21. British Guiana (1928-1966)

 

Pre-Crisis Phase (March 28, 1928-October 8, 1953):  The British Parliament adopted the British Guiana Act on March 28, 1928, providing for a 30-member Legislative Council and a 12-member Executive Council.  On July 18, 1928, the British monarch formally introduced a new constitution for the Crown Colony of British Guiana.  Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg was appointed as Governor of British Guiana on November 7, 1928.  Legislative elections were held in 1930.  Sir Edward Brandis Denham was appointed as Governor of British Guiana on June 9, 1930.  Legislative elections were held in 1935.  Sir Geoffry Alexander Stafford Northcote was appointed as Governor of British Guiana on March 26, 1935.  The Man Power Citizen’s Association (MPCA), representing the political interests of East Indian sugar cane workers and African bauxite workers, was established under the leadership of Ayube Mohamed Edun in 1937.

Sir Wilfrid Edward Francis Jackson was appointed as Governor of British Guiana on November 19, 1937.  Four individuals were killed in clashes between government police and striking workers in Leonora on February 16, 1939.  Sir Gordon James Lethem was appointed as Governor of British Guiana on November 7, 1941.  The British Guiana Labour Party (BGLP) was established under the leadership of Dr. Jung Bahadur Singh in June 1946.  Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Janet Jagan established the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) on November 6, 1946.  Sir Charles Campbell Woolley was appointed as Governor of British Guiana on April 12, 1947.  Legislative elections were held on November 24, 1947, and the British Guiana Labour Party (BGLP) led by Dr. Jung Bahadur Singh won five out of 14 elected seats in the Legislative Council.  The Man Power Citizen’s Association (MPCA) won one seat in the Legislative Council.  Independents, including Dr. Cheddi Jagan, won the remaining eight elected seats in the Legislative Council.  Five sugar cane workers were killed during clashes with government police at the Enmore plantation on June 16, 1948.  The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was established under the leadership of Dr. Cheddi Jagan on January 1, 1950.  On October 8, 1950, the British government established a three-member commission headed by Sir E. J. Waddington to “review the franchise, the composition of the legislature and of the Executive Council….and to make recommendations.”  The Waddington Commission arrived in British Guiana on December 15, 1950.  On June 29, 1951, the Waddington Commission issued a report recommending a 27-member House of Assembly with 24 members elected to four-year terms and a nine-member State Council with members appointed by the Governor.  On April 7, 1953, the British government issued a constitution for British Guiana, which incorporated most of the recommendations of the Waddington Commission.  Sir Alfred William Lungley Savage was appointed as Governor of British Guiana on April 14, 1953.  Legislative elections were held on April 27 1953, and the PPP won 18 out of 24 seats in the House of Assembly.  The House of Assembly convened on May 18, 1953, and Dr. Cheddi Jagan of the PPP was sworn in as Chief Minister on May 30, 1953.  The Guiana Industrial Workers Union (GIWU) went on strike beginning on August 30, 1953.  On October 8, 1953, the House of Assembly adopted the Labour Relations Act which required employers to recognize labor unions enjoying the support of more than 65 percent of the employees in the industry.

Crisis Phase (October 9, 1953-April 25, 1956):  Governor Savage suspended the constitution, removed Chief Minister Cheddi Jagan from office, and declared a state-of-emergency on October 9, 1953.  British government troops were sent from Jamaica to maintain order.  The British government appointed a three-member Constitutional Commission headed by Sir James Robertson on December 2, 1953, and appointed an interim government on December 27, 1953.  Dr. Cheddi Jagan was arrested by government police in the village of Mahaicony on April 3, 1954, and he was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour on April 4, 1954.  Dr. Cheddi Jagan was released from prison on September 12, 1954.  The Constitutional Commission issued a report on November 2, 1954, which recommended that British Guinea not be granted full internal self-government as demanded by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).  Forbes Burnham was expelled from the PPP on February 15, 1955.  Sir Patrick Muir Renison was appointed as Governor of British Guiana on October 25, 1955.  On April 25, 1956, the British government introduced a new constitution for British Guiana, which provided for a Legislative Council and an Executive Council.

Post-Crisis Phase (April 26, 1956-February 14, 1962):  Legislative elections were held on August 12, 1957, and the Dr. Cheddi Jagan’s faciton of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) won 9 out of 14 elected seats in the Legislative Council. The Forbes Burnham’s faciton of the PPP won three seats in the Legislative Council.  Forbes Burnham established the People’s National Congress (PNC) on October 5, 1957.  Sir Ralph Francis Alnwick Grey was appointed as Governor of British Guiana on December 22, 1958.  British and Guyanese representatives held negotiations in London under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State for the Colonies Iain Macleod on March 7-31, 1960, and the British government agreed to grant British Guiana full internal self-government under a new constitution.  The United Force (UF) was established by Peter D’Aguiar on October 5, 1960.  Governor Grey dissolved the Legislative Council on June 14, 1961.  The new constitution went into effect on July 17, 1961.  Legislative elections were held on August 21, 1961, and the PPP won 20 out of 35 seats (42.6 percent of the vote) in the House of Assembly.  The PNC won 11 seats (41 percent of the vote) in the House of Assembly, and the UF won four seats in the House of Assembly.  Dr. Cheddi Jagan of the PPP formed a government as prime minister on September 5, 1961.

