Guyana

Country located in the northeastern corner of South America. Indigenous peoples inhabited Guyana prior to European settlement, and their name for the land, guiana (“land of water”), gave the country its name. Present-day Guyana reflects its British and Dutch colonial past and its reactions to that past. It is the only English-speaking country of South America. Since Guyana gained its independence in 1966, the country’s chief economic assets have been its natural resources, mainly its pristine rainforests, sugarcane plantations, rice fields, and bauxite and gold reserves. Despite those riches, Guyana remains one of the poorest countries in South America. Some geographers classify Guyana as a part of the Caribbean region, which they deem to include the West Indies as well as Guyana, Belize, Suriname, and French Guiana on the South American mainland. The capital and chief port of Guyana is Georgetown.

Guyana’s populace is mainly of colonial origin, although Indians are scattered throughout the forested interior. The more numerous coastal peoples are chiefly descendants of slaves from Africa and indentured workers from India, who were originally transported to work the coastal sugarcane plantations. Ethnic problems between the last two groups have played a disruptive role in Guyanese society.

FGuyana has been a member of the Commonwealth (an international group made up of the United Kingdom and a number of its former dependencies) since 1970. Politically, however, Guyana moved on a steady course toward communism from the time of independence until the death of the first prime minister, Forbes Burnham, in 1985, after which ties with Western powers were strengthened, and by the 1990s privatization had begun.

Guyana is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, by Suriname (along the Courantyne River) to the east, by Brazil to the south and southwest, and by Venezuela to the west. Guyana is involved in territorial disputes with both Suriname and Venezuela that are legacies of colonial rule. Although a United Nations international tribunal settled a long-standing maritime boundary dispute between Guyana and Suriname in 2007, the latter still claims the New River Triangle, a 6,000-square-mile (15,600-square-km) area between two tributaries of the Courantyne River in southern Guyana. The currently recognized border between Suriname and Guyana along the Courantyne is also in contention—Suriname claims sovereignty over the entire river and thus views its west bank as the border, while Guyana claims that the thalweg, or deepest channel of the river, is the boundary. The dispute between Guyana and Venezuela dates from 1895, when the British government claimed ownership of the Essequibo River basin. An 1899 settlement awarded Venezuela part of the area, but in 1962 Venezuela claimed all the territory west of the Essequibo.

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