CHURCH bells, conch shells, and DDT tell the grim tale of British Guiana’s headlong plunge toward economic and political chaos. A few miles outside the capital of Georgetown, in the rural Negro village of Buxton, the ringing of bells is a warning to inhabitants that they are under attack from East Indians from neighboring Annandale. And in Annanclale, citizens take to the dusty streets to battle the Buxton invaders when the conch shell is blown.
These are the alarms of a budding Cyprus-like civil war. They signal the bitter racist struggle which pro-Communist Premier Cheddi Jagan hopes will yield an all-important victory in this English-speaking enclave on the shores of South America. More than half of the colony’s 620,000 people are East Indian, one third are of African descent, about one eighth are mixed, and there is a substantial number of indigenous Amerindians as well as Europeans and Chinese.
The growth of racialism
Indian and Negro politics are summed up in one East Indian word, “Apaanjhat,” or vote for your own kind. Because of Jagan’s leftist tics and the fear that he would transform the colony into South America’s first Cuba, independence was postponed by the British in October, 1963.
The growth of racialism transcends all other problems, explained Colonial Secretary Duncan Sandys. “ This is the curse of British Guiana today.” Before independence would again be considered, Sandys called for elections based on proportional representation, a system adopted for the first time in a British colonial independence treaty. In the 1961 elections. Jagan’s Indian-backed People’s Progressive Party (PPP) won twenty of the thirty-five Assembly seats with only 43 percent of the total vote. .Jagan then named a nine-man cabinet entirely from the PPP.
Main opposition leader Forbes Burnham of the Negro-supported People’s National Congress (PCN) has demanded a proportional representation system, which he and the British apparently believe will spell Jagan’s political doom. Under the present system, seats in the Legislative Assembly go to the candidate with the most votes in each electoral district. Through proportional representation, seats would be divided by percentage of the total nationwide vote of each party. If the past voting pattern were repeated, a coalition of the PCN and the Conservative United Force Party of Portuguese tycoon Peter D’Aguiar would have an Assembly majority, and Jagan’s party would be in the minority.
The British, in effect, seem to be buying time. Jagan, sensing a short-term defeat, which he says the British plotted at United States insistence, has wrapped his Marxist slogans in an Apaanjhat banner with confidence that the long-term victory will be his.
Two days after President Kennedy’s assassination, Jagan lowered the flag outside his red frame house on Georgetown’s Main Street, and stumped the hinterlands under a banner of the hammer and sickle, calling for racial warfare against the Negroes and 2200 British soldiers, whose mission is to keep the Guianese at arm’s length. While thousands of Guianese of all races lined up outside the American consulate to sign a Kennedy sympathy book, Mrs. Jagan, a Chicago-born radical, told rural supporters, “If they don’t give us what we want we’ll take it from them.”
Population explosion via DDT
Janet Jagan’s confidence is readily understood. For, if through violence the PPP can successfully postpone the British-imposed elections, it has been predicted that the colony’s so-called “DDT population” will again sweep the Jagans into power and independence with a commanding majority. The father of the DDT population is the noted Italian malariologist, Dr. George Giglioli. Owing to his efforts, the colony’s population is expected to double by 1975, with the rural East Indians outnumbering the Negroes by about four to one.
Even the casual visitor is aware of Dr. Giglioli’s achievement. The place swarms with children, the result of increased fertility and lower infantile mortality. Two decades ago, Dr. Giglioli established that the dread killer malaria was transmitted by anopheles darlingi, the worst carrier of the disease. A longtime resident of the colony, Dr. Giglioli focused his efforts not on the rice fields, irrigation canals, and flood fallows, but on people’s homes. He determined the time of year when the mosquito came indoors looking for blood, and sprayed the inside of peasant shacks with DDT to coincide with the arrival of the insects.
In 1943, the birth rate per 1000 was 33.5 and the death rate 24.7, while the infant and maternal mortality rates were, respectively, 141.0 and 14.0. By 1948, with DDT, malaria had been eradicated. Much of this increased population has now reached the late teens.
Jagan asked the British to revise voting laws to allow the Guianese to vote at eighteen. The request was denied, and the voting age remains at twenty-one, thus depriving the PPP of an upsurge in safe ballots. But whether these teen-agers vote now or in three years, it seems apparent that DDT has solidified Jagan’s political prominence. Time works in the Jagans’ favor, and any delays in voting are to their distinct advantage.
The ties with Cuba
This internal impasse and the rising racial violence are naturally causing grave concern to Britain and the United States. Another worry is the colony’s growing links to Cuba and the Soviet bloc. More than 50 percent of the rice crop, the colony’s second largest export, is now committed to Cuba and the Communist bloc. Cubans have taken over training of the PPP’s youth organization, the PYO, which has an estimated 6000 members. Jagan’s opponents claim this training includes instruction in jungle warfare and the use of arms and explosives. Cuban pilots have undertaken technical work for the Guyana Airways Corporation. Cubans operate the PPP’s printing press, confiscated from an American firm in Cuba, which churns out party propaganda, anti-colonialist and imperialist tirades, and Thunder, a proCommunist newspaper. Trade missions and technical advisers from the Communist bloc are frequent visitors.
