It’s easy to forget about the northeastern corner of South America, collectively known as ‘The Guianas,’ which includes two countries (Guyana and Suriname), a French overseas holding (French Guiana) and, sometimes, the sparsely populated eastern Guyana region of Venezuela and Amapá state in northeastern Brazil.
Those two sovereign countries, Guyana and Suriname, formerly British and Dutch colonies, respectively, are home to just over 1.3 million people. French Guiana, an overseas department of France, and one of the Western Hemisphere’s last vestiges of colonialism, is home to just another 250,000 people.
Even by the standards of Latin America, which is arguably underpopulated (especially in contrast to China, India and other parts of southeastern Asia), the Guianas are some of the least population-dense places on earth. Guyana, home to just 750,000 people, has a population density of around 9.5 per square mile. To put that into perspective, it compares to densities of around 37 for Argentina, 62 for Brazil, 85 for the United States and 158 for Mexico.
Earlier this year, however, Exxon Mobil claimed it discovered offshore oil deposits that could boost the country’s economy, though attempts to extract the oil could draw Venezuelan ire. Nevertheless, the region remains relatively underdeveloped and Guyana is one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries, despite gold and bauxite deposits and steady rice and sugar production. More than 50% of its native population has emigrated — only Nicaragua and Haiti have lower per-capita GDPs.
That’s part of the reason that former army general David Granger (pictured above) led a multi-ethnic coalition to power in elections on May 11.
It’s the first transition of power since 1992, when the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) dominated the country’s post-socialist turn to democratic politics. PPP officials, including former president Donald Ramotar, still refuse to concede their narrow defeat, even as Granger was sworn in over the weekend as Guyana’s new president. Traditionally, the PPP has depended on votes from the ethnic Indian community in Guyana. While Granger’s coalition won the traditional support of the Afro-Guyanese community, the multi-ethnic patina of the coalition bolstered his claim to destroy race-based politics in the oft-forgotten country. Continue reading PPP narrowly defeated by Guyana’s opposition coalition