The Heritage Foundation

Backgrounder #490 on Russia

February 25, 1986

February 25, 1986 | Backgrounder on Russia

Moscow Eyes Guyana


(Archived document, may contain errors)

490 February 25, 1986 MOSCOW EYES GUYANA IN TRODUCTION I The restoration of orur an1 democracy to Grenada in October 1983 should not lull the United States int2 overlooking growing Soviet and Cuban influence in another strategic Caribbean nation. The Communist I bloc's loss of Grenada has spurred M oscow and Havana to focus on Guyana. This English-speaking country on South America's northeastern shoulder is a strategic bridge betwee:i Latin America and the Caribbean.

Guyana's threat to the security of the U.S. and its Western Hemisphere neighbors may prove far grsater than Grenada's. Guyana is a mainland country whose borders adjoin mineral rich Venezuela and Brazil, allowing easy infiltration for subversives and drug traffickers. triangle" with Cuba and Nicaragua. There, pro-Soviet tactical airpower could be based in time of crisis.

Soviet Union with a base for operations against U.S. strategic missile submarines and for interdicting the Mid- and South Atlantic sea lines of communication.

Because of Guyana's potential threat to U.S. security, Washington must make it clear to Soviet boss Mikhail Gorbachev and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro that it will not tolerate another Soviet/Cuban base in this hemisphere repression a nd socialist economic policies of Guyana's People's National Congress (PNC) government by renewing U.S. economic aid. The struggle for true democracy in Guyana should be encouraged by strong U.S. support for the moderate political opposition A tough stanc e now on Guyana by Washington could preempt a new Grenada Guyana forms the new third point of a "strategic Guyana also could provide the I At the same time, the U.S. must not condone the GUYANA S CURRENT ECONOMIC PL-IGHT First sighted by Christopher Columb us in 1498, the territory comprising present-day Guyana alternated between Dutch, French, and British rule until 1831, when it became the colony of British Guiana until independence in 19

66. Guyana's 83,000 square miles border Brazil, Venezuela, and Surin ame. More than half of its population of nearly 800,000 is of East Indian descent with the remainder largely of African ancestry economy go into a tailspin diamonds, hardwood, bauxite, and agricultural possibilities, the PNC's socialist mismanagement has resulted in a negative growth rate averaging 10 percent since 19

82. Many domestic industries produce only intermittently or have ceased production altogether because of import restrictions and lack of foreign exchange. The decline in productive activity h as created unemployment averaging about 35 percent unemployment has come growing social discontent, which the government addresses by intimidation and other repressive measures.

The U.S. has given Guyana more than $150 million in bilateral and multilatera l assistance in the past 30 years. Last June, however, the U.S. suspended aid to Guyana because the country was $9,million in arrears in repaying development assistance loans to the U.S. Only one month earlier, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had de c lared Guyana ineligible for further loans, while the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) confirmed that it would continue its 1983 freeze on loans to Guyana. The World Bank Countrv Report called Guyana not worthy of credit, and said that its economic malaise derived from a lack of investment and a large and inefficient public sector Under PNC rule since independence, Guyana has witnessed its Although the country is rich in gold With GUYANA'S STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE Guyana's military capabilities have been upgrad ed by the Soviet bloc in recent years.

Defense Force currently number 7,000 personnel. Some 400 Cuban military advisors provide training andztechnical support to all branches of the Guyanese armed forces. On February 12, 1983, two The ground, air, and seal units of the Guyana 1. The Militarv Balance 1985-1986 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1985 p. 150 2. SDotliPht Georgetown, November 15, 1981 2ships, flying no national flags, unloaded artillery pieces and small arms at the Linden A l umina Plant wharf on Guyana's Demarara River. The unloading was at night by soldiers who cordoned off both sides of the river--a tactic similar to that employed o unload Soviet arms shipments to Grenada. One of the vessels, $he Como VI, was of Cuban regis try. The arms came from North Koree,.