Janet Jagan’s eye is on the future. Looking constantly over her husband’s shoulder, she concentrates on the colony’s youth, the potential PPP voters and the workers of tomorrow. Along with the militialike People’s Youth Corps, Mrs. Jagan recently established the University of Guyana, a night school for about 120 students. Under Dr. Harold Drayton, a Guianese Communist, the university is staffed by several American “professors.”
American officials believe that these teachers were recruited by Janet Jagan to help indoctrinate the PPP youth in Marxist ideology. Mrs. Jagan was an enthusiastic worker on behalf of the Communist cause in the United States before she married and renounced her citizenship. She is a frequent visitor to Communist China and Cuba and has been the Minister of Home Affairs. Mrs. Jagan’s recruiting has been so successful that a visitor sipping a planter’s punch in the downtown Woodbine Hotel can survey an East-West melting pot unique in the Western Hemisphere since Cuba closed its doors to Americans.
Bordering giant Brazil and oilwealthy Venezuela, British Guiana, the size of Minnesota, is an unexploited prize first sought by Sir Walter Raleigh, who set sail in 1595 to subjugate the mysterious empire of Guiana and the gold of El Dorado. Conditions have changed little since Raleigh wrote that Guiana “is a country that hath yet her maidenhead, never sacked, burnt nor wrought.”
Only one half of one percent of the colony’s total area is under cultivation, although British Guiana is essentially an agricultural country. The annual sugar crop is in the 325,000-ton range, almost all produced on two large plantations. More than 90 percent is exported. Premier Jagan was born and brought up on a sugar plantation, Port Mourant, and his political principles have been guided by a violent hatred of the British-owned sugar interests.
Rice is grown mainly by small farmers of East Indian descent. The 1961 annual crop amounted to 124,000 tons, of which 90,000 tons were exported.
Bauxite mined by American and Canadian companies makes up the bulk of the nation’s mineral interests. British Guiana is the third largest producer of this ore in the free world, accounting for one tenth of the total output. Annual production is slightly below 2.5 million long tons; about 2 million tons are extracted by the Demerara Bauxite Company, Ltd., a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of Canada, and the remainder is mined by the Reynolds Metals Company.
Since 1961, despite the colony’s potential resources, there has been an increasing tendency toward economic stagnation. For several years the public budget has been around $60 million. In 1962, the country’s first full year under internal selfgovernment, revenues were $58.6 million and total expenditures were $65.6 million. The deficit was the first in many years. At the end of 1961, British Guiana’s funded public debt amounted to $106.8 million, $86.1 million of this external, and £20.7 million internal. These figures have been on the rise.
The British position
Strong dikes protect British Guiana’s people from the murky, muddy waters of the Atlantic — 90 percent live below sea level along the 200mile coast between Venezuela and Surinam. But no dikes are in evidence to hold back the flood of growing racial tensions which both Jagan and Burnham are fanning throughout the colony. Burnham is no less a demagogue than Jagan. His political credo is relatively undefined and remains simply anti-Jagan. The British hope that before elections are held, new political parties, mainly East Indian defections from the PPP, will spring up. But this may be wishful thinking. Jagan still runs the party with an iron hand, and growing racial disturbances cement his Apaanjhat platform.
As a British white paper pointed out last November, in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion objectivity has entirely disappeared. Every political act is, or is alleged to be, dictated by racial prejudice. The Negroes accuse the government party of governing in the interests of the Indians only, and they demand a share in political decisions.
On the other side, the Indians accuse the police, which is mainly Negro, of partiality toward the Negroes, and they demand the creation of a separate defense force, recruited more extensively from the Indian community, to counterbalance the police. The British and the Americans would like to see the emergence of an Indian leader who could attract the middle-of-the-road Indian support which now goes to Jagan because the only other alternatives are Burnham and the ultraconservative D’ Aguiar.
There are continuing American fears that the British would like to pull out of the troublesome colony as soon as possible. In trying to justify their apparent willingness to abandon Guiana, the British resurrect the old “spheres of influence” concept.
Duncan Sandys has again made it clear that the British derive no benefit, political or commercial, by prolonging their rule. But Britain, which has led sixteen countries to independence since World War II, has always transferred power under conditions of tranquillity, except in the case of India and Pakistan, where there were exceptional problems over partition. London has told Washington it expects to do the same in British Guiana.
It is obvious that the colony’s present form of government has not provided strong government. The facts are that the administration of the country has been largely paralyzed, the government is insolvent, and law and order can be maintained only with the help of outside troops.
Sporadic violence touched off by a lengthy government-backed strike by sugar workers resulted in more than twenty-four deaths in the past four months. The British were forced to call another state of emergency in late May, and sent two additional battalions to the colony.