Guyana is a steamy former British colony on the northeast rim of South America led by a London-trained lawyer who has set out to turn his Idaho-sized land into the continent's "first orthodox socialist state."

Prime Minister Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, who has headed the government since before independence in 1966, renamed the country the "Cooperative Republic of Guyana" to underscore his aims.

About 800,000 persons, chiefly of East Indian, African and American Indian stock, live in Guyana's 83,000 square miles bordered by Venezuela on the west, Brazil on the south, Surinam on the east and the shallow waters of Caribbean Sea on the north.

Its capital, Georgetown, lies six feet below sea level and seven degrees above the Equator. The white clapboard Victorian townhouses that grace its streets give little hint of the dense tropical jungles and barren, snake-infested ranges that cover most of the territory.

It is a poor place - two daily news papers, 324 miles of paved road and a passenger railway that has been out of operation since 1974. Only the narrow coastal belt is suitable for intensive farming, and that is where most of the population is concentrated.

But Burnham is seeking foreign assistance to finance development of the potentially rich interior, with its minerals, chiefly bauxite and alumina, forests and hydroelectric resources in rivers that crisscross the jungles.

Andrew Young, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told Burnham during a visit in August 1977 that the United States was willing to increase aid from $1.1 million to $12.3 million through 1980 as part of the Carter Administration's efforts to improve relations with Caribbean nations.

Relations were cool during the Nixon and Ford administrations because of Burnham's nationalization of foreign holdings, including substantial American property, and his recognition of Cuba in 1972, when the United States was still trying to isolate the Castro government.

It was American support, however, that helped put Burnham in power during his preindependence struggle with Cheddi Jagan, a marxist and still the leading opposition figure as head of the People's Progressive Party.

Race and ideology played big roles in the rivalry:

Race because Burnham based his power primarily on the approximately 35 percent black segment of the population while Jagan drew most of his support from the East Indians who make up about half the population. Ideology because, while both advocated socialism, Jagan was regarded as a doctrinaire Marxist who would lead then-British Guiana into the Soviet orbit.

With British and American help, Burnham won elections in 1964 and was installed as head of government. He has led the country ever since, with Jagan snapping at his heels through a variety of disturbances ranging from racial riots through an uprising by American Indian cowboys in the interior to longstanding border disputes with Venezuela on one side and Surinam on the other.