, Bundy, Chase, and Jessup largely disagree with Carlson’s recommendations, concluding that, "a visit to the U.S. by a Jagan emissary would be a bad thing." The group believed that "[a]t worst, such a visit would be interpreted to mean that the U.S. supports Cheddi Jagan; at best it would be interpreted as a sign that we can live with him. The visit would hurt the opposition parties in BG and would not help us domestically." Bundy and Helms also reject a proposal to send a lower-level official to British Guiana because uncommitted voters-about 10 percent of the electorate-might incorrectly presume that, "perhaps the U.S. does not think Cheddi is so bad." Taking some of Carlson’s warnings into consideration, the group recommends that the U.S. should tone down its language when responding to Jagan: "Instead, a more flexible position should be adopted which offers a quid pro quo-i.e. when the violence stops, we will reconsider the proposal."

Document 23

Central Intelligence Agency, Memo from Bruce to Taylor on Greenwood-Jagan Backchannel, October 30, 1964.

1964-10-30

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence Files, Box 5, Folder, "British Guiana Special File."

This memo describes Jagan’s attempts to have the British government "suspend election and organize Commonwealth or UN commission to visit BG to recommend constitutional changes replacing PR electoral system." Jagan charged that the British had not lived up to their original commitments. He claimed the police had "suppressed" reports that the PNC had engaged in terrorism. If he had known, Jagan asserted, he would have never agreed to join Burnham in "accepting constitutional solution by Sandys, and he felt that had Sandys or the governor been aware of the nature of these reports, HMG would not have imposed any procedure by which Burnham and PNC could come to power." Greenberg responded to Jagan by explaining "it is much too late to change now."

Document 24

Central Intelligence Agency, Memo for J. Harold Shullaw, "British Guiana," November 2, 1964.

1964-11-02

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, British Guiana, Box 55, Folder, "British Guiana Vol 2, 8/64 -11/64 [2 of 2]."

This memo to the State Department’s desk officer for the United Kingdom shows the CIA concerned about how the British are handling the Smithers affair. The agency appears to distrust the British Colonial Office and prefers an intervention by the Foreign Office, at least in part because "the foreign office is more sympathetic towards a coordinated US/UK position and CIA/MI-6 role than are certain persons in the Colonial Office." Despite our inability to recover the content of what Smithers said, this document provides a revelatory glimpse into the depth of CIA concern with British Guiana.

Document 25

Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Information Cable, "Views of Prime Minister Jagan on British Guiana Elections," November 6, 1964.

1964-11-06

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Latin America, Box 55, Folder, "British Guiana Vol 2 (8/64-11/64) [1 of 2]"

This intelligence memo explains Jagan’s thinking leading up to the election: "[Jagan] is very much concerned about the PPP’s prospects in forthcoming British Guiana Elections because of proportional representation and alleged heavy United States Government support of Forbes Burnham." Furthermore, Jagan, "had no desire to form a coalition with the PNC because he feels that Burnham is a puppet of the United States," and prefers to go into opposition if his party loses the elections.

Document 26

Central Intelligence Agency, Memo from Richard Helms to McGeorge Bundy, "British Guiana," November 18, 1964.

1964-11-18

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence Files, Box 5, Folder, "British Guiana Special File."

This memo from the CIA deputy director for plans gets straight to the point: "barring any unforeseen circumstances between now and the elections on 7 December which might adversely affect the situation, a coalition of the opposition parties should win a majority of votes cast." Helms predicts that if Jagan loses he will "play a wait-and-see game for two to three months in the hope that the PNC/UF/JP coalition will collapse." But if the coalition proves viable and, "if U.S. financial support moves swiftly into British Guiana, [REDACTED] Jagan may resort to violence in order to prevent Burnham from governing and to bring about his downfall." Helms ends by explaining that if violence occurs the British have two battalions in British Guiana and two additional ones that could easily be moved into the country.

Document 27

White House, National Security Council, Memo from Gordon Chase to McGeorge Bundy, "British Guiana – Election," December 7, 1964.

1964-12-07

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Latin America, Box 55, "British Guiana Vol III [3 of 3]."

This memo updates the national security adviser on preliminary assessments of the elections in British Guiana. Gordon Chase explains that voter turnout appears to be higher than 90 percent, which "is a good thing." Chase then explains that the "estimate, before the polls opened," was that the PPP would get 22 seats; the PNC, 19; the UF, 9; the Justice Party, 2; and another party, one. For Washington this would be a delightful outcome. "For no particular reason, I feel in my bones that the margin of victory won’t be this large; hopefully, I’m wrong."

Document 28

White House, National Security Council, Memo from Gordon Chase to McGeorge Bundy, "British Guiana Election," December 8, 1964.

1964-12-08

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Latin America, Box 55, "British Guiana Vol III [3 of 3]."

In this memo, Chase warns Bundy that the CIA projection for the elections indicates "Cheddi is doing much better than expected, and the odds are probably no better than about 6 to 5 that the opposition parties will win by one seat."

Document 29

White House, National Security Council, Memo from Gordon Chase to McGeorge Bundy, "British Guiana Election," December 9, 1964.

1964-12-09

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Latin America, Box 55, "British Guiana Vol III [3 of 3]."

In this memo, Chase provides mixed news. On the one hand, "It looks as if the election is pretty much in the bag for the opposition parties." However the Burnham coalition will only have a 1-3 seat majority. The main problem concerns the solidification of the Indian vote by the PPP. "One disturbing element is that the Justice Party will probably not win a seat… This means that we may want to figure out some other way to bring East Indians into the Government. One possibility might be to try to bring into a PNC/UF coalition a couple moderate ‘goodie’ PPP members (not including Jagan, of course)." J. Harold Shullaw, State Department desk officer for the United Kingdom, and Chase will meet to discuss these issues. In the end Chase concludes on a happy note, "Assuming the above projections are correct, we have not done too badly. While I would have preferred to see a less impressive PPP showing and a more impressive Justice Party showing, the main objective has been accomplished-i.e. beating Jagan."

