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Guyana - Government and Politics

GUYANA IS OSTENSIBLY a parliamentary-style democracy with a constitution, a National Assembly, a multiparty system, elections, a president chosen by the majority party, a minority leader, and a judicial system based on common law. Despite its democratic institutions, independent Guyana has seen more than two decades of one-party rule and strongman politics, perpetuated by manipulation, racially based voting patterns, and a disenfranchisement of the Guyanese people.

Since 1964 when People's National Congress (PNC) leader Linden Forbes Burnham came to power, Burnham, his successor Hugh Desmond Hoyte, and the PNC have dominated the politics of Guyana. Although Burnham paid lip service to an ambitious political and economic experiment, cooperative socialism, which was to develop Guyana to the benefit of all Guyanese, his paramount concern seemed to be the preservation and enhancement of his own political power. Burnham's true agenda became apparent in 1974, when he announced the subordination of all other institutions in Guyana to the PNC. The late 1970s and early 1980s increasingly saw the government system function primarily to benefit Burnham and his party.

After Burnham's death in 1985, the administration of Desmond Hoyte abandoned many of the authoritarian policies of Hoyte's predecessor. The new president chose to work largely within the framework of the government, tolerated an opposition press, and attempted to downplay the significance of rigid racial political blocs. Whether these moves represented a strengthening of democracy in Guyana or merely a tactical move motivated by economic hardship remained to be determined.



Preindependence Constitutions

Guyana's complex constitutional history provides a useful means of understanding the conflict between local interests and those of Britain, the long-time colonial power. The colony's first constitution, the Concept Plan of Redress, was promulgated under Dutch rule in 1792 and remained in effect with modifications under British administration until 1928. Although revised considerably over the years, the Concept Plan of Redress provided for a governor appointed by the colonial power and for a Court of Policy that evolved into the colony's legislature. Reforms throughout the nineteenth century gradually broadened the electoral franchise and lessened the power of the planters in the colonial government.

As a result of financial difficulties in the 1920s and conflict between the established sugar planters and new rice and bauxite producers, the British government promulgated a new constitution making British Guiana a crown colony. The Court of Policy was replaced by a Legislative Council with thirty members (sixteen appointed and fourteen elected), and executive power was placed in the hands of a governor appointed by officials in London. Modifications throughout the 1930s and 1940s made the majority of members of the Legislative Council subject to popular election and further broadened the franchise.

The formation of British Guiana's first major political party in 1950 and growing pressure for independence again forced the British to overhaul the political framework. A royal commission proposed a new constitution that would provide for a bicameral legislature consisting of a lower House of Assembly and an upper State Council, a governor appointed by the British, and seven ministers appointed by the House of Assembly. This constitution was put into effect in early 1953. The electoral success of selfproclaimed Marxist-Leninist Cheddi Jagan and his leftist People's Progressive Party (PPP) in the April 1953 elections frightened the colonial authorities. After the new legislature passed a controversial labor bill and pressed for independence, the British suspended the constitution in October 1953 and put in place an interim government whose members were chosen entirely by British authorities.

New elections were held in 1957 to choose a majority of members in the new Legislative Council; the rest of the members were chosen by the governor. During its four-year tenure, this government set up a committee to make recommendations on yet another constitution. The committee proposed that a new government be formed with full internal autonomy. Only defense and external affairs would be managed by the British.

In 1961 the new constitution went into effect. The legislature was bicameral: the lower house, a thirty-five-member Legislative Assembly, consisted entirely of elected officials; and the upper house, the thirteen-member Senate, consisted entirely of appointees. The prime minister, who was chosen by the party with a majority of votes in the Legislative Assembly, held the most powerful executive post. Assisting the prime minister were various other ministers. The governor remained the titular head of state. The PPP won the elections of August 1961, and Jagan was named prime minister.

Labor strife and civil disturbances were widespread in 1962 and 1963. In an effort to quell the unrest, the British colonial secretary declared a state of emergency and proposed modifying the constitution to provide for a unicameral fifty-three-member National Assembly and proportional representation. The proposal was adopted, and elections were set for 1964. These elections brought to power a new coalition government headed by the PNC. However, the PPP administration refused to step down. Not until a constitutional amendment was enacted empowering the governor to dismiss the National Assembly was the old government removed from power.

