GUYANA AND BELIZE belie their geographic location. Although both are
located on the mainland of the Americas, they more closely resemble the
English-speaking islands of the Caribbean than they do their Latin
American neighbors. Christopher Columbus passed near the coasts of both
countries, but later Spanish explorers and settlers ignored the areas
because they lacked the mineral riches that brought the Spanish to the
New World. The wealth of both areas would prove to be not gold but
agriculture. By the end of the eighteenth century, the indigenous
populations of both regions had been greatly reduced or driven to remote
areas, and the coastal lands held growing populations of British or
Dutch plantation owners. Plantation work was labor intensive, and
initially African slaves, then other ethnic groups, were imported to
work the land. As the colonies expanded economically, Britain claimed
formal sovereignty, but title to each colony remained contested.
The twentieth century saw a shift in political power from the old
plantocracy to a new nonwhite middle class, a rising self- consciousness
among the various ethnic groups, and a slow evolution toward
independence. Formal ties to Britain eventually were broken, but, like
their anglophone Caribbean neighbors, Guyana and Belize today still
strongly bear the mark of their colonial heritage. They retain their
British institutions, their use of the English language, their economies
based on agriculture, and their societies composed of a complex ethnic
mix often divided along racial lines.
Unlike the great civilizations of Middle America that left monuments
and records for archaeologists to decipher, the early societies in
Guyana were relatively simple, nomadic cultures that left few traces.
Early Spanish records and linguistic studies of the Caribbean reveal
only a broad outline of pre-Columbian events. We do know that several
centuries before the arrival of the Europeans, the Arawak moved north
from Brazil to settle and farm the area along the northeast coast of
South America before expanding farther north onto the Caribbean islands.
Shortly before the arrival of the Europeans, the aggressive, warlike
Carib pushed into the area and largely destroyed Arawak society.
Because of the warlike Carib and the region's apparent lack of gold
or silver, the Spanish ignored the northeastern coast of South America.
Settlement by Europeans would wait until 1616, when a group of Dutch
arrived to establish a trading post. The Dutch soon realized the
agricultural potential of the swampy coastal land and aggressively set
out to drain the coast using a vast system of seawalls, dikes and
canals. What had been swampy wasteland decades before, soon turned into
thriving sugar plantations.
The development of agriculture brought rapid change to the colony.
Because the plantation economy needed labor, the Dutch imported African
slaves for the task. The growing economy also attracted the attention of
the British, and British settlers from neighboring Caribbean islands
poured into the three Dutch colonies established along the coast. By the
late 1700s, the new British settlers effectively controlled the
colonies. Formal control by Britain would come in 1814, when most Dutch
colonies were ceded to Britain after the Napoleonic wars.
In 1838 Britain completed the abolition of slavery throughout the
British Empire, and the problem of obtaining cheap and plentiful labor
arose anew. The planters first sought to attract Portuguese, then
Chinese, workers, but both groups soon left plantation work. Concerned
that the decline in labor would ruin the sugar-based economy, the
planters finally contracted laborers from India to work the sugar
fields. Large numbers of indentured workers poured into British Guiana
in the late 1800s. Although theoretically free to return after their
contract period had expired, most East Indians remained, adding a new
ethnic group to the colony's mélange of Africans, Europeans, and
The twentieth century saw a rising consciousness among the country's
ethnic groups and a struggle for political power between the new,
disenfranchised, nonwhite middle class and the old plantocracy. Economic
changes gave momentum to the growing call for political changes. The
country saw rice production, dominated by the Indo-Guyanese (descendants
of East Indians), and bauxite mining, dominated by the Afro-Guyanese
(descendants of Africans), grow in importance, whereas sugar growing,
controlled by the European plantation owners, declined. The British
colonial administration responded to demands for reform by establishing
universal suffrage in 1950 and allowing the formation of political
The People's Progressive Party (PPP), the country's first political
party, quickly became a formidable force. The PPP was formed by two men
who would dominate Guyanese politics for decades to come: Cheddi Jagan,
a Marxist Indo-Guyanese, and Linden Forbes Burnham, an Afro-Guyanese
with leftist political ideas. A new constitution allowing considerable
self-rule was promulgated in 1953; in elections that year the PPP,
headed by Jagan, won a majority of seats in the new legislature. The new
administration immediately sought legislation giving the labor unions
expanded power. This legislation and the administration's leftist
rhetoric frightened the British colonial authorities, who suspended the
new government after only four months.
Conflict with the British was not the only problem facing the PPP.
Personal rivalries between Jagan and Burnham and growing conflict
between the Indo-Guyanese and the Afro-Guyanese widened into an open
split. In 1957 Burnham and most of the Afro-Guyanese left the PPP and
formed the rival People's National Congress (PNC). The two parties
shared left-wing ideologies; the differences between them were largely
based on ethnicity.
The British promulgated a new constitution in 1957. Elections in that
year and in 1961 resulted in more PPP victories. Under the new
constitution, considerable power resided in the hands of the governor,
who was appointed by the British. The PPP administration headed by Jagan
was therefore unable to implement most of its radical policy
initiatives. The Marxist rhetoric, however, intensified.
Convinced that independence under a PPP administration would result
in a communist takeover, the British authorities permitted and even
encouraged a destabilization campaign by the opposition PNC.
Antigovernment demonstrations and riots increased and in 1963 mobs
destroyed parts of Georgetown, the capital. When labor unrest paralyzed
the economy, British troops were called in to restore order. In the
midst of the unrest the government scheduled new elections in 1964.
Voting along ethnic lines again gave the PPP the largest number of
seats in the legislature. But the rival PNC, by allying itself with a
small business-oriented party, was able to form a coalition government.
Jagan had to be forcibly removed as prime minister, and in December 1964
Burnham assumed the post. Under the new administration, events
stabilized, and independence was set for May 26, 1966.
The independent Guyana inherited by the PNC was one of the
least-populated and least-developed countries in South America. Located
on the northeast coast of the continent just north of the equator, the
Idaho-sized country is wedged among Venezuela, Brazil, and Suriname
(former Dutch Guiana). More than 90 percent of the population lives
within five or six kilometers of the sea. This coastal plain,
constituting only 5 percent of the country's total area, was originally
low swampland but was transformed by the Dutch into the country's most
productive agricultural land. Inland from the coastal plain lies the
white-sand belt, site of most of Guyana's mineral wealth of bauxite,
gold, and diamonds. Farther inland are the interior highlands,
consisting of largely uninhabited mountains and savannahs.
