Guyana Economy - History

Guyana Economy - History

GDP PPP(2006): $3.62 Billion.
Per capita GDP: $4700.

Budget: Income .............. $253million
Expenditure ... $304 million

Main Crops: Sugar, rice, wheat, vegetable oils; beef, pork, poultry, dairy products; forest and fishery potential not exploited

Natural Resources: bauxite, gold, diamonds, hardwood timber, shrimp, fish.

Major Industries: bauxite, sugar, rice milling, timber, fishing (shrimp), textiles, gold mining


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Guyana is a country located on the northern mainland of South America, between Venezuela, Suriname, and Brazil. It is considered part of the Caribbean region due to its strong cultural and historical ties to the Caribbean community. Guyana is home to nearly 1 million people in an area of 83,000 square miles.

See the fact file below for more information on the Guyana or alternatively, you can download our 20-page Guyana worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.


Guyana Economy - History

Guyana achieved political independence in 1966, but economic independence did not immediately follow. Most decisions affecting the economy continued to be made abroad because foreign companies owned most of the agricultural and mining enterprises. Two British companies, Booker McConnell and Jessel Securities, controlled the largest sugar estates and exerted a great deal of influence on the nation. In the early 1970s, the Booker McConnell company alone accounted for almost one-third of Guyana's gross national product (GNP). The company produced 85 percent of Guyana's sugar, employed 13 percent of the work force, and took in 35 percent of the country's foreign exchange earnings.

Two other foreign companies dominated the mining sector: the Demerara Bauxite Company (Demba), a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan) and the Reynolds Bauxite Company, a subsidiary of the Reynolds Metals Company of the United States. Together these firms accounted for 45 percent of the nation's foreign exchange earnings. Foreign companies also controlled the major banks.

The Burnham government, which took office in 1964, saw continued foreign domination of the economy as an obstacle to progress. As economist DeLisle Worrell pointed out, foreign ownership was considered the root cause of local economic difficulties. Emerging nations of the Caribbean region shared this viewpoint, which was supported by a number of arguments. Foreign-owned companies were said to use inappropriate production technologies in the Caribbean. These technologies were capital intensive, rather than labor intensive, because they had been developed for the industrialized world. Thus, local unemployment remained higher than necessary. Furthermore, local economies were geared to producing only primary products (sugar and bauxite in Guyana) rather than value-added products (processed foods and aluminum parts, for example). Guyana sold its inexpensive primary products abroad at world market prices that made local economies vulnerable to international price swings. At the same time, local economies had to import expensive products, such as machinery, because most small, less-developed countries had no manufacturing base.

According to critics of the country's economic system, foreign companies were satisfied with the existing arrangements and had no incentive to develop the local economies. In short, foreign control was stifling regional aspirations. Many people in Caribbean countries, particularly those with left-leaning political sympathies, called for government control of the economies.

The government moved vigorously to take control of the economy. In 1970 Burnham proclaimed Guyana as the world's first "cooperative republic." He said that the country would continue to welcome foreign investors but that the government would own at least 51 percent of any enterprise operating in Guyana. The Burnham government originally planned not to exceed this 51 percent ownership it wanted majority control of the companies but wanted to maintain foreign management teams and the flow of foreign investment. In practice, however, major foreign companies balked at the idea of shared ownership, and the Burnham government took complete control of the economy, eliminating both foreign ownership and foreign management.

During the 1970s, Guyana nationalized the major companies operating in the country. Demba became a state-owned corporation in 1971. Three years later, the government took over the Reynolds Bauxite Company. The Burnham government then turned its attention to the sugar industry. Some observers say the latter move was largely for political reasons they say the Burnham government was seeking to extend its base of support among Indo-Guyanese sugar laborers. Guyana nationalized Jessel Securities in 1975 after the company began laying off workers to cut costs. In 1976 the government nationalized the huge Booker McConnell company. By the late 1970s, the government controlled over 80 percent of the economy.

Nationalization of large foreign companies was but one aspect of pervasive government control of economic activity. By the early 1980s, the government had also taken over the bulk of the retailing and distribution systems. It controlled the marketing of all exports, even those few products, such as rice, which were still produced privately. It owned all but two financial institutions and tightly regulated currency exchange. The government controlled prices and even attempted to dictate patterns of consumption by banning a wide range of consumer imports. Local substitutes for even the most basic imports were proposed, such as rice flour for imported wheat flour.

The nationalized economy at first appeared to be performing well. During the early 1970s, world prices of both sugar and bauxite rose, allowing the newly nationalized enterprises to reap sizable profits. Increased government spending helped stimulate the economy, and GDP grew at about 4 percent per year from 1970 to 1975.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, the world commodity prices that had favored Guyana declined, reversing the earlier gains. Economic output dropped as demand for sugar and bauxite fell. Nonetheless, government spending continued at a high rate, and Guyana was forced to begin borrowing abroad. This pattern of declining GDP, continued high levels of government spending, and foreign borrowing was common throughout Latin America in the 1980s.

Guyana's economic decline grew more acute during the 1980s. Unfavorable world prices were only part of the problem. There were two more basic difficulties: the lack of local managers capable of running the large agricultural and mining enterprises, and the lack of investment in those enterprises as government resources were depleted. Bauxite production, which had dropped from 3 million tons per year in the 1960s to 2 million tons in 1971, fell to 1.3 million tons by 1988. Similarly, sugar production declined from 330,000 tons in 1976 to about 245,000 tons in the mid-1980s, and had declined to 168,000 tons by 1988. Rice production never again reached its 1977 peak of 210,000 tons. By 1988, national output of rice was almost 40 percent lower than in 1977.

The decline in productivity was a serious problem, and the Burnham government's reaction to the downturn aggravated the situation. As export revenues fell, foreign exchange became scarce. Rather than attacking the root of the problem, low domestic output, the government attempted to ration foreign exchange. The government regulated all transactions requiring foreign exchange and severely restricted imports. These controls created their own inefficiencies and shortages. More significantly, tight government control encouraged the growth of a large parallel market. Smugglers brought in illegal imports, and currency traders circumvented government controls on foreign exchange. Although many citizens began working and trading in the parallel economy, many others were leaving the country. An estimated 72,000 Guyanese, almost one-tenth of the population, emigrated between 1976 and 1981. Among those who left the country were many of the most skilled managers and entrepreneurs. Finally, the hostile political orientation of the Burnham government foreclosed the possibility of aid from the United States.

The crisis finally came to a head in the late 1980s because of Guyana's unsustainable foreign debt. As export revenues fell, the government began borrowing abroad to finance the purchase of essential imports. External debt ballooned to US$1.7 billion by 1988, almost six times as large as Guyana's official GDP. Because the government funneled the borrowed money into consumption rather than productive investment, Guyana's economy did not grow out of debt. Instead, the government became increasingly unable to meet its debt obligations. Overdue payments, or arrears, reached a staggering US$1 billion in 1988. Rather than risk a curtailment of all foreign credit (even short-term loans for imported machinery and merchandise), the Hoyte government embarked on an IMF-backed austerity and recovery program. The Economic Reform Program (ERP) introduced in 1988 amounted to a reversal of the statist policies that had dominated Guyana's economy for two decades.