<>Independence Constitution
<>Constitution of 1980

Guyana - Independence Constitution

Independent Guyana's first constitution (a modified version of the 1961 constitution) took effect on the first day of independence, May 26, 1966. It reaffirmed the principle that Guyana was a democratic state founded on the rule of law. The titular head of the country was the British monarch, represented in Guyana by the governor general, who served in a largely ceremonial capacity. Real executive power rested in the prime minister, appointed by the majority party in the unicameral fifty-three-member National Assembly, and his ministers. The first postindependence elections, conducted in 1968, confirmed the dominant role of the PNC and its leader, Forbes Burnham.

On February 23, 1970, the Burnham government proclaimed the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. This move had both economic and political ramifications. The government argued that the country's many resources had been controlled by foreign capitalists and that organizing the population into cooperatives would provide the best path to development.

The 1970 proclamation severed Guyana's last significant constitutional tie to Britain. The governor general, heretofore the ceremonial head of state, was replaced by a president, also a ceremonial figure. Arthur Chung, a Chinese-Guyanese, was the country's first president.

Although its ties to the British monarch were broken, Guyana remained within the Commonwealth of Nations. Membership in the Commonwealth allowed Guyana to reap the benefits of access to markets in Britain and to retain some of the defense arrangements that Britain offered its former colonies. In particular, the British defense umbrella was seen as a deterrent to Venezuelan claims on Guyanese territory.

Guyana - Constitution of 1980

As Burnham consolidated his control over Guyanese politics throughout the 1970s, he began to push for changes in the constitution that would muffle opposition. He and his colleagues argued that the changes were necessary to govern in the best interest of the people, free of opposition interference. By the late 1970s, the government and the legislature were PNC-dominated, and the party had declared its hegemony over the civil service, the military, the judiciary, the economic sector, and all other segments of Guyanese society. Burnham called the 1966 constitution inadequate and the product of British conservatism. Nationalization of private enterprise was to be the first step in revamping a system that Burnham felt had been designed to protect private property at the expense of the masses.

Two of the principal architects of the new constitution were the minister of justice and attorney general, Mohammed Shahabbuddeen, and Hugh Desmond Hoyte, the minister of economic planning. Attorney General Shahabbuddeen was given the task of selling the new constitution to the National Assembly and the people. He decried the 1966 constitution as a capitalist document that supported a national economy based on exports and the laws of supply and demand. He argued that the constitution safeguarded the acquisitions of the rich and privileged and did not significantly advance the role of the people in the political process.

The constitution of 1980, promulgated in October of that year, reaffirmed Guyana's status as a cooperative republic within the Commonwealth. It defines a cooperative republic as having the following attributes: political and economic independence, state ownership of the means of production, a citizenry organized into groups such as cooperatives and trade unions, and an economy run on the basis of national economic planning. The constitution states that the country is a democratic and secular state in transition from capitalism to socialism and that the constitution is the highest law in the country, with precedence over all other laws. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, speech, association, and movement, and prohibits discrimination. It also grants every Guyanese citizen the right to work, to obtain a free education and free medical care, and to own personal property; it also guarantees equal pay for women. However, freedom of expression and other political rights are limited by national interests and the state's duty to ensure fairness in the dissemination of information to the public. Power is distributed among five "Supreme Organs of Democratic Power": the executive president, the cabinet, the National Assembly, the National Congress of Local Democratic Organs, and the Supreme Congress of the People, a special deliberative body consisting of the National Assembly in joint session with the National Congress of Local Democratic Organs. Of these five divisions of government, the executive president in practice has almost unlimited powers.

The important constitutional changes brought about by the 1980 document were mostly political: the concentration of power in the position of executive president and the creation of local party organizations to ensure Burnham's control over the PNC and, in turn, the party's control over the people. The constitution's economic goals were more posture than substance. The call for nationalization of major industries with just compensation was a moot point, given that 80 percent of the economy was already in the government's hands by 1976. The remaining 20 percent was owned by Guyanese entrepreneurs.



The office of executive president is by far the most powerful position in Guyana. The executive president is head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. He or she has the power to veto any bill passed in the National Assembly and can dissolve the assembly if a veto is overridden.