Guyana's ethnic mix at independence, still the same in 1993,
consisted primarily of Indo-Guyanese--about half the population-- and
Afro-Guyanese--slightly more than 40 percent of the total. Smaller
numbers of Amerindians, Asians, and Europeans completed Guyana's ethnic
mélange. More than two-thirds of the population was Christian, with
significant Hindu and Muslim minorities. Established by the British, the
school system has resulted in high literacy rates (more than 90
The small military, the Guyana Defence Force, existed primarily as a
deterrent to Venezuela's territorial claim. Venezuela's claim to the
western three-fifths of Guyana, a dispute that dated from the colonial
era, was thought to have been settled by arbitration in 1899. When later
evidence showed that one of the judges had been influenced to vote
against Venezuela, that country declared the arbitration settlement
invalid and in the 1960s aggressively pursued its territorial claim on
western Guyana. This border dispute was to flare periodically after
The first years of PNC administration after independence saw Prime
Minister Burnham vigorously establishing control over Guyana's political
and economic life. The 1968 elections were won by the PNC, despite
charges of widespread fraud and coercion of voters. As the government's
control over the country's political institutions increased, Burnham
began nationalizing industries and financial institutions. In 1970
Guyana was declared a "cooperative republic," and government
control of all economic activity increased. The 1973 elections were
considered the most undemocratic in Guyana's history, and by 1974 all
organs of the state had become agencies of the ruling PNC.
In the late 1970s, a number of events increased opposition to the
Burnham regime. The economy, which had grown immediately after
independence, began to contract because of nationalization. In addition,
in 1978 negative international attention was focused on Guyana when more
than 900 members of the People's Temple of Christ led by Jim Jones
committed mass murder and suicide at their community in western Guyana.
As opposition to the government increased, the government responded by
violence against opposition members and meetings. The authoritarian
nature of the Burnham government caused the loss of both foreign and
A new constitution was promulgated in 1980, shifting power from the
prime minister to the new post of executive president, but the political
and economic situation continued to decline. Government programs had
been financed by increasing the foreign debt, but in the early 1980s,
most foreign banks and lending organizations refused further loans. The
quality of life deteriorated: blackouts were frequent, and shortages of
rice and sugar, Guyana's two largest crops, appeared. In 1985 in the
midst of this turbulence, Burnham died while undergoing throat surgery.
Vice President Hugh Desmond Hoyte became the country's new executive
president. He had two stated goals: to secure political power and
revitalize the economy. Establishing political control was easy. The PNC
chose Hoyte as its new leader, and in the 1985 elections the PNC claimed
more than 79 percent of the vote. Economic growth, however, would
require concessions to foreign lenders. Hoyte therefore began to
restructure the economy. An economic recovery plan was negotiated with
the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank allowing for new
loans in exchange for free-market reforms and reversal of the Burnham
administration's nationalization policies. To win favor with Western
governments and financial institutions, Hoyte also moderated the
previous administration's leftist tilt in international relations.
The results of economic reform were slow to appear, but by 1990 the
economy began to grow again. The last legitimate date for new elections
was December 1990. Sensing, however, that the PNC might be able to win a
fair election (and thus regain a measure of international respect) if
the economy continued to improve, the government invoked a clause in the
constitution allowing elections to be postponed a year. Seeing a chance
for an honest election, a group of Guyanese civic leaders created the
Elections Assistance Board (EAB) to monitor the upcoming elections. The
EAB appealed to the Carter Center in Atlanta for international support
in its effort.
Despite threats and intimidation, in July 1991 the EAB conducted a
door-to-door survey to verify voter lists. When the lists were shown to
be grossly inaccurate, the Hoyte administration, under pressure from the
EAB and the international community, declared a state of emergency and
agreed to postpone the elections until October 1992 and implement a
series of reforms suggested by the Carter Center. The reforms included
appointment of a new election commissioner and agreement that the
ballots be counted at polling centers in view of poll watchers instead
of being taken to government centers and army bases for tallying.
The election date was finally set for October 5, 1992. Hoyte based
the PNC campaign on the improving economy, which he credited to his
free-market reforms. The PPP, still headed by Jagan after forty-two
years, renounced its past Marxist policies and embraced elements of a
free-market economy. In a reversal of decades of racial politics, Jagan
attempted to downplay the country's ethnic polarization by naming an
Afro-Guyanese, Sam Hinds, as his running mate.
Monitored by an international team of observers headed by United
States former President Jimmy Carter, election results gave an alliance
of the PPP, the smaller Working People's Alliance (WPA), and the United
Force (UF) 54 percent of the vote, and the PNC, 45 percent. These
results translated into thirty-two seats in the National Assembly for
the PPP, thirty-one seats for the PNC, and one apiece for the WPA and
the UF. Foreign observers certified the elections as "free, fair,
and transparent." The PNC conceded defeat on October 7 and, after
twenty-eight years, stepped down from power. Following brief
consultations, the PPP formed a coalition government with the WPA and
the UF (named the PPP-Civic coalition) and named Jagan executive
Two days of rioting and looting in Georgetown and Linden in eastern
Guyana followed announcement of the election results. By the time the
army and police restored order, 2 demonstrators had been killed and more
than 200 injured. Many analysts attributed the violence to the fear that
a PPP government would mean fewer economic benefits for the
Afro-Guyanese population. Former President Carter, however, stated that
the violence was localized and the looting unrelated to the voting.
In a radio broadcast on October 13, Jagan outlined the direction of
the new government. He stated his intention to build a political
consensus that cut across ethnic lines and to continue the privatization
policies of his predecessor. Analysts speculated that the new
administration would have difficulty in getting measures approved by the
National Assembly and would face strong opposition from the
PNC-dominated military and civil service. Election observers noted also
the need to lower racial tension in a society that some characterized as
one of the most racially divided they had witnessed. The motto on the
Guyanese coat of arms proudly proclaims "one people, one nation,
one destiny." In 1993, however, this motto remained a distant goal.
The history of preindependence Belize parallels in many ways the
history of Guyana. Unlike the pre-Columbian inhabitants of Guyana,
however, the Maya in Belize left majestic ruins of their civilization.
Remains of the earliest settlers of the area date back at least to 2500
B.C. By 250 A.D. the classic period of Maya culture had begun; this
period of city-building lasted for more than 700 years. During this
time, the Maya built big ceremonial centers, practiced large-scale
agriculture using irrigation, and developed writing and a sophisticated
calendar. Around the tenth century, evidence suggests that the great
cities were abandoned, perhaps because of increased warfare among the
city-states, revolt of the peasants against the priestly class,
overexploitation of the environment, or a combination of these and other
factors. Even though the great ceremonial centers were left to decay,
the Maya continued to inhabit the region until the arrival of the
The first European settlers in the area were not Spanish but English.
Although Christopher Columbus passed through the area on his fourth
voyage to the Americas in 1502, Spanish explorers and settlers ignored
the region because it lacked gold. English pirates roaming the Caribbean
in the seventeenth century began establishing small camps near the
Belize River to cut logwood, from which a black dye was extracted.
Logwood extraction proved more profitable than piracy, and the English
settlements on the Caribbean coast grew.
The Spanish sent expeditions throughout the eighteenth century to
dislodge the British settlers. The British were repeatedly forced to
evacuate but returned shortly after each attack. Several treaties in the
late 1700s recognized the British settlers' right to extract logwood but
confirmed Spanish sovereignty over the region, a concession that later
would lead to a territorial dispute.
The colony continued to grow throughout the nineteenth century.
Logwood extraction was replaced by mahogany cutting as the settlement's
principal economic activity, and slaves were introduced to increase
production. By the time emancipation was completed in 1838, the
settlement had evolved into a plantation society with a small number of
European landowners and a large population of slaves from Africa.
