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State

Capital

Guyana

Georgetown

Currency unit

Guyanan dollar

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History

The name means "land of waters" and was given by the original inhabitants, mostly now lost. The land was settled by the Dutch during the 17th century but conquered by Britain during the Napoleonic wars. The country was united as British Guiana in 1831. It is part of the group of three countries which managed to stay free of Spanish and Portuguese colonial influence (partly because the Spaniards saw little advantage in the country and Portugal regarded them as beyond the Tordesillas line).

As in the other Guyanas the population comes from two main areas: Africans and East Asians. There are also some Amerindians and other small groups. The population is polarized between the two main groups.

African slaves were brought there until 1807 and freed in 1838. From 1840 East Indians were brought to work on the sugar plantations to replace the Africans. The Asians were nominally free but were contracted to work for a period during which they were not allowed to leave and so had the status of semi-slaves.

A dispute with Venezuela was settled in 1899 by the Arbitration Award of Paris (though later Venezuelan governments have not always accepted the treaty). There are also claims by Surinam.

There was internal self-government from the 1953 election when the People's Progressive Party led by Cheddi Jagan was elected. However, he was not acceptable to the US as he was believed to be a Communist, or at least friendly to communists and professed a Marxist policy.

British troops were called in in October 1953 and the Constitution suspended. A new constitution was enacted in 1957 but the PPP was elected again, though it is said to have been more moderate than before. The PPP then split into two factions, one supported by the Asian half of the population; the other, the PNC, by those of African origin.

A new proportional electoral system was enacted by the British in 1964 followed by a People's National Congress government, led by Forbes Burnham. Some believe this was the intended result, achieved by the rewriting of the electoral roll and boundaries.

The country became independent in 1966 under Burnham who then went on to create a one-party state, by rigging the elections, and nationalize most of the foreign and domestic owned industries, the sort of policy which the British and American gerrymandering of the constitution had been designed to prevent. The PPP boycotted elections. Although over half the population is of Asian origin they were not represented by their own party. In 1980 Burnham became president (after being PM); he died in 1985.

His party remained in power with allegations of election rigging. The results of general nationalization has been an economic collapse.

Burnham invited American settlers to populate the empty land in the south of the country. Among these was a communal religious sect or cult which founded a settlement at Jonestown, named after their guru, Jim Jones. In 1978 it was revealed that Jones had persuaded them to commit mass suicide.

Many of the educated people emigrated to escape a totalitarian atmosphere of stagnation.

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Politics

Politics has decayed after two decades of corrupt elections and manipulation by the ruling party.

Elections in October 1992 resulted in the victory of Cheddi Jagan, the leader of the majority Asian community and his People's Progressive Party. The elections were reported to be fair by international observers, including former president Jimmy Carter. Jagan was alleged to be an extreme Marxist when he first took power, in 1953. Is he still? It seems likely that the voters chose him as the Indian representative rather than for Marxism. Time will show. After his death his widow, born in Chicago of Jewish origin, was elected in December 1997.

She was succeeded by Bharat Jagdeo.

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Economics

Declining economy from lack of investment and corrupt state control.

Member CARICOM

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Green/Ecology

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Human Rights

Poor record of human rights.

Climate effects

Last revised 22/6/05


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