U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: GUYANA
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Co-operative Republic of Guyana
Area: 214,970 sq. km. (82,980 sq. mi.); about the size of Idaho.
Cities: Capital--Georgetown (pop. 248,500). Other cities--Linden
(27,200) and New Amsterdam (17,700).
Terrain: Coastal plain, inland highlands, rain forest, savanna.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Guyanese (sing. and pl.).
Ethnic groups: East Indian origin 51%, African origin 30%, mixed 14%,
Religions: Christian 50%, Hindu 33%, Muslim 9%, other 8%.
Languages: English, Guyanese Creole, Indian dialects.
Education: Years compulsory--ages 5-14. Attendance--70%. Literacy--
98% of adults who have attended school.
Health: Infant mortality rate--50/1,000. Life expectancy--men 61,
Work force (245,000): Industry and commerce--45%. Agriculture--33%.
Type: Republic within the Commonwealth.
Independence: May 26, 1966; Republic--February 23, 1970.
Branches: Executive--executive president (chief of state and head of
government), prime minister. Legislative--unicameral National Assembly
(53 directly, 12 indirectly elected members for five-year term 1992-97).
Judicial--Judicial Court of Appeal, High Court.
Subdivisions: 10 regions.
Political parties and seats in the National Assembly: People's
Progressive Party (PPP/CIVIC) 36; People's National Congress (PNC) 26;
Working People's Alliance (WPA) 2; The United Force (TUF) 1; Democratic
Labor Movement (DLM) 0.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP: $440 million.
Real annual growth rate: 8%.
Per capita GDP: $570
Agriculture: Products--sugar, rice.
Natural resources: Gold, bauxite, diamonds, timber, shrimp, fish.
Industry: Types--gold and bauxite mining, manufacturing, processing.
Trade (1993): Exports--$335 million: sugar, bauxite, rice, gold,
shrimp, rum, timber, molasses. Major markets--U.S. (33%), U.K., CARICOM
countries. Imports--$339 million. Major suppliers--U.S. (38%), U.K.,
Exchange rate: 141 Guyana dollars=U.S. $1.
Guyana's population is made up of five main ethnic groups--East Indian,
African, American Indian, Chinese, and Portuguese. Ninety percent of
the inhabitants live on the narrow coastal plain, where population
density is more than 115 persons per square kilometer (380 per sq. mi.).
The population density for Guyana as a whole is low--less than four
persons per square kilometer.
Although the government has provided free education from nursery school
to the university level since 1975, it has not allocated sufficient
funds to maintain the standards of what had been considered the best
educational system in the region. Many school buildings are in poor
condition; there is a shortage of text and exercise books; the number of
teachers has declined; and fees are being charged at the university
level for some courses of study for the first time. In 1985, the
Government of Guyana opened President's College, the country's first
boarding school, which, like the older Queen's College, selects students
on the basis of nationwide competitive examinations from the top 2% of
Guyana's schoolchildren. Guyana had an estimated literacy rate in 1993
of 98% for those over age 15 who have ever attended school.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the region was inhabited by both Carib
and Arawak tribes, who named it Guiana, which means "land of waters."
The Arawaks tended to live along the coast and numerous offshore
islands, and the Caribs in the interior. Its coast was sighted by
Columbus in 1498 but was ignored by Spanish settlers. The Dutch settled
in Guyana in the late 16th century, and were welcomed by the Indians as
trading partners. However, the colonial government exploited the
Indians as well as the African slaves brought in to replace the
decimated Indian populations. Interrupted briefly by the French and
British, Dutch control ended when the British became the de facto rulers
in 1796. In 1815, the colonies of Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice were
officially ceded to Great Britain at the Congress of Vienna and, in
1831, were consolidated as British Guiana.
Following the abolition of slavery in 1834, thousands of indentured
laborers were brought to Guyana to replace the slaves on the sugar cane
plantations, primarily from India but also from Portugal and China. The
British stopped the practice in 1917. Many of the Afro-Guyanese former
slaves moved to the towns and became the majority urban population,
whereas the Indo-Guyanese remained predominantly rural. A scheme in
1862 to bring black workers from the United States was unsuccessful.
The small Indian population lives in the country's interior.
The peoples drawn from these diverse origins have coexisted peacefully
for the most part. Slave revolts, such as the one in 1763 led by
Guyana's national hero, Cuffy, demonstrated the desire for basic rights
but also a willingness to compromise. Labor disputes in the period
following emancipation showed similar characteristics. The development
of organized labor was led by H. N. Critchlow, the father of local trade
unionism. Racial disturbances between East Indians and blacks erupted
in 1962-64. However, the basically cooperative nature of Guyanese
society contributed to a cooling of racial tensions.
