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Jagan's Third PPP Government, 1961-64

The 1961 elections were a bitter contest between the PPP, the PNC, and the United Force (UF), a conservative party representing big business, the Roman Catholic Church, and Amerindian, Chinese, and Portuguese voters. These elections were held under yet another new constitution that marked a return to the degree of self-government that existed briefly in 1953. It introduced a bicameral system boasting a wholly elected thirty-five-member Legislative Assembly and a thirteen-member Senate to be appointed by the governor. The post of prime minister was created and was to be filled by the majority party in the Legislative Assembly. With the strong support of the Indo-Guyanese population, the PPP again won by a substantial margin, gaining twenty seats in the Legislative Assembly, compared with eleven seats for the PNC and four for the UF. Jagan was named prime minister.

Jagan's administration became increasingly friendly with communist and leftist regimes; for instance, Jagan refused to observe the United States embargo on communist Cuba. After discussions between Jagan and Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara in 1960 and 1961, Cuba offered British Guiana loans and equipment. In addition, the Jagan administration signed trade agreements with Hungary and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

From 1961 to 1964, Jagan was confronted with a destabilization campaign conducted by the PNC and UF. Riots and demonstrations against the PPP administration were frequent, and during disturbances in 1962 and 1963 mobs destroyed part of Georgetown.

A tremendous increase in the racial tension in British Guiana and in the potential for conflict came as a result of a week of strikes and riots which shook the capital city of Georgetown in midFebruary 1962. The immediate cause of the strikes was Premier Jagan's budget bill, but the riots were also rooted in the longstanding racial antagonism and in the dissatisfaction of many urban groups, notably public service employees and businessmen, with the policies of the PPP government. As the disturbances spread, they took on the character of a struggle between the Afro-Guyanese urban community and the East Indian Government and its rural supporters.

Paradoxically, the February crisis strengthened Jagan by consolidating the support of his East Indian followers. At the same time, it reduced his stature and tarnished his prestige as a national leader. His economic and financial problems are more acute now than before the riots. His government was hard pressed to meet current expenditures. Whereas before the riots almost 20 percent of the labor force was out of work, an even larger number are now unemployed as a result of the destruction in Georgetown. Jagan's plans for economic development were set back, partly because he was forced to trim his tax measures and partly because uncertainties about his country's political stability were inhibiting the flow of outside public assistance, on which development is heavily dependent. The February events have discouraged foreign investment.Extensive capital flight is in progress and foreign investors are doing no more than attending to existing operations. A good many city merchants, East Indians among them, are inclined to cut and run rather than to stay and rebuild.

On the other hand, the crisis also left the opposition with reduced prestige. Its several leaders acted recklessly and in the end tended to neutralize each other. Those unions which are predominantly Afro-Guyanese actively collaborated with the opposition parties, but the rank and file of the largest single union, chiefly East Indians, did not. There have been rumors of dissension in the PPP and reports that the opposition might try to win some of Jagan's legislators away from him, but sufficient defections to cause the legislative defeat of the Jagan government are not considered probable in the near future under existing circumstances.

Labor violence also increased during the early 1960s. To counter the MPCA with its link to Burnham, the PPP formed the Guianese Agricultural Workers Union. This new union's political mandate was to organize the Indo-Guyanese sugarcane fieldworkers.

The MPCA immediately responded with a one-day strike to emphasize its continued control over the sugar workers. The PPP government responded to the strike in March 1964 by publishing a new Labour Relations Bill almost identical to the 1953 legislation that had resulted in British intervention. Regarded as a power play for control over a key labor sector, introduction of the proposed law prompted protests and rallies throughout the capital.

Riots broke out on April 5; they were followed on April 18 by a general strike. By May 9, the governor was compelled to declare a state of emergency. Nevertheless, the strike and violence continued until July 7, when the Labour Relations Bill was allowed to lapse without being enacted. To bring an end to the disorder, the government agreed to consult with union representatives before introducing similar bills. These disturbances exacerbated tension and animosity between the two major ethnic communities and made a reconciliation between Jagan and Burnham an impossibility.

Jagan's term had not yet ended when another round of labor unrest rocked the colony. The pro-PPP GIWU, which had become an umbrella group of all labor organizations, called on sugar workers to strike in January 1964. To dramatize their case, Jagan led a march by sugar workers from the interior to Georgetown. This demonstration ignited outbursts of violence that soon escalated beyond the control of the authorities. On May 22, the governor finally declared another state of emergency. The situation continued to worsen, and in June the governor assumed full powers, rushed in British troops to restore order, and proclaimed a moratorium on all political activity. By the end of the turmoil, by one count 160 people were dead and more than 1,000 homes had been destroyed.

The turmoil was engineered largely by CIA. Jagan maintained that the intense internal dissatisfaction with his administration was attributable solely to outside influences. The establishment of an independent government in British Guiana under leadership which had been markedly receptive to communist ideas and vulnerable to communist subversion would create an intolerable situation for the United States. The cover which the CIA used was a London based international trades union secretariat, the Public Services International. As Coups go, it was not expensive: over five years the CIA paid out something over £230,000. For the colony, British Guiana, the result was about 370 dead, untold hundreds wounded, roughly £10 million worth of damage to the eçonomy.

