Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

US Intervention in British Guiana: A Cold War Story

Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

US Intervention in British Guiana: A Cold War Story

Article excerpt

Stephen G. Rabe, US Intervention in British Guiana: A Cold War Story, University of North Carolina Press, 2005, 240 pp.

The implacable fear that Russian-led Communism would engulf the countries in its backyard became an obsession verging on paranoia in America in the early years of the Cold War. The machinations of US presidents, especially John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, to avert this perceived Communist threat has formed the grist for dozens of publications over the past four decades. More specifically, the role of the covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the use of US trade unions as the front for intervention in the affairs of countries perceived as possible beachheads for the spread of Communism have also been the subject of numerous publications. Steven G. Rabe's, US Intervention in British Guiana: A Cold War Story, falls within this genre.

Drawing heavily from recently declassified material, oral accounts and other secondary and primary sources, Rabe chronicles in exhaustive detail the ways in which British Guiana's colonial ruler, Britain, was led to believe that the democratically elected leader, Cheddi Jagan, was a rabid Communist and should be prevented, at whatever cost, from leading the country into independence. Eventually the British were corralled not only into accepting this viewpoint but also into permitting the US to lead the charge to achieve this goal. Rabe details the escalating intensity of US interventions through the channelling of funds from the CIA via the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFLCIO) to foment and support strike actions by local trade unions opposed to government policies. Additionally, these funds were used to create new political parties and to support them and the two main opposition parties, the United Force (UF) and People's National Congress (PNC), to oppose the governing People's Progressive Party (PPP) in national elections under a new constitutional arrangement, Proportional Representation (PR). The British had imposed this "solution" at the instigation of the US to ensure that Cheddi Jagan and his PPP would lose what was to be the last election before independence. In a parallel theme, Rabe details the courting of Forbes Burnham as the less troublesome alternative to Jagan and the implementation of measures to ensure that he emerged as the leader through a coalition with the UF after the 1964 elections. After he led the country into independence, the US and Britain supported his government, despite its descent into authoritarianism, blatant discrimination and violence perpetrated against the majority Indian population.

Rabe, a professor of history, has written extensively on US foreign relations, especially with Latin America, as evidenced by his books: The Road to OPEC: United States Relations with Venezuela, 1919-1976 (1982); Eisenhower and Latin America: The Foreign Policy of Anti-Communism (1989); The Most Dangerous Area in the World: John F. Kennedy Confronts Communist Revolution in Latin America (1999); and Debating the Kennedy Presidency (2003). His expertise is demonstrated in the impressive use of primary and secondary sources to illustrate the countless instances of US intervention in British Guiana and pressure brought to bear on Britain to permit and support that intervention.

However, his work throws into sharp focus the limited range of primary sources that he consulted in dealing with the actual happenings in British Guiana. This is of special significance since the writer claims in the Introduction that "incorporating the perspectives of British and Guyanese actors helps to avoid . . . 'the view from Washington syndrome". He draws his Guyanese perspectives almost exclusively from secondary sources, with no reference to any of the seven contemporary local newspapers, not even the Thunder or the Mirror that the Peoples Progressive Party published. He provides no interviews with the local actors, many of whom are still alive, including some who were closely associated with Cheddi Jagan, against whom "the great injustice", the subject of this work, had been perpetrated. …

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