Elected to a term not to exceed five years concurrent with the term of the incumbent National Assembly, the executive president is the nominee of the party with the largest number of votes in the assembly. There is no limit on the number of times the executive president may be reelected. Grounds for removal from office include inability to function for medical reasons, violations of the constitution as determined by a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly, and findings of gross misconduct by vote of threequarters of the National Assembly. If a motion to remove the executive president from office passes the National Assembly, he or she has three days to vacate the office or dissolve the legislature. The executive president may postpone national elections in one-year increments for up to five years.

The executive president appoints several vice presidents, a prime minister, and various other ministers. This group is known collectively as the cabinet. Although the prime minister and other vice presidents must be selected from the elected members of the National Assembly, other cabinet ministers need not hold an elective post. The number of vice presidents and ministers varies. In 1990 there were two vice presidents and eight ministers. The executive president may dismiss all cabinet members at will.

<>Other National Institutions
<>Local Government
<>Civil Service

Guyana - Legislature

The sixty-five-member unicameral National Assembly constitutes Guyana's legislative branch. Fifty-three members are directly elected though a system of proportional representation, ten members are elected by the regional democratic councils (local legislative bodies for each region), and two members come from the Supreme Congress of the People (a special national-level advisory group). The National Assembly has the power to pass bills and constitutional amendments, which are then sent to the executive president for approval.

The National Assembly has six months to override the presidential veto of a bill. Following an override, the executive president has the authority to dissolve the assembly within twentyone days and call for new elections. President Burnham used this authority to stifle parliamentary opposition during his administration.

The 1980 constitution provides for the executive president to appoint the minority leader, formerly known as the leader of the opposition. The minority leader must be the elected member of the National Assembly, who, in the president's judgment, is best able to lead the opposition members of the National Assembly. Naming his own chief opponent was yet another tool President Burnham used to control the government apparatus.

Guyana - Judiciary

Vestiges of a Dutch legal system remain, particularly in the area of land tenure. However, the common law of Britain is the basis for the legal system of Guyana. The judiciary consists of a magistrate's court for each of the ten regions and a Supreme Court consisting of a High Court and a Court of Appeal. The 1980 constitution established the judiciary as an independent branch of the government with the right of judicial review of legislative and executive acts.

The constitution secures the tenure of judicial officers by prescribing their age of retirement (sixty-two or sixty-five), guaranteeing their terms and conditions of service, and preventing their removal from office except for reasons of inability or misconduct established by means of an elaborate judicial procedure. These constitutional arrangements are supplemented by statutory provisions that establish a hierarchy of courts through which the individual under scrutiny may secure enforcement of his civil and political rights.

The lower courts, known as magistrates' courts, have jurisdiction in criminal cases and civil suits involving small claims. The High Court has general jurisdiction in both civil and criminal matters. Criminal cases are always tried by a jury of twelve persons. Appeals of High Court rulings go to the Court of Appeal.

Any person in Guyana has the right to bring charges involving a breach of criminal law. In practice, the police as the official law enforcement body generally institute and undertake criminal prosecutions. Traditionally, the attorney general (a cabinet-level minister) exercises supervisory authority over all criminal prosecutions.

The executive president appoints all judges, with the exception of the chancellor of the High Court (the head of the judiciary), the chief justice of the Court of Appeal, and the chief magistrate. The Judicial Service Commission appoints these top three judges; however, the commission itself is selected by the president. Although selection of the members of the Judicial Service Commission is supposed to be made with opposition input, in fact the opposition has no say in judicial appointments. Observers have noted that trials are generally fair, but if a guilty verdict is reached, the executive president often drops strong hints concerning the magnitude of the sentence he expects for crimes that have received national publicity.

Guyana - Other National Institutions

The National Congress of Local Democratic Organs is a national body charged with representing the interests of local government. Members of this body are drawn from the regional governments. Each Regional Democratic Council elects two members to sit on the national congress. The constitution also provides for members of other local councils to elect members; however, no other local bodies have been created by the central government. The national congress's role is advisory.

The members of the National Assembly, together with all the members of the National Congress of Local Democratic Organs, form the Supreme Congress of the People. The supreme congress meets at times designated by the executive president to make recommendations to him or her on matters of public interest. It may be dissolved by the executive president by proclamation and is automatically dismissed if the executive president dissolves the National Assembly.

