HISTORY: MI5 Files Reveal Details of 1953 Coup That Overthrew British Guiana’s Leaders

Cheddi and Janet Jagan

Documents released by National Archives show prime minister Winston Churchill feared the colony would turn communist

Associated Press – August 2011 | The Guardian UK [This article is more than 7-Years Old]

Secret documents declassified by MI5 reveal in detail how in 1953 the UK under prime minister Winston Churchill overthrew the elected government of British Guiana – now Guyana – because he feared its left-wing leader and his American wife would lead the British colony into the arms of the Soviet Union.

The documents reveal how British spies kept up intense scrutiny on Cheddi Jagan and his wife Janet, who together founded the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) to campaign for workers’ rights and independence from British rule for the sugar-producing colony in northern South America.                  

The UK had agreed to a new constitution in the early 1950s which allowed British Guiana’s political parties to participate in national elections and form a government, but maintained power in the hands of the British-appointed governor.

Christopher Andrew, MI5’s official historian, said the files provide new details of the coup and “further evidence that MI5 played a more important part in British decolonisation than is often realised”.

The Jagans – a US-educated former dentist and his wife, born Janet Rosenberg in Chicago – seem an unlikely threat.

But the 39 folders of files released by the National Archives are crammed full of tapped phone conversations, intercepted letters and accounts of physical surveillance over more than a decade.

In 1951, the year after the Jagans founded their party, an MI5 agent based on the nearby island of Trinidad described them as “something new in British Guiana politics”.

“Both are able and intelligent and the mere fact that Janet Jagan is white, young and attractive in appearance lends considerable interest to her activities and those of her husband,” he said.

To British authorities, the Jagans were a headache. To the Americans, they were a potential communist threat on America’s doorstep.

MI5 concluded that their party was “not receiving any financial support from any communist organisation outside the country”.

Nonetheless, amid worsening strikes and unrest, Britain grew unhappy with the Jagans’ “disruptive antics”.

After the party won a huge majority in British Guiana’s 1953 election, making Cheddi Jagan prime minister, Churchill decided to act.

“We ought surely to get American support in doing all that we can to break the communist teeth in British Guiana,” he wrote to his colonial secretary.

In the end, Britain acted alone, mounting a military operation codenamed Operation Windsor. Churchill dispatched a warship, HMS Superb, and brought hundreds of troops by air and sea to secure key sites.

On 9 October, Britain suspended British Guiana’s constitution, fired its legislators and arrested the Jagans.

The surprise military operation went according to plan. The Trinidad-based MI5 officer noted with quiet satisfaction that “it was obvious that the PPP leaders had no idea that the constitution would be suspended or that they might be arrested”.

And the spy threw in a note of thanks for the women who helped the army to march on its stomach.

“I might add in parenthesis that catering arrangements for the airborne troops during their halt in Trinidad were carried out by Mrs Beadon, wife of the commissioner of police, Mrs Rahr, my wife and Joyce Huggins … and I understand that no less than 600 large sandwiches were cut by these ladies,” he wrote.

An outraged Cheddi Jagan appealed by telegram to Britain’s opposition Labour party for help. Leader Clement Attlee replied curtly: “Regret impossible to intervene.”

For the next three years, British Guiana was ruled under emergency powers by the British governor and appointed officials, and the Jagans were kept under house arrest and strict surveillance.

In the years that followed, MI5 softened somewhat toward Cheddi Jagan, acknowledging that he was an astute and popular politician – though the agent based in Trinidad strongly disliked Janet Jagan, whom he described as a committed communist “uncompromising in her hatreds”.

By the 1960s, Britain’s spies worried that the Jagans would turn to newly communist Cuba, possibly making their country a base for Latin American revolutionaries.

“If the Jagans remain in power after independence and if their activities and views remain unchanged, they will represent a threat to the stability both of British Guiana itself and of the neighbouring territories,” the officer wrote.

Andrew said it was clear from previously released official documents that successive British governments “gave in to pressure from the White House to allow the CIA to use subterranean means to ensure that the first leader of independent Guyana in 1966 was not Cheddi Jagan”.