Crisis Phase (February 15, 1962-May 26, 1966): Some 20,000 individuals demonstrated against the government of Prime Minister Jagan on February 15, 1962, and ethnic riots broke out in Georgetown beginning on February 16, 1962. Prime Minister Jagan declared a state-of-emergency, and requested the deployment of British government troops on February 16, 1962. Some 2,000 British government troops were deployed in the colony, and the riots were suppressed on February 19, 1962.  Five individuals, including one government policeman, were killed during the riots.  The British government appointed a three-member Commonwealth of Nations (CoN) commission of inquiry headed by Sir Henry Wynn-Parry from Britain on May 11, 1962.  The Commonwealth of Nations (CoN) commission of inquiry held hearings in Georgetown from May 21 to June 28, 1962, and issued a report in October 1962.  Prime Minister Jagan requested the United Nations (UN) to urge the British government to grant immediate independence to British Guiana (Guyana) on July 19, 1962. The government lifted the state-of-emergency on August 19, 1962.  British and Guyanese representatives held negotiations in London from October 23 to November 6, 1962.  On April 18, 1963, labor unions launched a general strike that lasted until July 8, 1963.  The Cuban government provided economic assistance (shipments of oil) in support of the government of Prime Minister Cheddi Jagan in May 1963.  At least eleven individuals were killed, including two individuals killed by government police, as a result of violence during the general strike.  A constitutional conference chaired by Secretary of State for the Colonies Duncan Sandys was held at Lancaster House in London on October 22-31, 1963, but the parties (PPP and PNC) did not agreed on a compromise plan for British Guiana’s electoral system or on a timetable for independence for British Guiana.  On October 31, 1964, Secretary of State for the Colonies Duncan Sandys announced that British Guiana’s electoral system would be proportional representation (PR), which was the system supported by the opposition PNC.  The UN General Assembly approved a resolution on December 12, 1963, which called on the British government to grant independence to Guyana.  President Nkrumah of Ghana appointed a special envoy, Professor W. E. Abraham, to mediate negotiations between the PPP and PNC on February 9-19, 1964.  The Guiana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) organized a sugar cane workers strike beginning on February 17, 1964.  Two individuals were killed in a bus bombing in Tain on March 4, 1964.  One individual, a female sugar cane worker, was killed by an African “strike breaker” in Leonora on March 6, 1964.  Sir Richard Edmonds Luyt was sworn in as the Governor of British Guiana on March 7, 1964.  Governor Edmonds Luyt declared a state-of-emergency on May 22, 1964, and some 450 British government troops were deployed in British Guiana on May 24-26, 1964. Prime Minister Eric Williams of Jamaica attempted to mediate negotiations between the parties in May 1964. Janet Jagan resigned as Minister of Home Affairs on June 1, 1964.  On June 13, 1964, Governor Edmonds Luyt ordered the detention of 32 members of the PPP, including Deputy Prime Minister Brindley Benn.  On June 15, 1964, Prime Minister Jagan requested that the UN secretary-general send a commission of inquiry to British Guiana, but the British government refused to agree to the proposal.  At least 38 African workers were killed in a bomb explosion on a passenger boat on the Demerara River on July 6, 1964.  Five Indian workers were killed in Mackenzie on July 6, 1964.  The headquarters of the PPP in Georgetown was bombed on July 17, 1964, resulting in the death of at least one individual.  The GAWU called for the sugar cane workers strike on July 25, 1964.  Some 189 individuals were killed and some 15,000 individuals were displaced as a result of political violence between March 4 and August 29, 1964.  Parliamentary elections were held on December 7, 1964, and the PPP won 24 out of 53 seats in the House of Assembly. The PNC won 22 seats in the House of Assembly, and the United Force (UF) won seven seats in the House of Assembly.  The Commonwealth of Nations (CoN) sent eleven observers from Canada (2), Ghana (2), India (2), Malta (2), Nigeria (1), and Trinidad & Tobago (2) headed by Tek Chand of India to monitor the parliamentary elections beginning on November 30, 1964.  Forbes Burnham of the PNC formed a coalition government as prime minister on December 23, 1964. The Commonwealth of Nations (CoN) election observation mission issued a report on February 10, 1965.  The British and U.S. governments provided economic assistance (development grants) to the government of Prime Minister Burnham beginning in June 1965.  The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) sent a three-member commission of inquiry (Australia, Austria, Ireland) headed by Seamus Henchy of Ireland to investigate reports of racial discrimination in British Guiana on August 4-20, 1965. The ICJ commission of inquiry issued a report on October 20, 1965.  The British government hosted a conference in London regarding independence for British Guiana on November 2-7, 1965, and the British government agreed to grant independence to British Guiana in May 1966.  British Guiana (Guyana) formally achieved its independence from Britain on May 26, 1966.  More than 200 individuals were killed during the crisis.

[Sources: Beigbeder, 1994, 239; Bulletin of the International Commission of Jurists (BICJ), December 1965; Dupoy and Dupoy, 1977, 1343; Hispanic American Report (HAR), April 1960, April 1962, August 1962, September 1962, December 1962, August 1963, September 1963, October 1963; Jessup, 1998, 265-267; Keesing’s Record of World E

 

Selected Bibliography

Bradley, C. Paul. 1963. “Party Politics in British Guiana,” The Western Political Quarterly, vol. 16 (2), pp. 353-370.

Sires, Ronald V. 1954. “British Guiana: The Suspension of the Constitution,” The Western Political Quarterly, vol. 7 (4), pp. 554-569.

Tomasek, Robert D. 1959. “British Guiana: A Case Study of British Colonial Policy,” Political Science Quarterly, vol. 74 (3), pp. 393-411.

Wallace, Elisabeth. 1964. “British Guiana: Causes of the Present Discontents,” International Journal, vol. 19 (4), pp. 513-544.