GUYANA: ‘An incredible mix of cultures and cuisines’
Stephen P. Cohen
Just in case you didn’t know, Guyana is an Amerindian word meaning “Land of Many Waters.” And so it is, in particular spectacular waterfalls. King among the falls is Kaieteur, which is five times the height of Niagara and has the highest single drop in the world: 741 feet (about the height of the Seattle Space Needle). Its thunder provides the background music to one corner of Guyana’s pristine rain forests, which cover three quarters of its territory and are largely untouched by human interference. The size of Utah, Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America, nestled between Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname.
There is more than waterfalls and rain forest to visit in Guyana. The capital city, Georgetown, is notable for its parks and wooden homes. There is a movement to have it named a UNESCO World Heritage site. And Guyana’s cuisine reflects the ethnic mix of its 700,000 people: Indian, Chinese, African and European. “It is common to have a European breakfast, Indian lunch and Chinese dinner,” says Ambassador Bayney Karran. “We have an incredible mix of cultures and cuisines.” Oh yes, and “We make the best rum in the world,” he adds.
Guyana’s exotic potpourri of people and cultures is a result of overseas labor brought to the area by the British after they abolished the empire.
Fortunately, this human diversity is not a recipe for conflict. “We are famous for our religious harmony,” the ambassador says. With 50 percent of the population Christian, 35 percent Hindu and 10 percent Muslim, Churches can be found next to temples and mosques, with people of all faiths interacting normally.
After gaining independence from Britain in 1966, Guyana experimented with socialism, like so many other post-colonial countries. And, as they found, socialism did not work. “The pursuit of those policies led to negative consequences,” the ambassador says simply.
In 1992 democracy was introduced and today Guyana is all about business. Laws encourage investment, private ownership and the free flow of capital. “We identified the private sector as the engine of growth…. Now we are the most free market economy in the Caribbean region,” says the ambassador.
As a percentage of population Guyana has more nationals living abroad than any other country in the world. Hoping to attract more US investment, the ambassador says he wants to work with the 300,000-plus Guyanese in America to create a US-Guyana Chamber of Commerce and Business. There are opportunities in everything from gold and diamonds to rice and seafood. And there are good prospects for added-value projects related to current mining, fishing and forestry ventures. In addition, ecotourism is largely untapped and a growing sector of the economy.
He says that the Americas can learn from the example of the European Union, where policies facilitate the development of smaller, less wealthy members. “We believe in global free trade… but there should be an even playing field,” the ambassador says. Guyana has been active in promoting such policies for the Caribbean, including a working group on small economies, as part of the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement negotiations. “Guyana put forward that there should be a fund to bring the smaller economies up to speed before throwing them to the lions,” ambassador Karran said. “Production structures are simply too backward to compete with the strength of the U.S.”
The ambassador says that Guyana’s relations with the United States are already “very good,” including cooperation to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and drug trafficking, as well as security issues. As a percentage of total population, Guyana lost more people than any other country in the 9/11 terror attacks (24 at the World Trade Center and one at the Pentagon). “We are committed to fight against terror,” Ambassador Karran says.
Curriculum Vitae of Mr. Bayney R. Karran
Ambassador of Guyana to the United States of America
Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States
Date of Birth: October 10, 1957
Marital Status: Once Married to Donna Karran. Father of 3
1969-1975: Queen's College Secondary School, Georgetown, Guyana.
1976-1977: University of Guyana one-year programme in English and History.
1979-1982: Bachelor of Laws Degree: University of Guyana and
University of the West Indies, Barbados.
1982-1984: Legal Education Certificate: Hugh Wooding Law School,
Trinidad and Tobago.
PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE (Diplomatic)
1997- Oct. 2003: Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Guyana
to the Republic of Venezuela, resident in Venezuela.
1998-Oct. 2003: Concurrent Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
to the Republic of Chile and the Republic of Colombia.
1999-Oct. 2003: Concurrent Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
to the Republic of Ecuador.
1997- present: Delegate to Ministerial and/or Summit meetings of the following multilateral organizations: The Rio Group, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of American States, the Association of Caribbean States, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Latin American Economic System, the Treaty of Amazonic Cooperation, the Caribbean Community.
PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE (LEGAL)
1984-1991: Established private Law practice in Guyana doing a wide variety of civil and criminal cases.
December 1991: Associate in the law firm of de Caires and Fitzpatrick.
1992-1997: Partner in the law firm of de Caires, Fitzpatrick & Karran doing litigation, pleadings and opinions in civil matters.
1993-1996: Director of the Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic, a non-profit, non-governmental organization offering free or subsidized legal services to the poor.
1994-1995: Chairman of the Guyana National Service Scheme Appeals Tribunal that adjudicates on appeals brought against decisions of the National Insurance Scheme.
1993-1996: Member of an advisory group of lawyers to the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs.
PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE (BROADCASTING)
1976-1979: Announcer/Operator/Programme Producer at Radio Demerara/Guyana Broadcasting Corporation.
1985-1986: Free-lance Announcer/Operator with Guyana Broadcasting Corporation.
1993-1997: Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation.
1996-1997: Member of the Board of Directors of the Guyana Television and Broadcasting Company
1989-1994: Public Relations Officer of the Guyana Bar Association
1994-1995: Secretary of the Guyana Bar Association.
1994: Member of a Committee of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Guyana, to improve the operations of the General Registrar's Office - responsible for making and keeping records of all births, deaths and marriages in Guyana and issuing official certificates.
1994: Panelist on the "Viewpoint" Radio Programme on which contributors air their views on matters of interest.
1995-1996: Member of the University of Guyana Council, the governing body of the University.
LANGUAGES: English, Spanish (moderate)