The military hardware sent to Guyana has become increasingly sophisticated. In addition to Soviet artillery pieces, mortars, and SAM-7 anti-aircraft pissiles, Guyana has received several armed North Korean patrol boats . In October 1985, three Soviet Mi-8 IlHipIl helicopters were unloaded in the capital city of Georgetown for use by the Guyana Defense Force, making Guyana the fourth country in the Western Hemisphere tp receive such aircraft, along with Cuba Nicaragua, a n d Peru. Last year, too, Bucharest signed an agreement with Guyana to send Romanian air force personnel to Guyana to train Ilcivilian as well as Army pilots 116 Guyana is reportedly negotiating with Moscow for MiG aircraft and with Brazil for Bandeirante p atrol aircraft.

Operating a Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-154B leased from Romania and has purchased thFee Tu-154s from the Soviet Union and Romania in exchange for bauxite troop-carrying capability The state-owned Guyana Airways Corporation is currently Such ai rcraft provide Guyz.na with a significant Recent aerial reconnaissance photographs reveal new airfields under construction in the Essequibo region of Guyana. Eleven all-weather fields have been identified, the shortest of which measures 2,000 meters.

VOR and DME aircraft navigational equipment.

At several airfioldssare towers designed for This discovery raises the disturbing possibility that the strategic triangle" formerly formed by Cuba, Nicaragua, and Grenada could become a reality with Guyana substitu ting for Grenada. Soviet MiGs and Backfire bombers operating from airfields in Guyana could 3. The Mirror, Georgetown, February 27, 1983, p 1 4. Gregory R. Copley, ed 9 (Washington, D.C Copley and Associates, 1985), p. 274 5. CANA, October 19, 1985; FBIS Latin America, October 22, 1985, p. T1 6. CANA, July 20, 1985; FBIS Latin America, July 23, 1985, p. V1 7 A November 11, 1984, p. 1 8 Caracas: 1982 3destroy vital oil refineries and supply routes in the southern Caribbean or harass Atlantic.shipping.

A nea r-term scenario would see the use of Guyanals airfields as bases or refueling stops for Soviet anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and reconnaissance aircraft such as the Tu-142s.and Tu-95~ now operating from Cuba U.S. strategic ballistic missile submarines woul d be threatened by this deployment, as would vital sea lines of communication passing through the Mid- and South Atlantic Ocean.

Neighboring Venezuela, meanwhile, has already expresfed concern about Guyanese espionage operations inside its territory has cl ose relations with Libya, Nicaragua, Cuba, Bulgaria, and other known supporters of international revolutionary and terrorist movements terrorism in Central America, so could Guyana serve in South America Guyana Just as Nicaragua serves as a base for subve r sion and GUYANA'S MARXIST POLITICS Guyana has had a Marxist-oriented political system for over three decades. The pro-Moscow People's Popular Party (PPP), formed in 1946 by Cheddi Jagan (party leader) and Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham chairman won control of what was then British Guiaaals colonial legislature in the elections of 19

53. A 1954 report of an investigation by the British Constitutional Commission concluded that Cheddi Jagan and other PPP members "accepted unreservedly the classicall doctrines of Marx and Lenin, were enthusiastic supporters of the policies and practices o f modern communist movements, and were contemptuous of social democratic parties The report placed Burnham and other party leaders in a more moderate cat,egory classifying them as Itsocialists llrl In 1955 the PPP split. The smaller faction, led by Burnha m formed a new party called the People's National Congress (PNC With covert British and U.S. help, Burnham's PNC came to power in a coalition government with the more conservative United Front party following the 1964 elections. Believing that a communist r egime had been preempted, Great Britain granted Guyana independence in 1966 9. FBIS. Latin Americk May 19, 1983, p. 21-22 10. Kenneth M Glazier Guyana in Wilton S. Sworakowski, ed World Communism: A Handbook. 1918-1965 (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1973 p. 180. 1

1. Robert H. Manley, Guvana Emergent (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Schenkman Publishing Co 1979 p. 6 4As opposition leader, Jagan lost no time in fostering close relations with the Soviet Union. During the International Conference of Communis t and Workers Parties held in Moscow in June 1969, he formally aligned the PPP with the USSR. The Kremlin, in turn recognized the PPP as a bona fide communist party following year, the PPP was reorgani&ed on the pattern of the Soviet and East European com m unist parties The As tha PNCIs power grew through successive fraudulent elections, Burnham's Marxist leanings became more evident. In 1970, Guyana was proclaimed a I1cooperative republic" based on socialist principles. Over the next six years, most major f oreign economic holdings were nationalized, bringing more than 80 percent of Guyana's goods and services under government control. Burnham adopted a militant stance on Third World issues. This included funding SWAP0 Southwest Africa Peoples Organization) "freedom fighters" in southern Africa and providing milihary training and indoctrination to Southwest African youths in Guyana.