Document 30

Central Intelligence Agency, Office of National Estimates, Special Memorandum No. 25-65, "British Guiana Moves Toward Independence," October 29, 1965.

1965-10-29

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Latin America, Box 55, "British Guiana Vol II [2 of 3]."

This intelligence assessment explains that "This time an affirmative decision seems likely, and British Guiana will probably become Independent before mid-1966." Once independent, the CIA expects that "An Independent Guiana will turn increasingly to the US for economic aid and other support." However given the continued "racial hostility" in the country, the short-term prospects are dim since although Jagan "has a penchant for Marxist thinking, his political strength lies in his racial appeal to his fellow East Indians. These will soon constitute a clear majority of the country’s population and they look to the PPP for protection against the Negroes. Unless Prime Minister Forbes Burnham is unexpectedly successful in reassuring the East Indians, renewed communal violence is likely."

Cheddi Jagan (source: Wikipedia).

Cheddi Jagan in later life (source: Wikipedia).

Cheddi Jagan’s wife, Janet. The couple met in Chicago (source: REPEATING ISLANDS).

Janet Jagan as president of Guyana (source: REPEATING ISLANDS).

Notes

[1] Quoted in Tim Weiner, “A Kennedy-C.I.A. Plot Returns to Haunt Clinton,” New York Times, October 30, 1994, p. A10.

[2] Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965, p. 773.

[3] Special National Intelligence Estimate 87.2-61, “Prospects for British Guiana,” March 27, 1961 (declassified 1997), p. 1. CIA electronic reading room. Cf. John Prados, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee (now Rowman and Littlefield), 2006, p. 3.

[4]A 1967 memorandum prepared for the 303 Committee, the covert operations management body that succeeded the 5412 Group, dates the first consideration of actions to remove Cheddi Jagan from power to April 6, 1961. State Department memo, for 303 Committee, “Support to Anti-Jagan Political Parties in Guyana,” March 17, 1967, in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, v. XXXII. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2005, p. 932-933.

[5]State Department memo, William R. Tyler-Dean Rusk, “British Guiana,” February 18, 1962 in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, v. XII: American Republics. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1996, pp. 542-544. Nearly three pages of this document concern its important intelligence aspect.

[6] Robert A. Waters, Jr. and Gordon O. Daniels, “When You’re Handed Money on a Platter, It’s very hard to Say, ‘Where Are You Getting This? The AFL-CIO, the CIA and British Guiana,” Revue belge de philology et d’histoire, v. 84, no. 4, 2006, pp. 1075-1099.

[7] State Department cable, Deptel 4426, Rusk-Bruce, February 19, 1962. FRUS, op. cit, p. 544.

[8] White House memo, Arthur M. Schlesinger-Ambassador David Bruce, “British Guiana,” February 27, 1962 (declassified July 2001). John F. Kennedy Library: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Papers, b.28, f.: “British Guiana (1 of 2).”

[9] National Security Council, NSAM-135, “British Guiana,” March 8, 1962 (declassified May 16, 1983). John F. Kennedy Library: Kennedy Papers: National Security File: Meetings and Memoranda series, b. 335R, f.: “NSAM-135, British Guiana).”

[10] State Department memo, “Possible Courses of Action in British Guiana,” March 15, 1962. FRUS 1961-1963, v. XII, pp. 555-558.

[11] CIA memo, “Minutes of Special Group Meeting,” March 22, 1962 (declassified March 17, 2006). Digital National Security Archive, CIA Set III. Because there is a huge array of documentation on this subject (230 documents on details, not counting the Special Group or high command items), this EBB has selected only the most important or most illustrative ones, and will refer to Set III for others.

[12] The Waters-Daniels paper cited above traces payments to labor organizations involved in these activities through CIA conduits in exactly this period.

[13] John Prados, Safe for Democracy, quoted p. 12.

[14] State Department memo, Dean Rusk-John F. Kennedy, “Memorandum for the President: British Guiana,” no date (identified as June 14 in JFK’s reply, declassified June 2006). This, and Rusk’s supporting documents form parts of Digital National Security Archive, CIA Set no. III.

[15] CIA memo, Richard Helms for the record, “Meeting on CA Matters with the Panel of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board,” July 25, 1962 (declassified November 6, 1995) in Digital National Security Archive, CIA Set no. III. John Prados, Safe for Democracy, pp. 10-12.

[16] Robert A. Waters, Jr. and Gordon O. Daniels, “When You’re Handed Money on a Platter, It’s very hard to Say, ‘Where Are You Getting This? The AFL-CIO, the CIA and British Guiana,” op. cit.

[17] Phillip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary. New York: Bantam Books, 1976, p. 635.

[18] CIA memo, “Addendum, Phase II, Operation MONGOOSE,” August 31, 1962 (declassified May 8, 1998), Task 25. Digital National Security Archive, CIA Set III.

[19] CIA memo, Richard Helms for the record, “White House Meeting on British Guiana,” June 21, 1963. FRUS 1961-1963, op. cit., p. 604.

[20] Ibid., p. 609.

[21] Prados, Safe for Democracy, p. 18.

[22] Christopher Hull, “Going to War in Buses: The Anglo-American Clash over Leyland Sales to Cuba, 1963-1964,” Diplomatic History, v. 34, no. 5, November 2010, quoted p. 810.

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