Guyanese politics, nevertheless, occasionally has been turbulent. The
first modern political party in Guyana was the People's Progressive
Party (PPP), established on January 1, 1950, with Forbes Burnham, a
British-educated Afro-Guyanese, as chairman; Cheddi Jagan, a U.S.-
educated Indo-Guyanese, as second vice-chairman; and his American-born
wife, Mrs. Janet Jagan, as secretary general. The PPP won 18 out of 24
seats in the first popular elections permitted by the colonial
government in 1953, and Dr. Jagan became leader of the house and
minister of agriculture in the colonial government. Five months later,
on October 9, 1953, the British suspended the constitution and landed
troops because, they said, the Jagans and the PPP were planning to make
Guyana a communist state. These events led to a split in the PPP, in
which Burnham broke away and founded what eventually became the People's
National Congress (PNC). Elections were permitted again in 1957 and
1961, and Cheddi Jagan's PPP ticket won on both occasions, with 48% of
the vote in 1957 and 43% in 1961. Cheddi Jagan became the first Premier
of British Guiana, a position he held for seven years. At a
constitutional conference in London in 1963, the U.K. Government agreed
to grant independence to the colony, but only after another election in
which proportional representation would be introduced for the first
time. It was widely believed that this system would reduce the number
of seats won by the PPP and prevent it from obtaining a clear majority
in parliament. The December 1964 elections gave the PPP 46%, the PNC
41%, and the United Force (TUF), a conservative party, 12%. TUF threw
its votes in the legislature to Forbes Burnham, who became Prime
Guyana achieved independence in May 1966, and Guyana became a republic
on February 23, 1970, the anniversary of the Cuffy slave rebellion.
From December 1964 until his death in August 1985, Forbes Burnham ruled
Guyana in an increasingly autocratic manner, first as Prime Minister and
later, after the adoption of a new constitution in 1980, as Executive
President. The PNC increased its parliamentary majority to 66% in the
1973 elections and to more than 75% in the 1980 and 1985 elections.
However, these elections were viewed in Guyana and abroad as fraudulent.
Human rights and civil liberties were suppressed, and two major
political assassinations occurred: The Jesuit priest and journalist
Bernard Darke in July 1979 and the distinguished historian and Working
People's Alliance (WPA) party leader Walter Rodney in June 1980. Agents
of President Burnham are widely believed to have been responsible for
Following Burnham's death, Prime Minister Hugh Desmond Hoyte acceded to
the presidency and was formally elected to that position in the December
1985 national elections. President Hoyte gradually brought about an
almost complete reversal of Burnham's policies, moving from state
socialism and one-party control to a market economy and unrestricted
freedom of the press and assembly.
On October 5, 1992, a new National Assembly and Regional Councils were
elected in the first Guyanese elections since 1964 to be internationally
recognized as free and fair. The PPP/Civic won 54% of the votes; the
PNC, 42%; WPA, 2%; and TUF, 1%. The leader of the party with the
largest vote, Cheddi Jagan, automatically became President; he was sworn
in on October 9, 1992, the 39th anniversary of the day the British
landed troops and suspended the colonial legislature he led.
Former President Hoyte became minority leader in the National Assembly
in an orderly and peaceful transition. President Jagan appointed a
prime minister and a cabinet consisting of eight Indo-Guyanese, four
Afro-Guyanese, and two Guyanese of Portuguese, one of Chinese, and one
of American Indian descent. Two members of the cabinet and 13 members
of the National Assembly, from both major parties, are women.
Legislative power rests in a unicameral National Assembly, with 53
members chosen on the basis of proportional representation from national
lists named by the political parties. An additional 12 members are
elected by regional councils elected at the same time as the National
Assembly. The president may dissolve the assembly and call new
elections at any time, but no later than five years from its first
sitting; the term of office of the current assembly therefore must end
by December 17, 1997.
Executive authority is exercised by the president, who appoints and
supervises the prime minister and other ministers, and approval by the
assembly is not required. The president is not directly elected; each
party presenting a slate of candidates for the assembly must designate
in advance a leader who will become president if that party receives the
largest number of votes. Therefore, any dissolution of the assembly and
election of a new assembly can lead to a change in the assembly majority
and consequently a change in the presidency. Only the prime minister is
required to be a member of the assembly; in practice, most other
ministers are also members. Those who are not members serve as
nonelected members, which permits them to debate but not vote.
