Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The government’s unwillingness to implement or enforce anti-corruption laws has resulted in the withdrawal of international banks from Guyana. The country is the second-poorest in the Caribbean behind Haiti, though some observers believe its pervasive corruption could cause its standard of living to drop even further.
Political Rights: 31 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 11 / 12
Guyana’s 1980 constitution provides for a strong president and a 65-seat National Assembly, with members elected every five years. The president appoints two additional, nonvoting members. The leader of the party with a plurality of parliamentary seats becomes president for a five-year term and appoints the prime minister and cabinet.
Guyana gained independence from Britain in 1966 and was ruled by the autocratic, predominantly Afro-Guyanese People’s National Congress (PNC) for the next 26 years. In 1992, Cheddi Jagan of the largely Indo-Guyanese People’s Progressive Party (PPP) won the presidency in Guyana’s first free and fair elections. He died in 1997, and the office passed to his wife, Janet, who resigned in 1999 for health reasons. She was succeeded by Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo of the PPP-C, an alliance of the PPP and the Civic Party. Jagdeo was elected in his own right in 2001.
In November 2011 elections, the PPP-C captured 32 seats, while the newly established Partnership For National Unity took 26 seats, and the Alliance For Change (AFC) won 7 seats. PPP-C leader, 61-year-old economist Donald Ramotar, became president in December. Denis Marshall, the chairperson of a Commonwealth Observer Group for the 2011 national and regional elections in Guyana, noted that, despite some minor issues, the elections represented progress in strengthening Guyana’s democratic processes.
Some observers contend that the parliamentary opposition’s one-vote majority has resulted in a stalemate in the National Assembly, with little legislative progress being made, and that President Ramotar’s role has as a result been limited to a largely ceremonial one.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 13 / 16
Guyanese politics are dominated by a tense split between descendants of indentured workers from India, known as Indo-Guyanese, who generally back the PPP-C, and Afro-Guyanese, who largely support the PNC-Reform (PNC-R) party. In 2004, the political climate showed brief signs of improving when the PPP-C and PNC-R announced that they had reached agreement on a wide variety of issues. However, the emerging harmony was disrupted when a police informant revealed the existence of death squads that enjoyed official sanction and had killed some 64 people. An investigation exposed apparent links to the home affairs minister, Ronald Gajraj, but he was largely exonerated by an official inquiry in 2005.
The 2006 elections strengthened the hand of the ruling PPP-C, but also demonstrated that some Guyanese are beginning to vote across racial lines, as symbolized by the establishment of the multiracial AFC. In the 2011 elections, the PPP-C won for the fifth straight time, although the multiracial AFC gained more weight. The main opposition to the PPP-C minority government is the Partnership for National Unity (People’s National Congress–Reform/Guyana Action Party/National Front Alliance/Working People’s Alliance). Together with the AFC, both parties have a one-vote majority over the ruling party.
C. Functioning of Government: 7 / 12
Guyana is rife with corruption. The country is a transshipment point for South American cocaine destined for North America and Europe, and counternarcotics efforts are undermined by corruption that reaches high levels of the government. The informal economy is driven primarily by drug proceeds and may be equal to between 40 and 60 percent of formal economic activity.
Opposition leaders have called for an anti-corruption commission for years, though little progress has been made. Guyana was ranked 136 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. A 2013 visit to Guyana by a committee of experts of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC) of the Organization of American States (OAS) issued several recommendations to ameliorate corruption in Guyana. Thus, the committee advised the establishment of an articulated anti-corruption strategy, better coordination between police and the Office of Public Prosecutions, and more financial and human resource investments in several government oversight bodies (e.g., the Audit Office, Public Service Appellate Tribunal, or the Judicial Service Commission).
Civil Liberties: 41 / 60 (+1)
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 15 / 16
Although freedom of the press is generally respected, an uneasy tension between the state and the media persists. Several independent newspapers operate freely, including the daily Stabroek News and Kaieteur News. However, opposition party leaders complain that they lack access to state media. The state owns and operates the country’s sole radio station, which broadcasts on three frequencies. In 2009, the Guyana Press Association denounced a government initiative to license media professionals as an attempt to impose control over the profession. Government officials occasionally use libel lawsuits to suppress criticism. The government also closed an internationally funded media-monitoring unit, established in 2006 to monitor media ahead of national elections. There have recently been indications the government is considering reintroducing a media-monitoring unit, though opposition leaders have suggested that such a department could be used to suppress dissenting views.
Guyanese generally enjoy freedom of religion, and the government does not restrict academic freedom.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 10 / 12 (+1)
The government largely respects freedoms of assembly and association. However, in June 2012, police reportedly shot and killed three men who were part of a political protest against rising electricity prices in the town of Linden. An additional 20 people were injured as a result of the police firing live ammunition and teargas into the crowd of protesters. The subsequent Linden Commission of Inquiry appointed to clarify responsibility for lives lost appeared initially to be bogged down by partisan disputes. Its final report blamed the police for the fatalities, but exonerated the Minister of Home Affairs of responsibility.
There were no notable crackdowns of political protests in 2013.
The right to form labor unions is also generally upheld, and unions are well organized. However, employers are not required to recognize unions in former state enterprises.
F. Rule of Law: 7 / 16
The judicial system is independent, but due process is undermined by shortages of staff and funds. In 2005, Guyana cut all ties to the Privy Council in London, the court of last resort for other former British colonies in the region, and adopted the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice as its highest appellate court. Prisons are overcrowded, and conditions are poor.
The Guyana Defence Force and the national Guyana Police Force are under civilian control. Racial polarization has seriously eroded law enforcement, with many Indo-Guyanese complaining that they are victimized by Afro-Guyanese criminals and ignored by the predominantly Afro-Guyanese police. Meanwhile, many Afro-Guyanese claim that the police are manipulated by the government for its own purposes. Official inquiries have repeatedly called for improved investigative techniques, more funding, community-oriented policing, better disciplinary procedures, greater accountability, and a better ethnic balance in the police force, but the government has taken few concrete steps to implement the proposed reforms. Police officers have also been accused of soliciting bribes.
While racial clashes have diminished in the last decade, long-standing animosity between Afro- and Indo-Guyanese remains a serious concern. A 2002 Racial Hostility Bill increased penalties for race-based crimes.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 9 / 16
Guyana is home to nine indigenous groups with a total population of about 80,000. Human rights violations against them, particularly with respect to land and resource use, are widespread and pervasive. Indigenous peoples’ attempts to seek redress through the courts have been met with unwarranted delays by the judiciary.
Violence against women, including domestic abuse, is widespread. Rape often goes unreported and is rarely prosecuted. The Guyana Human Rights Association has charged that the legal system’s treatment of victims of sexual violence is intentionally humiliating. The 2010 Sexual Offenses Act makes rape gender-neutral and expands its definition to include spousal rape and coercion and child abuse; the new law also provides for offenses committed against the mentally disabled.
“Sodomy” is punishable with a maximum sentence of life in prison, and cross-dressing is criminalized for both men and women. In September 2013, the Constitutional Court ruled that cross-dressing in public is illegal only if done for an “improper purpose.” Police routinely intimidate gay men.
Along with Cuba and Uruguay, Guyana is one of only three nations in Latin America that permits elective abortion.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year