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South America, Guyana

Guyana, in full, Co-operative Republic of Guyana, republic on the northern coast of South America. It is bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by Suriname, on the south by Brazil, and on the west by Brazil and Venezuela. Guyana has an area of 214,969 sq km (83,000 sq mi), and its coastline is 459 km (285 mi) long. Formerly a British colony known as British Guiana, Guyana is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of nations that once formed the British Empire. Georgetown is its capital.

Although Guyana is a South American nation, it has more in common with the smaller islands of the West Indies, with which it shares certain cultural, historical, and economic characteristics. Like most of the smaller islands that dot the eastern Caribbean, Guyana was not settled by the Spanish and Portuguese. Guyana was originally a Dutch colony that came under British control in the early 18th century.

Guyana's economy was traditionally dominated by sugar cultivation since the early 18th century. When settlers introduced sugar production, it brought dramatic changes in the population of Guyana. European colonists imported large numbers of African slaves to work the fields. Later, following the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, workers arrived from the Indian subcontinent to work as laborers on the plantations. By the end of the 20th century, Indians and Africans were the largest ethnic groups in Guyana.

In 1966, after more than 150 years of colonial rule, British Guiana achieved independence and adopted the name Guyana, a Native American word meaning “land of waters.” Since independence, political parties have formed along ethnic lines, and moderately left-wing governments have ruled Guyana. Afro-Guyanese dominated the government until the 1990s, when a political party associated with Guyanese of Indian descent gained control of the government.

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