First settled by the Dutch West Indian Company about 1620, the territory was captured by Britain to which it was ceded in 1814 and named British Guiana. African slaves were transported to Guyana in the 18th century to work the sugar plantations, with East Indian and Chinese indentured labourers following in the 19th century. From 1950 the anti-colonial struggle was spearheaded by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) led by Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham. By the time internal autonomy was granted in 1961 Burnham had split with Jagan to form the more moderate People’s National Congress (PNC). Guyana became an independent member of the Commonwealth in 1966 with Burnham as the first prime minister, later president. By the 1980s, desperate economic straits had forced Guyana to seek outside help which came on condition of restoring free elections. Dr Jagan returned to power in 1992. Following his death in March 1997 his wife, Janet Jagan, was sworn in as president.
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