In the nineteenth century, the colony was also a magnet for
dispossessed groups throughout the region. The Garifuna, an Afro-indigenous people descended from the Carib
Indians and slaves of the Eastern Caribbean, found refuge in the area in
the early 1800s. In the mid- and late 1800s, large numbers of Maya, many
of whom had intermarried with or become culturally assimilated to the
Spanish-speaking population of Central America, fled fighting in the
Yucatán or forced labor in Guatemala and settled in the colony.
The nineteenth century also saw the development of formal government.
As early as 1765, a common law system for the settlers was formalized,
and a superintendent was named in 1794. A rudimentary legislature began
meeting in the early 1800s, and in 1854 the British produced a
constitution and formally established the colony of British Honduras in
1862. Political power in the colony remained firmly in the hands of the
old settler elite, however; blacks working the plantations were
disenfranchised, and smaller populations of smallholder Garifuna and
Maya lived on the periphery of society.
The early 1900s were a period of political and social change.
Nonwhite groups, particularly an emerging black middle class, began to
agitate for the vote and political power. Mahogany production slowed,
and the colony began to depend on sugar for revenue. Additional
immigrants from neighboring Spanish-speaking countries drifted in and
settled among the rural Maya. Creoles, as the English-speaking blacks called themselves, began
to participate in colonial politics.
The Great Depression of the 1930s greatly accelerated the pace of
change. Mahogany exports virtually collapsed, and the colonial officials
responded with measures designed primarily to protect the interests of
the plantation owners. As a result, widespread labor disturbances broke
out. Pressured by persistent labor unrest, the government eventually
legalized trade unions in 1941. The unions soon broadened their demands
to include political reform, and in 1950 the first and most durable
political party, the People's United Party (PUP), was formed with strong
backing from the labor movement. Universal suffrage was granted to
literate adults in 1954, and by the 1960s the colony was being prepared
The final obstacle to independence proved to be not internal problems
or resistance from the colonial power, but an unresolved territorial
claim over all of Belize by neighboring Guatemala. The dispute dated to
treaties signed in the 1700s, in which Britain agreed to Spanish
sovereignty over the region. Guatemala later claimed it had inherited
Spanish sovereignty over Belize. Although negotiations over the issue
had occurred periodically for more than a century, the matter of
sovereignty became a particularly important issue for Guatemala in the
1960s and 1970s, when it realized Britain might grant independence to
Guatemala's demand for annexation of Belize was largely fought in the
international area. Realizing that Belize's small defense force of 700
was no match for Guatemala's army, the British stationed a garrison
force to deter any aggression. Belize sought support for sovereignty
from the United Nations, the Nonaligned Movement, the Commonwealth of
Nations, and the Organization of American States. First, individual
states and then the international organizations themselves came to
support Belize's cause. By 1980 Guatemala was completely without
international support for its territorial claim, and the British granted
Belize independence in 1981.
Belize at independence was a small country whose economy depended on
one crop. Unlike many other newly emerging nations, however, Belize was
underpopulated in the early 1990s. The country, approximately the size
of Massachusetts, consists largely of tropical forest, flat in the north
and with a low range of mountains in the south. Belize has traditionally
depended on one crop (forest products in the 1700s and 1800s; sugar in
the mid- 1900s) for its economic livelihood. A collapse in the price of
sugar in the 1980s forced the government to diversify the economy. The
growth of tourism and increased citrus and banana production in the
1990s made the economy less vulnerable to the price swings of a single
Ethnic diversity characterized Belizean society. The two largest
groups were the Creoles, an English-speaking group either partly or
wholly of African descent, and the Hispanic descendants of immigrants
from neighboring Spanish-speaking countries or Hispanicized indigenous
groups called Mestizos. Smaller groups included the Garifuna and the various
Maya peoples. The 1980 census showed the population to be about 40
percent Creole and 33 percent Mestizo. A considerable of influx of
people from Central America shifted these percentages, however, so that
the 1991 census showed the Mestizos to be the larger group, a change
that distanced the country from the anglophone Caribbean and made it
increasingly resemble its Hispanic neighbors on the isthmus of Central
The British legacy included a parliamentary democracy based on the
British model, a government headed by the British monarch but governed
by a prime minister named by the lower house of the bicameral
legislature, and an independent judiciary. The constitutional safeguards
for citizens' rights were respected, and the two elections since
independence had seen power alternate between the country's two
political parties with an absence of irregularities or political
violence. The last election in 1989 saw George Cadle Price, leader of
the PUP, regain the position of prime minister, a post he had held at
the time of independence.
In 1993 Belize faced a number of challenges. The nation endeavored to
meet the needs of a growing population with only limited resources. The
makeup of the population itself was changing as Belizeans became more
like their Central American neighbors and less like the English-speaking
Caribbean. Most analysts agreed, however, that as the twentieth century
drew to a close, Belize seemed well-positioned to deal successfully with
the economic and social changes confronting it.
March 3, 1993
* * *
In the months following completion of research and writing of this
book, significant political developments occurred in Belize. On May 13,
1993, the British government, saying that it felt its military presence
in Belize was no longer necessary because resolution of Guatemala's
long-standing territorial claim seemed imminent, announced that it would
remove most of its troops from Belize within a year. On June 1, buoyed
by overwhelming victories in by-elections for the Belize City Council
and for a vacated parliamentary seat, Prime Minister George Price called
for the governor general to dissolve the National Assembly on June 30
and hold general elections the following day, fifteen months before the
mandate of his People's United Party (PUP) was due to expire. The main
opposition party, the United Democratic Party (UDP) headed by Manuel
Esquivel, and the newly formed National Alliance for Belizean Rights
headed by veteran UDP politician Philip Goldson announced they would
participate in the election. The PUP was confident of victory because
the economy was growing and the opposition appeared disorganized. The
PUP also claimed that recently passed legislation giving Guatemala
access to the Caribbean through Belizean territorial waters had finally
settled the dispute with Guatemala.
Events in neighboring Guatemala, however, came to dominate the issues
in the Belizean election. On June 2, the Guatemalan military removed
President Jorge Serrano Elías, who had earlier accepted Belize's right
to exist and established diplomatic relations with Belize. Later in
June, the Guatemalan military announced plans to impeach Serrano in
absentia for his accord with Belize.
In its election campaign, the UDP seized on many Belizeans' fears of
renewed Guatemalan territorial claims, the consequence of the British
troop withdrawal, and resentment by Creoles over the growing
hispanicization of the country. Esquivel accused Price's administration
of making too many concessions to Guatemala to obtain a settlement to
the dispute and promised to suspend the legislation granting Guatemala
access to the Caribbean. The UDP also charged that the PUP had not
fought hard enough to keep the British garrison in Belize and promised
to reopen talks to maintain a British presence if it were brought to
power. In addition, the UDP accused the PUP of having allowed too many
Spanish-speaking refugees into Belize (the 1991 census revealed that for
the first time there were more Mestizos than Creoles in the country) and
then catering to the Spanish-speaking vote.