Guyana Economy - History

A LTHOUGH the Household Income and Expenditure Survey, which was undertaken in 1999, has disclosed that about half of the population of Guyana are not gainfully employed, the statisticians have asserted, with official truth, that only 9.1 percent of the country's total workforce is unemployed. These apparently contradictory figures have been arrived at because it is the convention, throughout the world, to record as "unemployed" only those who have sought, but have not obtained, employment. However, despite the validity of the official statistics, the sad fact is that, in addition to the 9.1 percent of our workforce that is officially unemployed, many who would like to work are not actively seeking jobs simply because they have abandoned all hope of ever finding suitable occupations, while others, though nominally employed, are earning incomes and wages that condemn them to "livelihoods" below the poverty line. Indeed, there is hard evidence that most public servants who have left their official occupation, together with those who have lost their jobs in the bauxite industry have not registered themselves as being unemployed. Instead, they occupy themselves as hucksters, as petty traders, and as small-time entrepreneurs, barely managing to survive.

The causes of this relatively high rate of unemployment and underemployment are complex. Consider the phenomenon that, because of our reconstruction policy from 1991 to 1997, when there was a remarkable upsurge in economic growth, there was a reduction in employment in the public service, the bauxite sector and the sugar industry. Indeed, in that period, employment in the public service shrank by 45 percent, in Linmine by 43 percent, in Bermine by 30 percent, and in Guysuco by 35 percent. The lesson is that the rationalization and modernization of administrations and industries in Guyana have led in many instances to the reduction of their workforce. This trend is likely to continue, and indeed ought so to do, if we are to survive in this age of increased globalization and competition. It is therefore essential that the economy be expanded as soon as possible. The evidence is quite clear that the Economic Recovery Programme which was introduced in 1989, and the structural adjustment policies which were subsequently implemented, while reducing the large negative balances of our internal and external accounts, drastically curtailing inflation rates, and leading to the attainment of respectable rates of economic growth, have not been as effective in creating employment opportunities or in significantly reducing the incidence of poverty.

The failure of these policies to alleviate our social problems was exacerbated by our apparent difficulty in attracting investment of the type, which could significantly make an impact on the burgeoning ranks of the unemployed. The problems of investment will be discussed in another article in this series. Suffice it to state at this stage that the relatively low rate of investment in our country was, in 1992 and 1993, occasioned by the perception of potential overseas investors that the country's new government was not foreign-investor-friendly. Since then, however, the main causes have been our recent political shenanigans which have led to social instability and social unrest and violence, coupled with the inordinate delay in producing an investment code and policy.

Certain characteristics of the country's unemployment and under-employment "sector" ought to be clearly understood by policy-makers. First, possibly because they are mostly unskilled, many of those who enter the workforce for the first time are obliged to resort to the informal sector for employment. This is especially true for women and young people. Moreover, even when they secure jobs in the formal sector these new entrants still tend to cluster in low-paying occupations. Second, there is a geographic dimension to the consequences of unemployment. In the rural areas the unemployed have turned to self-employed agriculture or work as farm labourers. In urban areas unemployed women become low-earning domestic servants, while the unemployed youths, with few jobs available for which they are adequately trained, have fended for themselves, often illicitly. Third, the privatization process which began during the Economic Recovery Programme has affected African Guyanese more than other ethnic groups in our country, partly because they were the main groups employed in the Public Corporations, and partly because the new owners of privatized state entities, when they are local, tend to run them as family businesses which employ subjective employment criteria.

As in many other developing countries, there are perhaps two kinds of underemployment in Guyana: visible underemployment in which people are employed for a period of time that is shorter than that which is normally required and invisible underemployment in which people are employed in jobs that require skill-levels that are below their qualifications. Indeed, many persons with secondary school certificates have chosen to enter the urban informal labour force, primarily because of the low levels of remuneration in the Public Service.

There are other factors which contribute to the high incidence of unemployment and underemployment in Guyana: (i) the inadequacy of our system of technical and vocational education. In general, essential subjects are not on the curricula and often the quality of the teaching of those disciplines that are taught leaves much to be desired. Moreover, laboratory and other facilities for practical work are either non-existent or are of extremely poor quality (ii) the legacy of a weakened educational system, which produces too many entrants into the labour force who are functionally illiterate (iii) the absence of a policy framework to encourage workers and enterprises in the informal economy to enter the formal economy (iv) fragmented efforts for addressing the concerns of micro-, small- and medium-scale enterprises. This is especially crucial because of the growing importance of self-employment as a way of life in Guyana, and also because of the necessity to build a stronger and more pervasive entrepreneurial class in our country (v) an insufficiently mobile labour force and a lack of supporting mechanisms to promote labour mobility and, (vi) a dearth of trained personnel, capable of coping with the attitudinal problems which currently exist in the workplace, and with those which will arrive in the future.

The formulators of the National Development Strategy have stated categorically that the overall macroeconomic framework, which they have proposed in the NDS "is designed to accelerate economic growth, a process that will increase both employment and real wages. In fact, over the next ten years some labour shortages can be expected to appear in certain areas of development". Apart from providing through general fiscal policies, an environment in which the private sector would flourish, the economy would grow, and more jobs would be available, the NDS prescribes specific fiscal incentives for those investments which, when implemented, would lead to the creation of a minimum number of jobs. Moreover, it strongly advocates the establishment of Export Processing Zones, which would provide sources of growth for the entire country and, among other things, absorb some of the unemployed and underemployed, and workers from the informal economy.

The NDS also makes specific recommendations for the improvement and expansion of Technical and Vocational Education and Training through the rationalization of the utilization of existing technical education and training facilities, the upgrading of curricula, and the strengthening of teaching through special teacher training courses and the recruitment of more highly trained teaching personnel. Of great importance is its detailed proposal to restructure this type of education in order to strengthen the involvement of the private sector.

The NDS also recommends that a Labour Market Information System be established in order to provide job-seekers with up-to-date information on employment opportunities, and to provide an adequate statistical basis for continuously formulating, implementing and evaluating policies and programmes for human resources development.

The strategy which the NDS puts forward for encouraging labour mobility is dependent upon a multifaceted approach, which includes the decompression of wage scales, improved labour market information, and more comparable conditions of employment. More particularly, the NDS emphasizes the importance of the availability of land and housing which it specifically links to unemployment and poverty. Because of Guyana's vast interior, the NDS also strongly suggests that the provision of adequate social services should be part and parcel of packages of employment in the hinterland in order to attract labour to those parts of the country.

Moreover, the NDS proposes that a Social Partnership Agreement should be entered into by the Government of Guyana, the Guyana Trades Union Congress, and the Private Sector Commission. This agreement should be based on the recognition that there is a mutuality of interest and an interdependence among the three parties and on an acknowledgement that the success of any sustainable progress in Guyana will depend upon their collective commitment to a philosophy of governance which is characterized by participatory democracy, and the subjugation of sectional interests to the national good.

All these proposals will, however, take time to fructify. Accordingly, it is advocated that the Government embark forthwith on a series of public programmes that are specifically designed both to absorb the labour of the unemployed and underemployed, and to alleviate the poverty that is attendant on such situations. Among these proposals are the immediate implementation of the self-help housing schemes and the other housing construction initiatives that have been described in last Sunday's article on the NDS the construction of interior feeder roads and coastal farm to market roads, through the utilization of labour-intensive methods the desiltation of urban and rural ditches and canals, utilizing similar techniques and the general improvement of the country's infrastructure and sanitary conditions through the absorption of the maximum amount of labour that is possible.

It is usual, nowadays, when such proposals are made, for governments to claim that the conditionalities of their loan agreements with the IFIs do not permit such approaches. I have checked with senior representatives of the World Bank and have been assured that such labour-intensive methods of construction are acceptable, provided that they are cost-effective. I have also observed that such technologies have been applied, with IFI funding, in Latin America and in Africa. Moreover, I know that the International Labour Office has perfected several ways of constructing low-cost labour-intensive roads and have advised several countries on their utilisation.

