Barely 18 months since becoming technically independent, Guyana is well on its way to becoming a model example of neo-colonialism in South America. Amid much talk of neutralism and planned economy, the political régime has adopted policies of frank subservience to the United States and other imperialist nations, especially Great Britain and Canada. It has instituted anti-Communism as a semi-official ideology, and gone full speed ahead with plans to keep the government perpetually out of the hands of the People’s Progressive Party, the Marxist movement headed by Dr Cheddi Jagan. Guyana has unabashedly called on the United States, Britain and Canada not only to maintain but to expand their exploitation of the nation’s natural and human resources. While most neo-colonial régimes try to conceal the truth that their chief attraction is cheap labour, Guyana brazenly advertises the fact. The Economic Future of Guyana, a publication of the official Guyana Development Corporation, trumpets that the basic government wage is only four dollars a day, while in some sectors, such as commerce and the clothing industry, workers can be had for two dollars a day or less. ‘In pursuit of its policy to expand industrial exports, Guyana offers skilled and semi-skilled labour at low rates.’ Other concessions for would-be investors (who have responded at a gratifying rate, claims this self-styled ‘socialist’ government) include tax holidays, land give-aways, and no restriction on the repatriation of profits, capital or capital gains.
The adoption of these policies was the achievement of the government’s first Finance Minister, Peter D’Aguiar, himself one of the nation’s most important businessmen. The only way that Forbes Burnham, the Prime Minister, could put his coalition government together was to give D’Aguiar the key finance portfolio. D’Aguiar was influential in focusing the activities of the Guyana Credit Corporation almost entirely on welcome for foreign investors. Too much emphasis had been put on the housing sector, he told the National Assembly. D’Aguiar, who entered politics purely out of self-interest, since he prefers being an old-fashioned
Who are the foreign investors in Guyana? Among the most important are the Continental Oil Company of Guyana (a wholly owned subsidiary of Continental Oil Co.) and the Tenneco Oil Co., who have invested more than $1·5 million in off-shore oil exploration on the Essequibo Coast, some 270 miles out of Georgetown. Less than half of the work-force in the off-shore explorations is Guyanese. The Guyana Development Corporation announces proudly in its Quarterly Bulletin for January-March 1967 that Continental is the ‘eighth largest oil company in the United States’, with a net profit of $126,250,000 in 1966. ‘Tenneco’, the bulletin adds, ‘is an oil and gas transmission company with interests in manufacturing, sales, real estate and mining. Headquarters are in Houston, Texas, and Tenneco Guyana Ltd is a subsidiary of Tenneco International. They own pipelines from Texas to New York and have world-wide interests including Argentina, Nigeria and Iran.’ Guyana is also welcoming a $3 million investment in a wheat flour mill from the Seaboard Allied Milling Corporation. This friendly firm is described as a ‘large United States flour milling company with flour mills in the United States of America, as well as in Sierra Leone, Ecuador, Peru and Chile’.
Meanwhile, Guyana’s workers are being asked to tighten their belts. The government advocates austerity measures, and has already suggested implementing compulsory arbitration in the case of strike threats. The workers have responded with a series of wildcat strikes.
These strikes are particularly significant because they have been called not by political cadres trained by the ppp, but by government employees and industrial workers loyal to Burnham. It is also important that these workers are defying their leadership in the Trade Union Council. These leaders, who have steadfastly supported the government, were trained in the United States by the Rockefeller and Grace-supported American Free Labor Institute and by the international affairs unit of the afl-cio, which was directly linked to the cia. Furthermore, most of the workers in the wildcat strikes are Africans, a group which the ppp has tried unsuccessfully to regain in recent years. The strikers feel responsible for the electoral success of the major government party, the People’s National Congress, and its leader, Burnham. Since the government has not fulfilled the expectations of these workers, they are now in a mood of serious unrest. The new situation is such that Cheddi Jagan has recently commented (optimistically): ‘There is no more racial conflict in Guyana. There are strikes of workers in Guyana.’
Jagan and the ppp continue to think in terms of an electoral victory, despite their participation in the pro-guerrilla Tricontinental Conference and the Latin American Solidarity Organization (olas). The ppp is Guyana’s largest party numerically, reflecting the strength of the East Indian population. This community is growing at a more rapid rate
The ppp has hitherto miraculously avoided a split on ideological grounds, on the lines of the Sino-Soviet dispute. The ppp ‘Freedom House’ bookshop on Robb Street in Georgetown provides an excellent selection of English-language publications from Moscow, Peking, Havana, London, New York and Hanoi, as well as local books and pamphlets. This open-mindedness certainly is a healthy sign. However, it is only a matter of time before questions of strategy must lead Jagan and his companions to re-examine their current position.