These campaign charges, along with attacks on the PUP as being
corrupt and secretly planning to devalue the Belizean dollar, resulted
in a surprise victory for the UDP on July 1. Although the PUP won a slim
majority of the total votes cast, the UDP won sixteen of the twenty-nine
seats in the National Assembly. The UDP victory for several seats was
razor-thin (six of the seats were won with a majority of five or fewer
votes) and several recounts were held. Results of the sixteen-seat
victory for the UDP were confirmed, however, and on July 5, Manuel
Esquivel was sworn in as Belize's new prime minister.
Guyana - History
The 1905 Ruimveldt Riots rocked British Guiana. The severity of these
outbursts reflected the workers' widespread dissatification with their
standard of living. The uprising began in late November 1905 when the
Georgetown stevedores went on strike, demanding higher wages. The strike
grew confrontational, and other workers struck in sympathy, creating the
country's first urban-rural worker alliance. On November 30, crowds of
people took to the streets of Georgetown, and by December 1, 1905, now
referred to as Black Friday, the situation had spun out of control. At
the Plantation Ruimveldt, close to Georgetown, a large crowd of porters
refused to disperse when ordered to do so by a police patrol and a
detachment of artillery. The colonial authorities opened fire, and four
workers were seriously injured.
Word of the shootings spread rapidly throughout Georgetown and
hostile crowds began roaming the city, taking over a number of
buildings. By the end of the day, seven people were dead and seventeen
badly injured. In a panic, the British administration called for help.
Britain sent troops, who finally quelled the uprising. Although the
stevedores' strike failed, the riots had planted the seeds of what would
become an organized trade union movement.
Even though World War I was fought far beyond the borders of British
Guiana, the war altered Guianese society. The AfroGuyanese who joined
the British military became the nucleus of an elite Afro-Guyanese
community upon their return. World War I also led to the end of East
Indian indentured service. British concerns over political stability in
India and criticism by Indian nationalists that the program was a form
of human bondage caused the British government to outlaw indentured
labor in 1917.
In the closing years of World War I, the colony's first trade union
was formed. The British Guiana Labour Union (BGLU) was established in
1917 under the leadership of H.N. Critchlow. Formed in the face of
widespread business opposition, the BGLU at first mostly represented
Afro-Guyanese dockworkers. Its membership stood around 13,000 by 1920,
and it was granted legal status in 1921 under the Trades Union
Ordinance. Although recognition of other unions would not come until
1939, the BGLU was an indication that the working class was becoming
politically aware and more concerned with its rights.
After World War I, new economic interest groups began to clash with
the Combined Court. The country's economy had come to depend less on
sugar and more on rice and bauxite, and producers of these new
commodities resented the sugar planters' continued domination of the
Combined Court. Meanwhile, the planters were feeling the effects of
lower sugar prices and wanted the Combined Court to provide the
necessary funds for new drainage and irrigation programs.
To stop the bickering and resultant legislative paralysis, in 1928
the British Colonial Office announced a new constitution that would make
British Guiana a crown
colony under tight control of a governor appointed by
the Colonial Office. The Combined Court and the Court of Policy were
replaced by a Legislative Council with a majority of appointed members.
To middle-class and working-class political activists, this new
constitution represented a step backward and a victory for the planters.
Influence over the governor, rather than the promotion of a particular
public policy, became the most important issue in any political
The Great Depression of the 1930s brought economic hardship to all
segments of Guianese society. All of the colony's major exports--sugar,
rice and bauxite--were affected by low prices, and unemployment soared.
As in the past, the working class found itself lacking a political voice
during a time of worsening economic conditions. By the mid-1930s,
British Guiana and the whole British Caribbean were marked by labor
unrest and violent demonstrations. In the aftermath of riots throughout
the British West Indies, a royal commission under Lord Moyne was
established to determine the reasons for the riots and to make
In British Guiana, the Moyne Commission questioned a wide range of
people, including trade unionists, Afro-Guyanese professionals, and
representatives of the Indo-Guyanese community. The commission pointed
out the deep division between the country's two largest ethnic groups,
the Afro-Guyanese and the Indo-Guyanese. The largest group, the
Indo-Guyanese, consisted primarily of rural rice producers or merchants;
they had retained the country's traditional culture and did not
participate in national politics. The Afro-Guyanese were largely urban
workers or bauxite miners; they had adopted European culture and
dominated national politics. To increase representation of the majority
of the population in British Guiana, the Moyne Commission called for
increased democratization of government as well as economic and social
The Moyne Commission report in 1938 was a turning point in British
Guiana. It urged extending the franchise to women and persons not owning
land and encouraged the emerging trade union movement. Unfortunately,
many of the Moyne Commission's recommendations were not immediately
implemented because of the outbreak of the World War II.
With the fighting far away, the period of World War II in British
Guiana was marked by continuing political reform and improvements to the
national infrastructure. The reform-minded governor, Sir Gordon Lethem,
reduced property qualifications for officeholding and voting, and made
elective members a majority on the Legislative Council in 1943. Under
the aegis of the Lend- Lease Act of 1941, a modern air base (now Timehri
Airport) was constructed by United States troops. By the end of World
War II, British Guiana's political system had been widened to encompass
more elements of society and the economy's foundations had been
strengthened by increased demand for bauxite.
Guyana - The Development of Political Parties
The immediate postwar period witnessed the founding of Guyana's major
political parties, the People's Progressive Party (PPP) and the People's
National Congress (PNC). These years also saw the beginning of a long
and acrimonious struggle between the country's two dominant political
personalities--Cheddi Jagan and Linden Forbes Burnham.
The end of World War II began a period of worldwide decolonization.
In British Guiana, political awareness and demands for independence grew
in all segments of society. At the same time, the struggle for political
ascendancy between Burnham, the ""Man on Horseback""
of the Afro-Guyanese, and Jagan, the hero of the Indo-Guyanese masses,
left a legacy of racially polarized politics that remained in place in
Jagan had been born in Guyana in 1918. His parents were immigrants
from India. His father was a driver, a position considered to be on the
lowest rung of the middle stratum of Guianese society. Jagan's childhood
gave him a lasting insight into rural poverty. Despite their poor
background, the senior Jagan sent his son to Queen's College in
Georgetown. After his education there, Jagan went to the United States
to study dentistry, graduating from Northwestern University in Evanston,
Illinois in 1942.
Jagan returned to British Guiana in October 1943 and was soon joined
by his American wife, the former Janet Rosenberg, who was to play a
significant role in her new country's political development. Although
Jagan established his own dentistry clinic, he was soon enmeshed in
politics. After a number of unsuccessful forays into Guiana's political
life, Jagan became treasurer of the Manpower Citizens Association (MPCA)
in 1945. The MPCA represented the colony's sugar workers, many of whom
were Indo- Guyanese. Jagan's tenure was brief, as he clashed repeatedly
with the more moderate union leadership over policy issues. Despite his
departure from the MPCA a year after joining, the position allowed Jagan
to meet other union leaders in British Guiana and throughout the
The springboard for Jagan's political career was the Political
Affairs Committee (PAC), formed in 1946 as a discussion group. The new
organization published the PAC Bulletin to promote its Marxist
ideology and ideas of liberation and decolonization. The PAC's outspoken
criticism of the colony's poor living standards attracted followers as
well as detractors.
