Guyana Independence Day

By: Cerone White

On this day in Caribbean history, May 26, 1966, Guyana received its independence from the Britain becoming a republic on February 23, 1970 and remaining a member of the Commonwealth.

In 1953, a constitution with a bicameral legislature and ministerial system, based on elections under universal adult suffrage, was introduced. A general election, won by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), led by Dr. Cheddi Jagan, had a large East Indian following, whereas the People’s National Congress (PNC), a breakaway party formed in 1957, had its roots among Guyanese of African origin. Shortly after the 1953 elections, the UK suspended the constitution, deciding to ‘mark time’ in the advance towards self-government, and administered the country with a government composed mostly of nominated members.

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In 1957, the UK introduced elected members, the legislature voted for more representative government. The UK called a constitutional conference that was held in 1960 and provided for a new constitution with a new full internal selfgovernment. In the elections held in August 1961 under this constitution, the PPP again gained the majority. The UK held further constitutional conferences in 1962 and 1963, to settle terms for independence, but ethnic divisions prevented the leaders of Guyana’s three political parties from being able to reach agreement among themselves; then asking the UK to settle the matter.

During the early years of independent Guyana, the U.S. government played a crucial role in influencing political control. The US government secretly provided financial support and political advice to Burnham’s  PNC to damage the leader of the PPP , Cheddi Jagan. Forbes Burnham, Guyana’s president from October 6, 1980 to August 6, 1985, received the help from the US State Department after finding that Jagan was identified as Marxist.

The design and colors of the new flag, appropriately called “The Golden Arrowhead”, had already been chosen during the period of the PPP Government from entries submitted through an international competition. The winning five-colored design was submitted by an American, Whitney Smith. The name chosen for the independent nation – Guyana – was also chosen since 1962 by a select committee appointed by the House of Assembly.

Here a few of the historic sites of Guyana.

  • Demerara Harbour Bridge
  • Berbice Bridge
  • Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Building
  • Takutu River Bridge

Fun Facts:

  • Guyana’s national bird is called Hoatzin
  • The Anomaloglossus beebei (Kaieteur) frog is specific to Guyana
  • English is the main language spoken in the country, however, Guyanese creole is spoken widely among the local native
  • In addition, the Caribbean languages Akawaio, Wai-Wai, and Macushi are spoken by a few people, while Indic languages retained for cultural and religious reasons
  • The country’s motto is “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”
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