He added in a podcast for the National Archives (begins 5m 38sec in): “In most British colonies, there was a relatively friendly transfer of power to independent governments. British Guiana was a notable exception.”

The Jagans remained a major force in Guyanese politics and Cheddi Jagan became prime minister again in 1961, when the batch of MI5 files ends.

After the cold war ended, Cheddi Jagan served as president of Guyana from 1992 until his death in 1997. His wife succeeded him between 1997 and 1999. She died in 2009, aged 88.


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  • michael hawkins  On May 15, 2019 at 4:18 am

    So did the USA hence the CIA to get rid of the PPP by turning the people against each other

  • Stoney  On May 15, 2019 at 11:04 am

    The Indians were always against the Blacks, hence, the Blacks were always against the Indians.It’s a racial mess down there. Though not every individual is like that..but still…and now bring in all the crime and killings..how can you live in peace, whatever race you are.

    • Trevor  On May 15, 2019 at 3:11 pm

      It will get worse with oil. AmeriKKKa will profit in any case.

    • Trevor  On May 15, 2019 at 3:15 pm

      ExxonMobil and the wealthy Jews will build giant mansions and skyscrapers, while we fight each other like cat and dog.

      The entire Caribbean region will also be taught to hate Guyanese, Surinamese, Latinos and the minority Chinese, while the Europeans and Jews laugh all the way to the bank.
      Now watch my comment get mysteriously erased for pointing this fact.

      Afro-Guyanese will be encouraged to burn down Indo-Guyanese owned businesses, but the magestic 10+ story hotels and skyscrapers owned by the Chiney money launderer and Jewish elite shareholders will be untouched.

  • wally n  On May 15, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    I always wondered what would have happened, without the intervention

    • Trevor  On May 15, 2019 at 3:23 pm

      Lack of racial tensions which affect only Indo Guyanese and Afro Guyanese?
      Lack of exploitation by the European, Chiney and Jewish elite?

  • Trevor  On May 15, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    Fellow Guyanese,

    We must be very wary of any propaganda which aims to divide the major groups of Guyana for in-fighting, or directing anger towards Venezuelans and Cubans, while the Jewish shareholders and Chiney money launderer transform the skyline of GT into that of Port-of-Spain.

    Guyanese as a whole will not benefit from oil. We will be living like the serfs living in Angola and Nigeria.

    Who is John Fernandes? A European elite

    Who is the man who owns Ogle airport and sics paper terrorist lawyers on critics?
    A European man suspected of having Jewish origins.

    Who owns the wharf for ExxonMobil? Some Schumberger, which is a German Jewish name.

    Only the Guyanese elite such as Shell and Gafoors have benefited slightly from one-off sales of assets, but it’s mainly Europeans and European Jews who are laughing all the way to the bank.

  • Clyde Duncan  On May 16, 2019 at 12:33 am

    It was just about this time – around 1955 – my Grandma, Christina Stuart, packed up and headed for Toronto, Canada …. followed by all my aunts; uncles; cousins some neighbours and family friends.

    I made more trips to “the Base” – Atkinson Field – than anyone I knew back then

    I was too young to realize the political implications, of course – it was an exciting time watching the Pan Am aircraft engines catch fire as they start before heading for Piarco to catch TCA – Trans Canada Airlines; or sometimes go all the way to Idlewild Airport, with a stop in Puerto Rico; then north with TCA to Malton Airport ….

  • kamtanblog  On May 16, 2019 at 3:41 am

    Thanks for that revelation of Guyana history.
    Which we all suspected anyway.
    A democratically elected leader “blocked”
    from becoming Guyana’s PM.
    Conspiracy and collaboration by two colonial
    Powers …USA UK. Two most undemocratic
    countries postbWW2.


  • Clyde Duncan  On May 16, 2019 at 10:35 am

    Ernesta wrote:

    I don’t think anyone will be surprised by this reveal. I for one am very happy that they did, as the country may still be like Cuba is today, in which case none of us would have the privilege of living in Canada, etc.