In the November 1947 general elections, the PAC put forward several
members as independent candidates. The PAC's major competitor was the
newly formed Labour Party, which, under J.B. Singh, won six of fourteen
seats contested. Jagan won a seat and briefly joined the Labour Party.
But he had difficulties with his new party's center-right ideology and
soon left its ranks. The Labour Party's support of the policies of the
British governor and its inability to create a grass-roots base
gradually stripped it of liberal supporters throughout the country. The
Labour Party's lack of a clear-cut reform agenda left a vacuum, which
Jagan rapidly moved to fill. Turmoil on the colony's sugar plantations
gave him an opportunity to achieve national standing. After the June 16,
1948 police shootings of five Indo-Guyanese workers at Enmore, close to
Georgetown, the PAC and the Guiana Industrial Workers Union (GIWU)
organized a large and peaceful demonstration, which clearly enhanced
Jagan's standing with the Indo-Guyanese population.
Jagan's next major step was the founding of the People's Progressive
Party (PPP) in January 1950. Using the PAC as a foundation, Jagan
created from it a new party that drew support from both the
Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese communities. To increase support among
the Afro-Guyanese, Forbes Burnham was brought into the party.
Born in 1923, Burnham was the sole son in a family that had three
children. His father was headmaster of Kitty Methodist Primary School,
which was located just outside Georgetown. As part of the colony's
educated class, young Burnham was exposed to political viewpoints at an
early age. He did exceedingly well in school and went to London to
obtain a law degree. Although not exposed to childhood poverty as was
Jagan, Burnham was acutely aware of racial discrimination.
The social strata of the urban Afro-Guyanese community of the 1930s
and 1940s included a mulatto or ""coloured"" elite,
a black professional middle class, and, at the bottom, the black working
class. Unemployment in the 1930s was high. When war broke out in 1939,
many Afro-Guyanese joined the military, hoping to gain new job skills
and escape poverty. When they returned home from the war, however, jobs
were still scarce and discrimination was still a part of life. By the
time of Burnham's arrival on the political stage in the late 1940s, the
Afro-Guyanese community was ready for a leader.
The PPP's initial leadership was multiethnic and left of center, but
hardly revolutionary. Jagan became the leader of the PPP's parliamentary
group, and Burnham assumed the responsibilities of party chairman. Other
key party members included Janet Jagan and Ashton Chase, both PAC
veterans. The new party's first victory came in the 1950 municipal
elections, in which Janet Jagan won a seat. Cheddi Jagan and Burnham
failed to win seats, but Burnham's campaign made a favorable impression
on many urban Afro- Guyanese.
From its first victory in the 1950 municipal election, the PPP
gathered momentum. However, the party's often strident anticapitalist
and socialist message made the British government uneasy. Colonial
officials showed their displeasure with the PPP in 1952 when, on a
regional tour, the Jagans were designated prohibited immigrants in
Trinidad and Grenada.
A British commission in 1950 recommended universal adult suffrage and
the adoption of a ministerial system for British Guiana. The commission
also recommended that power be concentrated in the executive branch,
that is, the office of the governor. These reforms presented British
Guiana's parties with an opportunity to participate in national
elections and form a government, but maintained power in the hands of
the British- appointed chief executive. This arrangement rankled the
PPP, which saw it as an attempt to curtail the party's political power.
Guyana - PREINDEPENDENCE GOVERNMENT, 1953-66
The 1968 elections allowed the PNC to rule without the UF. The PNC
won thirty seats, the PPP nineteen seats, and the UF four seats.
However, many observers claimed the elections were marred by
manipulation and coercion by the PNC. The PPP and UF were part of
Guyana's political landscape but were ignored as Burnham began to
convert the machinery of state into an instrument of the PNC.
After the 1968 elections, Burnham's policies became more leftist as
he announced he would lead Guyana to socialism. He consolidated his
dominance of domestic policies through gerrymandering, manipulation of
the balloting process, and politicalization of the civil service. A few
Indo-Guyanese were coopted into the PNC, but the ruling party was
unquestionably the embodiment of the Afro-Guyanese political will.
Although the Afro-Guyanese middle class was uneasy with Burnham's
leftist leanings, the PNC remained a shield against Indo-Guyanese
dominance. The support of the Afro-Guyanese community allowed the PNC to
bring the economy under control and to begin organizing the country into
On February 23, 1970, Guyana declared itself a
""cooperative republic"" and cut all ties to the
British monarchy. The governor general was replaced as head of state by
a ceremonial president. Relations with Cuba were improved, and Guyana
became a force in the Nonaligned Movement. In August 1972, Burnham
hosted the Conference of Foreign Ministers of Nonaligned Countries in
Georgetown. He used this opportunity to address the evils of imperialism
and the need to support African liberation movements in southern Africa.
Burnham also let Cuban troops use Guyana as a transit point on their way
to the war in Angola in the mid- 1970s.
In the early 1970s, electoral fraud became blatant in Guyana. PNC
victories always included overseas voters, who consistently and
overwhelmingly voted for the ruling party. The police and military
intimidated the Indo-Guyanese. The army was accused of tampering with
Considered a low point in the democratic process, the 1973 elections
were followed by an amendment to the constitution that abolished legal
appeals to the Privy Council in London. After consolidating power on the
legal and electoral fronts, Burnham turned to mobilizing the masses for
what was to be Guyana's cultural revolution. A program of national
service was introduced that placed an emphasis on self-reliance, loosely
defined as Guyana's population feeding, clothing, and housing itself
without outside help.
Government authoritarianism increased in 1974 when Burnham advanced
the ""paramountcy of the party."" All organs of the
state would be considered agencies of the ruling PNC and subject to its
control. The state and the PNC became interchangeable; PNC objectives
were now public policy.
Burnham's consolidation of power in Guyana was not total; opposition
groups were tolerated within limits. For instance, in 1973 the Working
People's Alliance (WPA) was founded. Opposed to Burnham's
authoritarianism, the WPA was a multiethnic combination of politicians
and intellectuals that advocated racial harmony, free elections, and
democratic socialism. Although the WPA did not become an official
political party until 1979, it evolved as an alternative to Burnham's
PNC and Jagan's PPP.
Jagan's political career continued to decline in the 1970s.
Outmaneuvered on the parliamentary front, the PPP leader tried another
tactic. In April 1975, the PPP ended its boycott of parliament with
Jagan stating that the PPP's policy would change from noncooperation and
civil resistance to critical support of the Burnham regime. Soon after,
Jagan appeared on the same platform with Prime Minister Burnham at the
celebration of ten years of Guyanese independence, on May 26, 1976.
Despite Jagan's conciliatory move, Burnham had no intention of
sharing powers and continued to secure his position. When overtures
intended to bring about new elections and PPP participation in the
government were brushed aside, the largely Indo-Guyanese sugar work
force went on a bitter strike. The strike was broken, and sugar
production declined steeply from 1976 to 1977. The PNC postponed the
1978 elections, opting instead for a referendum to be held in July 1978,
proposing to keep the incumbent assembly in power.
