Guyana

Basic Information

Area: 214,970 sq. km, 82,980 sq. miles
Population: 751,000
Capital City: Georgetown (population about 250,000)
Nationality Guyanese
Languages: English, Amerindian dialects, Creole, Hindi, Urdu
Religion(s): Christians 57%, Hindu 30%, Muslim 7%, and Other 6% (2002 census)
Ethnic Groups: East Indian 43%, black 30%, mixed 17%, Amerindian 9%, white and Chinese 1% (2002)
Currency: Guyanese dollar (GYD). 340 GYD to 1 UK pound (December 2005).
Major political parties: People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and People's National Congress/Reform (PNC/R)
Government: Republic within the Commonwealth
Head of State: President Bharrat JAGDEO
Prime Minister: Samuel HINDS
Foreign Minister: Hon Samuel (Rudy) INSANALLY
Membership of international groups/organisations including: CARICOM, WTO, OAS, ACS, ECLAC, United Nations, the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP group), the Commonwealth, the Group of 77, the Organisation of Islamic Conference, Non-Aligned Movement, the Rio Group.

Geography

  • Guyana is located in northern South America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Suriname and Venezuela.
  • Guyana, with an area of 83,044 square miles and a population of 751,000 (2002 census), is a sparsely populated country. Over 90% of the population reside in the narrow coastal plain that comprises only 5% of the total land mass. The interior is largely forested, with savannah along the southern border.
  • The climate is tropical, hot, humid, and moderated by Northeast trade winds.
  • There are two rainy seasons (May to July, December to January). Flash floods are a constant threat during rainy seasons.

History

Before the arrival of Europeans the region was inhabited by both Carib and Arawak tribes, who named it Guiana, which means "Land of many 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 labourers were brought to Guyana to replace the slaves on the sugarcane 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. The small but growing Amerindian population lives in the country's interior.

Politics

Guyanese politics has on occasion 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; Dr Cheddi Jagan, a US-educated Indo-Guyanese as second vice chairman; and his American-born wife, Janet Jagan, as Secretary General. In 1955 the PPP split and Burnham founded what eventually became the People's National Congress (PNC).

Cheddi Jagan's PPP won the elections in 1957 and 1961 and he became British Guiana's first premier. At a constitutional conference in London in 1963, the UK Government agreed to grant independence to the colony but only after another election in which proportional representation would be introduced for the first time. Forbes Burnham became Prime Minister.

Guyana achieved independence in May 1966, and became a republic on February 23, 1970. From December 1964 until his death in August 1985, Forbes Burnham ruled Guyana in an increasingly autocratic manner, first as Premier, then as Prime Minister and later, after the adoption of a new constitution in 1980, as Executive President. During that time, elections were viewed in Guyana and abroad as fraudulent. Human rights and civil liberties were suppressed, and two major political assassinations occurred.

Following Burnham's death in 1985, 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 election since 1964 to be internationally recognised as free and fair. Cheddi Jagan was elected and sworn in as President on October 9, 1992.

When President Jagan died in March 1997, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds replaced him in accordance with constitutional provisions. However, President Jagan's widow, Janet Jagan, was elected President at elections in December 1997. She resigned in August 1999 due to ill health and was succeeded by Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo, who had been named Prime Minister a day earlier.

National elections were held on March 19, 2001 (next elections to be held before 5 August 2006). Incumbent President Jagdeo won re-election with a voter turnout of over 90%. The PPP obtained 34 seats, the PNC 27, and the minor parties 4. The elections attracted a good deal of international attention with election observers being sent from several international agencies including the UK. The elections themselves passed off peacefully – isolated incidents excepted – but in an atmosphere of tension. Afterwards, there was serious violence. But the post election period has marked the start of meetings between the President and the Leader of the Opposition, the first in recent years. Regrettably, the dialogue was brought to an abrupt end in 2004.

At 35 Jagdeo became the youngest elected Head of State in the world. He presented himself as a leader determined to bring change but has yet to deliver.

Economy

The poor performance of the economy since the inward looking, state-led strategy pursued in the 1980s has left Guyana a Highly Indebted Poor Country. GDP per capita stands at US$840.

The economy grew by 2.3% in 2004 (-0.6 decline in 2003) and is predicted to shrink by 0.5% in 2005, due, in large part, to the knock-on affects of the widespread flooding in January/February 2005. Business confidence remains low. The management of certain part-privatised utilities, and public sector union action, have both proved problematic. Inflation stood at 4.7% in 2004(6.0% in 2003).

However, the news is not all bad. Donor funds to finance public sector capital projects should generate some GDP growth in 2005.

A former finance minister, President Jagdeo has put enormous effort into trying to turn Guyana’s economy around. In September 2002, the IMF agreed a poverty reduction and growth facility (PRGF) allowing an initial US$7m in aid. This was supplemented in September 2003 by a further tranche of debt relief, and again in early 2004 when HIPC completion status was achieved. The agreement by the leaders of the G8 industrialised states at their July 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, to cancel about 31bn of debts owed by the world's poorest countries, saw Guyana have US$336m written off.