The highest judicial body is the Court of Appeal, headed by a chancellor
of the judiciary. The second level is the High Court, presided over by
a chief justice. The chancellor and the chief justice are appointed by
For administrative purposes, Guyana is divided into 10 regions, each
headed by a chairman who presides over a regional democratic council.
Local communities are administered by village or city councils.
Principal Government Officials
Executive President--Cheddi B. Jagan
Prime Minister--Samuel A. Hinds
Foreign Minister--Clement Rohee
Ambassador to the United States--Mohammed Ali Odeen Ishmael
Permanent Representative to the UN--Rudy Insanally
Guyana maintains an embassy in the United States at 2490 Tracy Place,
NW, Washington, DC. 20008 (tel. 202-276-6900), and the following
constituent missions: Consulate general and permanent mission to the
United Nations, 866 United Nations Plaza, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10017
(tel. 212-527-3232); honorary consulate general, 2402 Broadway, East
Chicago, Indiana 46312 (tel. 219-398-3720); honorary consulate, 655 N.W.
36th Street, Suite 207, Miami, Florida 33166; honorary consulate, 611 S.
William Place, Los Angeles, California 90005 (tel. 213-389-7565); and
honorary consulate, P.O. Box 4362, Waco, Texas 76705 (tel. 817-799-
Race and ideology have been the dominant political influences in Guyana,
and since the split of the multi-racial PPP in 1955, politics has been
based more on ethnicity than on ideology. From 1964 to 1992, the
People's National Congress (PNC) dominated Guyana's politics. The PNC
draws its support primarily from urban blacks and for many years
declared itself a socialist party whose purpose was to make Guyana a
nonaligned socialist state, in which the party, as in communist
countries, was above all other institutions.
Following independence, with the help of substantial foreign aid, social
benefits were provided to a broader section of the population,
specifically in health (e.g., establishment of rural clinics),
education, housing, road and bridge building, agriculture, and rural
development. However, during Forbes Burnham's last years, the
government's attempts to build a socialist society, massive emigration
of skilled workers, and other factors led to a significant decline in
the overall quality of life in Guyana.
After Burnham's death in 1985, President Hoyte took steps aimed at
stemming the economic decline, including appointing a number of
competent technocrats to his government, strengthening financial
controls over the parastatal corporations, and supporting the private
sector. In August 1987, at a PNC Congress, President Hoyte announced
that the PNC rejected orthodox communism and the one-party state. The
party has reassessed its left-wing, Marxist-inspired ideology.
As the 1992 elections approached, Hoyte, under increasing pressure from
inside and outside Guyana, also gradually opened the political system.
After a visit to Guyana by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1990,
Hoyte made changes in the electoral rules and appointed a new chairman
of the Elections Commission from a list submitted by the opposition
parties. The 1992 elections were witnessed by 100 international
observers, including a group headed by Mr. Carter and another from the
commonwealth of nations. Both groups issued reports saying the
elections had been free and fair, despite violent attacks on the
elections commission building on election day.
The overwhelming majority of Guyanese of East Indian extraction
traditionally have backed the People's Progressive Party (PPP), headed
by Cheddi Jagan, who served as Premier (1957-64) and then minority
leader in parliament until 1992. Rice farmers and sugar workers in the
rural areas form the bulk of the PPP's support, but Indo-Guyanese who
dominate the country's urban business community have also provided
Its 1992 campaign platform made no mention of socialism or Marxism, but
pledged itself to "build a mixed, tri-sectoral economy based on state,
private and co-operative forms of ownership." It also stated that under
PPP/Civic Government there would be no nationalization of locally or
foreign owned businesses.
Today, the PNC and the PPP/Civic, who together represent 96% of the
electorate, can both be considered pro-democracy and human rights,
friendly to the United States and other Western democracies, and
supportive of an expanded private sector.
The Working People's Alliance (WPA), a small, multi-ethnic, political
party won two seats in parliament.
With a per capita gross domestic product of only $570 in 1993, Guyana is
one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. The economy
made dramatic progress after President Hoyte's 1989 economic recovery
program (ERP). As a result of the ERP, Guyana's GDP increased 6% in
1991 after 15 years of decline. Growth in 1993 was 8%.