The July 1978 national referendum was poorly received. Although the
PNC government proudly proclaimed that 71 percent of eligible voters
participated and that 97 percent approved the referendum, other
estimates put turnout at 10 to 14 percent. The low turnout was caused in
large part by a boycott led by the PPP, WPA, and other opposition
Burnham's control over Guyana began to weaken when the Jonestown
massacre brought unwanted international attention. In the 1970s, Jim
Jones, leader of the People's Temple of Christ, moved more than 1,000 of
his followers from San Francisco to form Jonestown, a utopian
agricultural community near Port Kaituma in western Guyana. The People's
Temple of Christ was regarded by members of the Guyanese government as a
model agricultural community that shared its vision of settling the
hinterland and its view of cooperative socialism. The fact that the
People's Temple was well-equipped with openly flaunted weapons hinted
that the community had the approval of members of the PNC's inner
circle. Complaints of abuse by leaders of the cult prompted United
States congressman Leo Ryan to fly to Guyana to investigate. The San
Francisco-area representative was shot and killed by members of the
People's Temple as he was boarding or airplane at Port Kaituma to return
to Georgetown. Fearing further publicity, Jones and more than 900 of his
followers died in a massive communal murder and suicide. The November
1978 Jonestown massacre suddenly put the Burnham government under
intense foreign scrutiny, especially from the United States.
Investigations into the massacre led to allegations that the Guyanese
government had links to the fanatical cult.
Although the bloody memory of Jonestown faded, Guyanese politics
experienced a violent year in 1979. Some of this violence was directed
against the WPA, which had emerged as a vocal critic of the state and of
Burnham in particular. One of the party's leaders, Walter Rodney, and
several professors at the University of Guyana were arrested on arson
charges. The professors were soon released, and Rodney was granted bail.
WPA leaders then organized the alliance into Guyana's most vocal
As 1979 wore on, the level of violence continued to escalate. In
October Minister of Education Vincent Teekah was mysteriously shot to
death. The following year, Rodney was killed by a car bomb. The PNC
government quickly accused Rodney of being a terrorist who had died at
the hands of his own bomb and charged his brother Donald with being an
accomplice. Later investigation implicated the Guyanese government,
however. Rodney was a well- known leftist, and the circumstances of his
death damaged Burnham's image with many leaders and intellectuals in
less- developed countries who earlier had been willing to overlook the
authoritarian nature of his government.
A new constitution was promulgated in 1980. The old ceremonial post of president was
abolished, and the head of government became the executive president,
chosen, as the former position of prime minister had been, by the
majority party in the National Assembly. Burnham automatically became
Guyana's first executive president and promised elections later in the
year. In elections held on December 15, 1980, the PNC claimed 77 percent
of the vote and forty-one seats of the popularly elected seats, plus the
ten chosen by the regional councils. The PPP and UF won ten and two
seats, respectively. The WPA refused to participate in an electoral
contest it regarded as fraudulent. Opposition claims of electoral fraud
were upheld by a team of international observers headed by Britain's
The economic crisis facing Guyana in the early 1980s deepened
considerably, accompanied by the rapid deterioration of public services,
infrastructure, and overall quality of life. Blackouts occurred almost
daily, and water services were increasingly unsatisfactory. The litany
of Guyana's decline included shortages of rice and sugar (both produced
in the country), cooking oil, and kerosene. While the formal economy
sank, the black market economy in Guyana thrived.
In the midst of this turbulent period, Burnham underwent surgery for
a throat ailment. On August 6, 1985, while in the care of Cuban doctors,
Guyana's first and only leader since independence unexpectedly died. An
epoch had abruptly ended. Guyana was suddenly in the post-Burnham era.
Guyana - From Burnham to Hoyte
Guyana achieved political independence in 1966, but economic
independence did not immediately follow. Most decisions affecting the
economy continued to be made abroad because foreign companies owned most
of the agricultural and mining enterprises. Two British companies,
Booker McConnell and Jessel Securities, controlled the largest sugar
estates and exerted a great deal of influence on the nation. In the
early 1970s, the Booker McConnell company alone accounted for almost
one-third of Guyana's gross national product (GNP). The company produced
85 percent of Guyana's sugar, employed 13 percent of the work force, and
took in 35 percent of the country's foreign exchange earnings.
Two other foreign companies dominated the mining sector: the Demerara
Bauxite Company (Demba), a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of Canada
(Alcan); and the Reynolds Bauxite Company, a subsidiary of the Reynolds
Metals Company of the United States. Together these firms accounted for
45 percent of the nation's foreign exchange earnings. Foreign companies
also controlled the major banks.
The Burnham government, which took office in 1964, saw continued
foreign domination of the economy as an obstacle to progress. As
economist DeLisle Worrell pointed out, foreign ownership was considered
the root cause of local economic difficulties. Emerging nations of the
Caribbean region shared this viewpoint, which was supported by a number
of arguments. Foreign-owned companies were said to use inappropriate
production technologies in the Caribbean. These technologies were
capital intensive, rather than labor intensive, because they had been
developed for the industrialized world. Thus, local unemployment
remained higher than necessary. Furthermore, local economies were geared
to producing only primary products (sugar and bauxite in Guyana) rather
than value-added products (processed foods and aluminum parts, for
example). Guyana sold its inexpensive primary products abroad at world
market prices that made local economies vulnerable to international
price swings. At the same time, local economies had to import expensive
products, such as machinery, because most small, less-developed
countries had no manufacturing base.
According to critics of the country's economic system, foreign
companies were satisfied with the existing arrangements and had no
incentive to develop the local economies. In short, foreign control was
stifling regional aspirations. Many people in Caribbean countries,
particularly those with left-leaning political sympathies, called for
government control of the economies.
The government moved vigorously to take control of the economy. In
1970 Burnham proclaimed Guyana as the world's first "cooperative
republic." He said that the country would continue to welcome
foreign investors but that the government would own at least 51 percent
of any enterprise operating in Guyana. The Burnham government originally
planned not to exceed this 51 percent ownership; it wanted majority
control of the companies but wanted to maintain foreign management teams
and the flow of foreign investment. In practice, however, major foreign
companies balked at the idea of shared ownership, and the Burnham
government took complete control of the economy, eliminating both
foreign ownership and foreign management.
During the 1970s, Guyana nationalized the major companies operating
in the country. Demba became a state-owned corporation in 1971. Three
years later, the government took over the Reynolds Bauxite Company. The
Burnham government then turned its attention to the sugar industry. Some
observers say the latter move was largely for political reasons; they
say the Burnham government was seeking to extend its base of support
among Indo-Guyanese sugar laborers. Guyana nationalized Jessel
Securities in 1975 after the company began laying off workers to cut
costs. In 1976 the government nationalized the huge Booker McConnell
company. By the late 1970s, the government controlled over 80 percent of
Nationalization of large foreign companies was but one aspect of
pervasive government control of economic activity. By the early 1980s,
the government had also taken over the bulk of the retailing and
distribution systems. It controlled the marketing of all exports, even
those few products, such as rice, which were still produced privately.
