British Guiana, going independant means choosing between the Indians and the Africans

A late colonial era stamp displaying Sugar cane production facilities. This is quite poignant to the choices facing Guyana upon independence. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

The stamp today is from the last decade of colonial rule in what was then British Guiana. So we get to see Queen Elizabeth, still the Queen so many years later. She looks down on a sugar cane production facility. The sugar cane industry was 70 percent of the economy at the time. There was probably some taking pride in what we bequeathed to the colony but it really shows the difficult choices facing the people.

The stamp today is issue A60, an 8 cent stamp issued by the crown colony of British Guiana on December 1st, 1954. It was part of a 16 stamp issue displaying interesting sites around Guiana.  The most expensive individual stamp in the world sold in 2014 for $9.5 million was from British Guiana. According to the Scott catalog, this stamp is worth 25 cents. Too low, this is an interesting stamp. The country never really got going though, so there is little local demand that should be pushing values up.

British Guiana was a territory that the British were probably happy to unload. The sugar cane industry is very labor intensive. So many African slaves were brought in. Also many Indians who were the economy’s merchants and traders. These two groups far outnumbered British colonists and indigenous natives. The outlawing of slavery made the economics of the industry less lucrative and introduced labour strife, where the workers understandably wanted to improve their poor lot. The industry was nationalized in 1970, and now accounts for just 4% of Guyana’s low GDP. It is still a vehicle to employ a lot of people and has worked a deal with the EU to pay 3 times the world price for sugar to keep it going. An inefficient government run outfit as seen output continually drop. The Chinese have recently made an investment, I doubt they will see a return.

The politics of the country extended colonial rule for a decade or more. Parties were formed on racial lines with the Indian party being openly communist and the African party feigning capitalism. The Indian party kept winning elections and the British would then delay, gerrymander, and reschedule to try to avoid Guiana becoming communist immediately upon independence. Independence was finally achieved in 1966 with the African party in charge. A 1968 election saw the African party also going communist  and ending ties to the Commonwealth.

The country, now spelled Guyana never really became successful. Over 1 percent of the population emigrates every year, mostly to the USA and Canada. I already described the massive subsidy from the EU. There is also much generosity from the USA. Debts have been forgiven and the entire wheat supply of Guyana is a annual gift of the USA. So much is given that Guyana sells excess on the world market. It is still one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Well my drink is empty and so it is time to open the conversation in the below comment section. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting


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