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By: Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. | Originally written in 2021 and updated March 2023
This article is about the United States CIA Involvement in Guyana.
The United States' Political Interference in Guyana
The CIA's involvement in Guyana is often overlooked. 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. That is about the size of Britain. The Dutch, France, and Britain colonized Guyana. Guyana received independence in 1966, and became 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. These claims have never been substantiated.
Jagan was quickly gaining political momentum in the 50s. The United States may not have wanted 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 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 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.”
President Kennedy Schlesinger's Apology for the Interference
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.”
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.”
Burnham went on to rule Guyana until his 1985 death while undergoing throat surgery. 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.
References / Read More
The Guyana Story by Odeen Ishmael.
This article was about the United States CIA involvement in Guyana.
By Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. | This content is copyright of West Indian Diplomacy, LLC and may not be reproduced without permission.
She runs West Indian Diplomacy, a Caribbean blog aimed at promoting West Indian history and business in the global marketplace. Melissa has been an attorney for over 10 years. She currently focuses on trademark registration, trademark searches, and office actions. She also has extensive legal experience in the areas of trademarks, copyrights, contracts, and business formations. She owns her own Trademark Law Firm that is virtually based out of Fort Lauderdale.