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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 February 2005, 17:37 GMT
Guyana strives for image makeover
"Come, visit the land of the mighty river Essequibo. Come, absorb and be absorbed by the classic poetry of nature," purrs the tourist board advertisement attempting to lure holidaymakers to the Caribbean state of Guyana.

What future for one of the poorest developing countries in the Americas?
The realities of life and government in the Co-operative Republic of Guyana are, however, less than idyllic.

Granted exclusive behind the scenes access, BBC Four's six-part documentary series follows Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo, as he overcomes crises and tries put his policies into practice.

From the threat of economic sanctions and allegations of corruption to the fight against HIV/Aids and devastating floods, BBC Four follows the leader of this embattled country and his ministers as they face trouble in paradise.

Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Suriname, Brazil and Venezuela, Guyana is a former British colony and one of the poorest developing countries in the Americas, with an area of 83,000 square miles and a population of approximately 750,000.

Struggling to gain recognition on the international stage, the might of external powers squeezes Guyana somewhere between a rock and hard place - it is both dependent upon and a victim of the policies of the United States and the European Union.


The President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, is a self-made man. He entered politics at the age of 13, won a scholarship to train as an economist in Moscow at 20 and became finance minister of his country at 31. In 1999 when he became president, he was, at the age of 35, the youngest head of state in the western hemisphere.

Guyana market scene
US aid is desperately needed in a country where 30% of people live in poverty
President Jagdeo is a strategic thinker and feels his greatest achievement is to date to have reduced the debt burden on his country. Ten years ago, 94% of revenue went to service external debt, while today it is down to just 20%.

Under British rule, Guyana was devoted to sugar production using indentured and slave labour.

When the country gained independence in 1966, sugar remained its biggest industry. Now, in 2005, the EU is proposing to slash the price of Guyanese sugar, with potentially devastating consequences for the country's economy.

"This single act would wipe out all the gains that we have made in Guyana in the past 10 years," says President Jagdeo.

Adding to the difficulties, recent hikes in world oil prices have sent the cost of fuel soaring, further threatening the fragile Guyanese economy.

Meanwhile, an episode occurred during filming which perfectly illustrates Guyana's client status to the US. Without producing any evidence, America accused Guyana of having a problem with trafficking women for prostitution and threatened economic sanctions. Although she did not believe the problem existed, Bibi Shadik, the Guyanese minister of human services and social security, had to prove she was dealing with it in order to avoid financial penalties.

Tourism push

US aid is desperately needed in a country where 30% of the population lives in poverty. HIV/Aids is on the rampage and the health minister, Leslie Ramsammy, has not only made free retroviral drugs and a rapid testing system available, but has hatched other strategies to fight the virus.

Guyanese children at play
The might of external powers squeezes Guyana somewhere between a rock and a hard place
Convinced the spread of the disease will be curbed if sex workers form a collective, he sends his public relations officer out at night to meet prostitutes and invites them to the ministry for a meeting. He is even prepared to allow US Christian missions to supplement some of Guyana's health services.

The minister for tourism, industry and commerce, Manzoor Nadir, is faced with the tough job of getting visitors to a country devoid of sandy beaches and sparkling waters. Guyana lies six feet under sea level: look over the sea wall and all you will find is mud - more Bognor than Barbados.

But, luckily, there is tropical rainforest, 70% of the country is covered in it and Mr Nadir has come up with a controversial new tourist attraction based on the Jonestown massacre. In 1978, 914 American followers of the self-styled guru Jim Jones committed mass suicide deep in the jungle.

Cricket hope

However, not everyone in the Guyanese Government likes the idea. For British-based David Dabydeen, the Guyanese roving ambassador to Unesco, creating a visitor attraction out of the mass suicide strikes him as being "a bit ghoulish".

But there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The Guyanese are mad about cricket and the government is building a stunning new stadium in the hope of being chosen as a host country for the 2007 Cricket World Cup. If successful, tourists from all over the world will descend on Guyana and boost the fledgling economy.

There's an image of a backward country, persons who can't help themselves who are locked in some time warp
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Kayeann Hall, Guyana's delegate for Miss Caricom, is preparing for the Caribbean Community beauty pageant.

"A Miss Guyana winning a Miss World, or even a Caricom pageant, will change perception of this country. There's an image of a backward country, persons who can't help themselves who are locked in some time warp," says Minister Nadir, ever optimistic for greater recognition on the international stage.

President Jagdeo and his Government no longer want Guyana to be seen as a nation plagued by debt and haunted by a shaky reputation or a country most people think is in Africa.

Governing Guyana is a world away from policy-making in the UK and by exposing the background thinking behind political decision-making, the series provides a unique insight into the hopes and fears of a developing nation both dependent upon and burdened with its "third-world" status.

Guyana - Trouble in Paradise is broadcast on Tuesdays on BBC Four at 2300GMT

Timeline: Guyana
19 Jan 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Guyana
16 Nov 04 |  Country profiles


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