RELATIONS WITH THE COMMUNIST WORLD After 1970, the Burnham regime sought close relations with the Communist bloc. By 1979, Guyan a had diplomatic ties with the Sovj.et Union, Cuba, the People's Republic of China, and six other communist countries bloc's economic community association with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union despite these overtures and his visits to Moscow, Burn h am never seems to have been trusted by the Kremlin. He seemed to be viewed as an erratic opportunist who flirted with Beijing and the U.S Burnham even applied for membership in COMECON-the Soviet And the PNC tried to forge fopal Yet 12. Richard F. Staar, e d Hoover Institution Press 13. Ibid Yearbook on International Communist Affairs 1971 (Stanford 1971 pp. 446-447 14. Cedric Lynch Guyana Charged With Election Fraud by Neighbors The Times of the America$ January 22, 1986, p. 11 15. CANA, September 14, 1984 ; FBIS. Latin Americk September 17, 1984, p. V1 16. Cole Blasier, The Giant's Rival: The USS R and Latin America (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh press, 1983 p. 48 5- Cuban-Guyanese Ties With one brief hiatus, Guyana has maintained close ties with Cub a since diplomatic relations between the two were established in 1972.

Fidel Castro visited Georgetown the following year. After Burnham's first official visit to Havana in 1975, Guyana allowed Cuban aircraft transporting troops to Angola to refuel at Geor getown's Timehri airport; the Burnham government also gave strong diplomatic support at the Uniked Nations and elsewhere to Castro's interventions in Africa The PNC's relations with Cuba have been encouraged by the PPP. In 1976, Cheddi Jagan called upon t he Burnham government to invite suban soldiers to Guyana to guard against "aggression1' from Venezuela.

Following the Kremlin's policy line, the PPP has been critical of Guyana's relations with Beijing. Burnham became the first elected chief of state from the Commonwealth Caribbean to visit China when he went there in 19

75. He has received aid from Beijing throughout his administration. In 1981, the PNC's fourth party congress was attended by Zhu Liang, a high-ranking member of China's International Liaison Department. The meeting also was attended by a Soviet delegate.

By 1978, up to 200 Cuban technicians, advisors, and medical personnel were stationed in Guyana. In March, Cuban General Senen Casas Regueiro met with Brigadier Clarence Price, Chief ofzoSt aff of the Guyana Defense Force, to discuss military cooperation. This was followed by a visit'to Georgetown in March by Cuban Foreign Minister Isidoro Malmierca for a series of unpublished talks with Burnham and Guyanese Foreign Minister Rashleigh Jackso n. Intelligence agents based in the Cuban embassy in Georgetown maintained contact with a variety of Guyanese opposition groups.

Cuban diplomats were expelled for involvement in illegal a~tivities The Cuban agents had been recruiting Guyanans for guerrilla training in Cuba In August 1978, five 17. Ronald E. Jones Cuba and the English-speaking Caribbean," in Cole Blasier and Carmelo Mesa-Lago, eds Cuba in the World (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press 1979), p. 23 18. The Washineton Post March 13, 19 7 6 19. Staar, OD. cit, p. 115 20. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Cuban Chronolorrv 1978-80 (Washington, D.C National Foreign Assessment Center, 1981 p. 109 6- Cuba has attemphed to unite the PNC and PPP into a single party hut with no success. Nonetheles s, Cuba has trusted agents in every Guyanese political party, union, and key government ministry.

Pedro Silvio Gonzalez Perez, a senior official in the Americas Department of the Cuban intelligence service, operates under the diplomatic cover of minister c ounselor at the Cuban embassy in Georgetown. He has increased CubanJnfluence in the Guyana Defense Force and other government bodies.

