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the land of Many Waters

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Guyana is the size of Idaho and is situated on the northern coast of South America east of Venezuela, west of Suriname, and north of Brazil. The country consists of a low coastal area and the Guyana Highlands, a tropical forest zone covering more than 80% of the country, in the south. There is an extensive south-north network of rivers.


The Dutch, English, and French established colonies in what is now known as Guyana, but by the early 17th century the majority of the settlements were Dutch. During the Napoleonic wars Britain took over the Dutch colonies of Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo, which became British Guiana in 1831.

Slavery was outlawed in 1834, and the great need for plantation workers led to a large wave of immigration, primarily of East Indians. Today, about half of the population is of East Indian descent and about 43% are of African descent.

British Guiana was made a crown colony in 1928, and in 1953 it was granted home rule. In 1950, Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan, the former black and the latter East Indian, created the colony's first political party, which was dedicated to gaining the colony's independence. The two leaders split in 1955, creating separate parties. The leftist Jagan and the more tyrannical Burnham were to dominate Guyanan politics for decades to come. On May 26, 1966, the country gained independence, and resumed its traditional name, Guyana.

Burnham and his People's National Congress ruled Guyana for 21 years, until Burnham's death in 1985. In 1992, Jagan's People's Progressive Party won a majority in the general election. Jagan, who had served as prime minister in the 1960s while Guyana was still a colony, became president.

The current president, former finance minister Bharrat Jagdeo, assumed the presidency in Aug. 1999.

Guyana's potential economic development was hurt in 2000 as border disputes with both Venezuela to the west and Suriname to the east heated up. Suriname and Guyana have been unable to resolve the border dispute in an oil-rich coastal area. Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez has revived a 19th-century claim to more than half of Guyana's territory.

Meanwhile, Guyana has announced plans to allow an American company to build a commercial rocket launch site in the area

In March 2001, Bharrat Jagdeo won a second term in elections that highlighted Guyana's racial and cultural split. An ethnic East Indian, Jagdeo could not be sworn in for two weeks, until a court dismissed a challenge seeking to nullify the results. Meanwhile, many Guyanese of African ancestry claimed widespread election fraud, and sporadic violence rocked the country, marring what had been a peaceful election process..

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Cooperative Republic of Guyana

President: Bharrat Jagdeo (2001)

Prime Minister: Samuel Hinds (1997)

Area: 83,000 sq. mi. (214,970 sq. km)

Population (2000 est.): 697,286 (average annual rate of natural increase: 0.95%); birth rate: 17.9/1000; infant mortality rate: 39.1/1000; density per sq. mi.: 8

Capital and largest city (1992 est.): Georgetown, 248,500

Monetary unit: Guyana dollar

Languages: English (official), Amerindian dialects

Ethnicity/race: East Indian 51%, black and mixed 43%, Amerindian 4%, European and Chinese 2%

Religions: Hindu, 34%; Protestant, 18%; Islam, 9%; Roman Catholic, 18%; Anglican, 16%

Literacy rate: 96% (1990)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (1999 est.): $1.86 billion; per capita $2,500. Real growth rate: 1.8%. Inflation: 5.5%. Unemployment: 12% (1992 est.). Labor force: 245,492 (1992). Arable land: 2%. Agriculture: sugar, rice, wheat, vegetable oils; beef, pork, poultry, dairy products; forest and fishery potential not exploited. Industries: bauxite, sugar, rice milling, timber, fishing (shrimp), textiles, gold mining. Natural resources: bauxite, gold, diamonds, hardwood timber, shrimp, fish. Exports: $574 million (f.o.b., 1999 est.): sugar, gold, bauxite/alumina, rice, shrimp, molasses, rum, timber. Imports: $620 million (c.i.f., 1999 est.): manufactures, machinery, petroleum, food. Major trading partners: U.S., Canada, U.K., Netherlands Antilles, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Japan.

Member of Commonwealth of Nations

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 45,000 (1995); mobile cellular: 1,243 (1995). Radio broadcast stations: AM 3, FM 3, shortwave 1 (1998). Radios: 420,000 (1997). Television broadcast stations: 3 (one public station; two private stations which relay US satellite services) (1997). Televisions: 46,000 (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 2 (1999).

Transportation: Railways: total: 187 km (all dedicated to ore transport). Highways: total: 7,970 km; paved: 590 km; unpaved: 7,380 km (1996 est.). Waterways: 5,900 km total of navigable waterways; Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo Rivers are navigable by oceangoing vessels for 150 km, 100 km, and 80 km, respectively. Ports and harbors: Bartica, Georgetown, Linden, New Amsterdam, Parika. Airports: 51 (1999 est.).

International disputes: all of the area west of the Essequibo River claimed by Venezuela; Suriname claims area between New (Upper Courantyne) and Courantyne/Kutari [Koetari] Rivers (all headwaters of the Courantyne).

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This page Last Updated: Friday, April 11, 2003