French Guiana has two districts (arrondissements): Cayenne, the coastal region, where more than 90% of the population is concentrated; and the larger interior district of Saint Laurent-du-Maroni. The population is largely of mixed African and European descent, but there are also minorities of blacks, whites, indigenous peoples, Chinese, and South Asians. French is the official language, but Creole and other languages and dialects are spoken as well. The population is predominantly Roman Catholic.
French Guiana is largely dependent on subsidies and imports from the mother country. Fishing and forestry are the prime industries, and timber, shrimp, and rum made from local sugarcane are the chief exports. Rice, corn, bananas and other fruits, vegetables, and manioc are grown for subsistence. There are gold (discovered in 1855), petroleum, and other mineral deposits; exploitation, however, has been hindered by inadequate transportation and scarcity of labor. The Plan Vert (Green Plan), adopted in the late 1970s to increase production in agriculture and forestry, met with only partial success.
The department (also one of 26 official regions of France) is represented in the French National Assembly and Senate. It is governed by a prefect and an elected council.
French settlement dates from 1604. In the Dutch wars of Louis XIV, Cayenne was captured (1676) by the Dutch but was later retaken. The Portuguese and British occupied it during the Napoleonic Wars, but the Congress of Vienna (1815) restored French authority. French Guiana was used as a penal colony and place of exile during the French Revolution, and under Napoleon III permanent penal camps were established. Devils Island, one of the Îles du Salut, off the coast, became notorious. The penal colonies were evacuated after World War II.
In 1947, French Guiana became an overseas department of France, and in 1974 it also became an administrative region. A rocket-launching base at Kourou, established in 1968, is used by the European Space Agency for communication satellites. Economic problems and divisions between the white European elite and the Creole majority persisted into the 1990s, accompanied by increasing local demands for autonomy. A proposal, however, for an unspecified increase in French Guiana's autonomy was rejected in a referendum in 2010.
French Guiana (Guyane française, officially Guyane) is an overseas department (French: département d'outre-mer, or DOM) of France, located on the northern coast of South America. Like the other DOMs, French Guiana is also an overseas region of France, one of the 26 regions of France. It is an integral part of France, and its currency is the euro.
French Guiana sends two deputies to the French National Assembly, one representing the commune (municipality) of Cayenne and the commune of Macouria, and the other representing the rest of French Guiana. This latter constituency is the largest in the French Republic by land area. French Guiana also sends one senator to the French Senate.
French Guiana has traditionally been conservative, though the socialist party has been increasingly successful in recent years. Though many would like to see more autonomy for the region, support for complete independence is very low.
A chronic issue affecting French Guiana is the influx of illegal immigrants and clandestine gold prospectors from Brazil and Suriname. The border between the department and Suriname is formed by the Maroni River, which flows through rain forest and is difficult for the Gendarmerie and the French Foreign Legion to patrol. The border line with Suriname is disputed.
Though sharing cultural affinities with the French-speaking territories of the Caribbean, French Guiana cannot be considered to be part of that geographic region, with the Caribbean Sea actually being located several hundred kilometres to the west, beyond the arc of the Lesser Antilles.
French Guiana consists of two main geographical regions: a coastal strip where the majority of the people live, and dense, near-inaccessible rainforest which gradually rises to the modest peaks of the Tumac-Humac mountains along the Brazilian frontier. French Guiana's highest peak is Bellevue de l'Inini (851 m). Other mountains include Mont Machalou (782 m), Pic Coudreau (711 m) and Mont St Marcel (635 m), Mont Favard (200 m) and Montagne du Mahury (156 m). Several small islands are found off the coast, the three Iles du Salut Salvation Islands which includes Devil's Island and the isolated Iles du Connétable bird sanctuary further along the coast towards Brazil.
French Guiana is heavily dependent on France for subsidies, trade, and goods. The main industries are fishing (accounting for three-quarters of foreign exports), gold mining and timber. In addition, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou accounts for 25% of the GDP and employs about 1700 people. There is very little manufacturing. Agriculture is largely undeveloped and is mainly confined to the area near the coast — sugar and bananas are two of the main cash crops grown. Tourism, especially eco-tourism, is growing. Unemployment is a major problem, running at about 20% to 30%.
French Guiana's main international airport is Cayenne-Rochambeau Airport, located in the commune of Matoury, a southern suburb of Cayenne. There is one flight a day to Paris (Orly Airport), and one flight a day arriving from Paris. The flight time from Cayenne to Paris is 8 hours and 25 minutes, and from Paris to Cayenne it is 9 hours and 10 minutes. There are also flights to Fort-de-France, Pointe-à-Pitre, Port-au-Prince, Miami, Macapá, Belém, and Fortaleza.
French Guiana's main seaport is the port of Dégrad des Cannes, located on the estuary of the Mahury River, in the commune of Remire-Montjoly, a south-eastern suburb of Cayenne. Almost all of French Guiana's imports and exports pass through the port of Dégrad des Cannes. Built in 1969, it replaced the old harbour of Cayenne which was congested and couldn't cope with modern traffic.
An asphalted road from Régina to Saint-Georges de l'Oyapock (a town by the Brazilian border) was opened in 2004, completing the road from Cayenne to the Brazilian border. It is now possible to drive on a fully paved road from Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni on the Surinamese border to Saint-Georges de l'Oyapock on the Brazilian border. Following an international treaty between France and Brazil signed in July 2005, a bridge over the Oyapock River (marking the border with Brazil) is currently being built and is due to open in 2010. This bridge will be the first land crossing ever opened between France and Brazil, and indeed between French Guiana and the rest of the world (there exists no other bridge crossing the Oyapock River, and no bridge crossing the Maroni River marking the border with Suriname - there is a ferry crossing to Albina, Suriname.). When the bridge is opened, it will be possible to drive uninterrupted from Cayenne to Macapá, the capital of the state of Amapá in Brazil.
French Guiana's population of 209,000 (January 2007 est.), most of whom live along the coast, is very ethnically diverse. At the 1999 census, 54.4% of the inhabitants of French Guiana were born in French Guiana, 11.8% were born in Metropolitan France, 5.2% were born in the French Caribbean départements (Guadeloupe and Martinique), and 28.6% were born in foreign countries (primarily Brazil, Suriname, and Haiti).
Estimates of the percentages of French Guiana ethnic composition vary, a situation compounded by the large numbers of immigrants (about 20,000).
Guianese Creoles (people of primarily African heritage mixed with some French ancestry) are the largest ethnic group, though estimates vary as to the exact percentage, depending upon whether the large Haitian community is included as well. Generally the Creole population is judged at about 60% to 70% of the total population with Haitians (comprising roughly one-third of Creoles) and 30% to 50% without. Roughly 14% are Europeans, the vast majority of whom are French.
The main Asian communities are the Hmong from Laos (1.5%) and Chinese (3.2%, primarily from Hong Kong and Zhejiang province). There are also smaller groups from various Caribbean islands, mainly Saint Lucia as well as Dominica. The main groups living in the interior are the Maroons (also called Bush Negroes) and Amerindians.
The main Amerindian groups (forming about 3%-4% of the population) are the Arawak, Carib, Emerillon, Galibi (now called the Kaliña), Palikour, Wayampi and Wayana. As of late 1990s there was evidence of uncontacted group of Wayampi.
The most practised religion in this region is Roman Catholicism; the Maroons and some Amerindian peoples maintain their own religions. The Hmong people are also mainly Catholic owing to the influence of Catholic missionaries who helped bring them to French Guiana. The Bahá'í Religion is also present.
|Official figures from past censuses and INSEE estimates.|