After the eighth meeting of the Guyana-Cuba Joint Commission in March 1983, the Cuban delegation was assured that "Guyana will continue on its present socialist policies.112s The following month, the Guyana Teachers Association pledged "unqualified support for government efforts to develop a socialist society";-a task made easier by the growing number of Cuban teachers in G u yana 1984, Cuba and Guyana issued a joint communique stating agreement on all major foreign policy issues, including solidarity with Nicaragua the guerrilla forces in El Salgador, and the South West Africa People s Organization (SWAPO In November Relation s With Grenada Following the rise to power in Grenada of the Marxist People's Revolutionary Government (PRG), Guyana became one of Grenada's closest Caribbean allies.

Revolutionary Military Council to the impending arrival of U.S. and Caribbean forces in October 19

83. He had learned of the plans during a CARICOM (Caribbean Community) heads of government meeting in Trinidad Burnham was responsible for alerting Grenada's 21. Staar, OD. cit, p. 97 22. Jay Mallin Cuban Intelligence Elite Pushes Subversion in Americas," The Washinpton Times, August 25, 1983, p. 7A. Further information from Sridatt Lakhan and Mobarak Ali of the Conservative Liberal Party of Guyana 23. Guvana Chronicle, Georgetown, March 22, 1983, p. 3 24. Guvana Chronicle, Georgetown, April 7, 1 983, p. 1 i I I 1 i I i I I 25. Bohemia, Havana, No. 48, pp. 76-77 7-and wa,ss also probably responsible for alerting Cuba and the Soviet Union militant Marxhts Later, Guyana offered haven to several of Grenada's most The Sovio,t Presence Increasingly ost r acized by the English-speaking Caribbean after the Grenada rescue mission, Guyana has moved closer to the Soviet Union and its allies in the past three years. Cooperation with Nicaragua and Libya has grown, while various forms of military technical, and e ducational assistance are now provided by the gSSR East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Cuba, and North Korea the Soviet news agency Tass as well as the Iraa News Aaencv.

Also as with Grenada, Guyanese students are now being sent to the Soviet Union for "postgraduate training" while a number of "Soviet tutor&" are scheduled to begin teaching duties in Guyana this year As was its Marxist predecessor Grenada, Guyana is now ssrved by GUYANA'S RELZITIONS WITH ITS NEIGHBORS Guyana has had a serious territori al dispute with Venezuela since 19

66. Venezuela claims all of Guyana west of the Essequibo River--a vast, oil-rich region comprising 62 percent of Guyana's total land area . This unresolved claim has blocked Guyana's application for membership in the Organization of American States and has strained its relations with most other Latin American nations except Brazil. The Soviet Union and Cuba support Guyana's claim to the ter ritory as does Brazil, which has threatened to provide military assistance to Guyana should Venezuela occupy any Guyanese territory.

Guyana's relations with its English-speaking Caribbean neighbors have been strained by meddling in their internal affairs.

Dominica's national elections last year, Guyana, Libya, North Korea Prior to 26. Based on interviews with Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica, Ambassador Albert Xavier, and Grenada Advisory Council Chairman Nicholas Braithwaite 27. Geoffrey Wagner, "Guyana: The Basket Case Economy," The Grenadian Voice, November 30, 1985, p. 13 28. The New York Times July 6, 1984, p. A5 29. CANA, April 19, 1984 FBIS. Latin America, April 20, 1984, p. V1 30. CANA, January 15, 1986; FBIS. Latin America, January 17, 1 9 86, p. T1 aand Cuba were implicated in a plot to provide covert financial assistance to the Marxist Dgminican Labour Party (DLP). Dominica Prime Minister Eugenia Charles has been joined by the leaders of Grenada St. Lucia, and other Caribtean nations in c alling for the Secretariat of the 13-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to be removed from Guyana because Itits Rresence there was a handicap" to democratic Caribbean countries.

