U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes: Guyana, April 1997 
Released by the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.

OFFICIAL NAME: Co-operative Republic of Guyana

PROFILE

GEOGRAPHY

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.
Climate: Tropical.

PEOPLE

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Guyanese (sing. and pl.)
Population: 735,000.
Ethnic groups: East Indian origin 51%, African origin 30%, mixed 14%, 
Indian 4%.
Religions: Christian 50%, Hindu 33%, Muslim 9%, other 8%.
Languages: English, Guyanese Creole, Indian dialects.
Education: Years compulsory--ages 5 1/2-14 1/2. Attendance--93%.
Literacy--98% of adults who have attended school.
Health: Infant mortality rate--35/1,000. Life expectancy-men 61, women 
68.
Work force (245,000): Industry and commerce--45%, agriculture--33%, 
services--22%.

GOVERNMENT

Type: Republic within the Commonwealth.
Independence: May 26, 1966; Republic--February 23, 1970.
Constitution: 1980.
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) 42; 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.

ECONOMY (1995)

GDP: $532 million.
Real annual growth rate: 5.1%.
Per capita GDP: $680.
Agriculture: Products--sugar, rice.
Natural resources: Gold, bauxite, diamonds, timber, shrimp, fish.
Industry: Types--gold and bauxite mining, manufacturing, processing.
Trade (1995): exports--$495.7 million: sugar, bauxite, rice, gold, 
shrimp, rum, timber, molasses. Major markets--U.S. (21%), U.K., CARICOM 
countries, Canada. Imports--$536.5 million. Major suppliers--U.S. (26%), 
U.K., Venezuela, CARICOM, Canada.
Exchange rate: 138 Guyana dollars = U.S. $1.

PEOPLE
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.

HISTORY

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 
Dutch settled in Guyana in the late 16th century, but their 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 Amerindian population lives in the country's interior.

The people 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. Politically inspired racial 
disturbances between East Indians and blacks erupted in 1962-64. 
However, the basically conservative and 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 minister.

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. 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 
both deaths.

Following Burnham's death, Prime Minister Hugh Desmond Hoyte acceded to 
the presidency and was formally elected in the December 1985 national 
elections. Hoyte gradually reversed 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. Cheddi Jagan was elected and sworn in as 
President on October 9, 1992.

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 
Amerindian descent. Two members of the cabinet and 12 members of the 
National Assembly, from both major parties, are women.

GOVERNMENT

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.

Executive authority is exercised by the president, who appoints and 
supervises the prime minister and other ministers. 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. 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 the 
president.

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--Samuel A. Hinds 
Prime Minister--Janet Jagan
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). 

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Race and ideology have been the dominant political influences in Guyana. 
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.

The overwhelming majority of Guyanese of East Indian extraction 
traditionally have backed the People's Progressive Party, headed by 
Cheddi Jagan. Rice farmers and sugar workers in the rural areas form the 
bulk of PPP's support, but Indo-Guyanese who dominate the country's 
urban business community have also provided important support.

Following independence, and 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, caused a massive 
emigration of skilled workers, and, along with other economic factors, 
led to a significant decline in the overall quality of life in Guyana.

After Burnham's death in 1985, President Hoyte took steps to stem the 
economic decline, including strengthening financial controls over the 
parastatal corporations, and supporting the private sector. In August 
1987, at a PNC Congress, Hoyte announced that the PNC rejected orthodox 
communism and the one-party state.

As the 1992 elections approached, Hoyte, under increasing pressure from 
inside and outside Guyana, 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 and other irregularities. 

Cheddi Jagan served as Premier (1957-64) and then minority leader in 
parliament until his election as President in 1992. One of the 
Caribbean's most charismatic and famous leaders, Jagan was a founder of 
the PPP which led Guyana's struggle for independence. Over the years, he 
moderated his Marxist-Leninist ideology. After his election as 
president, Jagan demonstrated a commitment to democracy, followed a pro-
Western foreign policy, adopted free market policies, and pursued 
sustainable development for Guyana's environment. Nonetheless, he 
continued to press for debt relief and a new global human order in which 
developed countries would increase assistance to less developed nations. 
Jagan died on March 6, 1997 and was succeeded by Samuel A. Hinds, whom 
he had appointed Prime Minister. President Hinds then appointed Janet 
Jagan, widow of the late president, to serve as Prime Minister. Mrs. 
Jagan is a founding member of the PPP and was very active in party 
politics. She is Guyana's first female prime minister and vice 
president, two roles she performs concurrently. National elections are 
scheduled to take place October 1997.

ECONOMY

With a per capita gross domestic product of only $680 in 1995, 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 was consistently above 6% until 1995 when it 
dipped to 5.1%.

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 open-
pit 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.

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 1994. Other exports include timber, 
diamonds, garments, and locally assembled stoves and refrigerators. The 
value of these other exports is increasing.

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 $2.1 billion was more than four times its GDP. 
A recent Paris Club rescheduling under Naples terms has reduced the debt 
to $1.5 billion. Guyana hopes to benefit from the newly proposed IMF and 
World Bank assistance programs but it is unclear at this time whether or 
not Guyana will qualify. 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.

After years of a state-dominated economy, the mechanisms for private 
investment, domestic or foreign, are still evolving. The shift from a 
state-controlled economy to a primarily free market system began under 
Desmond Hoyte and continued under Cheddi Jagan. The Jagan administration 
recognized the need for foreign investment to create jobs, enhance 
technical capabilities, and generate goods for export. 

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 the Guyana dollar has dropped in value by only 15% 
since 1991.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

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 served a nine-year term on the International Court 
of Justice (1987-96).

Guyana has diplomatic relations with a wide range of nations. The 
European Union (EU), the Inter-American Bank (IADB), the UN Development 
Program (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the 
Organization of American States (OAS), have offices in Georgetown.

Guyana strongly supports the concept of regional integration. It played 
an important role in the founding of the Caribbean Community and Common 
Market (CARICOM), but its status as the organization's poorest member 
limits its ability 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 organizations.

As a member of CARICOM, which is headquartered in Georgetown, Guyana 
strongly backed United States policy on Haiti and contributed personnel 
to the Multinational Force, which restored the democratically elected 
Government in 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 sound.

U.S.-Guyanese Relations U.S. policy toward Guyana seeks to promote 
democracy, sustainable 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. Under President Jagan, the United States and Guyana continued 
to improve relations. President Jagan was committed to democracy, 
followed a pro-Western foreign policy, adopted more free market 
policies, and pursued sustainable development for Guyana's environment.

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 $500 million in 1986-93. Altogether, 
since 1955, the United States has provided Guyana with more than $171 
million in assistance.

U.S. military medical and engineering teams have conducted training 
exercises in Guyana, digging wells and providing medical treatment.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials 
Charge--Hugh V. Simon 
Chief, Political and Economic Affairs--Gregory Thome (7/97) 
Consular Officer--Theresa A. Hebron 
Economic and Commercial Officer--Graham Webster 
Labor Officer--Silvia Eiriz
Public Affairs Officer--Silvia Eiriz

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).

OTHER CONTACT INFORMATION:

U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration Office of 
Latin America and the Caribbean 14th and Constitution, NW Washington, DC 
20230 Tel: (202) 482-1658; 800-USA-TRADE Fax: (202) 482-0464

Caribbean/Latin American Action 1818 N Street, NW, Suite 310 Washington, 
DC 20036 Tel: (202) 466-7464 Fax: (202) 822-0075

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION 

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