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Guyana Modern History

Guyana has long had close ties to the Soviet Union and other socialist states. When state corporate ownership and plan management were leading the country toward economic collapse, at the end of the 1980s, a rapid change in market economy was made. In parallel, the political climate became freer, but the contradictions between Indians and blacks persisted.

The "Indian" left-radical People's Progress Party (PPP) won the third election in a row in 1961. It was followed by riots and unrest between the PPP and the "black" Party of the People's National Congress (PNC). Guyana's independence was approaching, but Britain's colonial power did not want to allow Guyana to become independent under a Marxist government. Although PNC leader Forbes Burnham claimed to be a socialist, the British hoped he was not as radical as PPP leader Cheddi Jagan. Despite the PPP winning the 1964 election, the British governor commissioned Burnham to form a new government, which sparked protests from the PPP. With Burnham as prime minister, Guyana became an independent state within the Commonwealth on May 26, 1966.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Guyana. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

In 1970, a "cooperative republic" was proclaimed, in which the state would own the means of production, citizens would be organized in cooperatives or trade unions, for example, and where the economy would be governed by national plans. A president was elected, but Burnham retained the executive power as prime minister. A number of domestic and foreign companies, including the important bauxite industry, were nationalized. Close ties were made to the Soviet Union, Cuba and Eastern Europe.

The President gains more power

Contemporary History of GuyanaDuring the second half of the 1970s, demand for Guyana's sugar and bauxite (from which aluminum is extracted) decreased. The country was hit by a severe economic downturn exacerbated by strictly regulated production and strict currency controls. The latter paved the way for black exchange trading, including smuggling. Guyana was also hit by an extensive brain drain when many of the best educated and most competent residents left the country. The attempts to borrow from the financial hardship laid the foundation for a gigantic debt burden.

A strongly contested referendum in 1978 paved the way for a new constitution two years later. It gave the president greater powers of power. Burnham became president of a party boycotted by most parties that year, and he remained president until his death in 1985. He had, after accusations of systematic election fraud, held power in a firm grip for two decades, and in effect prevailed party system.

Vice President and Prime Minister Desmond Hoyte succeeded Burnham and won an election shortly after his death. Hoyte started as surprising as the total turnaround of politics. In collaboration with international lending institutions, the economy was liberalized: government assets were privatized, foreign investment encouraged and price controls were removed. Freedom of the press was strengthened and a cautious approach to the United States was initiated.

Hoyte's course change also prepared the way for the first truly democratic election of Guyana. It was held in 1992, after two years of disagreement about the electoral system, and broke the PNC's grip on power. However, there were major flaws in the arrangements and the results were delayed, leading to suspicions of cheating and triggered violent protests from PNC supporters. PPP won in coalition with Civic ("PPP-C", see Political system), a movement dominated by black businessmen and academics, and PPP's founder Cheddi Jagan became president. Despite his Marxist background, he continued Hoyte's reform program, and the economy grew.

The widow Jagan takes over

In March 1997, 78-year-old Jagan died in a heart attack. His widow Janet Jagan - white and born in the United States - became the PPP presidential candidate and won the election later that year. The racial issue once again made its mark on the election and PNC's supporters again protested against what they saw as widespread cheating, which they later received support (see below).

In August 1999, Janet Jagan resigned for health reasons. She was replaced by indiscriminate Bharrat Jagdeo, former finance minister. Jagdeo, as president, continued to privatize and implement public sector reforms.

In 2000, Parliament passed new electoral laws and revoked the President's criminal immunity. The Supreme Court subsequently declared the 1997 election invalid due to irregularities. In the election held in March 2001, the ruling, Indian-dominated alliance PPP-C received just over half the votes and its own majority in Parliament. President Jagdeo was re-elected for a five-year term.

The 2001 election was accompanied, as was the previous election of demonstrations and violence. Again, it was mainly deficiencies in the arrangements that triggered suspicions of cheating. One month after the election, Jagdeo and PNC leader Desmond Hoyte agreed to start a political dialogue to reduce tensions.

A year later, Hoyte interrupted the collaboration in protest against the government's "racist politics". The PNC-R (as the PNC now called itself, see Political system) left its seats in Parliament. The situation was made worse by reports of ethnically motivated violent crimes.

Crime becomes a matter of choice

At the end of 2002, Desmond Hoyte died. His successor Robert Corbin decided in early 2003 to end the parliamentary boycott and resume cooperation with the government. After a year, in April 2004, the PNC-R jumped again from the collaboration after reports that Interior Minister Ronald Gajraj and police officers were in contact with a death squad that was behind a long line of murders of suspected criminals. When an investigation released Gajraj from the charges in April 2005, the protests became extensive. Sharp criticism also came from the US and the EU, and Gajraj resigned in May despite being released.

Parliamentary elections would have been held in April 2006 but postponed until August, mainly due to problems with voting lengths. The high crime rate, including drug smuggling, was a central issue. Guyana was suspected of being a transit country for smuggling cocaine from Colombia to the United States.

In the election, as expected, PPP-C won, with over half the votes. The newly formed Alliance for Change (AFC), which sought to reach both Indian and black voters, received 8 percent of the vote. Some irregularities were reported but were not considered to have affected the election result.

Thread leader killed

The focus on crime increased further in 2008 when Guyanese police shot dead the country's most notorious criminal gang leader in a firefight. For a while thereafter, serious crime decreased. In July 2009, however, the Ministry of Health's building was destroyed in an assassination fire. President Jagdeo suspected that political motives were behind, and several activists with ties to the PNC-R were interviewed.

PNC-R leader Corbin, after a while, counter-attacked by giving the police a list of 450 alleged victims of illegal executions. Corbin also demanded an international investigation into the death patrols he claimed existed in the country. Two days later, the Supreme Court Office and two police stations in the capital Georgetown were attacked by a group of armed men. According to the police, there was a connection between this attack and the previous fire attack against the Ministry of Health. Both attacks were linked to a drug smuggler who was recently sentenced to a long prison sentence in the United States.

In the same vein, Britain withdrew from a planned cooperation to improve security in Guyana due to disagreement with the country's government.

Ramotar forms government

Despite continued good growth, the PPP-C reversed somewhat in the 2011 election and lost its majority, for the first time since the 1992 power change. when Jagdeo was restrained by the constitution to re-elect. Ramotar formed a minority government.

The overall opposition's takeover in the National Assembly had its effect in April 2012, when Parliament voted down the government's budget proposal and instead adopted a budget with significantly lower spending levels.

The government continued its efforts to lead the economy in a market economy direction and began, among other things, to gradually reduce subsidies on electricity prices. This led to protests in the city of Linden in the summer of 2012, which ended with three protesters losing their lives and many being injured.

In December 2012, the government submitted a report to the regional cooperation organization OAS with warnings about political instability in the country. According to the report, the opposition engaged in "constant undermining" of parliamentary democracy. The government also accused opposition leader David Granger of exploiting racial contradictions in the country for his political purposes.

In 2014, the opposition accused the government of illegally investing money on projects that the opposition-controlled National Assembly said no to, and planned a vote of no confidence. But Ramotar succeeded in preventing the vote by banning MEPs, through legal technology. It triggered a warning from the UK that the Commonwealth could bring up Guyana and the uncertain political situation for discussion. The president then announced an early election in May 2015.

 
 

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