Developed in conjunction with the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund (IMF), the ERP significantly reduced the government's role
in the economy, encouraged foreign investment, enabled the government to
clear all its arrears on loan repayments to foreign governments and the
multilateral banks, and brought about the sale of 15 of the 41
government-owned (parastatal) businesses.
The telephone company and assets in the timber, rice, and fishing
industries were also privatized. International corporations were hired
to manage the huge state sugar company, GUYSUCO, and the largest state
bauxite mine. An American company was allowed to open a new bauxite
mine and two Canadian companies were permitted to develop the largest
gold mine in Latin America.
Most price controls were removed, the laws affecting mining and oil
exploration were improved, and an investment policy receptive to foreign
investment was announced. Tax reforms designed to promote exports and
agricultural production in the private sector were enacted.
The Jagan Government has pledged to the World Bank and the IMF that it
will continue the basic reforms of the ERP. In July 1993, a government
white paper announced that "the government has decided to adopt a
privatization strategy. . . for reducing its presence in the economy. .
. in order to create a more competitive and market-driven environment."
The paper listed 16 of the remaining 26 state enterprises as eligible
Agriculture and mining are Guyana's most important economic activities,
with sugar, bauxite, rice, and gold accounting for 75%-80% of export
earnings. Ocean shrimp accounted for another 15% in 1990, but declining
catches reduced shrimp exports in 1993. Other exports include timber,
diamonds, garments, and locally assembled stoves and refrigerators. The
value of these other exports is increasing.
GUYSUCO, controls all sugar manufacturing operations as well as the
marketing of raw sugar. With more than 23,000 direct employees, the
sugar industry is the largest employer in Guyana. Most of Guyana's
sugar goes to fill special sugar quotas granted by the European Union
and the United States. Exports increased from $63 million in 1990 to
$133 million in 1992.
In 1993, with the beginning of production from the Omai mine, gold
became Guyana's second-most valuable export. Omai is a joint venture of
two Canadian firms, Cambior (70%) and Golden Star (25%), and the Guyana
Government (5%), and is operated and managed by Cambior. Omai expects
to produce 280,000 ounces of gold a year for at least 10 years; at $375
an ounce, that will increase the value of Guyana's exports by some $100
million a year, or about one-third. In addition, officially recorded
gold sales by individual miners to the government's gold board, as
required by law, exceeded 100,000 ounces in 1992, a new record, but it
is widely assumed that most gold produced by these miners goes
The bauxite sector consists of two government-owned companies, LINMINE
and BERMINE, and Aroaima, a company owned in equal shares by the
government and by the U.S. firm Reynolds. Total bauxite production was
between 1.3 and 1.4 million metric tons (mt) a year from 1986 to 1991.
In 1992, however, production dropped by one-third, to 0.9 million mt,
despite increasing production by Aroaima. This was due to deteriorating
equipment and the lack of new capital investment at the government
mines. As a result, Guyana has lost market share to other producers.
Since the early 1980s, due to high production costs and low world
prices, the bauxite industry has been a net user of foreign exchange,
draining funds from other productive areas of the economy.
Rice-growing is dominated by private farmers and millers, with extensive
government involvement in allocation of foreign inputs, maintenance of
infrastructure, and marketing.
Since 1986, Guyana has received its entire wheat supply from the United
States on concessional terms under a PL 480 Food for Peace program. A
January 1993 agreement converted the program from a loan to a grant
basis. The Guyanese currency generated by the sale of the wheat is used
for purposes jointly agreed upon by the U.S. and Guyana Governments.
Guyana's external debt of $1.9 billion was more than four times its GDP.
Debt service payment obligations were equal to 40% of its earnings from
exports. About half is owed to the multilateral development banks and
20% to its neighbor Trinidad, which until 1986 was its principal
supplier of petroleum products. Almost all debt to the U.S. Government
has been forgiven. Net international reserves had improved to $246
million by the end of 1993. Guyana's extremely high debt burden to
foreign creditors has meant limited availability of foreign exchange and
reduced capacity to import necessary raw materials, spare parts, and
equipment, thereby further reducing production. The decline of
production has increased unemployment. Although no reliable statistics
exist, combined unemployment and underemployment are estimated at about
30%. Emigration, principally to the U.S. and Canada, is substantial.
The foreign exchange market was fully liberalized in 1991 and currency
is now freely traded without restriction. The rate is subject to change
on a daily basis, but has increased by only 15% since 1991.
