Guyana (07/08)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Co-operative Republic of Guyana

Area: 214,970 sq. km. (83,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Idaho.
Cities: Capital--Georgetown (pop. 150,000). Other cities--Linden (29,000) and New Amsterdam (18,000).
Terrain: Low coastal plain, hilly sand and clay region, forested highlands, interior savanna.
Climate: Tropical.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Guyanese (sing. and pl.).
Population (2006, Government of Guyana): 760,200.
Ethnic groups: East Indian origin 43%, African origin 30%, mixed 17%, Amerindian 9%.
Religions: Christian 57%, Hindu 28%, Muslim 10%, other 5%.
Languages: English, Guyanese Creole, Amerindian languages (primarily Carib and Arawak).
Education: Years compulsory--ages 5 1/2 to 14 1/2. Attendance--primary 93.6%, secondary 93%. Literacy--96.5% of adults who have attended school.
Health: Infant mortality rate--49/1,000. Life expectancy--men 59 yrs., women 64 yrs.
Work force (278,000): Industry and commerce--36.4%; agriculture--30.2%; services--30.2%; other--3.2%.

Type: Republic within the Commonwealth.
Independence: May 26, 1966; Republic, February 23, 1970.
Constitution: 1980.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state and head of government), prime minister. Legislative--unicameral National Assembly of 65 deputies. The ten administrative regions of the country elect 25 members, 40 are elected from party lists by proportion of the national vote. Judicial--Judicial Court of Appeal, High Court.
Subdivisions: 10 regions.
Political parties (voting seats in the National Assembly): People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) 36; People's National Congress (PNC) 22; Alliance for Change (AFC) 5, Guyana Action Party/Rise Organize and Rebuild (GAP/ROAR) 1; and The United Force (TUF) 1. Presidential and parliamentary elections were last held August 28, 2006.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

Economy (2007, U.S. $)
Real GDP: $847.9 million.
Real annual growth rate: 5.4%.
Per capita GDP: $1,111.
Agriculture: Products--sugar, rice, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Natural resources: Gold, bauxite, diamonds, timber.
Industry: Types--mining (gold, bauxite, diamonds), agriculture (sugar, rice, livestock, fresh fruits and vegetables), forestry, fisheries, manufacturing (beverage, foodstuff processing, apparel, footwear assembly, pharmaceuticals), construction, and services (distribution, financial, transport and communication).
Merchandise trade: Exports--$680.9 million: gold, sugar, bauxite, fish and shrimp, rice, timber, diamonds. Major markets--U.S., Canada, U.K. Imports--$1.06 billion. Major suppliers--Trinidad and Tobago, U.S., China, Cuba, U.K.

Guyana's population is made up of five main ethnic groups--East Indian, African, Amerindian, 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.

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 laborers 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. 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 Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese erupted in 1962-64, and again following elections in 1997 and 2001. The conservative and cooperative nature of Guyanese society has contributed to a cooling of racial tensions; however, such tensions do constitute Guyana's most sensitive social stress point.

Guyanese political history 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; Dr. Cheddi Jagan, a U.S.-educated Indo-Guyanese, as second vice chairman; and Dr. Jagan's American-born wife, 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 7 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 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. During that timeframe, 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 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 own 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 recognized 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. President Jagan's widow, Janet Jagan, was elected president 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. Incumbent President Jagdeo won re-election with a voter turnout of over 90%. President Jagdeo won re-election again in national elections held on August 28, 2006, the first non-violent elections held in more than 20 years.

Legislative power rests in a unicameral National Assembly, generally referred to as Parliament, with 40 members chosen on the basis of proportional representation from national lists named by the political parties. An additional 25 members are elected by regional administrative districts. The Parliament is not directly elected; each party presents slates of candidates at the time of national elections. After the election, each party leader selects from the party lists the individuals who will represent the party in Parliament. 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. As with members of Parliament, 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. Most cabinet ministers must be members of the National Assembly; the constitution limits non-member "technocrat" ministers to five. Technocrat ministers serve as non-elected members of the National Assembly, which permits them to debate but not to 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 ten regions, each headed by a chairman who is appointed by the central government; the chairman presides over a regional democratic council. Local communities are administered by village or city councils.