It owned all but two financial institutions and tightly regulated
currency exchange. The government controlled prices and even attempted
to dictate patterns of consumption by banning a wide range of consumer
imports. Local substitutes for even the most basic imports were
proposed, such as rice flour for imported wheat flour.
The nationalized economy at first appeared to be performing well.
During the early 1970s, world prices of both sugar and bauxite rose,
allowing the newly nationalized enterprises to reap sizable profits.
Increased government spending helped stimulate the economy, and GDP grew
at about 4 percent per year from 1970 to 1975.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, the world commodity
prices that had favored Guyana declined, reversing the earlier gains.
Economic output dropped as demand for sugar and bauxite fell.
Nonetheless, government spending continued at a high rate, and Guyana
was forced to begin borrowing abroad. This pattern of declining GDP,
continued high levels of government spending, and foreign borrowing was
common throughout Latin America in the 1980s.
Guyana's economic decline grew more acute during the 1980s.
Unfavorable world prices were only part of the problem. There were two
more basic difficulties: the lack of local managers capable of running
the large agricultural and mining enterprises, and the lack of
investment in those enterprises as government resources were depleted.
Bauxite production, which had dropped from 3 million tons per year in
the 1960s to 2 million tons in 1971, fell to 1.3 million tons by 1988.
Similarly, sugar production declined from 330,000 tons in 1976 to about
245,000 tons in the mid-1980s, and had declined to 168,000 tons by 1988.
Rice production never again reached its 1977 peak of 210,000 tons. By
1988, national output of rice was almost 40 percent lower than in 1977.
The decline in productivity was a serious problem, and the Burnham
government's reaction to the downturn aggravated the situation. As
export revenues fell, foreign exchange became scarce. Rather than
attacking the root of the problem, low domestic output, the government
attempted to ration foreign exchange. The government regulated all
transactions requiring foreign exchange and severely restricted imports.
These controls created their own inefficiencies and shortages. More
significantly, tight government control encouraged the growth of a large
parallel market. Smugglers brought in illegal imports, and currency
traders circumvented government controls on foreign exchange. Although
many citizens began working and trading in the parallel economy, many
others were leaving the country. An estimated 72,000 Guyanese, almost
one-tenth of the population, emigrated between 1976 and 1981. Among
those who left the country were many of the most skilled managers and
entrepreneurs. Finally, the hostile political orientation of the Burnham
government foreclosed the possibility of aid from the United States.
The crisis finally came to a head in the late 1980s because of
Guyana's unsustainable foreign debt. As export revenues fell, the
government began borrowing abroad to finance the purchase of essential
imports. External debt ballooned to US$1.7 billion by 1988, almost six
times as large as Guyana's official GDP. Because the government funneled
the borrowed money into consumption rather than productive investment,
Guyana's economy did not grow out of debt. Instead, the government
became increasingly unable to meet its debt obligations. Overdue
payments, or arrears, reached a staggering US$1 billion in 1988. Rather
than risk a curtailment of all foreign credit (even short-term loans for
imported machinery and merchandise), the Hoyte government embarked on an
IMF-backed austerity and recovery program. The Economic Reform Program
(ERP) introduced in 1988 amounted to a reversal of the statist policies
that had dominated Guyana's economy for two decades.
Guyana - THE ECONOMY - Structure
The Hoyte government signaled its commitment to reform in 1988 when
it announced a far-reaching Economic Recovery Program (ERP). The plan
had four interrelated objectives: to restore economic growth, to
incorporate the parallel economy into the official economy, to eliminate
external and internal payments imbalances, and to normalize Guyana's
financial relations with its foreign creditors.
Restoring Economic Growth
To create a climate favorable for growth, the government removed many
of the most onerous limitations on economic activity that had been put
in place during the period following independence. First, the government
liberalized foreign exchange regulations. For the first time in many
years, the government allowed exporters to retain a portion of their
foreign currency earnings for future use. Previously, only the
government-owned Bank of Guyana had had the legal right to hold foreign
currency. Second, the government lifted price controls for many items,
although key goods such as petroleum, sugar, and rice remained
controlled. Third, the government lifted import prohibitions for almost
all items other than food and allowed individuals to import goods
directly without government intervention. Fourth, private investment was
encouraged by offering streamlined approval of projects and incentives
such as tax holidays. To reassure potential foreign investors that
Guyana's policy had indeed changed, the government announced in 1988
that "It is no part of Government's policy to nationalize property
. . . . The era of nationalizations is therefore to be considered at an
Absorbing the Parallel Market
The second major objective of the ERP was to absorb the parallel
market into the legal economy. The parallel market was seen as denying
tax revenues to the government, adding to inflationary pressures through
uncontrolled currency trading, and generally encouraging illegal
activity in Guyana. By liberalizing foreign exchange and other
regulations, the government began to make inroads into the illegal
economy. The 1989 Foreign Currency Act allowed licensed dealers to
exchange Guyanese dollars for foreign currency at market-determined
rates. By 1990, more than twenty licensed exchange houses operated in
Georgetown, taking the place of some illegal currency traders.
A related policy focused on the exchange rates. The government began
devaluing the Guyanese dollar so that the official exchange rate would
eventually match the market rate. This devaluation process was an
essential feature of the recovery program. It not only targeted the
parallel economy but also improved the country's export competitiveness.
But the devaluations were painful for consumers. In April 1989, the
government changed the official exchange rate per United States dollar
from G$10 to G$33, instantly tripling the domestic currency price of
most imports. The unofficial exchange rate at that time was reportedly
G$60 per United States dollar, so the Guyanese dollar was still
overvalued at the official rate. As of mid-1990, the disparity between
the two rates persisted: the official rate was G$45 but the unofficial
rate (at the now legal exchange houses) was G$80 per United States
dollar. An important milestone was reached in early 1991 when Guyana
adopted a floating exchange, removing the distinction between the
official and the market exchange rates. The Guyanese dollar stabilized
at US$1=G$125 in June 1991.
Eliminating Payments Imbalances
The third major goal of the ERP was to eliminate internal and
external payments imbalances. In other words, the government was seeking
to eliminate the public sector deficit on the one hand and the current
account deficit on the other. The public sector deficit--the gap between
government revenues and overall government spending--had reached 52
percent of GDP by 1986. This level was unsustainable and was an alarming
increase over earlier deficits: an average of 12 percent of GDP during
1975-80 and an average of 2 percent of GDP during 1971-75.
The government attacked the public sector deficit in a
straightforward manner: it cut spending and sought to enhance revenues.
The government halted all monetary transfers to troubled state-owned
enterprises (with the exception of the Guyana Electricity Corporation).
