In a cooperative effort,CHRISTIANITY TODAY, The Sunday School Times, and Eternity sent Alan M. Fletcher, managing editor of the Times, on a fact-finding tour of British Guiana, which many believe offers the Communists a toe-hold on the continent of South America. Fletcher was chosen for the task because of the knowledge he gained of the country in previous visits. Here is his report:
My visit last month to the lush jungle land of British Guiana convinced me anew that it deserves the attention of Christians everywhere. This Idaho-sized colony on the northeast coast of South America abounds in natural beauty, including waterfalls four times taller than Niagara, but its current ideological inclinations are of far greater import. In elections held on August 21, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) gained a substantial majority of legislative seats under a strong new constitution that guarantees absolute control of British Guiana’s internal affairs. The PPP and its premier, 43-year-old Dr. Cheddi Bharatt Jagan, an American-educated dentist, have been widely accused of Communist orientation. The religious implication is that British Guiana could become the first nominally Protestant country to go into the Communist orbit.
The refined-appearing Jagan was scheduled to visit the United States this month in a hid for aid. He is a mahogany-skinned East Indian, a native of British Guiana. (Nearly 50 per cent of the population are East Indians, who were brought in when the British abolished slavery in 1834; another 35 per cent are Negroes.) He is married to the former Janet Rosenberg, a known Communist whom he met in Chicago. His early education in Anglican and Church of Scotland schools apparently had little spiritual effect on him for he took his oath of office on a Hindu holy book.
British Guiana’s first attempt at self-government ended in December, 1953, when the Royal Welsh Fusiliers marched in to enforce Britain’s suspension of the infant constitution after a drift to communism had become all too evident.
Jagan’s PPP was the ruling party at that time. It is the ruling party today, under the new constitution, with complete independence perhaps only a year away.
British Guiana is in the center of an area originally called Guiana, discovered by Columbus and explored by Sir Walter Raleigh. Here was sought El Dorado, the city of gold, now thought to be a fabrication of the Spanish aimed at keeping European powers out of richer territories. The portion of Guiana now known as British Guiana changed hands between the Dutch and the English several times in its early history.
Since 1803 it has been the property of Great Britain.
Four-fifths of British Guiana is forest. About 95 per cent of the population lives in a 10-mile-wide strip of coast line. Most of the interior is inaccessible. Georgetown, the principal city and capital, has a population of 125,000. The colony’s welfare is linked with two agricultural crops: sugar and rice. Chief mineral exports are bauxite and manganese.
In addition to the PPP, there are two other political parties in English-speaking British Guiana, the People’s National Congress (PNC) and the United Force. All are divided very closely along racial lines, the PPP being the party of the East Indians, the PNC drawing its support from Negroes, with minority nationality groups such as American Indians, Europeans, and Chinese backing the United Force. The PPP and the PNC are both socialist, with similar platforms. The United Force is democratic, supporting the free enterprise system.
Members of both the PPP and PNC at times sound suspiciously communistic, but the people of British Guiana are neither Communist or socialist. The working people know little of any ideology, despite a literacy rate which is rather high for an underdeveloped country (one source says 70 per cent).
When a middle-class housewife asked her East Indian maid if she planned to vote for Jagan’s party, the maid replied, “Yes, mistress.”
“But don’t you know that Mrs. Jagan is a Communist?”
“Oh, no, mistress,” said the maid. “She are no common woman.”
The close racial nature of the PPP and the PNC has created an ugly tension between the East Indian and Negro population. A recently-organized “African Society for Racial Equality,” led by two school teachers, sees the future for Negroes one of subjection to the more business-minded East Indians. Rallies under the motto “Equality or Partition” are enjoying enthusiastic support.
The PPP has been the majority party continuously since 1957. Its manifesto calls the plantation system under which sugar is produced “anachronistic and … it should be the subject of reform.”
The PPP plans to allow “importation from any source so that the country can benefit from purchasing in the cheapest market.” “Control of prices is essential.”
I heard Jagan say, “So far as I am concerned, so long as any individual is willing to come and work with us, and live with us, we will welcome him with open arms.”
The government plans to establish industries, apparently in some cases in competition with private enterprise. Jagan’s party has already established its own newspaper, with printing plant, and has announced plans to establish its own radio station.
In international affairs, the PPP says it “will pursue a neutralist policy of friendship with all countries and will not permit our country to be used as a military base by any nation.”
British Guiana has always been free picking for all kinds of religious groups. The net effect has been to make the majority of the citizenry fall somewhere within the Protestant spectrum. The Saturday church directories of Georgetown’s newspapers list several Anglican churches, three Presbyterian, several Congregational, and many Methodist. There are also churches and chapels which are Canadian Presbyterian, Lutheran, Moravian, Salvation Army, Assemblies of God, Pentecostal, Pilgrim Holiness, Church of God, Christian Catholic, Christadelphian, Christian Science, Bahai, Seventh-day Adventist, Plymouth Brethren, plus the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Unevangelized Fields Mission has several churches and does extensive work among primitive tribes in the interior. The Christian Literature Crusade sponsors an attractive book store in Georgetown. Gideons also are represented.
In discussions with many Protestant leaders I learned that many churches are nominally orthodox, but I saw little evidence of zeal. Churches are well attended, but the motive seems to be largely status rather than spiritual strength.
Sober estimates indicated that within 10 to 15 years the “Christian” population will become the minority, for three reasons: The sluggish churches are scarcely holding their own, the predominantly pagan East Indian population has a growth rate far greater than the rest of the population, and the rise in racial feeling has caused increased interest in Hinduism and Islam.
Education of the colony’s children has always been the domain of the churches, which operate some 300 schools, but clergy leaders are worried. Through the years the government has subsidized the schools, paid teacher salaries, and often picked up the tab for construction of educational buildings. Shortly before the August elections, the government seized 51 church schools that had been bought and built with government funds. Church leaders have been protesting vigorously, but to no avail.
Education, says the PPP manifesto, is “the greatest liberating force in the struggle against ignorance, reaction, bigotry, superstition, and economic exploitation.… The system of dual control of schools whereby denominational bodies control the appointment and promotion of teachers on a denominational basis, while the government pays the salaries of the teachers and makes large grants to these schools will be eventually abolished.”
One thing is sure: Guiana needs revival. A Billy Graham crusade could kindle the flame. Graham is already well known in British Guiana through his radio broadcast, and nearly all the ministers with whom I spoke are eager to have him pay a visit.
Christian leaders in British Guiana urge that no additional religious groups from the United States establish permanent work. Some observers feel that missionary personnel from India would be the most welcome of any foreigners and would command the greatest audience for the Gospel.
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