The United States CIA in Guyana
By: Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq.
The United States Central Intelligence Agency is more commonly known for its spy missions in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. However, many people may not know that the CIA was also involved in covert missions in Guyana.
Guyana is a small country on the northern tip of South America. Nearly 90% of Guyana consists of jungle and rainforests. The Dutch, France, and Britain colonized Guyana. Guyana received independence in 1966, and joined the British Commonwealth as a Republic in 1970.
Its independence was delayed, though, because Guyana suffered foreign influence in its political affairs by the United States. In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States believed that Dr. Cheddi Jagan held communist beliefs. Jagan was quickly gaining political momentum. The United States did not want a communist Guyana to threaten their supply of bauxite (an aluminum source which they were using heavily in the military). Guyana and Suriname supplied about 66% of America’s bauxite. Venezuela also supplied oil and iron to America. The U.S. feared that communism would interfere with their interests in these three countries. There is no evidence that Jagan was a communist or had ties to soviet groups.
Nevertheless, the U.S. still interfered with Guyana’s independence and elections. President Kennedy approved a secret CIA mission to rig the upcoming national election based on the unconfirmed intelligence that Jagan was a communist, or “possible sleeper” agent. The United States preferred to have Jagan’s opposition, Forbes Burnham, in power.
The CIA played on anger stemming from recent Georgetown riots where Afro-Guyanese were allegedly disproportionately taxed. According to recently released intelligence papers, the CIA recruited Burnham and then began providing financial assistance to his opposition party. Reports estimate that nearly $7 million dollars (today) supported Afro-Guyanese labor union strikes and Burnham’s PNC party against Jagan. The CIA also invested in political propaganda fronted by New York’s Help Guiana Committee and local radio channels.
Moreover, “[t]he British, at the suggestion of the Kennedy Administration, delayed [Guyana’s] scheduled independence and changed its electoral system in October 1963. [T]he electorate had to vote for parties instead of people, and a still popular but politically weakened Dr. Jagan fell from power. Once he fell, the British granted independence to the new republic of Guyana.”
Burnham went on to rule Guyana until his 1985 death while undergoing throat surgery in Cuba. His presidency is often criticized as corrupt and detrimental to Guyana. It is also a source of racial tensions among Afro and Indo Guyanese. Jagan was elected as President in 1992 and served until his death in 1997. His wife, Janet Jagan, was president until her 1999 resignation due to ailing health.
Interestingly, Allen W. Dulles was the Director of the CIA at the time and the longest serving CIA Director to date. His brother, John Foster Dulles, was President Truman’s Secretary of State, and the namesake of the D.C. airport. President Cheddi Jagan would also become the namesake of Guyana’s airport.
Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. is a trial-winning business and trademark attorney. She primarily helps new and small businesses with trademarks, formation, and name clearance searches. She writes articles on the importance of trademarks, trademark law updates, and also West Indian history (with an emphasis on India, Trinidad, Guyana, and the United States).
MDGR Law, P.A.
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