As a longer-term measure, the government began studying the public
enterprises--the heart of the statist economy--to determine which ones
should be privatized (wholly or partially) and which ones should be
closed. By 1990 the government had plans to allow significant
privatization of the sugar and bauxite industries. In addition, the
central government planned to limit expenditures by delaying salary
increases and eliminating unnecessary civil service positions. Such
fiscal austerity was useful to the economy. Still, the need to service
the foreign debt limited the extent to which the government could cut
back on spending; the government slated half of 1989 expenditures for
The government attempted to raise revenues by absorbing the parallel
economy to broaden the tax base, by improving the collection of the
consumption tax, and by reducing import duty exemptions. Starting in
1988, the government required companies to pay taxes on earnings from
the current year, rather than the previous year. This set of expenditure
and revenue policies produced measurable results but failed to eliminate
the serious financial difficulties facing the government.
Normalizing International Financial Relations
Even more pressing than the public sector deficit was Guyana's
balance of payments shortfall. The extent of the problem was indicated
by the overall balance of payments, which was a record of the flow of
goods, services, and capital between Guyana and the rest of the world.
The deficit in the current account had increased during the early 1980s,
reaching almost 50 percent of GDP in 1986. In effect, this meant that
Guyana was receiving more goods and services from the rest of the world
than it was providing and was having to pay for the difference. The
government paid part of this deficit by using reserves such as stocks of
gold. But part of the deficit went unpaid when reserves became depleted.
This unpaid portion was critical. Referred to as "external payment
arrears," it marked Guyana as a bad credit risk, threatening to
completely undermine Guyana's ability to obtain even short-term trade
credits from abroad. Accumulated external payment arrears had expanded
to almost three times Guyana's official GDP by 1988.
The Hoyte government attempted to decrease the balance of payments
deficit by increasing exports and limiting imports; Guyana's trade was
close to balanced in 1988, but a sizable trade deficit again appeared in
1990. Low productivity meant that exports did not expand significantly,
and the government lacked the resources needed to eliminate the external
payments arrears. Therefore, an agreement with the country's foreign
creditors was crucial.
The IMF and the World Bank played a vital role in devising Guyana's
economic reform program. The two institutions also helped ensure that
the government implemented the planned reforms.
The IMF had curtailed all further lending to Guyana beginning in
1983, because payments on previous loans were overdue. In 1988 the IMF
worked with government representatives to draft a reform plan, with the
understanding that economic reform within Guyana would lead to renewed
international financial support for the country. IMF support was
important not only for the resources the institution could provide but
also because many other lenders, such as commercial banks and foreign
governments, waited for IMF approval before making loans.
In 1989, after Guyana's government had shown a commitment to
restructuring the economy, the IMF and the World Bank helped eliminate
the external payments arrears. A so-called Donor Support Group led by
Canada and the Bank for International Settlements paid US$180 million to
enable Guyana to repay arrears. The IMF, the World Bank, and the
Caribbean Development Bank then refinanced this amount, essentially
replacing Guyana's overdue payments with a new long-term loan. The
elimination of the longstanding external payments arrears cleared the
way for Guyana to borrow abroad if necessary and allowed it to
reschedule other external debts on more favorable terms.
Results of the Economic Recovery Program
The reforms introduced by President Hoyte resulted in no immediate
progress. A policy framework paper prepared by the government in
cooperation with the World Bank and the IMF had predicted that real GDP
would grow by 5 percent in 1989. But instead, real GDP fell by 3.3
percent. Economic performance continued to decline in early 1990,
according to the United States Embassy. Changes in government policy
could not erase the profound difficulties facing the economy: massive
foreign debt, emigration of skilled persons, and lack of infrastructure.
But in early 1991, there were signs of improvement: Guyana had
rescheduled its debt, making the country eligible for international
loans and assistance, and foreign investment surged in the country.
These changes, preconditions but not guarantees of economic recovery,
would not have occurred without the Economic Recovery Program.
Guyana - LABOR
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Guyana - FOREIGN RELATIONS
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British Guiana, 1838-1904. New Haven: Yale University
Akhtar, Shameen. British Guiana: A Study of Marxism and
Racialism in the Caribbean. Dallas: Southern Methodist
Augies, F.R., S.C. Gordon, D.G. Hall, and M. Reckford. The
Making of the West Indies. London: Longmans, 1960.
Avebury, and the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group.
"Guyana's 1980 Elections: The Politics of Fraud,"
Caribbean Review, 10, Spring 1981, 8-11, 14.
Burnham, Forbes. A Great Future Together. Georgetown:
Government Printery, 1968.
Burrowes, Reynold A. The Wild Coast: An Account of Politics in
Guyana. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Schenkman, 1984.
Clementi, Sir Cecil. A Constitutional History of British
Guiana. London: Macmillan, 1937.
de Caires, David. "Guyana after Burnham: A New Era? Or Is President
Hoyte Trapped in the Skin of the PNC?" Caribbean
Affairs, 1, January-March 1988, 183-93.
Despres, Leo A. Cultural Pluralism and Nationalist Politics in
Guyana. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1967.
Deveze, Michel. Antilles, Guyanes, La Mer des Caraïbes de 1492
à 1789. Paris: Société d'edition d'ensegnement superieur,
"Dr. Jagan's Address," Sunday Mirror [Georgetown], August
7, 1975, 9.
Glascow, R.A. Guyana: Race and Politics among Africans and East
Indians. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1970.
Hope, Kempe Ronald. "Electoral Politics and Political Development
in Post-Independence Guyana," Electoral Studies, 4,
April 1985, 57-68.
Inter-American Development Bank. Economic and Social Progress
in Latin America: 1982 Report. Washington: 1982.
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Economics, and Society--Beyond the Burnham Era. Boulder,
Colorado: Rienner, 1986.
Latin America and Caribbean Contemporary Record, 7: 1987-
88. (Ed., James M. Malloy and Edwards A. Gamarra.) New
York: Holmes and Meier, 1990.
MacPherson, John. Caribbean Lands: A Geography of the West
Indies. London: Longmans, Green, 1963.
Mandle, Jay R. The Plantation Economy: Population and Economic
Change in Guyana, 1838-1960. Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 1973.
Manley, Robert H. Guyana Emergent: The Post-Independence
Struggle for Nondependent Development. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Schenkman, 1982.
Moore, Brian L. "The Retention of Caste Notions among the Indian
Immigrants in British Guiana During the Nineteenth Century,"
Comparative Studies in Society and History
[Cambridge, United Kingdom], 19, No. 1, January 1977, 96-107.
Nath, Dwarke. A History of Indians in British Guiana.
London: Nelson, 1950.
Neuman, Stephanie G. (ed.). Small States and Segmented
Societies. New York: Praeger, 1976.
Premdas, Ralph R. Party Politics and Racial Division in
Guyana. (Studies in Race and Nations Series, No. 4.)
Denver: University of Colorado Press, 1973.
Ragatz, L.J. The Fall of the Planter Class in the British
Caribbean, 1763-1833. London: Oxford University Press,
Rodney, Walter. A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-
1905. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.
Singh, Chaitram. Guyana: Politics in a Plantation Society.
New York: Praeger, 1988.
Spinner, Thomas J., Jr. A Political and Social History of
Guyana, 1945-1983. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press,
Swan, Michael. British Guiana: The Land of Six Peoples.
London: HMSO, 1957.
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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