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Guyana: An Easier Way - Friday, Dec. 27, 1968 TIME Magazine
by Time Magazine
Posted on 2011-05-22

The threat from the left in South America need not always be suppressed by armies. It can often be met as easily and more democratically at the ballot boxas the coastal republic of Guyana demonstrated in its general elections last week. Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, who has ruled a shaky coalition since Guyana ceased being British Guiana in 1966, won a clear majority after the votes were counted. His opponent was Dr. Cheddi Jagan, who switched from dentistry to politics and for a time after independence ran British Guiana as a devoted Marxist. He hailed Fidel Castro as the century's greatest liberator.

Arson and Rape. Tiny Guyana (83,000 sq. mi.) is a rarity among South American nations. Like Jagan, about 51% of the population of 700,000 is descended from East Indians who were in dentured by the British decades ago to work the sugarcane fields. Another 30%, like Burnham, has ancestors who were Negro slaves imported for the same purpose. The remainder is an olio of whites and aborigines, who are called Amerindians to distinguish them from East Indians. About the only tie that Guyanans have with the rest of South America is a long-standing border dispute with neighboring Venezuela. Guyana's political battles have always been joined on ethnic lines. As Prime Minister of the colony, Jagan more or less ignored the social justice that he had long preached. His favoritism toward the Indians finally touched off a three-year vendetta between blacks and Indians that resulted in riots, arson, looting, rape and murder. In 1964, British troops moved in to stop the slide into chaos. Though Britain then introduced proportional representation in the unicameral 53-seat National Assembly, Jagan's Progressive People's Party continued to hold the largest single bloc. But Burnham outvoted and succeeded him as Prime Minister by putting together a coalition of his People's National Congress Party and a smaller conservative group called United Force.

Ribbons and Rocks. The U.S. preferred Burnham to the Marxist Jagan. In three years, it provided $43 million in aid funds, which allowed the Prime Minister to build 380 miles of highway, rural water-supply systems, 61 new schools and an educational extension program. Campaigning for re-election earlier this month, Burnham could brag of decreasing unemployment as men went to work on new projects. He ostentatiously cut ribbons for a 44-mile stretch of highway near Guyana's capital, Georgetown, and a $3,600,000 terminal building at the capital's airport. To make doubly certain of victory, however, Burnham shrewdly pushed through legislation allowing Guyanans living overseas, who are mostly Negroes, to vote by absentee ballot for the first time. Of 36,745 who did, 34,429 supported Burnham. Jagan, meanwhile, was bombarded with oranges, tomatoes and rocks while waving a copy of Arthur Schlesinger's thousand-day account of the Kennedy Administration and crying: "Here I have proof that Burnham sold out to the Yankees!"*

Burnham had not sold out, as far as most voters were concerned. Rather, he had kept the peace. Moreover, for the first time a Negro had made overtures to the Indian population. Since many are rice or sugarcane farmers, Burnham's government has been working on new strains that will mean better crops. Also, Burnham allowed India's Bank of Baroda to open a branch in Guyana, declared national holidays on Muslim and Hindu feast days, issued Guyanan postage stamps in honor of the Koran. As a result, Burnham last week carried Indian districts that Jagan had always considered safe. And the long-term effects of such policies augur well for mineral-rich Guyana's future in an atmosphere of racial harmony. They do, that is, unless the mercurial Jagan oversteps his angry vow last week to topple the new government by "legitimate means."

* Jagan's anger was presumably aroused by Schlesinger's policy advice to JFK: "An independent British Guiana under Burnham (if Burnham will commit himself to a multiracial policy) would cause us many fewer problems than an independent British Guiana under Jagan."


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