Since the agreement with the World Bank in 2000 to restructure the sugar sector (18% of GDP) to be better able to compete with the rest of the world, Guyana has been working hard to introduce a number of reforms including the construction of a new state-of-the-art sugar factory at the Skeldon Estate in Berbice, which includes power generation from bagasse. Other measures currently being considered include a distillery and the production of ethanol. Since the November 2005 agreement on reforms to the EU sugar regime, which cuts the price obtained by ACP sugar producers by 36%, Guyana has had to speed up its planned reforms and is looking to the EU to provide adequate transitional assistance to bridge the funding gap which will now arise in 2006 and 2007. DFID have provided funding to help Guyana produce an Action Plan which will set out its requirements for support during the transition period and with assistance for plans to enhance competitiveness. Guyana has also successfully entered the organics market and efforts are being made to expand the tourism sector. Donor funded infrastructure projects are planned to improve roads and communications.

Construction work on the Takatu Bridge connecting Guyana to Brazil is expected to restart in 2006 and, once completed, will open the south of the country to new markets. Northern provinces of Brazil would then export to the USA, Caribbean and Europe through Guyana. The economic benefits for Guyana would be substantial.

Basic Economic Facts

GDP:Approximately US$742 million (US$634 million in 2003)
GDP per Capita:Approximately US$840
Annual Growth:2.3% (2004)
Inflation:4.7% (2004)
Major Industries:Bauxite, sugar, rice, timber, fishing (shrimp), textiles, gold mining, diamonds
Major trading partners:US, Canada, UK, Caribbean (especially Trinidad and Tobago).

International Relations

Guyana is a member of the United Nations, CARICOM, the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP group), the Commonwealth, the Group of 77, the Organisation of Islamic Conference, the Rio group, was a founder member of the Non-Aligned Movement, and takes an active interest in international affairs. The Foreign Minister, Mr Rudolph Insanally, was the first Caribbean diplomat to chair the UNGA in 1993.

Guyana's relations with its neighbours

Guyana has long standing territorial disputes with Venezuela and Suriname. Venezuela claims all of the area west of the Essequibo river. Suriname claims the area between New (Upper Corentyne) and Corentyne/Kutari [Koetari] rivers (all headwaters of the Corentyne).

Guyana's relations with the UK

The UK and Guyana have good relations and the UK seeks, with other donors, to play a role in providing support for poverty alleviation and good governance projects.

The two governments co-operate on a wide range of subjects. The UK has contributed to reform of the police, prisons and judiciary as well as helping to create an environment for the 2006 elections to be free and fair, free from fear and violence free.

UK Development Assistance

Guyana receives substantial development assistance from the United Kingdom delivered through the Department for International Development (DFID). Guyana is the largest UK aid recipient in the Commonwealth Caribbean. The DFID's current programme has a strong public sector reform theme, pursued across several areas which feature strongly in the Government of Guyana's Poverty Reduction Strategy (Water and Education). DFID is also supporting efforts to promote political stability and improved securtiy working with Government, civil society, other UK Departments and international partners.

Trade and Investment with the UK

Trade is in Guyana's favour. UK exports to Guyana for 2004 were 16.3m (23m in 2003, fourth largest). The principal exports are chemicals, food products, machinery and manufactured goods. UK imports from Guyana for 2004 were 42.6m (51.4m in 2003, third largest), almost exclusively food imports. UK Trade & Investment supports trade missions to Guyana.

Chevening Scholarships

The British Government provides one Chevening scholarship for Guyanese students to pursue post-graduate studies in UK Universities. The aim of the scholarship is to enable young men and women to acquire skills of lasting benefit to Guyana.

Recent Visits

Inward:
  • President Jagdeo last visited the UK in November 2005 when he met the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
  • Minister of Agriculture, Satyadeow Sawh, visited the UK in July 2004.
Outward:
  • HRH Duke of Wessex visited in 2003.
  • DFID Minister Gareth Thomas visited Guyana in October 2003.
  • HRH The Duke of York visited Guyana in February 2004 as part of a wider visit to the Caribbean.

Environment

Amongst the current environmental issues facing Guyana are water pollution from solid waste sewage and deforestation.

Guyana is party to the international environmental agreements on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83 and Tropical Timber 94.

Did You Know?

  • Guyana is part of the “Guiana Shield” which, together with the adjacent Amazon Basin, is the largest equatorial forest in the world.
  • In 1993, the Government of Guyana, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Secretariat (amongst others), formally launched the Iwokrama International Rain Forest Programme. Guyana allocated 360,000 hectares of its tropical rain forest for an international programme to preserve the site's unique biodiversity, and to study and develop methods and techniques for the sustainable use of tropical rain forest resources. HRH Prince Charles is the Patron of Iwokrama and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees is Mr Edward Glover, a former British High Commissioner to Guyana.
  • It is generally agreed that the name Guyana is derived from an Amerindian expression 'Guiana', which means 'land of many waters'.

Top