For those areas in which such strategies might not be suitable and, in any event, to assist in developing an entrepreneurial class in this country, it is suggested that a developmental bank for small- and medium-scale enterprises be immediately established, and that an essential component of its lending should be technical assistance both for the specific production line, and for the inculcation of the techniques and spirit of entrepreneurship.


Guyana Economy - History

Known as the “breadbasket of the Caribbean,” the small nation of Guyana has always had a strong agricultural presence. Guyana grows large amounts of rice and sugarcane, both for local consumption and export. Rice is a staple of the Guyanese diet and makes its way into a number of local dishes, including “cook up rice” (a popular and versatile dish that is made in a single pot). The local bank GBTI, which is a large supporter of the agricultural industry in Guyana, offers a range of competitive loans designed specifically for agricultural ventures in rice and sugarcane, as well as other crops. While there have been ventures into raising livestock and growing other types of cash crops, rice remains a staple of the Guyanese agricultural industry and has been an important aspect of the country’s economy for many years. Here’s a look at the history of rice farming and how it began in Guyana.

An Ancient Crop

The history of rice as a cultivated crop dates back to between 10,000 and 14,000 years ago. Evidence and artifacts found in China point to the Yangtze and Huai rivers as the earliest points of domestication of Oryza sativa (domesticated from a wild grass called Oryza rufipogon). Farming equipment and other tools believed to have been used with rice have been found in China dating back as far as 8,000 years ago. Rice would soon spread throughout the rest of the civilized world and establish its place as a staple of global cuisine, one that it continues to hold today.

There are two main subspecies of this type of domesticated rice, known as indica and japonica. Indica rice thrives in tropical climates, while japonica rice grows best in subtropical and temperate climates, like those found in East Asia. Another domesticated rice, Oryza glaberrima, came onto the global scene much later, developing in West Africa. As the rest of the world began to be colonized, the farming of rice would spread to those settlers, soon making its way to the Americas and other areas.

Rice in the Caribbean

Rice is not native to the Caribbean region. Just like in many other areas colonized by Europeans, rice was introduced by the early settlers who arrived in the region. For Guyana, that meant rice was introduced by Dutch settlers in the early 18th century. In 1738, the Dutch Governor of Essequibo (Laurens Storm van Gravesande) introduced the crop as a means of supplementing the diet of slave laborers working on sugarcane estates in the country. As indentured workers began to arrive later from East India, the demand for rice continued to increase. Many of the workers decided to stay in Guyana and began to cultivate rice on their own plots of land, which soon pushed the production of rice beyond what was needed for local consumption. The initial export of rice from Guyana occurred in 1896, when it was shipped off to Trinidad.

After the initial export, Guyana’s rice industry expanded, with exports heading to the West Indies, partly due to a reduction in shipments from the United States and Asia during World War I. By the end of World War II, Guyana had become the main supplier of rice to the market for the West Indies and also had established a marketing organization for rice in 1939. In 1946, both the British Guiana Rice Marketing Board (BGRMB) and the British Guiana Rice Producers Association (BGRPA) were established, and between the years of 1946 and 1950, Guyana was exporting around one-third of the rice that it produced (approximately 22,991 tons of rice paddy on average). Guyana earned the label of “the breadbasket of the Caribbean” by 1956, and after achieving its independence 10 years later, rice production had reached an average of 167,600 tons annually.

Rice in Guyana Today

Today, rice is the second largest crop in Guyana’s agricultural industry, second only to sugarcane in production. Rice is produced by a group of private farmers, as well as the Guyanese Rice Milling and Marketing Authority. Although a large portion of the rice that is produced is still kept in the country for local consumption, Guyana exports rice to several countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Suriname, Antigua, Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, and other nations that are a part of CARICOM. The largest importers of rice from Guyana are Latin American countries, including Venezuela (with 34% of exports in 2019). In 2019, the second-largest importer of rice was Portugal (with 12% of total exports in 2019).

In spite of issues with inconsistent weather and other problems, 2019 was a big year for rice production in Guyana. The country produced more than 1 million tons of paddy in 2019, its second-largest production year on record. Annual average yields for rice production are continuing to increase steadily. Experts believe that rice production in Guyana will likely continue to grow in the next several years.

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Title: Spotlight – Aquaculture Could Provide a Sustainable Solution

Guyana is well-known for its agricultural industry, particularly when it comes to the production of rice and sugarcane. In fact, the country has been known by the nickname “the breadbasket of the Caribbean” since the late 1950s. However, rice and sugarcane are not the only factors that contribute to Guyana’s agricultural industry. The country also has a growing aquaculture sector, which is just beginning to make its mark in the country. The aquaculture industry offers significant potential to aid the fight against food scarcity and to improve the population of various types of marine life at the same time. Read on to learn how aquaculture could be used as a tool to help improve sustainability, particularly in the areas of fish and marine life within the global food market.

What Is Aquaculture?

Aquaculture, which is more commonly known as fish farming, involves the organized cultivation of various types of marine life, ranging from fish to shrimp and other animals. Aquaculture is a versatile industry, as animals can be raised in pens within the ocean, as well as in large tanks on land, which makes it relatively easy to do in a variety of areas. Commonly farmed marine animals include tilapia, salmon, and shrimp, and there is great potential to expand this into other types of aquatic animals, including those that have been subject to over-fishing practices and habitat destruction in the wild. The global consumption of seafood remains high, and traditional fishing methods are no longer able to source enough. Fish farming is a potential solution for combatting global food problems created by a continuously growing population combined with a steady decrease in available land to raise traditional crops and livestock. Since fish and other marine life can be raised in tanks, as well as in pens in the ocean, the potential is strong for these animals to be raised in places where cultivating other livestock and crops would not be possible.Already, aquaculture provides nearly 50% of the world’s seafood. As long as aquaculture is practiced responsibly, it will be able to provide sustainable seafood that will ultimately benefit everyone.

Potential Opportunities

Aquaculture also provides a number of opportunities, both in terms of sustainability and as a source of food. As the global population continues to increase each year, producing enough food to feed people around the world is a continuing problem. With half of the world’s seafood already coming from aquaculture, it could potentially serve as an excellent source of food and help to reduce food scarcity around the world. Aquaculture may also present an opportunity to increase the population of certain wild species that are becoming more scarce due to overfishing and habitat destruction. These species could conceivably be raised in captivity and eventually released back into the ocean.

Sustainable Practices

There are several ways that aquaculture can be made more sustainable as it continues to grow and become more common. One of the best ways to reduce the environmental impact of aquaculture and to improve its sustainability is to move to more recirculating, exclusively land-based systems. These provide an opportunity to achieve nearly 100% water recycling within the system, reducing waste and allowing aquaculture to be practiced anywhere. Land-based systems could offer exciting opportunities for desert or urban-based communities to produce fish and other marine life close to home. As the distance between production and consumption is reduced, the environmental impact of food transportation is decreased, as well, making production more sustainable.

The offshore production of fish is also an option. Most aquaculture currently occurs in tanks on land or in nets placed directly offshore. But with so much more open ocean to use, why not move some aquaculture operations offshore? These areas have fewer nutrients and less biodiversity than coastal areas, making it easier to disperse any waste produced and lessen the impact that it would otherwise have on the overall environment. Additionally, there is more open ocean in the world than we would likely ever be able to use, which is beneficial, as the amount of available land to use tanks becomes scarce.

