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Whose freedom at midnight? – By Clem Seecharan

Whose freedom at midnight?

 Stabroek News – September 3, 2008 In Guyana Review |

Machinations towards Guyana’s Independence, May 1966

By Clem Seecharan  –Professor of Caribbean History and Head of Caribbean Studies, London Metropolitan University (forthcoming in Round Table October 2008)

Guyana (formerly British Guiana), the only British colony on the mainland of South America, became independent at midnight on 26 May 1966. But whose freedom was it? For nearly 20 years the Marxist leader of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Cheddi Jagan (1918-97), of Indian extraction, buoyed by the independence of India and obsessed with the dominance of the British company, Booker, in the colony’s plantation economy, had championed Guyana’s ‘struggle’ for independence. Yet, on the big night it was the African leader of the People’s National Congress (PNC), L.F.S. Burnham (1923-85), who was the recipient of the prize.

His politics, though left-wing, was characterised by a cultivated pragmatism, strategic ambiguity ─ the facility to ‘tack and turn as advantage seems to dictate…his whole political approach is opportunistic’, as a British politician had assessed him in 1954.i With the aid of the Portuguese and Coloured (mixed race) political party, the United Force (UF), led by a Portuguese businessman, Peter D’Aguiar, a rabid anti-communist, in conjunction with the decisive intervention of President Kennedy himself and the CIA, in 1962-3, the PNC resorted to violence to make British Guiana ungovernable. The latter proved effective: it delayed independence, while Anglo-American collusion brought a Burnham-D’Aguiar coalition to power in December 1964 and independence in May 1966. Cheddi Jagan was a virtual spectator to the celebrations of the country’s ‘freedom’.              Continue reading