Special Group/303 Committee-approved funds again were used between July 1963 and April 1964 in connection with the 1964 general strike in British Guiana. When Jagan’s and Burnham’s supporters clashed in labor strife in the sugar plantations that year, the United States joined with the British Government in urging Burnham not to retaliate with violence, but rather to commit to a mediated end to the conflict. At the same time, the United States provided training to certain of the anti-Jagan forces to enable them to defend themselves if attacked and to boost their morale.

During the Johnson administration, the U.S. Government continued the Kennedy administration’s policy of working with the British Government to offer encouragement and support to the pro-West leaders and political organizations of British Guiana as that limited self-governing colony moved toward total independence. The Special Group/303 Committee approved approximately $2.08 million for covert action programs between 1962 and 1968 in that country.

US policy included covert opposition to Cheddi Jagan, the then pro-Marxist leader of British Guiana’s East Indian population. A portion of the funds authorized by the Special Group/303 Committee for covert action programs was used between November 1962 and June 1963 to improve the election prospects of the opposition political parties to the government of Jagan’s People’s Progressive Party. The U.S. Government successfully urged the British to impose a system of proportional representation in British Guiana (which favored the anti-Jagan forces) and to delay independence until the anti-Jagan forces could be strengthened.

Through the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States provided Forbes Burnham’s and Peter D’Aguiar’s political parties, which were in opposition to Jagan, with both money and campaign expertise as they prepared to contest the December 1964 parliamentary elections. The U.S. Government’s covert funding and technical expertise were designed to play a decisive role in the registration of voters likely to vote against Jagan. Burnham’s and D’Aguiar’s supporters were registered in large numbers, helping to elect an anti-Jagan coalition. CIA, in a deniable and discreet way, provided financial incentives to party workers who were charged with the responsibility of getting out the vote.

It was the opinion of the United States Government that the proposed elections in British Guiana under Proportional Representation, despite the difficulties entailed, provide a democratic means through which the aspirations of all the people and races of British Guiana can be faithfully reflected. It would be politically impossible for the US to assist a government in which Jagan and his colleagues played a role. The prospect that the United Kingdom might leave behind in an independent British Guiana a second Castro regime would be a major concern to the United States. Jagan had received aid from Castro and had meddled in Surinam.

The US believed that if the electorate participates fully in the elections the results can provide a basis for the formation of a representative government in which the possibility of communist infiltration will be significantly reduced. It was the US intention to do what it could to assist a non-communist government in British Guiana so that the country at the earliest practicable date may attain independence with economic and social stability and have the prospect of playing a useful role in the hemisphere and in the community of free nations.

In an effort to quell the turmoil, the country's political parties asked the British goverment to modify the constitution to provide for more proportional representation. The colonial secretary proposed a fifty-three-member unicameral legislature. Despite opposition from the ruling PPP, all reforms were implemented and new elections set for October 1964. Following the general strike, 303 Committee-approved funds were used to support the election of a coalition of Burnham’s People’s National Congress and D’Aguiar’s United Force.

As Jagan feared, the PPP lost the general elections of 1964. The politics of apanjhaat, Hindi for "vote for your own kind," were becoming entrenched in British Guiana. The PPP won 46 percent of the vote and twenty-four seats, which made it the majority party. However, in accordance with the constitutional tradition in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, the Governor offered the Premiership to Forbes Burnham as the person commanding the most confidence of the legislature as a whole. Burnham was asked to form a government, and he did so by placing his party in coalition with Peter D’Aguiar’s United Force (UF), which had won 12.5 percent of the popular vote and 7 seats in the legislature. It took several weeks for the PNC and the UF to agree on terms for a coalition. However, the PNC, which won 40 percent of the vote and twenty-two seats, and the UF, which won 11 percent of the vote and seven seats, formed a coalition. The socialist PNC and unabashedly capitalist UF had joined forces to keep the PPP out of office for another term. Jagan called the election fraudulent and refused to resign as prime minister. The constitution was amended to allow the governor to remove Jagan from office. He did so after an Order in Council was issued in London authorizing Jagan's removal. Jagan later held a press conference in which he promised strong but non-violent opposition to the new government.

The most striking aspect of the election was the extent of racial voting. In one district after another the number of votes for Jagan’s PPP was approximately the same as number of registered Indian voters. The cause of such complete racial voting by Indians apparently stemmed from fear and distrust of African-led government. The PPP’s propaganda and pre-election violence played on those fears and created psychology which made Indians "impervious to reason". Thus Indians deserted United Force with its advocacy of multi-racial approach, non-violence, and prosperity. Likewise rejected was Justice Party leader Rai’s logical appeal to Indian self-interest to obtain share in non-PPP administration which was certain to come about as result of election. The consequence of this racial voting was that the PNC–UF coalition would have to govern without significant Indian representation.

After Burnham was elected Premier in December 1964, the U.S. Government, again through the CIA, continued to provide substantial funds to both Burnham and D’Aguiar and their parties. Burnham became prime minister on December 14, 1964. In 1967 and 1968, 303 Committee-approved funds were used to help the Burnham and D’Aguiar coalition contest and win the December 1968 general elections. When the U.S. Government learned that Burnham was going to use fraudulent absentee ballots to continue in power in the 1968 elections, it advised him against such a course of action, but did not try to stop him.

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Page last modified: 14-05-2017 18:32:53 ZULU