The Carter Center has worked in Guyana since 1992 to help deepen democracy, strengthen civil society, encourage sustainable development, and reinforce rule of law.
For much of the 1990s, Guyana was a stable country that enjoyed high economic growth and declining poverty. But this progress was built on weak democratic foundations, a fragile economic base, and underlying ethnic tensions between the Afro- and Indo-Guyanese communities. As tensions grew, private investment dried up, and emigration accelerated. An interparty dialogue among the major political parties broke down in March 2002 and again in 2003.
Concerned about these trends, The Carter Center instituted a cross-programmatic approach to "waging peace" in the country, bringing skills in conflict resolution, democracy-building, and national development to bear on Guyana's challenges. In June 2002, the Center sponsored a conflict resolution workshop with representatives of civil society and political parties to stimulate initiatives for peace and further political dialogue. President Carter issued an open letter (PDF) to Guyanese civic and political leaders to encourage them to work together for peace and reconciliation in July 2002.
President Carter visited Guyana in August 2004 to assess the potential for deeper Carter Center involvement in promoting peacebuilding. He met with the president, leader of the opposition, diplomats, and a wide cross section of society and issued a statement on how Guyana's leaders could work together for peace and sound governance.
In May of 2015, the Carter Center conducted its fourth election observation mission in Guyana and 100th overall.
President Carter led the first mission to Guyana in 1992, for what were deemed the first credible elections in 28 years. In March 2001, The Carter Center sent a 44-person delegation to observe the presidential elections, led by President Carter, Rosalynn Carter, and former Barbados Prime Minister Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford. The group concluded the election met international standards, with peaceful and orderly voting and high turnout.
While noting the importance of these elections, the Center stressed that such elections alone are not enough to solve either Guyana's problems of governance or the wounds of an ethnically divided society.
The Center organized a small-scale observation team for the 2006 elections to demonstrate the Center's interest in and support for Guyana's democratization process and to assess the political and electoral environment surrounding the elections. Because of the small size and limited scope of its presence, the team did not draw conclusions or issue public judgments about the overall election process.
After the 1992 elections, the government of Guyana invited the Global Development Initiative (1993-2006) to assist in formulating a comprehensive vision and development strategy to gain the support of the international donor community. The process began in December 1992 with President Cheddi Jagan's participation in the initiative's first Development Cooperation Forum. The conference explored how to enhance international trade, aid, agriculture, and other policies for development for newly emerging democracies like Guyana.
Following the forum, the government of Guyana and donors invited the initiative to facilitate preparation for a major donor conference specifically for Guyana. With the Center's assistance, the government presented a policy framework that led to an additional $320 million in aid from bilateral donors for the next three years.
From 1995-1996, Guyana launched efforts to craft a comprehensive strategy for social and economic development. The Ministry of Finance, with assistance from the initiative, coordinated the first draft of the National Development Strategy. The draft benefited from the views of more than 250 Guyanese from government, business, academia, trade unions, nongovernmental organizations, and the environmental movement, who took part in some 20 working groups. Each group produced a strategy for its respective sector; these strategies were compiled and made available to the public for comment. As part of the initiative's wider efforts to model a new approach to development cooperation, Guyana's process was reviewed at the Carter Center's second Development Cooperation Forum in 1996.
Guyana's young democracy experienced a setback in 1997, when the opposition, in an environment of heightened ethnic tensions, rejected election results. People emphasized the need for processes to bring the country together and felt the National Development Strategy had a major role to play and urged the major parties to endorse it. Considerable feedback on the strategy had been generated through the Internet, public seminars, and reviews by international agencies and experts. With support from The Carter Center, the government invited a broad group of civic and business leaders to review the feedback and produce a revised version. This group successfully broadened the base of political support by undertaking extensive consultations and meetings. In 2000, the revised strategy was finalized and presented to the president, who then presented it to the parliament.
National elections took place again in March 2001, monitored by The Carter Center. While the National Development Strategy was not debated in parliament before the elections, it was resubmitted to the parliament for debate and approval in August 2001. However, a dialogue process between the major political parties broke down in March 2002, and the opposition began a boycott of parliament without progress on the strategy.
In August 1999, the government of Guyana and the U.S. Agency for International Development entered into a five-year agreement for a democracy and governance program in Guyana. The Carter Center worked with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Foundation for Election Systems to improve the rule of law and legal regulation-making, increase capacity to resolve disputes in a timely manner, sustain institutional capacity to conduct free and fair elections, increase influence by civil society, and strengthen local governance.
The Center's Democracy Program helped Guyanese nongovernmental organizations increase their advocacy, consensus-building, and analytical capacities to improve the status of women, youth, and Amerindians. The program also helped increase public debate and media attention on issues affecting these target groups.
In 2001, the Center selected seven Guyanese civil society groups to receive training in strategic planning, results-based management, advocacy, project design, financial management, and proposal writing.
The Center also worked with local Amerindian organizations to explore how civil society groups could remain informed about and participate in planned revisions of Guyana's Amerindian Act.
The Center's Democracy Program has worked closely on judicial system reform in Guyana with the High Court, the chief justice, the Guyana Bar Association, and the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers.
The Center supported efforts to develop a code of conduct for the judiciary and create a national judicial conference series. The Center also supported establishment of a Criminal Law Review Committee in 2002 with the mandate to examine existing laws, practices, and procedures for the criminal justice system and to make recommendations for its improvement and possible legal revisions. In addition, the Center supported revision of the civil rules of court. Other Center activities included support of a magistrates conference and a judicial education series.
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Size: 214,969 square kilometers
Population below poverty line: 35 percent
Life expectancy: 68 years
Ethnic groups: East Indian, black (African), mixed, Amerindian, other
Religions: Protestant (Pentecostal, Anglican, Seventh-Day Adventist, Methodist), Hindu, Roman Catholic, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslim, other Christian, other, none
Languages: English (official), Guyanese Creole, Amerindian languages (Caribbean and Arawak languages), Indian languages (including Caribbean Hindustani, a dialect of Hindi), Chinese
Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook 2016