Foreign policy and defense
Guyana is a nation in South America. Its capital city is Georgetown. The English-speaking Guyana is in many ways closer to the Caribbean than South America and also has close contacts with other Commonwealth countries, which bring together Britain and the former British colonies.
In 1967, a year after independence, Guyana, together with Antigua and Barbuda and Barbados, formed a free trade area that became the foundation of the Caribbean (Caricom) community headquartered in Georgetown. Guyana was also a member of the South American cooperative organization Unasur but joined the new Prosur in 2019.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Guyana for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Relations are generally good with Commonwealth countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada. However, attempts from 2007 to get the UK to take a great responsibility in protecting Guyanese forests were unsuccessful. Instead, Guyana signed an agreement with Norway in 2009, which with financial assistance for five years would help Guyana protect forests and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Relations with the United States were strained during the 1970s, when Guyana formed close ties with Cuba and other socialist countries, but it became essentially friendly from the 1980s. In 2005, relations deteriorated temporarily when Interior Minister Ronald Gajraj was released from charges of conspiracy with a death patrol (see Modern History) and the United States threatened to withdraw support. The United States is still a significant donor, but has criticized Guyana’s ever closer cooperation with Iran. Among other things, Iran has helped Guyana to map its mineral resources, which include uranium. The United States has also claimed that Iran is trying to build up a terrorist network in South America based on, for example, Guyana.
Venezuela blasts dredging
Guyana has a problematic relationship with two of its three closest neighbors. Venezuela claims two-thirds of Guyana – all land west of the Essequibo River – and a vast area off the coast where oil is now found (see Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment). The UN has been trying to mediate since the 1980s. In 2004, Venezuela’s then-President Hugo Chávez promised not to impede Guyanese activity in the disputed area west of Essequibo, but in 2007 Venezuelan soldiers blasted two dredges belonging to Guyana as a reminder that the problems were not resolved. Only after a conversation with Brazil’s then-President Luiz Inácio da Silva did Chávez make a reluctant apology.
In October 2013, the Guyanese government accused Venezuela of “seriously threatening peace in the region”, after a US-owned vessel was seized on Guyanese territorial waters, in the disputed Essequibo region. According to the Venezuelan government, the vessel remained illegally in Venezuelan waters. The vessel was taken to the Venezuelan island of Isla de Margarita, but the vessel and the entire crew were allowed to leave Venezuelan water after a few days.
The day after President David Granger took office in 2015, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that Venezuela had unilaterally moved its border into the sea after new oil discoveries were discovered outside Guyana. President Granger accused the neighboring country of violating international law. In September, Granger warned of a “dangerous escalation” and said Venezuela placed troops along the border. According to Venezuela, these were military exercises. At the end of the month, however, Granger and Maduro met in New York, along with then-UN chief Ban Ki-Moon, and agreed to resume relations and send the ambassadors back to their respective countries.
However, in early 2018, the new UN chief António Guterres announced that the Essequibo conflict should be referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Granger welcomed the message while the Venezuelan government opposed it. In March, Guyana formally turned to the ICJ, whereupon Venezuela again dismissed all thoughts of arbitration. The ICJ is holding negotiations on the matter in March 2020.
Border conflicts with Suriname
The dispute between Guyana and Surinam has mainly concerned the sea border on the continental shelf, with probable oil deposits, but also the Corantijn (Corentyne) border river. In 2007, the UN International Court of Justice for the Law of the Sea, Itlos, Guyana, granted 65 percent and Surinam 35 percent of the off-shore area. Surinam also claims a smaller land area in southeastern Guyana.
Relations with the third neighbor, Brazil, are good. Both countries want to improve road connections from the border to Georgetown and establish a deep-water port for export from both Guyana and Northern Brazil.
For historical and cultural reasons, Guyana and India have always had friendly relations. Guyanese students have the opportunity to receive scholarships to study in India and many Guyanese cricket players have been recruited to the Indian professional league.
The defense forces are poorly equipped and comprise just over 1,000 people in active duty and about 1,500 men in semi-military forces. The military service is voluntary for both men and women from the age of 16.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 3,000 men (2017)
The air Force: 200 men (2017)
The fleet: 200 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.4 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 4.6 percent (2017)