Guyana - Local Government

The 1980 constitution divides Guyana into ten regions, each having a Regional Democratic Council and a regional chairman. Regional councillors serve five-year terms concurrent with the term of the National Assembly, and the councillors of every region elect from among themselves one member to sit on the National Assembly and two members to sit on the National Congress of Local Democratic Organs. The executive president may suspend or dissolve any Regional Democratic Council at will. The system of local governments was designed to decentralize the government and place greater political power in the hands of the people. Resistance by the president to sharing power and the regional governments' fear of dismissal without recourse have, in effect, severely limited the capability of regional government to enact policy.

Six towns in Guyana are incorporated: Georgetown, Corriverton, Linden, New Amsterdam, Bartica, and Anna Regina, northwest of the mouth of the Essequibo River. Each town has a mayor and town council, which are responsible for maintenance of the municipality. However, city officials lack a political mandate or any real power beyond the exercise of municipal duties and are usually political appointees of the PNC.

Guyana - Civil Service

The civil service is not a neutral body in the traditional British sense. Civil servants are regarded as servants of both the government and the PNC. Opposition to the PNC usually results in the loss of the incumbent's job because the executive president has authority to dismiss anyone whose actions he or she deems contrary to national or party interest. Fear of dismissal and consequently being blacklisted is one of the primary reasons large numbers of Guyanese professionals emigrated in the late 1970s and early 1980s.


Electoral Process

The constitution provides for free elections, a secret ballot, and universal suffrage for citizens over the age of eighteen. Voting for the National Assembly is indirect, with voters casting ballots for lists of candidates rather than for individuals. Seats are then apportioned by an Elections Commission on the basis of the percentage each list receives. There is no minimum percentage required for a party to win a seat in the assembly. National elections must be held if the executive president dissolves the National Assembly or no more than five years after a new assembly has been elected. However, the constitution of 1980 allows the executive president to postpone national elections in one-year increments for up to five years.

Despite constitutional guarantees of fair elections, every election since the early 1960s has been tainted by charges of fraud. The most blatant alleged abuse has concerned the votes of expatriate Guyanese. The electoral system allows overseas Guyanese to vote. The number of overseas Guyanese has been said to be inflated, however, and returns have always heavily favored the PNC. Voting districts have been gerrymandered, and the army frequently has been accused of tampering with ballot boxes and breaking up opposition rallies.

Electoral fraud appeared to diminish during the Hoyte administration. Opposition groups continued to pressure the government to reform the electoral process. In 1991 the executive president agreed to require the use of metal ballot boxes that are less easily tampered with and to permit the Elections Commission to operate more freely. The commission was given the task of producing a new voter list, but by 1991 had failed to do so, prompting the president to declare a state of emergency and postpone national elections.

<>Political Parties
<>Interest Groups

Guyana - Political Parties

People's National Congress

The PNC was formed in 1957 when Forbes Burnham broke away from the PPP. The PNC represents the country's Afro-Guyanese community and many of Guyana's intellectuals. The PNC was the main partner in the coalition government formed in 1964 and has been the outright winner of every election held since then. The party held fiftythree seats after the 1980 elections. After the 1985 elections, the PNC held fifty-four seats in the National Assembly--forty-two elected seats and all of the twelve appointed seats. The party came under the leadership of Desmond Hoyte following the death of Forbes Burnham in 1985.

Ideologically, the PNC has swung from socialism to middle-of- the-road capitalism several times. Although Burham professed leftist views, the party originally adopted a procapitalist policy as an alternative to the PPP's socialism and to attract members of the Afro-Guyanese middle class. In the mid-1970s, Burnham stated that the PNC was socialist and committed to the nationalization of foreign-owned businesses and to government control of the economy. In the late 1980s, Executive President Hoyte declared that his predecessor's policies had bankrupted the country and that the PNC would again encourage private investment.

People's Progressive Party

Guyana's oldest political party, the PPP, was founded in 1950 by Cheddi Jagan as a means to push for independence. After the 1961 elections, however, the party came to represent almost exclusively the Indo-Guyanese community. A long-time Marxist-Leninist, Jagan declared in 1969 that the PPP was a communist party and advocated state ownership of all industry. The PPP won elections in 1953, 1957, and 1961, but its leftist policies led to internal unrest and opposition from the British colonial authorities. The PPP had ten National Assembly seats after the 1980 election and in the 1985 elections won eight seats.

