Cheddi Jagan: Through Official American Eyes
Photo : Cheddi Jagan
The following excerpts are taken from interviews of US Diplomatic personnel done by the State Department to familiarise new personnel posted to Guyana on their experience in Guyana.
ALLEN C HANSEN (1957-1959) Branch Public Affairs Officer, USIS (Interviewed 1988)
At the time of my assignment to Georgetown, President Kennedy was in the White House. There was great concern that British Guiana, which would soon get its independence, would verypossibly become a second Cuba (as mentioned earlier) inasmuch as the prime minister at thetime was Cheddi Jagan. Jagan, usually described as a Marxist, was very friendly with the Cubans and the Soviets. His leanings were certainly in the Communist direction. So the feelingin Washington was that it was time to have a USIS office there.
Theodore J. C. Heavner 1969-1971 Deputy Chief of Mission, (Interviewed 1997)
In 1968, just a year before I got there. Burnham was still fresh in the job and Jagan was still waiting in the wings expecting to be elected at the next election and not unreasonably so since he was the undoubted leader of the Indian population in that country….He was a very charismatic figure in the Indian community. Burnham, however, in power was repeatedly able to arrange that the elections didn’t come out that way. They were rigged and we knew they were rigged and that was fine with us. In those days, we thought we could not risk having a second communist country in our own hemisphere.
We were concerned about Jagan essentially taking over by violence. He had been trained and was patronized by the Soviets. He went regularly to Moscow where he was lionized. He was clearly at all times following the Soviet line on all questions of any international importance. He seemed to be almost a rubber stamp for the Soviets. His wife was probably the more astute politician there, Janet Jagan, who was an American and lost her citizenship as a result of being a Guyana cabinet officer and then was subsequently given it back.
David C. McGaffey 1986-1990 Chargé d’Affaires, (Interviewed 1995)
Cheddi was personally, very personable. He was polite, courteous, an interesting conversationalist but his mentality seemed to be frozen in a time warp. He would just not acknowledge any of the changes in the world that had taken place, not acknowledge what was happening in the Soviet Union, not acknowledge what was happening to socialism worldwide.
He was waiting to restore things to the way they had been when he was young. His wife Janet seemed to be in my judgment his intellectual superior. She also in her ordinary comments reminded me of listening to radical SDS students in my youth. The two of them had been politically prominent and yet out of politics for 28 years and they were in a holding patterns.
Dennis Hays 1988-1992 Deputy Chief of Mission, (Interviewed 2001)
Cheddi’s fault was that he was a Marxist without a sharp edge. If he had been a Castro, a Rawlings or any of these guys he never would have lost power in the first place. He had it, but he let it go. So he was still out there. A quick story on Cheddi which is indicative of how things worked. He used to go to these communist party gatherings that they would have, and he would sit kind of in the back because he wasn’t a head of state at this point (in 1968.) He was eight or nine rows back in the audience. This was the time of the Czechoslovakian invasion.
Apparently, a couple of speakers had gotten up from the communist party from Australia and they had criticized the Soviet Union for its actions. So when Cheddi gets up and launches into this attack on them that how dare they question the judgment, the commitment, the dedication of our fraternal brothers in the Soviet Union who protect us? He went on and on and on. So he gave this little speech and they broke for lunch and when they came back he was sitting next to Brezhnev. From that point on he was always a front row guy for the next twenty years. He moved up. He also got a Dacha on the Black Sea.
(Jagan returned to Guyana and transformed the PPP the following year, 1969, into an official “Marxist Leninist party.)