Principal Government Officials
Executive President--Bharrat Jagdeo
Prime Minister--Samuel Hinds
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett
Ambassador to the U.S. and OAS--Bayney Karran
Permanent Representative to the UN--Charge d' Affaires George Talbot

Guyana maintains an embassy in the United States at 2490 Tracy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-265-6900).

Race and ideology have long been the dominant political influences in Guyana. Since the split of the multiracial PPP in 1955, politics has been based more on ethnicity than on ideology. From 1964 to 1992, the PNC dominated Guyana's politics. The PNC draws its support primarily from urban Afro-Guyanese, and for many years declared itself a socialist vanguard party whose purpose was to make Guyana a nonaligned socialist state, in which the party, as in communist countries, was above all other institutions.

A majority of Indo-Guyanese have traditionally backed the People's Progressive Party. Rice farmers and sugar workers in the rural areas form the bulk of PPP's support. Indo-Guyanese who dominate the country's urban business community also have provided important support to both parties, depending on which was in power at the time.

Following independence, and with the help of substantial foreign aid, social benefits were provided to a broader section of the population, specifically in health, education, housing, road and bridge building, agriculture, and rural development. During Forbes Burnham's last years, however, the government's attempts to build a socialist society, including banning importation of basic foodstuffs, 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 elections scheduled for 1990 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, appointed a new chairman of the Elections Commission, and endorsed putting together new voters' lists, thus delaying the election. The elections, which finally took place in 1992, 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 that 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.

In national elections on December 15, 1997, Janet Jagan was elected President, and her PPP party won a 55% majority of seats in Parliament. Mrs. Jagan had been a founding member of the PPP and was very active in party politics. In addition to becoming Guyana's first female president, she had also been Guyana's first female prime minister and vice president, two roles she performed concurrently before being elected to the presidency.

The PNC, which won just under 40% of the vote, disputed the results of the 1997 elections, alleging electoral fraud. Public demonstrations and some violence followed, until a CARICOM team came to Georgetown to broker an accord between the two parties, calling for an international audit of the election results, a redrafting of the constitution, and elections under the constitution within 3 years. Elections took place on March 19, 2001. More than 150 international observers representing six international missions witnessed the polling. The observers pronounced the elections fair and open although marred by some administrative problems. As in 1997, public demonstrations and some violence followed the election, with the opposition PNCR disputing the results. The political disturbances following the election partially overlapped and politicized a major crime wave that gripped Guyana from the spring of 2002 through May 2003. By summer 2003 the worst of the crime wave had abated, and agitation over the election had subsided.

A lack of legal clarity over voter registration rules, in particular the legality of Guyanese remaining on the voter rolls after emigrating, fed a political stalemate that delayed the 2006 elections as opposition parties demanded a full house-to-house verification of the voter list. Ultimately, the election was held using the 2001 voting list--which the opposition had earlier deemed valid--plus new registrations. The Organization of American States and the Commonwealth observed the 2006 elections and considered them to be largely free and fair.

In early 2008, national electoral authorities commenced a voter re-registration exercise, scrutinized by the major political parties, in order to produce a fresh and widely accepted voter list. This exercise concludes in July 2008, in anticipation of nationwide municipal elections in early 2009. Municipal elections have not been held since 1994.

A general lack of trust between the predominantly Indo-Guyanese PPP/C and the almost exclusively Afro-Guyanese PNC/R persists. Co-founded prior to the 2006 parliamentary elections by disaffected members of the PPP/C and PNC/R, the Alliance For Change party has attempted to bridge the political and racial divide, but holds only five seats in Parliament and has gained minimal traction.

Due to constitutional term limits, President Jagdeo is not eligible to run for reelection again when his terms concludes in 2011. There is no established frontrunner to succeed him.

