The original Guiana was inhabited by semi-nomadic Amerindian tribes who lived by hunting and fishing; notably Arawaks and Caribs. It was divided by European powers into Spanish Guiana (Venezuela), Portuguese Guiana (Brazil), French Guiana, Dutch Guiana (Suriname) and British Guiana (Guyana). Colonial competition for territory began with the Spanish sighting in 1499. Probably temporary Spanish or Portuguese settlements were followed by Dutch settlement, first unsuccessfully at Pomeroon, and then (in 1627) under the protection of the Dutch West India Company on the Berbice River. Despite yielding from time to time to British, French and Portuguese invasions, the Dutch kept control until 1814, when the colonies of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice were ceded to Britain. The Europeans imported African slaves to develop their plantations, first of tobacco and later sugar, and to labour on constructing the coastal drainage system and the elegant city of Georgetown. Some slaves escaped to the forest. Referred to as bush-blacks, these slaves eked out a living by panning for gold, hunting and subsistence agriculture.
The British administration merged the three colonies into British Guiana in 1831, but retained the Dutch administrative, legislative and legal system, whereby the country was directed by a governor, advised by councils of plantation owners. After the abolition of slavery, Indian and smaller numbers of Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese indentured labourers were brought in to work the estates.
In 1928 a legislative council, with members appointed by the British government, was established, but members were elected after extensions of the franchise in 1943 and 1945. The country was by this period among the most advanced of the British colonial territories in the region, and became the headquarters of several regional educational and political institutions. CARICOM headquarters is located in Georgetown.
In 1953, a constitution with a bicameral legislature and ministerial system, based on elections under universal adult suffrage, was introduced. There was a general election, won by the People's Progressive Party (PPP), led by Dr Cheddi Jagan. Shortly after the 1953 elections, the UK suspended the constitution, decided to mark time in the advance towards self-government, and administered the country with a government composed largely of nominated members.
When, in 1957, the UK did introduce elected members, the legislature voted for more representative government. The UK called a constitutional conference which was held in 1960 and provided for a new constitution with full internal self-government. In the elections held in August 1961 under this constitution, the PPP again gained the majority. The UK held further constitutional conferences in 1962 and 1963, to settle terms for independence. The political parties failed to reach consensus.
The UK then selected a form of proportional representation which was aimed at preventing the People's Progressive Party (PPP) from forming the government. (It was also argued that, at this period of the 'Cuba crisis' with near-war between the US and USSR, the UK was under pressure to avoid allowing a Socialist government to come to power in Guyana.). Despite renewed disturbances, elections were held under the PR system, and brought to power a coalition of the People's National Congress led by Forbes Burnham and The United Force (TUF).
The new government finalised independence arrangements at a further constitutional conference, which was boycotted by the PPP. Guyana gained independence and joined the Commonwealth in May 1966, and became a Republic four years later.
Guyana is a Republic, divided into ten (10) administrative regions, with an Executive President and parliamentary legislature. The 1980 Constitution, amended in 2001, provides for an executive presidency and a unicameral legislature - the National Assembly, with 65 members directly elected by proportional representation: 40 at a national level and 25 at a regional level. The normal life of a parliament is five years.
The President appoints the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet (which may include those from outside the Assembly), who are responsible to Parliament. The President is the leader of the largest party in the Assembly.
Population: 746,955 (2012). Most of the population live along the coast. There are pockets of communities in the inland areas. Guyana is a multiracial, multicultural and multireligious society. The country is composed of six major race groups - 39.83% East Indians; 29.25% Africans; 10.51% Amerindians; the remainder are Chinese, Portuguese and with the exception of 19.88% who are 'mixed'.
The state-owned Guyana Chronicle, privately owned Stabroek News, Kaieteur News and Guyana Times are dailies. Mirror is published twice a week, and the Catholic Standard weekly. There are a number of Television and Radio Stations.
English is the official language. An English-based Creole is widely used. Amerindian languages are also spoken.
Public spending on education was budgeted at 9.11% or G$11.6 billion of GDP in 2014. There are six years of primary education and five years of secondary. The primary net enrolment ratio is 97.5%. The pupil - teacher ratio for primary is 25.1% and for secondary 17.1%. The school year commences in September.
Vocational schools include Georgetown Technical Institute, New Amsterdam Technical Institute, Carnegie School of Home Economics, and the Guyana Industrial Training Centre. Tertiary establishments include the Cyril Potter College of Education (for teacher training), Guyana School of Agriculture, Commonwealth Youth Programme Caribbean Centre (which trains youth workers), and the University of Guyana in Georgetown has law and medical schools with a Campus in Corentyne.
Public spending on health was budgeted at G$8.844bn in 2014. The Public Hospital at Georgetown is the national referral hospital; there are 30 hospitals and 170 health centres, with both public and private care available, the former free. 94% of the population has access to improved drinking water source and 95% to adequate sanitation facilities.
New Year's Day
First Monday in July
The following are also public holidays but follow lunar calendar and thus the actual day varies annually:
Hindu Holidays - Phagwah - Spring Festival (usually March)
Deepavali - the Festival of Lights (in November).
Muslim Holidays - Eid ul Fitr (end of Ramadan),
Eid ul Azah - Feast of the Sacrifice, and Youman Nabi
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Guyana High Commission
3 Palace Court