Other Political Groups

Concerned that the PPP had been coopted by the more conservative PNC in the early 1970s, a multiethnic group of politicians and intellectuals formed the Working People's Alliance (WPA) in 1973. Originally a loose organization, the WPA became a formal political party in 1979 after three of its leaders were imprisoned by the Burnham government. Its membership is drawn from the Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese communities, and the party advocates moderately leftist policies. The WPA refused to participate in the 1980 elections, charging that they would be rigged, but won one seat in the 1985 elections.

A small conservative party, the United Force (UF) was founded in 1960 by a wealthy Portuguese businessman to represent Guyana's business community. It also draws support from Guyana's Roman Catholic Church and the small Portuguese, Chinese, and Amerindian populations. The party won two seats in both the 1980 and 1985 elections.

After the 1985 elections, five parties--the PPP, the WPA, the small Democratic Labour Movement, the People's Democratic Movement, and the National Democratic Front--formed the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD). The PCD promised to push for fair elections and oppose PNC manipulation of the electoral process.

Guyana - Interest Groups

Trade Unions

Trade unions traditionally have played a major role in Guyana's political life. They began to emerge when Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow mobilized waterfront workers and formed the nation's first labor union, The British Guiana Labour Union (BGLU), in 1917. Since then, union members have become a significant segment of the Guyanese working class. It was from the trade unions that the PPP and PNC evolved and drew their strength.

Most union members work in the public sector, and trade unions historically have had close ties to the ruling government. Many of the twenty-four unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the main umbrella group for trade unions in Guyana, are formally affiliated with the PNC. Unions have the right to choose their own leaders freely, but in practice the ruling party has significant influence over union leadership. Government officials are often also union leaders. For instance, President Hoyte has been named the honorary president of one of the member unions of the TUC.

Government-labor relations have been marred by the PNC's attempts to control and silence the unions. This control initially was secured through the dominance of the Manpower Citizens Association, a pro-PNC union. When the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) entered the TUC in 1976, the size of the GAWU's membership (about 15,000) meant that it would be the largest union in the TUC, a status that would entitle it to the largest number of delegates. The PNC quickly contrived a system whereby GAWU ended up with far fewer delegates than it had previously been entitled to, and as such the TUC remained under PNC control. From 1982 to 1984, Minister of Labour Kenneth Denny and Minister of Finance Salim Salahuddin held very senior posts in the TUC simultaneously with their ministerial portfolios. In March 1984, the National Assembly passed the Labour Amendment Act, which stipulated that the TUC would henceforth be the only forum through which organized labor could bargain.

The Labour Amendment Act clearly was designed to stifle labor opposition to government policies. The law backfired, however, because reaction to it led to the ouster of the PNC-controlled labor leadership, which was replaced by leaders professing to be more independent. The main resistance to the PNC's control of the TUC came from a seven-union opposition bloc within the TUC, headed by the GAWU. Many unions, including some of the PNC-affiliated ones, began to criticize the government.

In the 1984 TUC elections, the seven-member reform coalition made significant inroads. The coalition candidate for TUC president ran against the PNC candidate and won. The changes in union leadership were a clear indication of the breadth of dissatisfaction with the PNC's efforts to roll back union power, and with Guyana's rapidly deteriorating economy. The seven disaffected unions left the TUC and in 1988 formed the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG).


The 1980 constitution guarantees freedom of the press, but the government owns the nation's largest publication and exercises indirect control over other newspapers by controlling the importation of newsprint. Administrations have also stifled opposition by making frequent charges of libel against the editors of opposition newspapers. The newspaper with the largest circulation is the government-owned Guyana Chronicle. The PNC's New Nation has the second highest circulation. Smaller newspapers include the PPP's Mirror, the independent Stabroek News, and the Catholic Standard, published by the Roman Catholic Church.

The government's influence over the press has lessened, and increased criticism has been allowed under President Hoyte. The opposition Stabroek News, which started out as a weekly, increased publication to six times a week in 1991. It has become widely regarded as the only reliable and nonpartisan source of news in Guyana. At about the same time the Stabroek News expanded operations, the PPP's Mirror was allowed to import new presses and increase its size from four to sixteen pages per issue.

Religious Organizations

At different times and from different perspectives, the churches of Guyana have been a source of opposition to government policy. In the 1950s, the Christian churches were vocal opponents of Jagan and the PPP's Marxism. These churches also drew international attention with their criticisms of the Burnham government in the 1970s and 1980s.