Aquaculture has great potential to become more sustainable, and if it does, it could become a major source of food for the global community. As new and emerging aquaculture markets get started, like those in Guyana, farmers would do well to explore sustainable farming methods as the industry grows.


History of Rice in Guyana

Rice was first introduced during the eighteenth century by the Dutch Governor of Essequibo, Laurens Storm van Gravesande, in 1738, to supplement the diet of the slaves on the sugar estates (Ramgopal, 1964). With the arrival of indentured workers from East India, the demand for rice increased greatly. When the period of indenture ended, many of the East Indian workers chose to remain in Guyana and many acquired plots of land and began rice cultivation. By 1896 Guyana was producing more rice than was needed for local consumption and the first export shipment to Trinidad took place in that year.

As shipments from Asia and the USA were curtailed during the First World War, Guyana expanded exports to the West Indies. The industry stagnated between the two World Wars. In 1939 a single marketing organisation for rice was established and by the end of the Second World War Guyana had secured a virtual monopoly of the West Indies market. Over the period 1946 to 1950 Guyana was producing an average of 61,181 tons of paddy and exporting 22,991 tons.

In 1946 the British Guiana Rice Marketing Board (BGRMB) was established, it bought and sold all rice produced in the colony, in the same year the British Guiana Rice Producers Association (BGRPA) was established. By 1956 Guyana had been labeled the ‘bread basket of the Caribbean’ and by the time of independence in 1966 paddy production had reached 167,600 tons.

Most of the information contained in the foregoing paragraphs was obtained from ‘Our Rice Industry’ by L. Ramgopal, 1964 and also a thesis proposal ‘Management of the Rice Industry in Guyana 1966-1997’ by W. Mohamed.


Guyana Economy - History

The business firm, Booker Brothers, McConnell & Company, popularly known as Bookers, played a leading role in the economic history of Guyana, especially from the beginning of the twentieth century. By the middle of the century, the company, headquartered in London, owned large holdings in Britain, Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, Nigeria, Canada, India, Belgium, East Africa as well as Guyana.

The Booker family owned sugar plantations in Guyana since the early nineteenth century. The firm gradually expanded its holdings by purchasing other plantations that ran into economic problems late in the century. Thus, by the end of the nineteenth century, Bookers owned most of the sugar plantations in Guyana.

The firm had also by this time branched out, both in Guyana and in its other international locations, to form separate companies involved in shipping, import and export trade, and wholesale and retail sale of consumer goods, among other businesses. Bookers' impact on the economy of the country was so great, that Guyana, then known as the colony of British Guiana, was often humorously referred to as "Bookers Guiana".

Through the wealth Bookers generated in Guyana, and its role as the largest employer, it was able to wield much political influence during successive periods in the country's history.

By 1950, the Booker companies were involved in all sectors of the Guyanese economy. Bookers Agricultural Holdings owned 15 of the existing 18 sugar estates and a large cattle ranch located at Kabawer on the upper Abary River. Another offshoot company known as the Campbell Booker group owned a large number of wholesale and retail stores selling food items, furniture, household appliances, clothing, hardware, building supplies, sports goods, farm machinery and equipment, and motor vehicles. It also owned the largest taxi service in the country.

Another branch of the group was the Bookers Engineering and Industrial Holdings which manufactured and sold pharmaceuticals. It also manufactured boxes and was involved in printing and publishing.

Bookers Merchants, in addition to conducting a lucrative advertising business, performed the role of producers and distributors of rum, stockfeed, balata, lumber, and petroleum products.

The international shipping business was provided by Bookers Brothers (Liverpool) which also controlled the sugar terminals in Georgetown. This company was also involved in various types of insurance. Two other branches of the Bookers business cartel, the Guiana Industrial and Commercial Investments and Bookers Central Properties, carried out investments in real estate and other property.

The management sector of the Bookers group of companies in Guyana comprised mostly expatriate Englishmen who served for a few years before returning to Britain. They included the managers of the sugar estates which employed thousands of persons of Indian and African ancestry as cane cutters and factory workers. Urban middle class Guyanese made up a lower tier in Bookers' management team.


Guyana Economy - History

Guyana's economic decline during 1985-1991

Hoyte's change in direction

When President Desmond Hoyte took power in August 1985 after the death of Forbes Burnham, he declared his intention to speed up "the pursuit of socialist construction" in Guyana. He re-emphasised this assertion after he reinforced his power at grossly rigged elections four months later. However, within less that a year he began to find this pursuit untenable as Guyana continued to experience a serious economic crisis, a spill-over from the Burnham administration.

Faced with a steady decline in production levels and an acute shortfall in balance of payments, Hoyte ordered a cut in public spending and made attempts to encourage foreign investment. He also curtailed all policies geared towards "cooperative socialism" in the attempt to attract investment from North America and Western Europe and also to win financial support from the multilateral financial institutions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) since 1983 had curtailed all further lending to Guyana because payments on previous loans were long overdue and, in 1985, declared the country ineligible for further credit and loans.

No doubt, these IMF decisions caused Hoyte to declare during his address to the PNC's sixth biennial congress on 19 August 1985 that "we have concluded that the standard IMF prescription is not only palpably irrelevant and useless, but also positively dangerous and counter productive in our particular situation. We must resist with all our might the pressures that might be exerted to force us on to the IMF's procrustean bed."

Real GDP had declined by an average 10 percent in 1982-83 as a result of sharp contractions in the bauxite sector and decline and stagnation in most other productive sectors. Economic decline eased up in 1984, but the economy remained stagnant through 1987. With a per capita gross domestic product of only US$500, Guyana was one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Confronted with these stark economic realities, Hoyte was forced to depart from Burnham's economic policy because he realised that "cooperative socialism" had failed. At the same time, the country was burdened with a stifling foreign debt and a large payment of arrears which the PNC regime had accumulated. The arrears by 1988 were more than US$885 million (about four times the Guyana's annual exports), and Hoyte feared that all credit to the country would be completely cut off by international donors. In this situation, he was propelled to carry out negotiations in 1988 with the IMF which quickly arranged with the World Bank an Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) aimed at re-introducing a pro-capitalist market economy in place of the failed "cooperative socialist" programme of the past eighteen years.

The ERP was introduced by the PNC government with a great deal of publicity. Its specific objectives for the 1989-1991 were: (a) achieving real GDP growth of 4 percent annually (b) reducing the rate of inflation from 50 percent to 10 percent (c) reducing the public sector deficit to 20 percent of GDP (d) eliminating the external and internal payments arrears on the debt (d) building a net international reserve (e) incorporating the parallel economy into the official economy and (f) normalising Guyana's financial relations with its foreign creditors.

The ERP was to be carried out in three phases: The "stabilisation" phase was planned for March to November 1989, the "rehabilitation" phase for 1990-1991, and "recovery and growth" for 1992 and beyond.

During the stabilisation period, the government with the support of an IMF-monitored programme undertook the following measures: (a) an initial 70 percent devaluation of the currency (b) price increases resulting from the devaluation (c) a 20 percent ceiling on public sector wage increase (d) an increase of the prime interest from 14 percent to 35 percent and (e) the reduction of all foreign exchange retention accounts to 10 percent of export proceeds with the exception of bauxite.

Efforts to restore economic growth

As part of the ERP programme to encourage economic growth, the government freed up the foreign exchange regulations. This allowed exporters, for the first time in many years, to retain part of their foreign currency earnings for future use. Before this change, only the Bank of Guyana could hold foreign currency. Soon after, price controls were removed on many consumer items, but they were retained for petroleum, sugar and rice. The removal of price controls was followed by the lifting of import restrictions on almost all items other than food. Individuals were also allowed to import goods without government intervention.

