Guyana: Under Five Colors - Friday, Jun. 03, 1966
by Time Magazine
Posted on 2011-05-22
Near the speaker's stand in Georgetown's Queen Elizabeth Park, Negro Prime Minister Forbes Burnham threw both arms around his bitterest enemy, the Marxist ex-Prime Minister Cheddi Jagan. Moments later, the lights dimmed, a band struck up God Save the Queen, and in solemn midnight darkness the Union Jack, which had flown over British Guiana for 152 years, slid slowly down the pole—to be replaced by a new five-color (green, red, yellow, black, white) flag. Thus—with the Duke and Duchess of Kent looking on as Britain's official representatives—did the tiny, oven-hot colony mark its independence last week and start life anew as the nation of Guyana (pronounced guy-an-uh, meaning "land of waters" in an Amerindian dialect) and as the 23rd member of the British Commonwealth.
As it embarks on nationhood, Guyana has plenty going for it: rich bauxite deposits, extensive timberlands, and an excellent climate for rice and sugar cane. But it may have even more going against it. Fully two-thirds of the country's 83,000-sq.-mi. land area is being contested by its neighbors, Venezuela and Dutch Surinam. It has a chronic and crippling lack of skilled manpower and cash. It has critical unemployment, now more than 20%. It also has Cheddi Jagan. As a rabble-rousing Premier between 1961 and 1964, Jagan not only wrecked the colony's economy but also triggered a violent racial feud between his 320,000 East Indian followers and the 200,000 Negroes who support Burnham.
With 173 persons dead and thousands injured, Britain finally clamped on a state of emergency two years ago, and shrewdly called for new elections under a system of proportional representation. As expected, Jagan lost out to a coalition government headed by Burnham. Since then Burnham has tried to blur the country's color bars by setting up what he calls a "consultative democracy." He appointed a multiracial Cabinet, began conferring regularly with various racial groups, and did his best to form a color-blind government.
Last week Jagan was biding his time. Under Britain's terms of independence, Guyana will keep a contingent of British troops till October and remain a constitutional monarchy for three years, with Queen Elizabeth as its head of state. Then voters will elect a new government and decide by referendum whether they want to become a republic. With the East Indian population growing far faster than the Negro segment—and thus producing more voters every year—Jagan hopes by election time to have the added racial support he needs to beat Burnham. Burnham's only hope is to chip away at the old color blocs and broaden his following. He is confident he can, but only the next election will tell.
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