French Guiana

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French Guiana (French: Guyane française, officially Guyane) is an overseas département (département d'outre-mer, or DOM) of France, located on the Caribbean coast of South America and part of Caribbean South America. Like the other DOMs, French Guiana is also a région (région d'outre-mer) of France. It is the smallest political entity on the South American mainland (Suriname is the smallest independent South American country). It borders the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Brazil to the east and south, and Suriname to the west (part of the eastern border with Suriname is disputed).

Région Guyane
Flag of Guyane Logo of Guyane
(Région flag) (Région logo)
Map of France highlighting the Region of Guyane
Capital Cayenne
Land area¹ 83,534 km²
Regional President Antoine Karam
(PSG) (since 1992)
 - Jan.1, 2004 estimate
 - March 8, 1999 census
 - Density
(Ranked 26th)
2.2/km² (2004)
Arrondissements 2
Cantons 19
Communes 22
Départementss Guyane
Number 973
Time zone UTC -4
Country calling code 594²
Internet TLD .gf
1. French Land Register data, which exclude lakes, ponds, and glaciers larger than 1 km² (0.386 sq. mi. or 247 acres) as well as the estuaries of rivers

2. Not required from metropolitan France, other overseas départements, or collectivités d'outre mer.



Main article: History of French Guiana

First settled by the French in 1604, French Guiana was the site of notorious penal settlements (see Devil's Island) until 1951.


Main article: Politics of French Guiana

As an integral part of France, French Guiana is part of the European Union, the largest part in area outside Europe and the only part outside Europe that is not an island (other than the Spanish exclaves in Morocco). The Head of State is the French President who appoints a Préfet (resident at the Prefecture building in Cayenne) as his/her representative. There are two legislative bodies: the 19-member General Council and the 34-member Regional Council, both elected. French Guiana has one seat at the National Assembly in Paris. 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.


Main article: Geography of French Guiana

French Guiana consists of three main geographical regions: a coastal strip where the majority of the people live, then 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 Montare du Mahury (156 m).

The Barrage de Petit-Saut in the north of French Guiana is an artificial lake created by a dam in order to provide hydroelectricity. There are many rivers in French Guiana.

There are some small islands off the coast, including the Iles du Salut (Salvation Islands), containing Devil's Island.

A chronic issue is the influx of illegal immigrants and illegal gold prospectors from Brazil and Suriname. The borders between French Guiana and those countries lie along the Maroni River in the rainforest, which are difficult to patrol for French Gendarmerie forces. (The border line with Suriname is disputed.) Illegal gold prospection generates a lot of pollution, especially by mercury, and is also a vector for alcoholism and sexually-transmitted diseases.

See also: Communes of the Guyane département and List of cities in French Guiana


Main Article: Economy of French Guiana

French Guiana is heavily dependent on France for subsidies and goods. The main industries are fishing (accounting for 3/4 of foreign exports), gold and bauxite mining and timber. In addition the space centre at Kourou accounts for 25% of the GDP and employs about 1700 people. There is very little manufacturing and agriculture is largely undeveloped (except among the Hmong population). Tourism, especially eco-tourism, is growing. Unemployment is a major problem, running at about 20%-30%.

Map Of French Guiana


Main article: Demographics of French Guiana

French Guiana's population of 195,506 (July 2005 est.), most of whom live along the coast, is very ethnically diverse. Estimates of the percentages of French Guiana ethnic composition vary, a problem compounded by the large numbers of legal and illegal immigrants (about 20,000). Creoles (black and mixed black and white) 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%-70% with Haitians (roughly 1/3) and 30%-50% without. Roughly 10% are Europeans, the vast majority of whom are French. There are smaller groups of people from neighbouring states, attracted by French Guiana's relative wealth. Of these about 8% are Brazilian, 4% Surinamese and 2.5% Guyanese. The main Asian communities are the Hmong from Laos (1.5%) and Chinese (primarily from Hong Kong; 3.2%). There are also much smaller numbers of people from various Caribbean islands. The main groups living in the interior are the Maroons (also called Bush Negroes) and Amerindians. The Maroons, descendents of escaped African slaves, live primarily along the Maroni River. The main Maroon groups are the Paramacca, Aucan (both of whom also live in Suriname) and the Boni. The main Amerindian groups (forming about 3%-4% of the population) are the Arawak, Emerillon, Galibi, Palikour, Wayampi (also known as Oyampi) and Wayana.

The predominant religion in the country is Roman Catholicism, though the Maroons and some Amerindian peoples still practice their own religions. The Hmong people are also mainly Catholic owing to the influence of Catholic missionaries who 'helped' bring them to French Guiana.

See also

Further reading

  • France's Overseas Frontier : Les Départements et territoires d'outre-mer Robert Aldrich and John Connell
  • Dry guillotine: Fifteen years among the living dead René Belbenoit, 1938, Reprint: Berkley (1975). ISBN 0425029506
  • Hell on Trial René Belbenoit, 1940, Translated from the Original French Manuscript by Preston Rambo. E. P Dutton & Co. Reprint by Blue Ribbon Books, New York, 1941. Reprint: Bantam Books, 1971
  • Papillon Henri Charrière Reprints: Hart-Davis Macgibbon Ltd. 1970. ISBN 0246639873 (hbk); Perennial, 2001. ISBN 0060934794 (sbk)
  • Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana Peter Redfield

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Dependencies: Falkland Islands (UK) · French Guiana · South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (UK)

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