And to encourage private investment, the government promised a rapid approval of projects and offered incentives including tax holidays. The laws affecting mining and oil exploration were improved and tax reforms designed to promote exports and agricultural production in the private sector were enacted. The government also announced an end to its policy of nationalisation, not doubt to provide a solid assurance to foreign investors.

With regard to the absorption of parallel market into the legal economy, this was necessary since the parallel market was causing the government to lose tax revenues. It also boosted inflation through uncontrolled currency trading, while encouraging illegal activities.

By freeing up foreign exchange, the government began to restrict some aspects of the illegal economy. In 1989 it introduced the Foreign Currency Act which allowed licensed dealers to exchange Guyanese dollars for foreign currency at market-determined rates. A number of foreign currency exchange operations were licensed, but illegal currency traders continued their operation.

But at the same time, the government began a steady devaluation of the Guyanese dollar in order for the official exchange rate to match the market rate. Since the beginning of the ERP to 1991, exchange slid at the rate of 250 percent annually. The Guyana dollar was also systematically devalued the exchange rate of $US1 in 1986 was G$4.37 in 1987 - G$10 1989 - G$33 and 1990 - G$45. This process of devaluation was an essential feature of the ERP on the belief that it would destroy the parallel economy and also improve the country's export competitiveness.

However, as the central tool of economic management, the exchange rate policy was negatively affected by all forms of exchange management over a relative short period. These included a fixed exchange rate, "crawling peg", "currency basket" mechanism, "managed float" and "secondary foreign exchange window" (during 1985-1987) and "free floating" or "cambio" (in 1990). These proved to have little success.

Then in early 1991, the government adopted a floating exchange which removing the distinction between the official and the market exchange rates and by mid-year the exchange rate stabilised at G$125. All of these devaluations and an accompanying wage restraint policy proved to be very harsh of the general population.

Public finances worsened throughout most of the 1980s. The overall budget deficit - the difference between actual expenditures and the revenues - widened from 17 percent of recorded GDP in 1980 to 59 percent in 1985. After experiencing a short-level reduction during 1987-1988, the deficit jumped back to an estimated 55 percent of GDP in 1989. This deficit was rooted in increases in central government expenditure, increased domestic interest payments and decreased revenues due to economic decline and the shifting of many activities into the parallel economy.

The deterioration of the state enterprises also contributed to the budget deficits. Up to 1980, their combined current account surplus had partially financed the deficit. But this surplus turned into a deficit from 1981-1987 as a result of devaluations and a steady drop in production of export commodities.

The ERP sought to get rid of the internal and external payments arrears. To bridge the gap, half of the expenditures for 1989 were put aside for interest payments. In addition, the government cut public spending which included delaying salary increases and eliminating some civil service positions and ceasing funding to the state corporations, except the Guyana Electricity Corporation. Since many of these corporations were a burden on the economy, it became clear that the IMF, through the ERP, wanted the government to privatise them.

The government eventually sold 15 of the 41 government-owned (para-statal) businesses. The telephone company and assets in the timber, rice, and fishing industries also were privatised. International corporations were hired to manage the huge state sugar company, Guysuco, and the largest state bauxite mine, Linmine. An American company was allowed to open a bauxite mine, and two Canadian companies were permitted to develop the largest open-pit gold mine on the South American continent.

With the new privatisation policy, the PNC regime departed significantly from its previous hard-line position on nationalisation. Only four years before, Hoyte in his address to the PNC's sixth biennial congress had emphasised very firmly:

"We have seen, within recent times, a document being circulated which alleged that every conceivable problem we are facing, economic or otherwise, has stemmed from nationalisation. The inference was that we should denationalise. And it not without significance that this document surfaced at a time when a campaign was mounted externally to coerce us into accepting a policy of denationalisation - or privatisation, as it is called. . . . But let me make our position clear on this issue. While the People's National Congress remains in office, the bauxite industry, the sugar industry and the other strategic industries which we have nationalised in this country will never, never, never be denationalised. For one thing, to do this would be an admission that we are abandoning the socialist ideal, and we have no intention of doing that."

Both the IMF and the World Bank were also worried about the deficit in Guyana's balance of payments. By 1986, the country was importing more goods and services from the rest of the world than it was exporting, and was experiencing serious problems in making payments to international creditors. Part of the payments was made from the reserves, including stocks of gold, but when these reserves dried up, the government found itself in no position to continue paying. Guyana thus became a bad credit risk and faced problems in acquiring even short term credits from international lenders. By 1988, the external payment arrears amounted to almost three times Guyana's GDP.

To help solve this problem, the government tried to increase exports and reduce imports. But this did not help much since production of rice, sugar and bauxite seriously declined. Exports suffered a setback in 1988-1989 and the arrears further increased in the wake of a deepening crisis in the sugar industry during that period. By the end of 1989, the economy had plummeted to such an extent that the real levels of GDP and export earnings were respectively 23 percent and 50 percent lower than in 1980.

To finance the budget and the overall deficit, the Hoyte administration resorted to heavy borrowing. There was a sharp increase in commercial arrears (US$1.2 billion in mid-1989) and the total public sector external debt reached almost US$1.9 billion by 1989 or more than twice its level at the beginning of the 1980s. Measured by the usual indicators of debt to GDP and debt to exports, Guyana became one of the most heavily indebted developing countries in the world.

Apparently by 1989, the IMF and the World Bank were convinced that the government was committed to rebuilding the economy. As a result, these multilateral institutions organised an eight-member "Donor Support Group", led by Canada and the Bank for International Settlements, which subscribed US$180 million to enable Guyana to repay arrears. This sum was refinanced by the World Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank and thus became another loan. However, this "bridging finance" - borrowing money not for development but to pay debts - re-established Guyana's international credit-worthiness and allowed the government to negotiate new international loans and reschedule other external debts.

As part of the ERP stipulations, taxation was steeply increased - almost doubling yearly for income and consumption tax. This resulted in increased current revenue from $3.3 billion in 1989 to $5.3 billion in 1990 and $11.27 billion in 1991. On the other hand, the series of devaluations also led to a massive increase in debt payments, from G$1 billion in 1989 to G$4.9 billion in 1990 and G$12.67 billion in 1991, which was more than the total current revenue collected.

In 1990, debt service payments and interest amounted to 140 percent and 53 percent respectively of export earnings. Guyana's foreign debt by the end of 1991 amounted to US$2.1 billion with debt service payments amounting to 105 percent of current revenue.

Further, as a result of the PNC regime's incompetence and mismanagement, the Current Account Consolidated Fund showed a huge deficit, increasing from G$6 billion in 1989 to nearly G$18 billion in 1991.

Earlier, the October 1989 report of the Commonwealth Advisory Group (the McIntyre Report) on Guyana's economic and social situation had emphasised that this state of affairs was "clearly unsustainable".

With this bruising crisis affecting the country, the opposition PPP constant criticised the ERP and noted that the "recovery programme" failed to give consideration to social development. The Party further declared that the refusal of the PNC regime to embrace democracy was the main detrimental factor since the majority of the people had no confidence and trust in the government.

Actually, up to 1991 the ERP reforms showed little progress. Instead of stabilisation and progress, there was retrogression - a negative instead of a positive growth rate. For 1988, the GDP fell by 3 percent. A policy framework paper prepared by the government in cooperation with the World Bank and the IMF had predicted that real GDP would grow by 5 percent in 1989 instead, real GDP fell by 5 percent. Economic performance continued to decline in early 1990, and changes in government policy failed to alleviate the difficulties facing the economy: a massive foreign debt, emigration of skilled persons, and the lack of infrastructure. In that year the GDP fell by a further 3.5 percent.