  • Clyde Duncan  On May 17, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    General Dwight David “Ike” and Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower visit at Atkinson Field (Guyana’s first airport) near Georgetown, British Guiana. August 11, 1946.

    And then he became President of the USA

    General Dwight David "Ike" and Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower lands at Atkinson Field (Guyana’s first airport) near Georgetown, British Guiana. August 11, 1946.

  • Clyde Duncan  On May 18, 2019 at 2:54 am

    Starr wrote: I feel a movie coming on.

  • Kman  On May 19, 2019 at 11:06 am

    That is the white man democracy. A government elected on the strict rules of the British, then put the leaders in jail because they did not like the government.

    Now Britain and USA talking about bringing democracy to the ‘uncivilized’ world.

    They don’t know dick about democracy. It’s a white man’s world, twist in any way.

    • kamtanblog  On May 20, 2019 at 2:14 am

      Not white or black mans world !
      It’s more western or eastern
      and northern or southern.
      A divided world is a “weaker” world.
      A united world is a “better” world.

      Philosophically yours

      Kamtan person of colour

      • Kman  On May 22, 2019 at 12:15 pm

        I respect your opinion, but twist, twirl, or spin it, it remains a white man’s world. The poor and the oppressed in various area are at the bottom of the totem pole, so to speak. I suspect you already know this.

        I know it is harsh and many are trying to help, but we live in a world controlled by the elite and ruled by their agents.

  • kamtanblog  On May 19, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    UNdemocratic both USA UK !
    Banana republics ?

  • Prince Pickering  On May 21, 2019 at 10:42 am

    The need for negotiations by experts behind the scenes must be implemented in the interest of the Guyanese Nation. Stricter and transparent lock down on the National Finances to minimize Corruption at all levels. There must be a ‘Twenty year Plan’for development approved by all stakeholders irrespective of Political Affiliations or Govt. Guyana must be the next (Singapore) of the Southern Hemisphere. Short term projects for political optics must be harnessed. We owe the development of Guyana to the Future Generations. It must be One People,thriving as One Nation with One Destiny.Happy 53rd Anniversary. GOD BLESS GUYANA.

  • Trevor  On May 21, 2019 at 11:07 pm

    Rumours are that far-right factions from the USofGay are in Guyana fomenting a divide and conquer strategy because that is what ExxonMobil always do to poorer countries.

    Tensions are already brewing with the No-confidence vote by Charandass. Some here have even scrutinised this in a racial context (PPP Indo Elite shill).

    ExxonMobil stands to gain a Singaporean lifestyle while we fight like cat and dog nearby their gated communities of mansions and skyscrapers.

    • kamtanblog  On May 22, 2019 at 3:49 am

      Guyana 🇬🇾 is too small to survive too sparsely
      Populated to exist !
      It’s two big neighbours
      Venezuela and Brazil will eventually repopulate
      it with illegal/economic migrants.
      USA already controls most of Caribbean and Latin America. (Cuba the exception)

      History repeats itself over and over again..
      Cold War Hot war scenario.
      East west detente
      North vs South divide

      Sorry Guyanese………. Guyana 🇬🇾 is a “failed state”
      ” sad fact !


      • Emanuel  On May 22, 2019 at 12:50 pm

        We’ll survive all this and be a beacon in the region. Our beautiful land will be the envy of the Caribbean. Not even the madman Trump can stop us. He will be gone in a little over a year from now. You, Kamta, will have to take back your alarmist proclamation.

  • wally n  On May 23, 2019 at 3:52 pm

    AGREE Guyana will be a leader in South America, it was already a leader in the Caribbean, even though every member of the Caribbean states applied full press to destroy/cripple Guyana. One good thing about suffering, which the Guyanese had a lot, if it does not kill you it makes….. the secret weapon, Guyanese are really smart and tend to stand out, legal or illegal. Kamtan will be around to boast. Let the Oil flow and watch we go.

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