Much of the criticism of the national government has come from the Guyana Council of Churches (GCC), an umbrella organization of sixteen major Christian denominations. Anglicans and Roman Catholics, confident of foreign support for their positions, often have taken the lead. Some of the smaller churches with ties to the PNC have been instrumental in getting the GCC to soften its criticism. One sect, the House of Israel, has been reported to have close ties to the PNC. The sect's members were accused of disrupting a 1985 meeting of the GCC.

Hindu and Muslim religious organizations traditionally have played almost no political role in Guyana. In contrast to many Christian organizations, which receive support from adherents abroad, Hindu and Muslim leaders rely strictly on a local base. Religious leaders often are dependent on local political bosses, and the PNC has successfully recruited many Hindu and Muslim leaders into party organizations.

Other Groups

The long-standing policy of dividing constituencies into ethnic elements has prevented the establishment of a strong independent business organization. Fear of the Marxist PPP caused many middleclass Afro-Guyanese to support the PNC, beginning in the 1960s. Members of the business community who oppose government policy often do so through participation in the UF.

A movement began in the 1940s to press for improvement in socioeconomic conditions for women. The first formal women's organization was headed by Janet Jagan, wife of Cheddi Jagan, but it soon became merely an arm of Jagan's PPP. There is no national women's organization that spans ethnic groups. Rather, a women's group functions as part of the PPP, and a Women's Affairs Bureau of the ruling government is associated with the PNC.


The international relations of the former British colony have been oriented toward the English-speaking world and guided by ideological principles. Except for those countries on Guyana's borders, Latin America is largely ignored. Independent Guyana's foreign policy has had five predominant themes: political nonalignment, support for leftist causes worldwide, promotion of economic unity in the English-speaking Caribbean, opposition to apartheid, and protection of Guyanese territorial integrity in the resolution of the border disputes with Venezuela and Suriname.

Although upholding the principal foreign policy themes, the PNC has adroitly shifted emphasis to reflect changes in domestic policy. To consolidate power against the leftist PPP, PNC foreign policy from 1964 to 1969 was pro-Western. Confident of its domestic power base from 1970 to 1985, the government was nonaligned in international affairs, with strong support for less-developed countries and socialist causes. Guyana established diplomatic ties and symbolic economic ties with the communist governments in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and Cuba. Since Hoyte's accession to the presidency in 1985, foreign policy has again been less supportive of leftist causes, in part to obtain backing for Hoyte's economic programs from Western nations.

Relations with ...
<>the United States

<>the Commonwealth Caribbean
<>Communist Countries

Guyana - Relations with the United States

Guyana's relations with the United States have ranged from cordial to cool. For the United States, Burnham's policies from 1964 to 1969 were nonthreatening. Burnham assured the United States that he had no intention of pursuing Jagan-style socialism or of nationalizing foreign-owned industries. The United States felt there was little chance of Guyana becoming a second Cuba.

Relations between the two nations cooled significantly after 1969, when Burnham began to support socialism both domestically and internationally. He established the cooperative republic in 1970 and nationalized the sugar and bauxite industries in the mid-1970s. Guyana also became active in the Nonaligned Movement (NAM). Burnham attended the NAM conference in Zambia in 1970 and hosted the conference in Georgetown in 1972. In 1975 the United States accused Guyana of allowing Timehri Airport to be used as a refueling stop for planes transporting Cuban troops to Angola. United States aid to Guyana virtually stopped, and acrimonious rhetoric emanated from both sides.

Under the administration of President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), United States-Guyana relations improved somewhat. The United States ambassador to the United Nations (UN) told the Guyanese government that the region's leaders could expect greater understanding of their alternative development strategies from the Carter administration. When the assistant secretary of state said that the United States did not feel threatened by Guyana's political philosophy, it seemed that the two countries had reached an understanding. This rapprochement led to resumption of United States aid to Guyana.

Relations cooled again with the succession of Ronald Reagan to the United States presidency in 1981. United States aid to Guyana was again halted, and Guyana later was excluded from the Caribbean Basin Initiative. Relations reached their lowest point after the United States invaded Grenada in 1983. Burnham had ties to Grenada's New Jewel Movement and was vocal in his opposition to the invasion. He criticized the United States and chastised fellow regional leaders who supported intervention in a speech at the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom).

