US views of Cheddi Jagan

With Dr Cheddi Jagan’s death anniversary three days away, we excerpt views on him from US diplomatic personnel who had been posted in Guyana. Their State Department summarised these to familiarise new personnel posted to 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 very possibly become a second Cuba, since the prime minister at the time 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 feeling in 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 patronised by the Soviets. He went regularly to Moscow, where he was lionised. 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 pattern.
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 (Ghana), 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.
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).

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