In 2007, the real gross domestic product (GDP) of the Guyanese economy increased by 5.4%, exceeding expectations. Strong growth in the sugar, fishery, livestock, mining, and manufacturing sectors contributed to the economy's performance.

The agricultural sector (including sugar processing and rice milling) recorded a real 0.7% increase during 2007. The growth partly reflected stable weather conditions and large investment in drainage and irrigation facilities. In addition, the government has undertaken initiatives, with U.S. Government support, to increase production in the nontraditional agriculture sector.

Fishing and Livestock
The fishing sector grew 44.3% in real terms in 2007 due to increases of 6.7% and 96.1% in fish and shrimp catches, respectively. The launching of the Fisheries Management Plan, the recertification of Guyanese fish by the U.S., and the construction of an aquaculture hatchery contributed to this increase. Despite these improvements, the fishing sector continues to be plagued by piracy and increasing machine and fuel costs. In 2007, the livestock sector grew 2% in real terms, largely due to the re-entry of a major livestock producer into the industry, the establishment of additional pastures, and government assistance in controlling pests and diseases.

Logging and plywood output decreased in 2007 by 16.1% and 1.2%, respectively. The decrease in logging is largely attributed to the suspension of logging permits as a result of environmental concerns, and increases in freight and insurance costs. In contrast, the production of sawn-wood increased by 10.1%.

The mining sector grew 22.7% in real terms during 2007. This reflected the substantial investment and restructuring in the bauxite industry in recent years and increased world prices for bauxite and gold.

The manufacturing sector (excluding sugar processing and rice milling) grew by 1% in 2007. High global prices for inputs adversely affected growth.

The construction sector grew 5.7% in 2007. Private investment in hotel construction and housing and a 2.2% increase in public sector investment in schools, roads, low-cost housing, and drainage and irrigation contributed to growth.

The service sector increased 7% in 2007. The transport and communications sub-sectors grew by 13%, helped by heightened competition in the telecommunications sector as new cell phone and Internet providers entered the market.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 14% in 2007, a significant increase from the 4.2% inflation experienced in 2006. This was associated with implementation of a value-added tax (VAT) at the beginning of 2007, rising global food and commodity prices, and increased fuel costs.

Exchange Rate
The exchange rate remains stable; the Guyana dollar currently trades at G$200/U.S.$1.

Merchandise Trade
The trade deficit rose 27.3% to U.S. $381.7 million. The U.S $177.6 million increase in imports more than offset the U.S. $95.7 million increase in export earnings.

Total export receipts in 2007 amounted to U.S. $680.9 million, 16.4% higher than 2006. This increase was a result of higher world prices of sugar, rice, and gold as well as increased volumes exported. Sugar export earnings increased by 9.6% to U.S. $150.1 million, while the volume of sugar exported increased by 3.1% to 246,013 tons. Rice exports earned U.S. $75.3 million, an increase of 37.8% over 2006 due largely to higher volumes exported. Receipts from gold exports were U.S. $153.1 million, 33.7% higher than the 2006 level due to an increase in export volume and a significant rise in global precious metal prices. The value of timber exports was U.S. $55.4 million, 0.7% below 2006, following new restrictions on log exports. The value of other timber (excluding plywood) exports increased by 2.1% to U.S. $47.6 million, while the value of plywood exports decreased by 6.9%. Total earnings from all other exports were U.S. $145.5 million, 8.2% less than the previous year. Guyana's primary export markets are the U.S. (18.8%), Canada (18.4%), the U.K. (8.7%), Portugal (6.5%), Trinidad and Tobago (4.9%), Netherlands (4.3%), Belgium (4.3%), and Jamaica (4.1%).

