South America

French Guiana

The low- tribed Arawak people were the original residents of Guyana. They cultivated corn, cotton, ñame and batata, built round houses with conical roofs of palm leaves. They worshiped the sun, the sky, the stars, the rivers and the wind. They slept in hammocks – arawaks – that have survived the otherwise extinct culture. The Caribs were a more warlike people than the Arabs, displacing them from the area and resisting the Spanish invasion attempts that became increasingly frequent from the 16th century.

In 1604, the French began their occupation of Guayana, and were met with fierce resistance from the Caribbean. The area became Dutch, English and Portuguese since in 1676 again to end French hands. By the end of the 18th century, France sent over 3000 settlers into the interior of the country. The few who survived the tropical diseases sought refuge on the islands off the coast, which they named “Islands of Health”. The most famous of these was the Devil’s Island, which was made a prison island during the 19th century.

French Guayana has been formally a French overseas department since 1946. 90% of the land is covered by virgin rainforest, the soil is fertile, yet the country is food importing. The Creole population (African Americans and mixed peoples) make up 80% of the population, but are doomed to fill subordinate posts within the public administration and police. The country is extremely dependent on French aid, which in 1989 accounted for 70% of its total GDP.

In 1967, the National Center for Special Studies was established, employing 1300 foreign technicians – who receive wages as in the rich part of the world – and around 1,500 of the country’s own residents. From the Kourou base, more than 30 launches of Arianne rockets have been launched, orbiting satellites financed by European consortia.

In the 1970’s, support for the autonomy movement increased and the Guyanese Socialist Party (PSG) became the country’s largest. In the early 1980’s, various armed groups carried out attacks on «colonial targets», but tensions subsided after the 1981 Socialist victory in France.

At the “First Conference of the Last French Colonies” held in Guadeloupe in 1985, it was strongly criticized that France was quick to grant visas and citizenship to immigrants from Southeast Asia, while immigrants from Haiti, Brazil and Guyana – culturally closer France – was subjected to persecution and discrimination. According to, French Guiana is a country located in South America.

In 1986, French Guyanese representation in the French National Assembly was increased to two representatives, paving the way for a member of Jacques Chirac’s party RPR. In the 1989 municipal elections, the capital of Cayenne and other 12 of the 19 constituencies were won by the left, and Georges Othily – a defector from the Guyanese Socialist Party – was elected to the French Senate.

In 1990, France published a regional cooperation plan for the Caribbean, which included a funding package that was only $ 2.8 million.

In 1992, the ongoing economic crisis triggered a one-week general strike – convened by both unions and employers. As a result, Paris agreed to fund a plan to improve infrastructure and education. In 1994, Guyana joined the Caribbean cooperative CARICOM as an associate member.

The real situation for the people of French Guiana is worse than the economic figures immediately lead to believe. Per capita income is the highest in South America, but the economy is dependent on the income of the special base in Kourou, French subsidies and the import of food from France.

In November 1997, French President Jacques Chirac published a “development plan” for French Guiana, after acknowledging the critical economic situation in his South American possession. However, the statement did not trigger greater expectations among local authorities that had been cheated by previous promises. In line with Martinique, Guadeloupe and Reunion, Guyana is considered an “overseas department”. But this status is provoking resistance among broad sectors of the population and especially among the increasingly influential independence groups.

On April 1, 1998, André Lecante was appointed President of the Guyanese General Council – one of Parliament’s two chambers. The growing support of the independence movement was reflected in the March elections to the Regional Council. The ruling Socialist Party suffered a severe defeat as it lost the majority, reducing the number of members in the council from 16 to 11, while giving the Guyana Decolonization Movement three seats.

During an official visit to the country in March 2000, the French Deputy Minister of Overseas Affairs, Jean-Jacques Queyranne, refused to receive a delegation of supporters of independence. This triggered a wave of demonstrations in which both policemen and protesters were injured. The independence-oriented country organization called for a general strike in protest against the arrogant French attitude and police brutality.

In December 2001, various communities in the interior of French Guiana criticized the French government for its failure to enforce environmental legislation in the country’s mining industry. Mercury is used in the extraction of gold, and is subsequently diverted directly into the rivers where it kills the fish that are the main food source for the Wayana and Emerillon peoples. In June of that year, representatives of the indigenous population from 9 countries in the Amazon region – including French Guiana – had discussed environmental campaigns during a conference in Washington organized by the Amazon Alliance NGO.

In 2002, Europe’s most expensive satellite began its journey into space from the French space base in Kourou, French Guiana. Through 2003, new European missions came to the country to implement space projects. Kourou continues to play a central role in the European space program.

In May 2006, the French government signed an agreement with Brazil on the construction of a bridge over the Oiapoque River, which forms the natural border between French Guiana and Brazil. Originally formulated in 1997, the project was formulated when Brazilian President Lula da Silva visited Paris in July 2005.

France, in early 2007, succumbed to pressure from environmental movements when it abandoned the creation of a gold mine. The area was instead classified as a nature park.

There is a constant flow of illegal emigrants and gold diggers from Suriname and Brazil into Guiana. The border with Suriname is made up of the Maroni River, which flows through dense rainforest and is therefore difficult for the gendarmerie and the French foreign legion to control. The French state has made significant efforts to curb illegal gold engraving. First with Operation Anaconda from 2003 and since Operation Harpie in 2008, 09 and 10. The French gendarmerie believes these operations are successful, but immediately after each operation there are Brazilian gold diggers “garimpeiros” left. But the gold digs are striking again. When French police in March 2010 were on their way back from a “successful operation” where they had arrested 15 gold diggers, confiscated 3 boats and 617g gold,

In 2005, France and Brazil signed an agreement to build a bridge across the Oyapock River separating Guiana and Brazil. The bridge was built but in 2015 Brazil had not completed its parts of the related infrastructure, so the transition was still closed. Guiana became landlocked with the outside world for the first time when the bridge finally opened in March 2017. The country is separated by rivers from both Suriname and Brazil.

In March 2017, a strike wave led by “The Collective, the 500 Brothers” began. The strike was initially aimed at the impending privatization of a Red Cross Hospital, but quickly spread to Cayenne, