How the American Government
helped Burnham to rig the 1968 elections

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The 1968 general elections in Guyana were rigged by the People's National Congress (PNC) regime of Forbes Burnham. The electoral fraud enabled that party to retain power following the dissolution of the coalition government he partnered with Peter D'Aguiar's United Force (UF). However, what was significant about this electoral fraud was the fact that the United States government had full knowledge about Burnham's electoral rigging plans and even subscribed funds to both the PNC and the UF for their election campaign. The United States government just winked at Burnham for they knew his "victory" would fulfill its Cold War objective of preventing the Marxist Cheddi Jagan from regaining power.

Cheddi Jagan had always accused the US government of complicity in removing him from power and of giving political support to Burnham. Now, with the release early in 2005 of some of the State Department's declassified documents on Guyana for the period 1964-1968, Jagan's charges have now become proven facts backed up by the State Department's own documents. (See: Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume XXXII, Dominican Republic; Cuba; Haiti; Guyana)

CIA provided funds in 1962-1968 to PNC and UF

In an introduction to this collection of declassified documents, the Historian of the US State Department wrote that the Special Group/303 Committee of the National Security Council approved approximately $2.08 million for covert action programs between 1962 and 1968 in Guyana. A good proportion of this covert funding was given to the PNC and the UF in 1963 and 1964 when they were trying their best to overthrow the PPP government. The Historian stated:
"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. 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 1968s, it advised him against such a course of action, but did not try to stop him."

Obviously, the provision of covert electoral funds by a foreign government to political parties was a breach of Guyana's laws. But in the campaign to keep the PPP out of government, the provider and the receiver of such illegal donations had no qualms about stepping beyond the bounds of law.

Burnham requested financial assistance

Burnham's rigging plans were hatched shortly after Guyana became independent in 1966. Delmar Carlson, the United States Ambassador to Guyana, reported in a telegram to State Department on July 15, 1966 that "Burnham has confided to close colleagues that he intends to remain in power indefinitely-if at all possible by constitutional means. However, if necessary, he is prepared to employ unorthodox methods to achieve his aims. In these circumstances, probably the best that can be hoped for at this time, is that he might respond to guideline and thus take the most effective and least objectionable course to attain his goals."

It was apparent that the United States government wanted Burnham to be re-elected and it began to give a positive view to the idea of providing his party with financial support despite his plans to utilize "unorthodox methods" to gain re-election. The 303 Committee, in a memorandum prepared on 17 March 1967, reported:

"Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, leader of the majority People's National Congress (PNC) in the coalition, . . . . has stated that he is fully prepared to utilize the electoral machinery at his disposal to ensure his own re-election. Burnham has initiated steps for electoral registration of Guyanese at home and abroad, and has requested financial assistance . . . . for the PNC campaign. It is recommended that he and his party be provided with covert support in order to assure his victory at the polls. At the same time, it is believed that support to Peter D'Aguiar and his United Force (UF), the minority party in the coalition government, is also essential in order to offset Jagan's solidly entrenched East Indian electoral support. It is recommended that the 303 Committee approve the courses of action outlined in this paper . . . ."

The amount of money recommended still remains as classified information.

A footnote to this memorandum quoted the following paragraph from a document, the file name of which is still classified, but more likely a telegram from the American Embassy in Guyana:

"In a meeting on 16 September 1966, Burnham requested money for various political purposes and outlined his plans to issue identification cards to all Guyanans above the age of 10, and to identify and register all Guyanans of African ancestry in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States in order to get their absentee votes in the next elections. 'Conversely, Burnham acknowledged with a smile, East Indians living abroad may have trouble getting registered and, if registered, getting ballots'."

The March 1967 memorandum also noted that Burnham was planning to establish his campaign headquarters in Georgetown and other urban areas where the African vote was concentrated. He was also sending "a trusted political adviser" abroad to survey the potential absentee vote which he can expect from Guyanese residing in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and the West Indies.

It added:
"Burnham believes that he would have great difficulty ensuring his own re-election without support from the U.S. Government. He has requested financial support . . . . for staff and campaign expenses, motor vehicles, small boats, printing equipment, and transistorized public address systems. He also wishes to contract for the services of an American public relations firm to improve his image abroad and counteract Jagan's propaganda in the foreign press.

"Since we believe that there is a good likelihood that Jagan can be elected in Guyana unless the entire non-East Indian electorate is mobilized against him, we also believe that campaign support must be provided to Peter D'Aguiar, the head of the United Force (UF) and Burnham's coalition partner."

US government was privy to Burnham's plans

The Committee then examined the risks involved in the US political assistance to Burnham. It said that because Jagan had consistently and publicly accused the American and British Governments of having undermined him and of having aided Burnham, it was expected that he would continue to make these charges. It added that "Jagan has cried wolf so often in the past that a reiteration of the same charges is not expected to carry much impact, particularly if the timing of the operation is handled appropriately."

It was apparent that the 303 Committee was privy to Burnham's plans. It pointed out: "Burnham is thinking of utilizing voting machines in certain districts in Guyana, knowing that this will attract Jagan's attention and lead to charges of fraud. Since Burnham does not intend to rig the machines, and the tallies will in fact be accurate, he believes this will not only divert Jagan's attention during the election campaign but will add credibility to the results after the fact."

Burnham was also made aware that the American Government would attach the utmost importance to tight security practices in the event that he received American support for the elections. The memorandum explained: "He recognizes that any exposure of this support will reflect on him as well as on the US Government, and he is prepared to deny receipt of any such aid. American and British press coverage of the 1968 elections must be expected to be relatively intensive, and it is likely that some British and American correspondents may be favorably predisposed to Jagan. For this reason, it will be essential that Burnham not only counter Jagan's assertion that Burnham represents a minority of the electorate, but also that the US Government's involvement not be revealed in any way."

The Committee concluded: ". . . . we recommend the immediate and continuing injection of fiscal support to both the PNC and the UF, and we propose to maintain close contact with Burnham and D'Aguiar and their principal associates in order to influence the course of the election wherever necessary. This should be initiated at the earliest possible date, so that alternate tactics can be considered."

Burnham's meeting with Ambassador Carlson

Ambassador Delmar Carlson, met with Burnham in early June 1967, and in a telegram sent to the State Department he revealed Burnham's plans to rig the votes in the next elections:

"In course discussion with Prime Minister Burnham last night I raised subject coming elections and explained election mathematics at my disposal tended show that the PNC majority over the PPP and the U.F. would require at minimum 60,000 votes additional. Even Prime Minister Burnham does not consider that overseas vote can be blown up to that extent; even 50,000 figure used by him very hypothetically and 30,000 accepted as more realistic (Embassy finds in excess of 25,000 not believable). Earlier Prime Minister Burnham said that overseas vote figures could be manipulated pretty much as he wished and he tentatively had in mind say 25,000 for a new coalition government and 5,000 for the PPP. When pressed by these mathematics, Prime Minister Burnham said he "would not break his lance" over the PNC majority, meaning that if the U.S.G. made issue of it he would not pursue it. Clear however he intends to follow number of election tricks to add to the PNC totals and detract from the PPP votes. Accumulated total of these may well produce a surprisingly good showing for the PNC, though falling short of absolute majority. Adds that he well aware of need that these election tricks be done smoothly and without controversy."

During that meeting, Carlson also suggested to Burnham that he should continue to work closely with D'Aguiar and his United Force. Burnham was already having difficulties working with D'Aguiar, and the ambassador suggested that the solution to this problem "lay less in engineered majority than it did by arranging for D'Aguiar's honorable withdrawal from politics and government after the election is won and a new coalition government formed."

Despite Carlson's best efforts to encourage a working relationship with Burnham, D'Aguiar resigned from the cabinet on 26 September 1967.

Earlier, on 7 August 1967, some of original sum proposed for assistance to the PNC and UF was committed by the US government. Part of the funds was to be used for the PNC and UF to contact overseas voters and also for these parties to purchase motor vehicles and boats to reach Amerindian voters in the remote areas of the country.

US approved covert support to PNC

On 6 December 1967, William Trueheart, the Deputy Director for Coordination of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the State Department, sent a memorandum to Thomas Hughes and George Denney, the Director and Deputy Director, respectively, of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the State Department, in which he reported that the 303 Committee on 10 April 1967 approved a proposal to provide Burnham "with covert support in the next national elections" to assure a PNC victory over Cheddi Jagan and the PPP. Some covert monetary assistance was also to go to the United Force.

Trueheart's memorandum predicted that the result of the elections would be very close even with assistance provided to Burnham. It revealed that the 303 Committee decided to "make 12 equal monthly payments to Burnham to help him in revitalizing his party and in organizing his absentee vote strength." According to the Committee, if Burnham's electoral prospects appeared bleak, certain measures (not revealed) would be implemented. In an ominous revelation, Trueheart stated: "These measures, it was hoped, would forestall the necessity of exile of Jagan, or his detention, or coup d'état after the elections."

It must be noted that the Venezuelan government in 1964 was prepared to support the overthrow of Cheddi Jagan, and to seek US support for this venture. According to this plot, Burnham and D'Aguiar would be encouraged to form a "Revolutionary Government" after a coup initiated with the assistance of 100 trained men given 30 days special training in Venezuela; and at the same time Cheddi and Janet Jagan would be kidnapped and taken to Venezuela. A memorandum from William Tyler, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, to Secretary of State Rusk on 10 July 1964 gave details of this arrangement.

Apparently a similar plan, according to Trueheart's memorandum, remained in active consideration in the event of a Jagan victory in 1968.

The plan to increase the African vote

A CIA report prepared with the participation of the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, and the National Security Agency on 7 December 1967 stated that Burnham was working on various schemes to enlarge the African vote for his party. He was trying to obtain a substantial number of absentee votes from Afro-Guyanese residing abroad. Beyond this, the report added, he was also exploring means to merge Guyana with one of the Caribbean islands (most likely St. Vincent) so as to increase the proportion of African voters.

The report continued: "If Burnham became convinced that such arrangements would not suffice to keep him in power and Jagan out, he would probably rig the election. In any case, he would have to rely on the small civilian police and Guyana Defence Force (GDF), both of which are predominantly Negro, to maintain order. They probably could do so, except in the unlikely event of a major East Indian uprising."

It also saw this scenario in the case of a PPP victory: "If Jagan's party won, he would probably not be permitted to exercise power. Burnham could use force to keep him out, or suspend the Constitution and rule by fiat, or even press for a grand coalition which he himself would seek to head. Alternatively he could permit Jagan to take office-only to subvert his government at a later date."

Burnham's meeting with Dean Rusk

Burnham visited the United States in January 1968 for a medical check-up at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. After his release from the hospital, he held a 45-minute discussion with Secretary of State Dean Rusk at the State Department on 23 January.

Burnham informed Rusk that he was confident about the outcome of the elections which had to be held before March 1969. He said he was also counting "heavily" on the overseas absentee ballots concentrated in the UK and in the US. He said that US Supreme Court decision in 1967 allowing Guyanese nationals who had become naturalized US citizens to vote without losing their US citizenship would be helpful. However, Rusk was uncertain whether the decision contemplated voting by such citizens while they were resident in the US, but he promised to look into this matter. Burnham stated that there would be objectionable electioneering in the US and pointed out that Jagan was already setting the stage among his followers for a defeat by claiming the elections would be rigged.

Rusk also met with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr. Ptolemy Reid on May 24, 1968. Reid's primary purpose in coming to the United States was to whip up electoral support for the People's National Congress (PNC) among Guyanese residing living there.

Burnham's plan to rig the elections

A memorandum prepared for the 303 Committee on a progress report on "Support to Anti-Jagan Political Parties in Guyana" and dated 5 June 1968 set out clearly the plan by Burnham to rig the forthcoming elections. The relevant part of this document stated:

"[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] representatives met with Prime Minister Forbes Burnham in late April to discuss operational matters related to the electoral campaign. At this meeting Burnham stated unequivocally that he plans to conduct the registration and voting in such a manner that the PNC will emerge with an absolute majority in the Guyana National Assembly. Burnham said that he will never again allow the life of his government to depend upon his coalition partner Peter D'Aguiar and that if the voting should turn out in such a manner that he could not form a government without the help of D'Aguiar, he would refuse to form a government. Burnham said that he plans to register 17, 18, 19 and 20 year old PNC adherents (minimum voting age is 21 years) to make up part of the vote he needs and will direct his campaign in such a way as to attract enough additional East Indian voters to put the PNC approximately on a par with the PPP in Guyana. The additional votes he would need to give the PNC an absolute majority would come from the overseas Guyanese. On the other hand Ambassador Carlson . . . . in Georgetown have commented that they believe this is wishful thinking by Burnham. They believe Burnham would encounter insurmountable administrative and organizational difficulties in attempting to rig the elections to the extent necessary to assure the PNC an absolute majority.

"It should be noted that Burnham's plans to get an absolute majority in the elections constitute a basic change in strategy. Planning heretofore had been based upon the PNC and UF running separately but re-forming the coalition after the elections. Burnham will probably still be willing to have a coalition government after the elections but wants an absolute majority so that the coalition will be formed on his terms and so that the life of his government will not depend on the UF and Peter D'Aguiar."

Burnham's plan to rig the elections was amplified in another memorandum prepared on 12 June 1968 by Thomas H. Karamessines, Deputy CIA Director for Plans, for Walt W. Rostow, Special Assistant to President Johnson. (Source: Linden B. Johnson Presidential Library, Document E.O. 12958, Sec. NI.J 94.268 - 12 Jun 1968). The document, titled "Plans of Guyana Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, Leader of the People's National Congress (PNC), to rig the elections scheduled for late 1968 or early 1969", showed US government complicity in this arrangement because, even though it had knowledge of Burnham's plans, it did absolutely nothing to prevent the fraud and actually provided full encouragement. This memorandum, copied to Paul H. Nitze, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Ambassador Covey T. Oliver, Assistant Secretary of State, made the following revelation:

1. . . . . "a. In meeting of high level government and People's National Congress (PNC) leaders . . . . Forbes Burnham, Prime Minister of Guyana and leader the PNC, gave instructions to rig the election scheduled for late 1968 or early 1969 in order to permit the PNC to win a clear majority. [In the last elections, held in December 1964, the PNC won 40.5 per cent of the total vote; the United Force (UF) won 12.4 per cent; and the Communist-led People's Progressive Party (PPP) made up principally of East Indians, won 45.8 per cent.] Burnham said that the registration of East Indians, who traditionally vote for the People's Progressive Party (PPP) should be strictly limited in order to keep their number of eligible voters as low as possible. He also gave instructions to his party leaders to increase the size of the PNC electorate by registering some PNC adherents who are between the age of 17 and 20 years of age, although the minimum age for voting is 21 years of age. He said he plans to have written into the electoral law a provision for increasing the use of proxy votes.

"b. Through these means and by campaigning diligently, Burnham said he hopes the PNC will receive approximately half of the total vote cast in Guyana. In order to provide the winning margin for the PNC, he has arranged for Guyanese who reside overseas to vote in the Guyanese elections. He believes that there are sufficient PNC adherents overseas to give the PNC a clear majority. If it appears that the overseas registration is not sufficient to provide this majority, Burnham said he has instructed his campaign organizers overseas to provide enough false registrations to give the PNC the desired majority. [The PNC is conducting registration of overseas voters principally in the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.]

"2. The above information further clarifies Burnham's intentions regarding the forthcoming elections in Guyana. In April 1968 Burnham stated that he will not form a government if he has to continue to depend on his coalition partner, Peter D'Aguiar, leader of the United Force (UF), after the elections. In order to avoid having to depend on D'Aguiar, Burnham said that he will rig the elections in such a way that the PNC will win a clear majority. After winning a majority, he said, he would welcome a coalition with the UF, because be would not have to depend on the UF to maintain the government.

Thomas H. Karamessines,
Deputy CIA Director for Plans. . . ."

Discussions on the level of the rigging

Apparently, there was some concern about the extent of the planned rigging. In a June 21 telegram John Calvin Hill, Jr., Director for North Coast Affairs, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, Department of State, had advised Ambassador Carlson to warn Burnham not to rig the elections so extremely as to show an African majority in the population.

According to a telegram sent to the State Department on 28 June 1968, Carlson had a long discussion with Burnham the day before "to assess his attitude" on the "dimension of possible electoral results."

Carlson seemed to be somewhat worried about the rigging plans. He reported: "Some of the friends of Guyana in Washington had recently become apprehensive as to whether Prime Minister might plan Tammany Hall tactics on so massive a scale as to taint the results, raise questions of legitimacy, and embarrass the U.S. I was sure that he would no more want to have us all in the funny papers than would our friends in Washington. I said I assumed that Sonny Ramphal had already mentioned to him that John Hill has expressed this anxiety to Ramphal in New York."

". . . . Burnham asked what these people thought was reasonable and I told him the matter was not one of any precise equation but simply one of dimension. We wanted him to win; we had backed him to the hilt; neither of us wanted a scandal. He agreed. I asked him what he really expected electorally. He said he foresaw the PNC in about the same range of votes in Guyana as the PPP; i.e., roughly even, perhaps not quite as much as the PPP, or perhaps slightly more but in general about the same order of magnitude. Burnham told me he expects work hard on Muslims and hopes have some success as well as with various other non-Africans so as to give PNC more multi-racial image. He hoped part of this process could take place before election and mentioned various individuals including Kit Nascimento and Ann Jardim.

"As far as overseas was concerned, he thought registration of as many as 50,000 was within realm of possibility because of ease with which persons can qualify as Guyanese, i.e., descendant if mother was Guyanese and even foreign wives of Guyanese under the law qualify. He was urging his agents to work vigorously toward this large registration but he thought prospect was not good for high voter participation overseas. He expected not more than about 30,000 to vote if registration went high as 50,000. We agreed that overseas vote should be heavily PNC, i.e., 75-90% (with him more inclined to the latter figure). We agreed that it was entirely logical that it should be heavily PNC."

Carlson concluded:
"Since all indications from collateral reporting showed that his intentions were much more reasonable than had been feared this was far as I thought it necessary to go. Our conversation generally tended to confirm reports from several other sources few days before . . . . that Burnham is not planning or expecting massive rig. . . . (H)e is mentally prepared to accept plurality and is hoping for 26 seats with thought that if coalition is not reestablished (presumably due D'Aguiar on scene trying set terms) that he will be able persuade at least two if not three UF legislators to join him in forming majority."

Aiding and abetting fraud and dictatorship

A final progress report on "Support to Anti-Jagan political parties in Guyana", prepared for the 303 Committee on 21 November 1968 by the State Department, noted that the elections would be held on 16 December 1968. The report described "the problems facing Burnham stemming from his having padded the registration lists in the United Kingdom excessively in an attempt to win an outright majority in the elections. This report also notes the security implications arising from Peter D'Aguiar's having become aware of this padding and his efforts to counter it."

It further stated that the US authorities would continue to provide financial support and electoral guidance to the PNC and the UF for their campaigns in Guyana and overseas. The PNC, it said, contracted a US-based motion picture company to produce newsreel films showing the progress made by the Burnham government. The first two of a projected ten films were being shown in Georgetown and depict Burnham inspecting self-help projects in small villages and the visit of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to Guyana.

The report concluded:
"The United States government will continue to exert all possible influence to persuade Burnham to pursue a moderate and statesmanlike course toward the PPP and the UF with regard to the registration problem and to the objections of these parties to the electoral law. To date, however, Burnham has not responded in the manner desired to U.S. advice to avoid an overly large false registration and to U.S. urging to plan for the formation of another coalition government after the elections. . . . . Racial considerations are most likely a significant ingredient in Burnham's attitude. Thus we have no assurance that he will accept our guidance in this regard."

Wholesale rigging by the PNC enabled to "win" almost 56 percent of the votes in the December 1968 elections. But the State Department's declassified documents of the period show clearly the machinations that were used to impose the anti-democratic PNC regime on the Guyanese nation. Cold War apologists of these actions will always claim that this was a necessary evil to keep the Marxist Cheddi Jagan and the PPP at bay. But no amount of whitewashing can ever remove the stain that these deeds left indelibly on the country and its people. They perpetuated divisions and showed that fraud and wrong-doings, not democracy, were the ideals of those who had no respect for the rights and wishes of the majority of the Guyanese people. They gave Burnham and his PNC the licence to continue with electoral fraud and to trample on democracy and human rights. By covertly - and overtly - funding the PNC's election campaign in 1968, the United States government cannot absolve itself from aiding and abetting the imposition of a long period of dictatorship and oppression in Guyana.

1 September 2005