Guyana is a tropical country on the northern shoulder of South America, 215,000 square kilometers in area, approximately the size of Great Britain or the combined size of the States of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, and bordered by Venezuela, Brazil, Surinam, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Behind Guyana's coastlands lies a wide belt of tropical rainforest, and to be the world's most virgin, and beyond that, extensive savannahs - both regions including attractive mountain and plateau terrain, with spectacular escarpments in places, notably on Mt. Roraima. This was the setting for Conan Doyle's fictional "Lost World", supposedly inhabited by dinosaurs, like an earlier "Jurassic Park", and even in reality the site of a unique and still not fully explored eco-system.
This "land of Many Waters" possesses four major rivers: the mighty Essequibo, the Demerara, the Berbice, and the Corentyne; and innumerable smaller rivers and creeks. The Kaiteur Falls, where the broad Potero River thunders down into a great forested gorge, is four times the height of Niagara, and undoubtedly one of the world's most impressive natural wonders.
Most Guyanese live along the coastal strip or the lower reaches of the major rivers, where three of the countries major economic activities - sugar, and rice cultivation and bauxite production - are concentrated. Most of the rest of the country is very thinly peopled. The settled population of the interior is mostly Amerindian, engaged in small scale agriculture, fishing and hunting, together with some ranching. The remaining interior population consists of temporary or shifting labor, exploiting gold, diamond and timber workings.
The main centers of population are reasonably well-linked by paved roads and by vehicle ferries across the Essequibo, the Berbice, and the Demerara - which is also crossed by a bridge just below Georgetown, the capital. Access to the rest of the country is by air or coastal and river transport, the latter being in many places difficult because of rapids, waterfalls, and other hazards, but correspondingly attractive to those who seek adventurous recreation.
Access to the country from outside is mainly by air - through the international airport, the Cheddi Jagan International Airport at Timehri: but a motorable road north from Brazil to the coast also an option. Cargo movements are mostly through Port Georgetown, but ocean going vessels can navigate the lover reaches of the major rivers, in some cases for more than fifty miles.
Telecommunications have improved greatly following privatization in 1991. Since GT & T was established, the access lines have more than doubled, and the international circuits have been increased considerably, making contact within the vast country and with other countries considerably easier.
Still only about 3/4 million, the population of Guyana, often called the "Land of Six Peoples", is composed of the original Amerindians; people of African descent and of Indian descent, jointly comprising the great majority of the population; and three smaller groups: the Chinese, the Portuguese, and persons of British descent. Additionally, many Guyanese mingle in their blood various mixtures of the six distinct groups.
These groups retain elements of their original cultures, such as the Hindu or Muslim affiliations of many East Indians; but there is a high degree of mutual tolerance between the different traditions. Guyana is one of the very few places in the world where a Hindu temple, a Muslim mosque, and Roman Catholic and Protestant churches can be found together in one small village or one city neighborhood.
Moreover, from their diversity the Guyanese people have forged a strong national unity, based upon a common language, a long history of universal education, shared aspirations for independence and development, and, not least, a passion for cricket and other sports. Visitors to Guyana today are struck by the harmony, good-will, and equality which generally prevail.
Amerindians have lived in this region for at least 7,000 years. Everyone else came much later. The first newcomers to settle the country were the Dutch, from the late 16th century, and the African slaves on their plantations. The Dutch period is still reflected in many place names like Stabroek and surnames like Gravesande, and in the system of sea defenses, dykes, and canals along the coast, much of which lies below sea-level. There was a major slave revolt against the Dutch in 1763, and short interludes of British and French control before Dutch rule gave way finally to British in 1803.
The main developments of the 19th century were the emancipation of the African slaves, their establishment of villages independent of the sugar plantations, and the importation of indentured labor to meet shortages of, and to keep down the wages of, plantation labor. These new elements in the society came from Portuguese Madeira, China, and, more significantly in numerical terms, from India. There was also free migration by Africans from the West Indies.
Guyana became independent in 1966, with a parliamentary system of government, and from 1970, when the country became a republic, a President. The current President, since the elections of 1999, is Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, leader of the People's Progressive Party. Leader of the Minority is former President, Desmond Hoyte, leader of the People's National Congress. Georgetown is run by the Good and Green Guyana Party, that is headed by the former Prime Minister, Hamilton Green.
Externally, Guyana's respected role in international affairs is demonstrated by the election of its Ambassador to the United Nations as President of the General Assembly for the 1993-94 session.
The economy entered a phase of liberalization following the statism of the '70's and most of the '80's, and is now characterized by free market conditions, an open investment climate, moderate inflation, floating but very stable exchange rates, and a drive to privatize state enterprises.
Since 1991, Guyana has seen growth rates above world and regional averages, and considerable foreign and local private investment has been attracted, including the Omai gold mine - the largest in South America - and a major forestry operation, linked to a plywood plant. International funding is supporting significant improvements and rehabilitation of infrastructure.
Immense and varied resources in the interior, including a major potential for 'eco tourism', await development; but Guyana insists upon their selective and ecologically sensitive exploitation. A large tract of forest - Iwokrama - has been dedicated to an experimental international project for the scientific study of rainforest resources and their rational, sustainable development.
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