Britain dispatches troops to Guiana to oust the newly elected government
[ 6 October 1953 }
On 6 October 1953, the Colonial Office announced that it was dispatching British troops to Guiana. 600 men of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers were already approaching Georgetown, the capital of the colony, on board the British cruiser Superb, while a further battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders would leave before the end of the week on the aircraft carrier Implacable.1 The Colonial Secretary, Oliver Lyttelton, explained in parliament that Guiana’s new government had created conditions ‘inimical to investment either domestic or overseas,’ which threatened ‘the order of the colony’ and ‘its present economic stability.’2
The intervention followed the victory in the country’s first general election, under universal suffrage on 27 April, of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), committed to a progressive programme of income redistribution and land reform. In an internal government memo, unseen by the public, Lyttelton had described it as ‘no more extreme’ than the economic policies advanced by the Labour Party, while MI5, which had closely monitored key officials, informed the government that the PPP was ‘not receiving any financial support from any communist organisation outside the country.’3
Despite this knowledge, the Colonial Office sought to win public support for the operation by issuing a press release declaring that ‘the intrigues of communists and their associates, some in ministerial posts, threatened the welfare and good administration of the colony.’4 Government propaganda succeeded in provoking unfounded fears of a communist coup, with even the left liberal Daily Herald publishing its report of the situation under the front page headline, ‘”Red Plot” Feared in Guiana,’ while the left of centre Daily Mirror, under the headline ‘Plot to Make Colony a Red State,’ described how ‘British warships with troops aboard are racing to British Guiana to stamp out a communist plot to turn this British Colony into a Red republic.’5
Prior to the elections, two transnational companies had held a controlling interest over Guiana’s two major exports, sugar and bauxite. Booker Brothers owned most of the sugar plantations, while the Demerara Bauxite Company controlled ninety per cent of bauxite production. While these two companies reaped huge profits, ordinary Guianans existed, according to a report in the Manchester Guardian, in ‘squalor and poverty.’6 However, what concerned the British government was the PPP’s support for workers striking for better wages and working conditions. A red line had been crossed, or as the Conservative MP Nigel Nicolson put it, the PPP had ‘overstepped the limits of what we regard as decent government.’7
- ‘Warships off Guiana – and Reds Protest,’ The Daily Mirror, 8 October 1953, p. 16 and ‘Korean Veterans Being Rushed to Guiana,’ The Yorkshire Evening Post, 7 October 1953, p. 1 and ‘More Troops for Guiana,’ The Portsmouth Evening News, 7 October 1953, p. 1.
- Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World, Vintage, London, 2003, p. 351.
- Ibid., p. 349 and ‘MI5 files reveal details of 1953 coup that overthrew British Guiana’s leaders,’ The Guardian, 26 August 2011 accessed online at url https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/aug/26/mi5-files-coup-british-guiana
- ‘”Red Plot” Feared in Guiana,’ The Daily Herald, 7 October 1953, p. 1.
- Ibid and ‘Plot to Make Colony a Red State,’ The Daily Mirror, 7 October 1953, p. 1
- The Manchester Guardian cited in Mark Curtis, op. cit., p. 348.
- Nigel Nicolson MP cited in Mark Curtis, op. cit., p. 350.
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