However, there were some signs of improvement. Guyana had rescheduled its debt, making the country eligible for international loans and assistance, and foreign investment was becoming more visible. And as a result of both foreign investment and the sale of a number of government enterprises, Guyana's GDP showed an increase of 6.1 percent in 1991, the first increase after 15 years of decline.

Nevertheless, by 1991, the economy had not shown much success. There was a drastic decline in the production levels of the key exports - bauxite, sugar and rice. Sugar production declined from 220,995 tons in 1987 to 129,900 tons in 1990. Rice production was 131,700 tons in 1987 but dropped to 94,000 tons in 1990. Bauxite dropped from 1,486,000 tons in 1987 to 1,321,000 tons in 1990. As a result of the decreased production Guyana could not supply sufficient bauxite to Venezuela for the existing bauxite/fuel deal.

Sugar and rice, accounting nearly 16 percent of the GDP, contributed almost half of Guyana's foreign exchange earnings while employing 40 percent of the labour force. But through mismanagement, these two industries, which were net foreign exchange earners, were experiencing a serious production crisis.

Sugar production since 1988 had fallen to such an extent that the government was forced to import supplies from Guatemala for domestic consumption. Because of this drop in production, Guyana failed to meet its export quotas for markets in the European Economic Community and the United States.

In 1990, rice production was the lowest in 14 years. The general shortfall led to loss of the lucrative markets in the Caribbean, and the country actually received a gift of rice from Italy that year to supplement the local market.

In addition, the country's underdeveloped and decaying infrastructure seriously handicapped economic development. Many of the basic facilities and services deteriorated badly during the 1980s. And no reform of Guyana's productive sectors was possible without a significant level of investment in electricity, transportation, communications, the water system, and sea defences. The entire country was also plagued with an unreliable supply of electricity and blackouts of sixteen hours per day were common.

With regard to the high interest rate policy, this was intended not only to encourage savings but also to control the excess liquidity in the financial system, which contributed to inflationary and balance of payments pressures. In trying to curb inflation and the parallel market in currency trading, the high interest rate at the same time squeezed the local entrepreneurs, thus defeating one of the major ERP objectives - increased production for export and foreign earnings.

But the greatest obstacle to rehabilitation was the currency devaluation and wage restraint policy. The sharp devaluations from 1988, and particularly in 1991, impacted most adversely against consumers and producers. The accompanying rampant inflation drastically reduced the quality of life, and by 1991 more than 60 percent of the population were living below the poverty line.

Inflation, which had generally remained within the 20 percent range after 1981, rose to 40 percent in 1988 and doubled to 80 percent in 1989. In 1991, it stood at between 110 percent and 125 percent. Prices, measured by the official Consumer Price Index (CPI) constructed on a 1970 base year, increased by 13 percent annually.

Cost of living crisis

But wages and salaries lagged seriously behind inflation. Between 1981 and 1991, the Guyana currency was devalued by more than 4,333percent while the national minimum wage rose by 508 percent.

In 1991, workers were given a 50 percent increase in wages and salaries, raising the daily minimum wage from $43.03 (given in 1990) to $65.56 (or less than half a US dollar), about the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean. This was totally inadequate to meet the cost of living and well below the $193.77 per day demanded by the TUC in 1989 and the $307.07 for 1991. On May Day 1991, the General Secretary of the TUC, Joseph Pollydore, stated that workers were in a state of near destitution and incapable of buying "even basic food" that Government "has left children breadless and homes rice-less because of the inability of bread-winners to buy even minimum quantities for their families". And TUC President, Frank Andrews attacked the government's policy of removal of subsidies and price controls, while imposing utterly inadequate wages and salaries levels. To illustrate the effects of the harsh cost of living, workers on May Day 1991 carried placards declaring that the ERP brought them "Empty Rice Pots"!

The level of desperation of the workers' situation can be gauged by the purchasing power at the daily minimum wage of $64.56 in 1991. This amount could buy only about one and a half pounds beef, or six eggs, or two and a half pounds sugar. It definitely was insufficient to purchase a pound of chicken.

Noting the marked deterioration in economic and social conditions, the McIntyre Report had observed two years earlier: "But perhaps the even greater loss has been the deterioration in the physical quality of life of the population. Since 1980, average incomes have fallen by 50 percent, unemployment has doubled to 40 percent of the work force health and educational services are minimal, and many of the best doctors, nurses and teachers have emigrated."

Interestingly, Carl Greenidge, who during the Hoyte administration held the post of Minister of Finance, alluded in his 1991 budget presentation to the fact that several economic indicators were in poor shape. So serious was the situation that in 1990 GDP had declined to less that US$370 per capita. However, the leaders of the PNC government adamantly refused to admit that the causes of this decline were mismanagement, bad policies, rampant corruption and the lack of confidence by the people through the absence of democracy.


A brief history of the Portuguese in Guyana

While on May 5th the 175th Anniversary of Indian Arrival was commemorated, there was another anniversary two days earlier that slipped by unnoticed. May 3rd marked the 178th year since the Portuguese first arrived in this country. Below we reproduce three articles written by the only authority on the Portuguese of Guyana, Professor Mary Noel Menezes, RSM, all of which had been published previously by Stabroek News. All the pictures are courtesy of Prof Menezes.

By Mary Noel Menezes, RSM

Previously published in
Stabroek News on May 4th, 2010.

On 3rd May 1835, after a voyage of 78 days, the Louisa Baillie docked in Demerara with 40 Madeiran emigrants bound for Pln Thomas of RG Butts and for Plns La Penitence and Liliendaal of James Albuoy. Why did emigrants from a 286-mile island, Madeira, off the coast of Morocco migrate to a continental British colony on the northern tip of South America? Three factors made such a move a reality:

1. The approaching abolition of slavery throughout the British possessions creating a labour gap
2. The long-standing alliance between Portugal and England

3. The political, military and economic problems in Madeira in the 1830s.

Sugar had been grown in Madeira since 1452 and by 1500 the island had become the world’s largest producer of sugar cultivated by the sturdy and hard-working peasant-farmer who, suffering from the economic depression and political troubles, was eager to emigrate. The first decade of the arrival of the Madeirans was a difficult one for them disease and death plagued those years. At the same time strong objections against emigration were raised by the Madeiran civil and ecclesiastical authorities fearing the erosion of their labourers.

By 1845 most of the Portuguese had moved off the plantations, bought small plots of land and moved into the huckster and retail trade. In 1843 the first importation of goods from Madeira by the Portuguese was noted by both the Madeiran and Demeraran press. The Portuguese were long masters in the field of trade and the Madeiran emigrant brought with him this flair and expertise.

In the early years it was mainly in the rum trade that the Portuguese made their mark. By 1852 79% of the retail rum shops were owned by the Portuguese and they retained that monopoly well into the twentieth century. The end of the 1860s and the 1870s saw the Portuguese well entrenched in business. The roster of Portuguese entrepreneurs was extensive. Apart from being property owners, they were provision and commission merchants, spirit shop owners, importers, ironmongers, ship chandlers, leather merchants, boot and shoe makers, saddlers, coachbuilders, woodcutters, timber merchants, brick-makers, cattle owners, pork-knockers, charcoal dealers, bakers and photographers.

This commercial success of the Portuguese received high praise in the Royal Gazette.

The rise of the Portuguese in this colony from a state of most abject poverty to one of comparative affluence, and to the possession, in many instances, of thousands of dollars within the space of a few years, is one of the most remarkable occurrences in modern colonial history.

