British Guiana became a Crown colony in 1928, and in 1953 it was granted home rule. In 1950, Cheddi Jagan, who was Indian-Guyanese, and Forbes Burnham, who was Afro-Guyanese, created the colony's first political party, the Progressive People's Party (PPP), which was dedicated to gaining the colony's independence. In the 1953 elections, Cheddi Jagan was elected chief minister. The British, however, alarmed by Jagan's Marxist views, suspended the constitution and government within months and installed an interim government. In 1955, the PPP split, with Burnham breaking off to create the People's National Congress (PNC). The leftist Jagan of the PPP and the more moderate Burnham of the PNC were to dominate Guyanan politics for decades to come. In 1961, Britain granted the colony autonomy, and Jagan became prime minister (1961–1964). Strikes and rioting weakened Jagan's rule, much of it believed to be the result of covert CIA operations. In 1964, Burnham succeeded Jagan as prime minister, a position he retained after the country gained full independence on May 26, 1966. With independence, the country returned to its traditional name, Guyana.
In 1978, the country gained worldwide attention when American religious cult leader Jim Jones and 900 of his followers committed mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana.
Burnham ruled Guyana until his death in 1985 (from 1980 to 1985, after a change in the constitution, he served as president). Guyana's first independent decades were marked by continued racial unrest between Indian-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese as well as economic malaise.
Desmond Hoyte of the PNC became president in 1985, but in 1992 the PPP reemerged, winning a majority in the general election. Jagan became president, and the former Marxist succeeded in reviving the economy. After his death in 1997, his wife, Janet Jagan, was elected president. Former finance minister Bharrat Jagdeo assumed the presidency in 1999.