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History of Guyana

From Academic Kids

Before the arrival of Europeans, the region of present-day Guyana was inhabited by both Carib and Arawak tribes, who named it Guiana, which means land of many waters.

The Dutch settled in Guyana in the late 16th century, but their control ended when the British became the de facto rulers in 1796. The colonies of Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice were officially ceded to the United Kingdom in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814 and at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In 1831 they were consolidated as British Guiana.

Following the abolition of slavery in 1834, thousands of indentured laborers were brought to Guyana to replace the slaves on the sugarcane plantations, primarily from India but also from Portugal and China. Some maintain that in today's population where there are two types of Guyanese, those who are derived from the African slaves (Afro-Guyanese), and those who derive from the Indian indentured servants (Indo-Guyanese). However, Guyanese culture is in many ways homogeneous, due to shared history, intermarriage, and other factors.

Contents

Early History

The British stopped the practice of importing labor in 1917. Many of the Afro-Guyanese former slaves moved to the towns and became the majority urban population, whereas the Indo-Guyanese remained predominantly rural. A scheme in 1862 to bring black workers from the United States was unsuccessful. The small Amerindian population lives in the country's interior.

The people drawn from these diverse origins have coexisted peacefully for the most part. Slave revolts, such as the one in 1763 led by Guyana's national hero, Cuffy, demonstrated the desire for basic rights but also a willingness to compromise. Racial disturbances between Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese erupted in 1962-64, due in large part to external intervention (see British Empire.) However, the basically conservative and cooperative nature of Guyanese society contributed to a cooling of racial tensions.

Independence Movement

Guyanese politics, nevertheless, occasionally has been turbulent. The first modern political party in Guyana was the People's Progressive Party (PPP), established on January 1, 1950, with Forbes Burnham, a British-educated Afro-Guyanese, as chairman; Dr. Cheddi Jagan, a U.S.-educated Indo-Guyanese, as second vice chairman; and his American-born wife, Janet Jagan, as secretary general. The PPP won 18 out of 24 seats in the first popular elections permitted by the colonial government in 1953, and Dr. Jagan became leader of the house and minister of agriculture in the colonial government. However, Jagan's Marxist views caused concern in Washington. On October 9, 1953, five months after his election, the British suspended the constitution and landed troops because, they said, the Jagans and the PPP were planning to make Guyana a communist state. These events led to a manipulated split in the PPP, in which Burnham broke away and founded what eventually became the People's National Congress (PNC). Colonial interests, which hoped to thwart the Guyanese independence movement, instigated conflict between Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese; the PPP, which was a multi-ethnic, nationalist party, was depicted as a vehicle for the majority Indo-Guyanese population, and the PNC posed as an alternative for Afro-Guyanese.

From the latter part of 1963, through the early part of 1964, came the period euphemistically called "The Disturbances" by the British. The governments of The U.K. and the U.S.A. joined forces to destabilize the Guyanese political landscape, with the U.S. providing intelligence and infiltration (through the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD)), while the British brought in brute force. AIFLD operatives instigated a 90 day strike of primarily urban and Afro-Guyanese unions, which brought the nation's economy to a halt; the strike was also the occasion for outbreaks of racial violence, as it was used to pit the predominantly Indo-Guyanese government against the predominantly Afro-Guyanese service unions. The British alternately moved to crush the altercations, or to simply allow them to run their course. During this period, PPP leaders such as Jagan, Brindley Benn, and the man who came to be regarded as Guyana's poet laureate, Martin Carter, were frequently imprisoned and harassed by the British.


Guyana achieved independence on May 26, 1966, and became a republic on February 23, 1970--the anniversary of the Cuffy slave rebellion. From December 1964 until his death in August 1985, Forbes Burnham ruled Guyana in an increasingly autocratic manner, first as Prime Minister and later, after the adoption of a new constitution in 1980, as Executive President. During that time-frame, elections were viewed in Guyana and abroad as fraudulent. Human rights and civil liberties were suppressed, and two major political assassinations occurred: the Jesuit Priest and journalist Bernard Darke in July 1979, and the distinguished historian and WPA Party leader Walter Rodney in June 1980. Agents of President Burnham are widely believed to have been responsible for both deaths.

Post-Burnham History

Following Burnham's own death in 1985, Prime Minister Hugh Desmond Hoyte acceded to the presidency and was formally elected in the December 1985 national elections. Hoyte gradually reversed Burnham's policies, moving from state socialism and one-party control to a market economy and unrestricted freedom of the press and assembly. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited Guyana to lobby for the resumption of free elections, and on October 5, 1992, a new National Assembly and regional councils were elected in the first Guyanese election since 1964 to be internationally recognized as free and fair. Cheddi Jagan was elected and sworn in as President on October 9, 1992.

When President Jagan died in March 1997, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds replaced him in accordance with constitutional provisions. President Jagan's widow, Janet Jagan, was elected President in December 1997. She resigned in August 1999 due to ill health and was succeeded by Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo, who had been named prime minister a day earlier. National elections were held on March 19, 2001. Incumbent President Jagdeo won reelection with a voter turnout of over 90%.

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