After Burnham's death in 1985, United States-Guyanese relations improved under the more market-oriented administration of President Hoyte. The new president welcomed Western aid and investment, and the government stopped its anticapitalist, anti-Western, and socialist rhetoric. The United States responded by resuming wheat shipments in 1986. Frictions remained over the Guyanese electoral process, however.

Guyana - Relations with Venezuela

Relations between Guyana and Venezuela have been driven by a persistent border dispute. Venezuela's claim to a mineral-rich five-eighths of Guyana's total land mass dates back to the early nineteenth century. The dispute was considered settled by arbitration in 1899. Decades later a memo written by a lawyer involved in the arbitration and published posthumously indicated that the tribunal president had coerced several members into assenting to the final decision. In 1962 Venezuela declared that it would no longer abide by the 1899 arbitration on the grounds of this new information.

On February 17, 1966, representatives of Britain, Guyana, and Venezuela signed an agreement in Geneva that established a border commission consisting of two Guyanese and two Venezuelans. The commission failed to reach an agreement, but both countries agreed to resolve their dispute by peaceful means as stipulated in Article 33 of the United Nations Charter. In the meantime, relations remained tense. In February 1967, Venezuela vetoed Guyana's bid to become a member of the Organization of American States (OAS). The Venezuelan government also attempted to sabotage Guyana's development plans for the disputed region by letting it be known to would-be foreign investors that it did not recognize Guyanese jurisdiction.

With Venezuelan backing, several prominent ranching families and Amerindian followers in the southern part of the disputed region began an uprising. The rebels launched a surprise attack on the police outpost at Lethem on January 2, 1969, and several policemen were killed. The government flew police and military forces to the region with orders to raze everything. Only livestock and cattle were spared. The Venezuelan government admitted that some of the Guyanese insurgents had received training in Venezuela and that it would grant refuge to the rebels. Guyana protested this action in the UN.

Venezuela found itself diplomatically isolated, unable even to gain the support of its neighbors in Latin America. Pressure on Venezuela to resolve the dispute led to the Protocol of Port-of- Spain, whereby in 1970 Guyana and Venezuela agreed to a twelve-year moratorium on the dispute. The protocol would be automatically renewed unless either party gave notice of its intention to do otherwise.

In 1981 the Venezuelan president, Luis Hererra Camp�ns, announced that Venezuela would not renew the protocol. Relations again grew tense. Guyana's government accused Venezuela of massing troops near their common border to invade Guyana. The Venezuelan government denied this accusation, stating that its troops merely were involved in regular maneuvers. The subsequent Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands (called the Malvinas by Argentina) and the 1983 United States invasion of Grenada were heavily criticized by the Guyanese government, which feared that a precedent had been set for Venezuela to resolve its territorial grievance by force.

In the late 1980s with different administrations in both countries, relations between Venezuela and Guyana improved. Relations became so cordial, in fact, that Venezuela sponsored Guyana's bid for OAS membership in 1990. Although the territorial issue remained unresolved, there seemed little imminent threat of a Venezuelan invasion.

Guyana - Relations with Brazil

Traditionally, relations between Guyana and Brazil have been good. Brazil has provided small amounts of military assistance to Guyana in the form of jungle warfare training and logistical mat�riel. Brazil's military assistance to Guyana has been contingent on Guyana's refusal of any military aid from Cuba. In 1975 United States allegations that Guyana was allowing Cuban troops en route to the Angolan civil war to refuel in Guyana made the Brazilian government nervous, and it briefly undertook military maneuvers on its border with Guyana.

In the 1960s, both governments were anxious to complete a highway that would link the Brazilian city of Manaus to Georgetown. Completion of the highway would afford Brazil easy access to an Atlantic port from its northernmost states, and Guyana would gain direct access to Brazilian markets. In 1971 Brazil offered Guyana technical assistance to complete the Guyanese portion from Lethem to Georgetown. The offer was refused, however, and the road was not completed until the early 1990s.