After independence in 1966, Guyana sought an influential role in
international affairs, particularly among Third World and nonaligned
nations. It served twice on the UN Security Council (1975-76 and 1982-
83). Former Vice President, Deputy Prime Minister, and Attorney General
Mohamed Shahabuddeen was elected to a nine-year term on the
International Court of Justice in 1987. Guyana's ambassador to the
United Nations, Rudy Insanally, was elected as president of the UN
General Assembly in September 1993.
Guyana has diplomatic relations with a wide range of nations. Brazil,
Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, North Korea, Russia, Suriname, the United
Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela maintain diplomatic missions
in Georgetown. Several other nations, such as France, Germany, and
Japan, retain honorary consuls there. The European Union (EU), the
Inter-American Bank (IADB), the UN Development Program (UNDP), and the
World Health Organization (WHO) also have offices in Georgetown. In
March 1994, the Organization of American States (OAS), which Guyana
joined in 1991, opened an office.
The Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) is headquartered in
Georgetown. The country also is a member of the Caribbean Development
Bank (CDB). Guyana strongly supports the concept of regional
integration and is currently discussing increased ties to Trinidad and
Barbados. It played an important role in the founding of CARICOM, but
its status as the organization's poorest member limits its ability to
exert leadership in regional activities. Guyana has sought to keep
foreign policy in close alignment with the consensus of CARICOM members,
especially in voting in the UN, OAS, and other international
As a member of CARICOM, Guyana strongly backed efforts by the United
States to implement UN Security Council Resolution 940, designed to
facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities from power.
Guyana agreed to contribute personnel to the Multinational Force, which
restored the democratically elected Government of Haiti in October 1994.
Since its 1993 ratification of the 1988 Vienna convention on illicit
traffic in narcotic drugs, Guyana has been a member of all the major
international agreements for cooperation against narcotics trafficking,
and it cooperates closely with U.S. law enforcement agencies.
Two neighbors have long-standing territorial disputes with Guyana.
Since the 19th century, Venezuela has claimed all of Guyana west of the
Essequibo River--62% of Guyana's territory. At a meeting in Geneva in
1966, the two countries agreed to receive recommendations from a
representative of the UN Secretary General on ways to settle the dispute
peacefully. Diplomatic contacts between the two countries and the
Secretary General's representative continue. Neighboring Suriname also
claims the territory east of Guyana's New River, a largely uninhabited
area of some 15,000 square kilometers (6,000 sq. mi.) in southeast
Guyana. Guyana regards its legal title to all of its territory as
U.S. policy toward Guyana seeks to promote democracy, development, and
human rights. During the last years of his administration, President
Hoyte sought to improve relations with the United States as part of a
decision to move his country toward genuine political nonalignment.
Relations were also improved by Hoyte's efforts to respect human rights,
invite international observers for the 1992 elections, and reform
electoral laws. The United States also welcomed the Hoyte Government's
economic reform and stimulus efforts, which stimulated investment and
growth. The 1992 democratic elections and Guyana's reaffirmation of
sound economic policies and respect for human rights have placed U.S.-
Guyanese relations on an excellent footing.
Following the 1992 elections, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United
States increased their aid to Guyana. U.S. assistance had ceased in
1982 due to economic and political differences with the Burnham regime,
but in 1986 the United States began to supply humanitarian food aid to
the country, to a total value of nearly $50 million in 1986-93.
Altogether, since 1955, the United States has provided Guyana with more
than $171 million in assistance.
U.K., French, and U.S. military personnel conducted training exercises
with the Guyana Defence Force in Guyana in 1993, and such exercises were
expected to become a regular feature of the military cooperation between
these countries. U.S. military medical and engineering teams have also
conducted training exercises in Guyana, digging wells and providing
The U.S. Information Agency (USIA) maintains the John F. Kennedy Library
in George- town, one of the largest libraries in Guyana. USIA also
arranges U.S. cultural presentations in Guyana several times a year and
provides scholarships for Guyanese students and professionals for
advanced study in the United States.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--George F. Jones
Deputy Chief of Mission--J. Christian Kennedy
Political Officer--Edgar L. Embrey
Consular Officer--Rudolph F. Boone
Economic and Commercial Officers--Michael Heath/Chever X. Voltmer
Labor Officers--Willard Smith/Colleen A. Hoey
Public Affairs Officers (USIS), Acting--Willard Smith/Colleen A. Hoey
The U.S. embassy in Guyana is located at the corner of Duke and Young
Streets, Georgetown (tel. 592-2-54900/9; fax: 592-2-58497). Mail may be
sent to the Embassy c/o U.S. State Department, Washington, DC 20521-
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