GUYANA'S FUTURE President Burnham died last August 6, whkle undergoing surge ry by a team of Cuban doctors for a throat ailment. His successors President Desmond Hoyte and Prime Minister Hamilton Green, continue Guyana's growing involvement with the Soviet bloc that he would "continue working faithfully to maintain the fundamental policies and programs of our late, great comrade leader," adding that he was tlpersonally a socialisttt and would Itwork to advance the socialist objectives of our party and government 113s Green has said The PNC's sixth party congress, held three.weeks a f ter Burnham's death, attracted considerable attention from Moscow. It was covered by Pravda and attended by an official Soviet Communist Party delegation stressed the need to ensuie IIGuyanals continued progress along the road of socialist restructuring.. . and noted the importance of strengthening party ties between the PNC, the CPSU, and the Communist Parties of Cuba and the other socialist countries.ln3' In February the Soviet-trained Chandisingh, formerly the chief Marxist ideologue of the opposition in P PP, was named deputy prime minister as well as deputy leader of the PNC PNC General Secretary Chandisinghls keynote speech Guyana's moves toward a Soviet-style economic system parallel Nicaragua's. Cuban advisors share office space with Guyanese bureaucra t s in the Ministries of Finance, Agriculture, Planning Manpower, and Cooperatives. Cubans also helped establish a Soviet-style hard currency shop in Georgetown which is Ilrun in a manner somewhat similar to foreign currency shops in a number of 31. CANA, J u ly 11, 1985; FBIS. Latin America, July 12, 1985, p. S1 32. Paris AFP, August 6, 1985; FBIS. Latin America, August 7, 1985, p. T1 33. CANA, August 12, 1985; FBIS. Latin America, August 13, 1985, p. T1 34. Ptavdk August 27, 1985, p. 4; FBIS. Soviet Union, A ugust 29, 1985, p. K1 9socialist countries I and which sells gclods obtained through an arrangement with a similar business in c!uba 11s5 Guyanese government during the December 9, 1985, general elections.

Once the PNC's continuing control of t?re Guyanese government was assured, Burnham's successors announced policies moving even closer to the Soviet bloc. Last December, Guyana's Foreign Minister Rashleigh Jackson announced that it was necessary for his country to expand and consolidate its relations with the Soviet Union. Jackson also announced Soviet plan8 to exploit Guyana's extensive bauxite, gold and diamond reserves. Given Guyana's willingness to open its doors to the Soviet bloc, there is a strong possibility that Moscow will choose to exploit what p romises to,be a major strategic foothold on the South American continent Through intimidation and fraud, the PNC again won control of the POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS The growing militarization of Guyana, coupled with the Hoyte regime's open advocacy of closer t ies with the Soviet bloc, indicates the potential for another major threat to U.S. security interests in the Caribbean region into another Grenada or Nicaragua, the U.S. should adopt the following measures To halt this process before Guyana develops o War n Moscow that the U.S. will not tolerate the establishment of another potential Soviet/Cuban base in the Western Hemisphere.

Ronald Reagan should place Guyana on the agenda for this year's summit with Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev to demonstrate to th e Kremlin that the Monroe Doctrine still forms the cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere o Withhold economic assistance for development projects and financial support until substantive political and economic reforms are made by the Guyana g o vernment 0 Support efforts by such Caribbean leaders as Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica to isolate Guyana from regional organizations such as CARICOM until Guyana moves away from the Soviet bloc and back toward the Western Hemisphere democracie s truly democratic political groups such as the Conservative Party o Support the legitimate political opposition in Guyana. Aid to 35. Guvana Chronicle, December 5, 1984, pp. 1-8 36. CANA, December 19, 1985; FBIS. Latin America, December 23, 1985, p. T1 10 -independent labor unions like the Democratic Labmr Movement, and nongovernment news sources such as The Catholic .Standard could maintain the fire of democracy among the Guyanese people o Encourage international human rights organizations to investigate and report on abuses in Guyana. Documented and reliable reports should be publicized by international organizations to inform the world of Guyana's true social and political situation.

CONCLUSION The lessons of Cuba, Grenada, and Nicaragua make it clear th at the U.S. must never tolerate another Soviet client state in the Western Hemisphere. Guyana already has larger, Cuban-trained armed forces, and more sophisticated Soviet military hardware than Grenada did at the time of the 1983 rescue mission. Steps mu st be taken now to prevent the Soviet Empire from acquiring one more colony.

The people of Guyana deserve the opportunity to build democracy as much as do their neighbors in South America. Given U.S. help to set it on the road to personal freedom and unfet tered economic development, Guyana, too, can join the growing family of democracies in the Western Hemisphere 1 Timothy Ashby, Ph.D.

Policy Analyst 11

About the Author