This unprecedented success of the Portuguese in business aroused the jealousy and animosity of the Creoles to such an extent that riots resulted, one especially violent one, the 1856 ‘Angel Gabriel’ Riots during which Portuguese shops were extensively damaged ‒ shops but not lives.

In 1858 the number of Portuguese in the colony was estimated at approximately 35,000 and mostly all were Roman Catholic. They brought not only their agricultural expertise but their faith as well. The Madeirans were profoundly religious their religion they expressed with joy. Their religious festas were celebrated with joyful abandon and with much pomp and splendour. With the arrival of Portuguese-speaking priests the Catholic Church advanced rapidly. In 1861 Sacred Heart Church was built for the Portuguese and by the Portuguese. Other churches rose all over the country, along the East Coast and East Bank Demerara and in Essequibo.

Of all the religious customs transmitted by the Portuguese, the Christmas Novena continues to hold sway among Catholic Guyanese of every ethnic origin. Another Madeiran custom was the establishment of confraternities, guilds and societies for the relief of widows, orphans, the sick, unemployed, the elderly and the imprisoned, as well as for the education of the children of their members.

The Portuguese held on to their language throughout the nineteenth century. A number of Portuguese newspapers kept the Portuguese in touch with events in Madeira and in the colony: Voz Portuguez, O Lusitano, Chronica Seminal and The Watchman, among others. Portuguese schools were established for both boys and girls.

Together with other amateur and professional groups the Portuguese entered the cultural stream of music and drama in British Guianese society. Plays and concerts were held at the Assembly Rooms and at the Philharmonic Hall. Noted for their musical bands in Madeira the Portuguese formed the Premeiro de Dezembro band which played at every festivity in the colony and regularly on the sea wall, and in the Botanic and Promenade Gardens, the Town Hall and the Assembly Rooms.

The Portuguese were also prominent in the world of sports: in boxing, cricket, cycling, rugby, football, tennis, hockey, racing and rowing. In 1898 the first cycling club, the Vasco da Gama Cycling Club, was formed by the Portuguese. In 1925 the Portuguese Club was founded and nurtured famous tennis players of the day. Indeed, the Portuguese worked hard in their business world but they also played hard. In music, dance and sport, they acquitted themselves well.

However much the Portuguese added to the cultural dimension in music, drama and sport, their entry into the political field took them much longer.

First, there was the language barrier secondly, the majority of the Portuguese men were not naturalized British subjects and thirdly, the government constantly cautioned the Portuguese “not to meddle with politics” but stick to their business. Not until 1906 did the Portuguese run for office, FI Dias and JP Santos winning seats in the Court of Policy and Combined Court. However, although the Portuguese had gained a political foothold, they were not at all welcomed with open arms into the colonial government.

By the turn of the century the Portuguese had created their own middle and upper class. They were never accepted into the echelons of white European society though they themselves were European. Much less did they “bolster white supremacy.” The rapid economic progress of the Portuguese, their strong adherence to the Catholic faith and their clannishness bred respect but never wholehearted acceptance among the population either in the nineteenth or twentieth century. With the upheavals of the 1960s and events in the 1970s many Portuguese crossed the ocean in search of another EI Dorado in the north, maybe in the spirit of the early Portuguese explorers who lived to the hilt the motto of Prince Henry the Navigator: “Go farther.”

Some preliminary thoughts on Portuguese
emigration from Madeira to British Guiana

The article below appeared in Stabroek News of May 7, 2000 having been reprinted courtesy of Kyk-Over-Al, December 1984.

In the 1830s and into the 1850s Portugal was undergoing a series of crises ‒ recurring civil wars between the Constitutionalists and the Absolutists, the repercussions of which were felt in Madeira. Many young men jumped at the opportunity to get out of Madeira at any cost and thus evade compulsory military service which was necessary, as Madeira was considered part of metropolitan Portugal.

Also, more and more, poverty was becoming a harsh reality of life on the thirty-four mile long, fourteen mile-wide island of 100,000 inhabitants. During the first decade of the nineteenth century life for the peasant, the colono who worked the land for the lord of the manor, had become even harder.

Madeira had been discovered in 1419 by Joao Goncalves Zarco under the auspices of Prince Henry, the Navigator, and by 1425 it had been settled. Prince Henry, son of Joao 1 of Portugal and patron of exploration, an unusually far-seeing and intellectual prince of his age and of many centuries beyond, was responsible for the introduction of the sugar-cane from Sicily to Madeira.

By 1456 the first shipment of sugar was sent to England, and by the end of the century the burgeoning sugar industry was helping Madeira to play a prominent role in the commerce of the period. Bentley Duncan claims: “By 1500, when Madeira had reached only its seventy-fifth year of settlement the island had become the world’s greatest producer of sugar, and with its complex European and African connections, was also an important centre for shipping and navigation.”

After 1570 the sugar trade began to decline as it faced competition from the cheaper and better-refined Brazilian product. Also the industry had been bedevilled by soil exhaustion, soil erosion, expensive irrigation measures, destruction by rats and insects, and ravaging by plant diseases.

As sugar declined in international trade the wine trade took precedence. Here again Madeira owed its name as a famous wine-producing country to the enterprises of Prince Henry who introduced the vine from Cyprus and Crete. The ‘Madeira’ of Madeira took its place with the port of Oporto on the tables of the world. It was soon discovered that the rolling of the ship added to the rich quality of the wine, and in the 17th and 18th centuries no ship left the island without a large consignment of pipes of Madeira for the West Indies and England, the largest consumers.

In the 19th century wine was being shipped from Madeira to the United States, England, the West Indies, the East Indies, France, Portugal, Denmark, Cuba, Gibraltar, Newfoundland, Brazil, Africa and Russia. By the late 19th century St Petersburg, Russia, vied with London in its consumption of Madeira.

But as with the sugar industry so too with viniculture. The vines were often demolished by diseases. In 1848 the oidium ravaged the plants, and by 1853 vine cultivation was almost totally abandoned. Twenty years later, the phylloxera, which also nearly ruined the French wine industry, crippled the vines.

The Madeiran peasant, in particular, owed his existence and that of his family to his job as a sugar-worker, a vine-tender or a borracheiro (transporter of wines in skins). No wonder when catastrophe continuously hit those crops, “the peasant, descending from the sierra with his bundle of beech sticks for the beans, and occasionally stopping to rest at the turns in the paths, casts his glance at the sea horizon and, in spite of himself, begins to feel the winged impulse to disimprison himself in search of lands where life would be less harsh.” (de Gouveia)

Thus the Portuguese emigrant who came to British Guiana was the inheritor of a more than 300-year legacy of sugar production and viniculture. He was also a “thrifty husbandman of no small merit” (Koebel) utilising every inch of available space of the terraced hillsides to grow peas, beans, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, spinach, pumpkin, onions and a vast variety of fruits.

Thus it is surprising to read in Dalton’s history that agriculture was not the forte of the Portuguese! What is even more surprising is the somewhat grudging concession made to the commercial enterprise of the emigrants. Significant among the reasons given for their meteoric rise to prominence in the retail, and later the wholesale trade in British Guiana, is the over-emphasis on the “preferential treatment” accorded them by the government of the day.

It was “the patronage of the European elite [which] was the spark that ignited Portuguese initiative and secured ultimate success” (Wagner). To continue this train of thought ‒ the government and planters regarded the Portuguese as allies against the Creoles. Yet it seemed that this European patronage boomeranged as later one is told that as the commercial power of the Portuguese grew they “became a threat to European elite’s dominion.”

