With the 50th Anniversary of our Independence from Britain scheduled to be commemorated this coming Thursday, in addition to announcements of all the gaiety and merriment in store for us, we have been bombarded with discussions and analyses of persons and institutions responsible for securing our independence in 1966.
It was also a matter of timing. In the same year, 1939 (when WWII was declared), a Royal Commission investigating labour unrest in the Caribbean had recommended a broadening of the franchise and internal self government for territories. The trade unions were the protagonists in this effort to mobilise working people’s against the sugar and commercial interests that were coterminous with the colonial state.
After the war, an exhausted Britain conceded that “Brittanica rule the waves” was not sustainable and decided it should make a virtue out of the necessity of completely giving up her colonies. Its primary focus was now to place the individual, newly freed countries into the hands of individuals with whom they could be assured their interests would be protected. These hands were those of the politicians who generally emerged from the trade union movement that led the previous struggle.
The colonial interests were mainly economic and strategic. With India setting the stage in 1947 and Ghana in 1957, the independence for the Caribbean was to be granted to the 10-member West Indian Federation formed in 1958. But with Jamaica pulling out in 1962 quickly followed by Trinidad, they received independence the same year. Independence for the then British Guiana was just a matter of time.
The challenge to the British for that eventuality was the pressure the US was bringing to bear on them to not hand over the colony to the PPP under the leadership of Dr Cheddi Jagan. In 1961, President John F Kennedy had concluded Jagan was a “communist”. If it were not for the heating up of the “Cold War” in the wake of Cuba – 90 miles away from the US – declaring it was aligning itself with the USSR in 1961 – Independence for Guyana would most likely would have arrived in 1962 under the PPP. Even the PNC under Forbes Burnham had agreed he would support that outcome if the PPP won the 1961 elections, which it did.
The US however declared it would not permit “another Cuba in this hemisphere” and the fate of the PPP, as far as leading Guyana to independence, was duly sealed. The PNC and a new party, the United Force (UF), benefitted from CIA-fomented riots that almost careened into a full blown civil war between the Indian supporters of the PPP and the African supporters of the PNC. The CIA originally funnelled its efforts through the labour movement, which had abandoned its radical stance of the 1930’s.
The PNC coalesced with the UF after the General Elections of 1964, which was held under Proportional Representation (PR), specifically introduced to remove the PPP from Office. Under the prior “first past the post system”, the PPP would have repeated its previous three victories. Guyana’s road to independence was therefore a long and tortured road. To that extent, the US and UK were literally the major architects of the Independence of Guyana in 1966.