THE JAGAN-KENNEDY MEETING
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As part of the Government's attempt to speed up the country's economic development, Dr. Jagan visited Canada and the United States in October 1961. He held discussions with officials of the governments of both countries and impressed on them the importance of their economic support for Guyana's development programme.
In Washington, some American political leaders were already describing Dr. Jagan as a communist, and they were worried that even though he was the most popular Guyanese leader he would not follow the democratic path. As such, the US administration had already implemented plans to undermine the PPP Government, even though the British Government had insisted that Dr. Jagan was a more responsible leader than Forbes Burnham. The British had communicated their feelings to the Americans at the highest level, explaining that both governments should give Dr. Jagan economic support to prevent him from making approaches for support from the communist bloc.
Dr. Jagan arrived in Washington on late October 1961. He appeared on the popular "Meet the Press" television programme, and because he made no critical remarks of the Soviet Union, the Kennedy administration immediately felt less enthusiastic towards providing any economic assistance to him. President Kennedy, who watched part of the "Meet the Press" show, told his advisers that he would make no commitment until he met with Dr. Jagan.
That meeting between President Kennedy and Dr. Jagan took place at the White House on the 25 October. At this meeting, Kennedy was accompanied by his special assistant Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and George Ball, the Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs at the State Department. Dr. Jagan outlined the economic issues affecting Guyana and explained that as a socialist he believed that state planning would be most instrumental in overcoming the economic and developmental problems facing the country. Kennedy replied that the United States was not interested in forcing private enterprise in countries where it was not relevant. He added that the primary purpose of American aid was to support national independence and to encourage individual and political freedoms. For the United States, he said, it was important for a country to maintain its national independence. "So long as you do that, we don't care whether you are socialist, capitalist, pragmatist or whatever," Kennedy declared. "We regard ourselves as pragmatists."
The two leaders then discussed the issue of nationalisation. Kennedy said that the US had no problem with this but would expect compensation to be given. A lively exchange on Dr. Jagan's political ideas followed, and the Guyanese premier spoke of his commitment to parliamentary democracy. Kennedy said that the United States would be supportive of genuine non-alignment, but would be opposed to a total commitment by Guyana to the communist bloc. He then questioned Dr. Jagan about his views regarding relations with that group. The Guyanese leader retorted by asking him if the US would view a trade agreement between Guyana and the USSR as an unfriendly act. Kennedy responded by saying that it would be a matter of concern if such an agreement compromised the economic independence of the (weaker) country.
In terms of aid to Guyana, Kennedy did not raise any discussion as to specific amounts, leaving that matter to be dealt with by Schlesinger, Ball and other officials at follow-up meetings.
In preliminary meetings with US officials, before meeting with the President, Dr. Jagan had requested US$40 million in aid. This amount, the Americans felt, was out of proportion for such a small country as Guyana, and especially since Latin American countries with larger populations and more politically friendly to the US were also competing for American economic assistance. The Americans, after the discussions with the President, decided finally not to give any specific commitment to Dr. Jagan and told him that they would have to examine the relative merits of each project.
Dr. Jagan was clearly disappointed over this development and requested another meeting with Kennedy. However, Kennedy did not agree to this, but he instructed Schlesinger to meet with Dr. Jagan, especially since the British Government was concerned that the Guyanese Premier should not return home disappointed. Kennedy suggested to Schlesinger that a satisfactory statement could be drawn up which did not commit the United States to any immediate dispensation of funds. Kennedy himself was convinced that Dr. Jagan would cease being a parliamentary democrat. He told Schlesinger, "I have a feeling that in a couple of years he will find ways to suspend his constitutional provisions and will cut his opposition off at the knees. . . . With all political jockeying and all the racial tensions, it's going to be almost impossible for Jagan to concentrate the energies of his country on development through a parliamentary system."
On the 26 October at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in Washington, Schlesinger met with Dr. Jagan who expressed disappointment that the United States was not prepared to announce an immediate commitment to Guyana's development program. But he was satisfied that the US side was willing to work out a joint statement on the meetings. This document, finalised on the following day, stated that the United States "looked forward to closer association between a free and democratic British Guiana and the nations and organisations of the Hemisphere." It committed Dr. Jagan "to uphold the political freedoms and defend the parliamentary democracy which is his country's political heritage" and indicated that the United States would send a mission to Guyana to examine what forms of economic assistance could be provided for the development programme.