One is left to conjecture whether the Portuguese in British Guiana would ever have risen in the mercantile trade had not the government and planters paved the way for them. Yet an investigation of Portuguese-Madeiran history indicates a long familiarity with trade and the tricks of trade. The Madeirans were heirs to a dynamic trade system that had its roots in 14th century Portugal when Lisbon was the important Atlantic seaport carrying on a vigorous trade with the Orient and Europe.

Nineteenth century sources reveal an incidence of shopkeepers on the island with writers commenting caustically on those “wily creatures” (shopkeepers) imbued with the spirit of swindling. One observer on the island wrote: “They can work like horses when they see their interest in it, but they are cunning enough to understand the grand principle of commerce, to give as little, and receive as much as possible.” A plethora of shops on the island, some of which date back to earlier centuries, attests to the fact that the Madeirans were no novices in business.

The British presence in trade and industry was ubiquitous but by the eighteenth century native jealousy had become very overt. By 1826 Madeirans were strongly objecting to “the almost monopoly of trade of the island in the hands of British merchants.” (Koebel) Possibly then the Madeiran merchant in British Guiana might have argued that the British merchants there owed him patronage in return for the privileges their counterparts had been receiving in Madeira for over two centuries!

The Madeiran emigrant then, did not arrive in British Guiana devoid of everything but his conical blue cloth cap, coarse jacket, short trousers and his rajao (banjo). As did all other immigrants he brought with him a background history in agriculture, a flair for business, as well as the culture and mores of his island home, a replica of the mother country, Portugal.

He brought with him, not only his family, but in many cases his criado (servant), his deep faith, his love of festivals, his taste in food, the well-known pumpkin and cabbage soup, the celebrated moorish dish, cus-cus, the bacelhau (salted fish), cebolas (onions) and alho (garlic). These tastes and many other customs became incorporated into the life of the Guianese.

Very early the Roman Catholic faith was carried throughout the country and wherever the Portuguese settled churches were built the major feast days were celebrated, as they were and still are in Madeira, with fireworks and processions. As the Register of Ships notes, throughout the nineteenth century ships plied between Madeira and British Guiana, ships chartered by the Portuguese themselves, bringing in their holds cargoes of bacelhau, cus-cus, cebolas, alho and wine, as well as new emigrants.

The success and prosperity of the Portuguese within a short span of time and out of proportion to their numbers (in a total population of 278,328 in 1891 they numbered only 12,166 or 4.3 per cent), whether due to “preferential treatment” or not, brought in its train economic jealousy among the Creole population, erupting in violence within fifteen years of their arrival in the colony. Later, when the Portuguese began to oust the European merchant in the wholesale trade, they felt the brunt of European envy which manifested itself in many subtle and overt ways.

Though the whites grudgingly acknowledged the economic supremacy of the Portuguese, at no time did they accord them social supremacy or draw them into their privileged group. This attitude undoubtedly hurt and embittered the Portuguese who considered themselves Europeans. But this did not hamper them or cripple their expectations or ambitions. Although from the very outset the local authorities, both Church and State in Madeira, tried to dissuade their countrymen from leaving the island, the emigre returning with his earnings, on the other hand, encouraged his brethren to cross the Atlantic and find their E1 Dorado in Demerara.

Today it seems that “the winged impulse” has again overtaken the Portuguese, and many have crossed the ocean in search of another E1 Dorado ‒ in the north.


U.S. Relations With Guyana

U.S. policy toward Guyana seeks to develop robust and sustainable democratic institutions, laws, and political practices support economic growth and development promote an active, organized, and empowered civil society and promote stability and security. Beginning in the late 1980s, Guyana sought to improve relations with the United States as part of a decision to shift toward political nonalignment, moving from state socialism and one-party control to a market economy and greater freedom of the press and assembly. This shift, closer security cooperation, and expanding trade and investment have helped place U.S.-Guyanese relations on excellent footing. With the shift in Guyana’s economy to an oil-producing nation, the U.S. partnership is more important than ever to help Guyana become a leader in the region on issues of security and governance.

The United States values Guyana’s partnership and cooperation on issues of mutual interest. Together, the two countries promote democracy and respect for human rights empower youth, women, the private sector, and civic/opinion leaders to formulate grassroots responses to social and economic challenges support new initiatives to improve the health of the Guyanese people and, through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), enhance the security and prosperity of the region.

U.S. Assistance to Guyana

Working together through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), the United States and Guyana, along with other nations of the Caribbean, are combating drug trafficking and other transnational crimes that threaten regional security. The United States works closely with Guyana in the fight against HIV/AIDS through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program. The U.S. Agency for International Development supports programs focused on strengthening communities, youth empowerment, extractives sector transparency, and climate resilience. The Public Affairs Section develops people-to-people ties through exchange programs such as the Youth Ambassadors program, the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI), the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, and by supporting meaningful discourse with civil society, the private sector, and government on issues of bilateral importance through cultural, educational, sports, and music programs. U.S. military medical and engineering teams continue to conduct training exercises in Guyana, digging wells, building schools and clinics, and providing medical treatment. The Treasury Department’s Office of Technical Assistance provides support to the Guyana Revenue Authority to strengthen auditing capacity.

Bilateral Economic Relations

Guyana’s GDP in 2020 was $5.17 billion. Guyana was the only economy in the Caribbean that registered growth in 2020 with a growth rate of 43.5 percent, driven by the oil and gas sector. Guyana is projected to grow by 20.9 percent in 2021 with expected inflation to hover at 0.9 percent. According to the Bank of Guyana, remittances to Guyana increased in 2020 by $51.8 million to $425.7 million. Guyana’s overall balance of payments recorded a surplus of $60.6 million in 2020 from a deficit of $48.9 million. Total currency transactions increased by 18.5 percent from $9.4 billion to $11.1 billion. The weighted exchange rate remains at GYD$208.5 to US $1 at the end of 2020.

The United States continues to be one of Guyana’s most significant trading partners. According to the Guyana Bureau of Statistics, the U.S. market remained significant for Guyana with export earnings of $779 million at the end of 2020, contributing to 30 percent of Guyana’s exports. Guyana’s imports from the United States amounted to $811.5 million at the end of 2020, or 39.3 percent of Guyana’s imports. Guyana’s major exports to the United States in 2020 continued to be non-monetary gold, fish and shellfish, bauxite, lumber and wood, and apparel and household goods. The major imports from the United States in 2018 were articles of iron and steel, motor cars, machinery, foodstuffs, animal feeds, petroleum products, chemicals, computers and computer accessories, passenger vehicles, telecommunication equipment, and pharmaceuticals.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Guyanese coastal area holds recoverable oil reserves of roughly 13.6 billion barrels and gas reserves of 32 trillion cubic feet. ExxonMobil, the majority partner in a consortium including Hess and the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company, began producing oil in December 2019. At the end of 2020, ExxonMobil reached production of 120,000 barrels of oil per day, and aims to expand production to 750,000 barrels of oil per day by 2026.

Guyana’s Membership in International Organizations

Following its independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, Guyana sought an influential role in international affairs, particularly among developing countries and nonaligned nations. Guyana and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, Organization of American States, and International Monetary Fund. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat is headquartered in Guyana. In 2020, Guyana served as the chair of the G77 grouping of developing countries in the United Nations.

Bilateral Representation

Principal U.S. embassy officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.

Guyana maintains an embassy in the United States at 2490 Tracy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-265-6900), and a Consulate at 306 West 38 th Street, New York, NY 10018.

More information about Guyana is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:


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