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French Guiana

Basic info

  • Area: 83,534 sq km / 32,253 sq mi
  • Population: 281,612
  • Infant mortality: unknown
  • Life expectancy: unknown
  • Urbanisation: unknown
  • Literacy: 82.9%

History

French Guiana was originally inhabited by indigenous people: Kalina, Arawak, Emerillon, Galibi, Palikur, Wayampi and Wayana. The French attempted to create a colony there in the 18th century in conjunction with its settlement of some Caribbean islands, such as Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue.

The first French effort to colonize Guiana, in 1763, failed utterly, as settlers were subject to high mortality given the numerous tropical diseases and harsh climate: all but 2,000 of the initial 12,000 settlers died.

During operations as a penal colony beginning in the mid-19th century, France transported approximately 56,000 prisoners to Devil's Island. Fewer than 10% survived their sentence.

Île du Diable (Devil's Island) was the site of a small prison facility, part of a larger penal system by the same name, which consisted of prisons on three islands and three larger prisons on the mainland. This was operated from 1852 to 1953.

In addition, in the late nineteenth century, France began requiring forced residencies by prisoners who survived their hard labor. A Portuguese-British naval squadron took French Guiana for the Portuguese Empire in 1809. It was returned to France with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Though Portugal returned the region to France, it kept a military presence until 1817.

After French Guiana had been established as a penal colony, officials sometimes used convicts to catch butterflies. The sentences of the convicts were often long, and the prospect of employment very weak, so the convicts caught butterflies to sell in the international market, both for scientific purposes as well as general collecting.

A border dispute with Brazil arose in the late 19th century over a vast area of jungle, resulting in the short-lived, pro-French, independent state of Counani in the disputed territory. There was some fighting among settlers. The dispute was resolved largely in favor of Brazil by the arbitration of the Swiss government.

The territory of Inini consisted of most of the interior of French Guiana when it was created in 1930. It was abolished in 1946, the year that French Guiana as a whole was formally established as an overseas department of France. During the 1970s, following the French withdrawal from Vietnam in the 1950s and warfare conducted in the region by the United States, France helped resettle thousands of Hmong refugees from Laos to French Guiana.

In 1964, French president Charles de Gaulle decided to construct a space-travel base in French Guiana. It was intended to replace the Sahara base in Algeria and stimulate economic growth in French Guiana. The department was considered particularly suitable for the purpose because it is near the equator and has extensive access to the ocean as a buffer zone. The Guiana Space Centre, located a short distance along the coast from Kourou, has grown considerably since the initial launches of the Véronique rockets. It is now part of the European space industry.

Environment

Located within six degrees of the Equator and rising only to modest elevations, French Guiana is hot and oppressively humid all year round.

During most of the year, rainfall across the country is very heavy due to the presence of the Intertropical Convergence Zone and its powerful thunderstorm cells. In most parts of French Guiana, rainfall is always very heavy from December to June or July – typically over 330 millimetres or 13 inches can be expected each month during this period throughout the department.

Between August and November in the eastern half is a 'dry' season with as little as 30 millimetres or 1.18 inches in September and October typical in many areas, causing eastern French Guiana to be classed as a tropical monsoon climate; the west Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni has a tropical rainforest climate.

Economy

As a part of France, French Guiana is part of the European Union and the Eurozone; its currency is the euro. In 2016, the GDP of French Guiana at market exchange rates was US$4.86 billion, ranking as the largest economy in the Guianas, and the 11th largest in South America.

French Guiana is heavily dependent on mainland France for subsidies, trade, and goods. The main traditional industries are fishing, gold mining and timber. In addition, the Guiana Space Centre has played a significant role in the local economy since it was established in Kourou in 1964.

There is very little manufacturing. Agriculture is largely undeveloped and is mainly confined to the area near the coast and along the Maroni River. Sugar and bananas were traditionally two of the main cash crops grown for export but have almost completely disappeared. Today they have been replaced by livestock raising (essentially beef cattle and pigs) in the coastal savannas between Cayenne and the second-largest town, Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, and market gardening (fruits and vegetables) developed by the Hmong communities settled in French Guiana in the 1970s, both destined to the local market.

A thriving rice production, developed on polders near Mana from the early 1980s to the late 2000s, has almost completely disappeared since 2011 due to marine erosion and new EU plant health rules which forbid the use of many pesticides and fertilizers. Tourism, especially eco-tourism, is growing. Unemployment has been persistently high in the last few decades.

Ethnic groups

Ethnic Groups(%)

Creole

70%

Other

16%

European

14%

Religion

Religion(%)

Roman Catholic

90%

Other

10%

Languages

  • 100%%

    French