On the east Guyana is separated from Suriname by the Courantyne (Corantijn or Corentyne) River. The Akarai Mts. form the southern border with Brazil. Several rivers make up much of the western border with Brazil and Venezuela, and the Essequibo River flows through the center of the country. There is a cultivated coastal plain and a forested, hilly interior (for a more detailed description of the physical characteristics of the area, see Guiana). The climate is hot and humid, and the rainfall is heavy.
Most of the population lives along the coast. About half of the people trace their ancestry to India, and the rest are of African, mixed, or indigenous descent. English, Hindi, Urdu, and various indigenous dialects are spoken. Christianity and Hinduism are the main religions, and there is a substantial Muslim minority. The Univ. of Guyana in Georgetown was founded in 1963.
Agriculture and mining are the principal economic activities. Sugarcane and rice are the leading crops, and wheat, corn, coconuts, and citrus fruit are also grown. Cattle and other livestock are raised. Bauxite, gold, diamonds, and manganese are mined. There are large forest resources (notably greenheart and balatá) that have been exploited.
The chief exports are sugar, gold, bauxite, alumina, rice, shrimp, molasses, rum, and timber. Imports include manufactures, machinery, petroleum, and foodstuffs. Reforms were instituted in the late 1980s to liberalize the country's economy and to attract foreign aid and investment, and the economy grew in the 1990s and early 2000s. The United States, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, and Great Britain are the most important trading partners.
Guyana is governed under the constitution of 1980. The president, who is the head of state, is popularly elected for a five-year term. The president appoints the prime minister, who is the head of government, and the cabinet. The legislature is the unicameral National Assembly, whose 65 members are elected for five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into ten regions. Guyana is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Before the arrival of European settlers, the indigenous Warrau tribe controlled the territory of Guyana. In the early 17th cent. the Dutch established settlements about the Essequibo River, and England and France also founded colonies in the Guiana region. By the Treaty of Breda (1667) the Dutch gained all the English colonies in Guiana. Possessions continued to change hands in the late 18th and early 19th cent. until the Congress of Vienna (1815) awarded the settlements of Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo to Great Britain; they were united as British Guiana in 1831. Slavery was abolished in 1834. In 1879 gold was discovered, thus speeding British expansion toward the Orinoco delta and resulting in the Venezuela Boundary Dispute.
After World War II significant progress toward self-government was made. Under the 1952 constitution, elections were won (1953) by the PPP, headed by Cheddi Jagan, who formed a government. However, the British deemed the government pro-Communist and suspended the constitution. Subsequently the PPP split, and Forbes Burnham formed the PNC. The PPP again won elections in 1957 and (after self-government was granted) in 1961, but was politically weakened by strikes and unrest; it later emerged that much of the agitation was precipitated or funded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency at the instigation of the Kennedy administration. Proportional representation was then introduced, in response to PNC charges that the electoral system was unfair.
After the 1964 elections the PNC and the UF were able to form a ruling coalition, and Burnham became prime minister. Full independence was negotiated in 1966. In the elections of 1968 and 1973 the PNC won a majority, and Burnham continued as prime minister. Antagonism between the East Indians, who control a substantial portion of the nation's commerce, and Africans led to frequent clashes and bloodshed in the 1960s, but violence subsided by the 1970s.
Guyana became a republic in 1970, embarking on a socialist path that ultimately led to economic ruin. The boundaries with Venezuela and Suriname continued to be a matter of dispute, with Venezuela still laying claim to some 60% of Guyana's territory. In 1978 more than 900 followers, mostly Americans, of a religious cult (the People's Temple) led by Jim Jones committed suicide in Jonestown, a jungle village in Guyana. In 1980 a new constitution was adopted, under which Burnham became president. In the early 1980s, the government instituted heavy media restrictions and openly harassed opposition parties.
After Burnham's death in 1985, he was replaced by Desmond Hoyte, who began some liberalization programs and invited foreign aid and investment. In the late 1980s, austerity policies implemented by the government caused considerable unrest, as opposition parties called for new elections. In 1992 Hoyte lost the presidency to the former prime minister (1957-64) and ex-Marxist Cheddi Jagan of the PPP. Under Jagan, the country saw economic growth, especially in the agricultural and mining sectors, and enjoyed continuing international support.
Jagan died in Mar., 1997, and his prime minister, Samuel Hinds, became president, naming Jagan's widow, Janet Jagan, as prime minister. In December of that year, she was elected president. Janet Jagan resigned in Aug., 1999, because of ill health and was succeeded by Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana's finance minister. Jagdeo and the PPP were returned to power in elections held in March, 2001. Heavy rains, high tides, and drainage canals in disrepair resulted in severe flooding in Georgetown and coastal areas of Guyana in early 2005, disrupting the lives of almost half of the population. Jagdeo was reelected in Aug., 2006, and at the same time the PPP increased its legislative majority by two seats.
See R. A. Glasgow, Guyana: Race and Politics among Africans and East Indians (1970); A. H. Adamson, Sugar Without Slaves: The Political Economy of British Guiana, 1838-1904 (1972); R. H. Manley, Guyana Emergent: The Post Independence Struggle for Non-Dependent Development (1982); C. Singh, Guyana: Politics in a Plantation Society (1988).
Wills started out as a solicitor with a prominent firm in the early 1960s in Georgetown. When Forbes Burnham came into power he appointed Wills as justice minister and later foreign affairs minister. In that capacity Wills briefly presided over the United Nations Security Council and twice addressed the General Assembly, once on independence for East Timor and once on September 27, 1976, to promote a Third World debt moratorium:
The billions on this planet who live in the developing countries and whose existence is subjected to the constraints of the few who manipulate to their advantage the present-day economic system, have pinned their hopes on the modest programme put forward in Nairobi and elsewhere. Their determination is adamant, inexorable and relentless. The IMF and the Bretton Woods monetary system must give way to alternative structures such as the international development banks, which are not geared to the revival and reconstruction of Europe nor preferential arrangements for the developed market economies, but rather to the just distribution of the gains of an equitable global system....
In the spring of 1978, cult-leader Jim Jones was tape-recorded in Jonestown boasting that he had the Guyanese government on his side and that the foreign minister (presumably Wills) had assured him that, if anyone came for Jones, they would do so over "his dead body".
Wills' government service ended in the late 1970s and he moved to the United States. There he became an associate of Lyndon LaRouche, and was a founding board member of the Schiller Institute in 1984.
Fred Wills was beloved by the West Indian community, both in Guyana and in the U.S., for his role in promoting cricket. He served as club captain for the Demerara Cricket Club (DCC) in Georgetown, Guyana, and was a popular announcer at cricket games in the U.S. Guyanese cricket fans proposed re-naming the DCC Pavilion as Fred Wills Pavilion.