The value of merchandise imports grew by 20.1% to U.S. $1.06 billion in 2007. The increase reflected activities associated with hosting the Cricket World Cup in 2007 and higher fuel costs. Higher imports of furnishings for the hotel and hospitality industry grew to U.S. $62.1 million from U.S. $29.4 million in 2006. Imports of building and transport machinery, largely for public sector capital projects, grew 44.7% and 49.1%, respectively. Guyana's primary import sources are Trinidad and Tobago (23%), the U.S. (21.3%), China (9.7%), Cuba (6.3%), and the U.K. (4.5%).

Total Investment
Total 2007 investment rose by 4.9% to U.S. $434.0 million, due to increased public sector investment and a modestly improved investment climate in Guyana. Public investment accounted for slightly less than half of total investment. This increase reflected the government's aim to maintain infrastructure needed for sustained growth and development, such as roads, bridges, sea defense, drainage and irrigation, and schools. The government also allocated funds for improvement in agriculture, housing and water, and national security. Private investment, spurred by government incentives, increased by 8.5% to U.S. $222.5 million. Major investments include mining, construction, transport and communications, and distribution sectors. Foreign direct investment from the U.S. accounted for approximately U.S. $24.5 million, or 1.1%, of private investment in Guyana.

External Debt
Guyana continued to benefit from debt relief under the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) during 2007. Guyana's outstanding public and publicly guaranteed external debt contracted by 31.1% to U.S. $718 million at the end of the year due to the MDRI and other debt write-offs. As a result, debt service payments declined by 18.1% to U.S. $19 million and the Inter-American Development Bank no longer considers Guyana a highly indebted poor country.

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 9-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 Development Bank (IDB), the UN Development Program (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Organization of American States (OAS) have offices in Georgetown. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has its Secretariat headquartered 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 one of the organization's poorest members 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 organizations.

A longstanding maritime boundary dispute with Suriname was resolved largely in Guyana's favor in August 2007. The dispute had flared up in June 2000, when a Canadian company drilling for oil under a Guyanese concession was forced to cease operations by Surinamese military gunboats. After several failed attempts at negotiation, in 2004 Guyana took the dispute to the UN Law of the Sea tribunal, which unanimously determined that the vast majority of the area in contention belonged to Guyana. The resolution of this dispute will likely have significant ramifications for Guyana's economy in the long term, as the seabed is estimated to contain approximately 15 billion barrels of oil.

Another territorial disagreement remains unresolved, however. In 1962 Venezuela challenged a previously accepted 1899 international arbitration award, and 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, with a quiet détente on the issue currently prevailing.

U.S. policy toward Guyana seeks to develop robust, sustainable democratic institutions, laws, and political practices; support economic growth and development; and promote stability and security. 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 also were improved by Hoyte's efforts to respect human rights, reform the economy, invite international observers for the 1992 elections, and reform electoral laws. Successive 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 successive PPP governments, the United States and Guyana have continued to improve relations, and the United States maintains positive relations with the current government of President Jagdeo.

In an effort to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in Guyana, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) opened an office at the U.S. Embassy in 2002. In January 2003, Guyana was named as one of only two countries in the Western Hemisphere to be included in President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). CDC, in coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is administering a 5-year multi-million dollar program of education, prevention, and treatment for those infected and affected by the disease. Guyana also benefits from a $6.7 million, two-year threshold country program under the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account developmental program.

U.S. military medical and engineering teams continue to conduct training exercises in Guyana, digging wells, building schools and clinics, and providing medical treatment.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--John Melvin Jones (arrival August 2008)
Charge d' Affairs/Deputy Chief of Mission--Karen L. Williams
Political and Public Affairs Officer--Rolf Olson
Economic/Commercial Officer--James Plasman
Chief, Consular Affairs--Nyda Budig
Management Officer--David Smale (arrival August 2008)
Regional Security Officer--Brandon Lee
Peace Corps Director--James Geenan
USAID Country Director--Peter Hubbard
Military Liaison Officer--Lt. Col. Steven D. Stanley
CDC Country Director--Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck

The U.S. Embassy in Guyana is located at the corner of Duke and Young Streets, Georgetown (tel. 592-225-4900/9; fax: 592-225-8497).

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 800-USA-TRADE

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