Latin America & Caribbean

Guyana country profile

Map of Guayana

Sandwiched between Venezuela and Suriname, the former British colony of Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America.

Since independence from the UK in 1966, Guyana has seen tense relations between its citizens of African and Indians. Fierce political rivalry between the two main ethnically-based parties has led to recurring instability. Corruption too remains a chronic problem.

Most of the country is covered in tropical rainforest and despite having rich reserves of bauxite, gold and timber, it has struggled to overcome poverty and attract investment to bolster its small economy. A century-old border dispute with Venezuela has recently been revived after the discovery of offshore oil reserves.

FACTS

Co-operative Republic of Guyana

Capital: Georgetown

  • Population 758,000

  • Area 214,969 sq km (83,000 sq miles)

  • Major languages English, indigenous languages, Creole, Hindi, Urdu

  • Major religions Christianity, Hinduism, Islam

  • Life expectancy 67 years (men), 73 years (women)

  • Currency Guyanese dollar

Getty Images

LEADER

President: David Granger

Image copyright Getty Images

Retired army general David Granger beat incumbent President Donald Ramotar by a narrow margin in the May 2015 election, ending 23 years of rule by the Indian-dominated People's Progressive Party.

He forged a multi-ethnic coalition of his Afro-Guyanese Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance for Change, with a pledge to end the racial divisions that have dominated Guyana's politics since it gained independence in 1966.

"The time has come to end winner-take-all politics, corruption, nepotism and the squandering of our resources," he said.

Mr Granger's diverse career has included the military, journalism and politics. He has a degree in history and received military training in Nigeria, Brazil and the UK.

MEDIA

Guyanese newspapers are free to criticise the government, although journalists are apt to exercise self-censorship.

There were 295,200 internet users by November 2015 (via Internetworldstats).

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Guyana's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some Guyanese trace their ancestry to freed slaves and others to workers from India

1300s - Area is first inhabited by semi-nomadic Amerindian tribes, notably Warraus. Christopher Colombus sights Guyana in 1498.

1580 - The Dutch gain a foothold and set up trading posts. From 1620, the Dutch West India Company imports African slaves to work on its sugar plantations.

1780-1813 - Guyana changes hands between the Dutch, French and British.

1814 - Britain occupies Guyana during the Napoleonic Wars. By 1831, it is declared the Colony of British Guiana.

1834 - The abolition of slavery leads to indentured workers being brought in from India.

1889 - Venezuela lays claims to two-thirds of Guyana, west of the Essequibo river but international arbitration rules in favour of Guyana in 1899.

1953 - Britain suspends a new constitution and installs an interim administration after the Indo-Guyanese PPP party's success in the first free elections.

1960 - A new constitution provides full internal self-government but in 1964 a Labour revolt leads to racial strife and violent riots

1966 - Guyana gains independence from Britain

1978 - Jonestown massacre: Mass suicide by more than 900 members of the People's Temple religious sect led by Jim Jones.

2015 - Guyana's multiracial opposition coalition led by David Granger wins the general election ending the 23-year rule of the Indo-Guyanese PPP party.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Guyana's spectacular Kaieteur Falls

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