Guyana - Relations with Suriname

Guyana's relations with Suriname have at times been tense. Suriname has a territorial claim to a triangle of a land between the New and Courantyne rivers in southeast Guyana. In 1969 Suriname sent troops into the disputed territory. They were quickly repelled by the Guyanese army. Although Suriname made no further attempts to take the territory by force, two issues continued to trouble relations. The first was the forced repatriation of Guyanese living in Suriname. When Suriname's economic decline began in 1980, Surinamese leader Colonel Desi Bouterse blamed Guyanese immigrants, many of whom were successful rice farmers. The second issue was the matter of fishing rights in the disputed territory. Both countries have periodically detained each other's fishermen and confiscated fishing boats on the Courantyne River.

Guyana - Relations with Britain

Despite Burnham's anti-Western rhetoric of the 1970s and early 1980s, Guyana has attempted to maintain good relations with Britain, in part to discourage Venezuelan territorial ambitions. Guyana remained in the Commonwealth of Nations after independence and has played an active role in Commonwealth affairs. Guyana strongly criticized the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands and was a vocal supporter of Britain in the UN.

Guyana - Relations with the Commonwealth Caribbean

Guyana under PNC administrations has consistently encouraged greater unity among the English-speaking Caribbean countries. This policy began in 1961 and was in sharp contrast to the policies of the PPP in the 1950s. The Jagan government had refused to join the West Indies Federation because of Indo-Guyanese concerns about becoming a ethnic minority within the federation. In an independent Guyana, the Indo-Guyanese would be in the majority, and Jagan hoped that such an arrangement would secure political power for the IndoGuyanese and the PPP.

Under the PNC, the Guyanese government joined the Caribbean Free Trade Association (Carifta) with Antigua and Barbados. By 1973 Carifta had become Caricom and had the expanded goal of fostering greater economic, social, and political unity among the member countries. Caricom's headquarters were located in Georgetown, and in 1991 membership included all independent members of the Englishspeaking Caribbean and Belize.

Despite a trend toward economic union since the 1960s, political relations between Guyana and the English-speaking Caribbean occasionally have been poor. Except for Jamaica and Grenada in the 1970s, all of the English-speaking Caribbean countries were pro-Western and procapitalist. This stance put them in direct conflict with the often anti-Western, anticapitalist rhetoric of the Guyanese government.

The low point in relations came after the United States invasion of Grenada. Burnham heavily criticized other Caribbean leaders for their support of the operation, especially Dominica's prime minister, Eugenia Charles, who played a leading role. The rift between Burnham and the other Commonwealth leaders grew so great that it threatened the future of Caricom.

After Burnham's death in 1985, President Hoyte moved quickly to repair relations. At a well-publicized meeting of Caricom heads of government in 1986, Hoyte posed for a picture with the other leaders. Relations generally were good after that conference.

Guyana - Relations with Communist Countries

Guyana enjoyed close relations with Cuba in the 1970s and early 1980s. The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1972, and Cuba agreed to provide medical supplies, doctors, and medical training to Guyana. President Burnham flew with Fidel Castro Ruz in Castro's airplane to the NAM conference in Algiers in 1973. Castro made an official state visit to Guyana in August 1973, and Burnham reciprocated in April 1975, when he was decorated with the Jos� Mart� National Order, Cuba's highest honor. After the United States invasion of Grenada, Burnham distanced himself somewhat from Cuba, fearing United States intervention in Guyana. Under Hoyte's administration, relations with Cuba have been cordial but not close.

Relations with other communist countries were close under Burnham. Diplomatic relations with China were established in June 1972. In 1975 China agreed to provide interest-free loans to Guyana and to import Guyanese bauxite and sugar. In 1976 the Soviet Union appointed a resident ambassador to Georgetown. Burnham paid official state visits to Bulgaria and China in 1983 to seek increased economic aid.

The rapidly changing world of the 1990s provided numerous challenges for the Guyanese government. Two decades of rule by the Burnham administration had resulted in a profound weakening of the country's democratic process and close ties with socialist countries, punctuated by frequent vocal support for leftist causes around the world. Driven by the need to obtain financial support from the West to rejuvenate a collapsed economy, Burnham's successor, Desmond Hoyte, began loosening ties with socialist regimes and downplaying leftist rhetoric. The fall of communism in the early 1990s only accelerated this trend. Financial help and closer relations with the West, particularly the United States, however, came with a price: free-market reforms and genuine respect for Guyana's democratic institutions. In 1992 it remained to be seen whether Guyana had undergone merely another tactical policy shift as an expedient or was truly set on a path of democracy.

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the
Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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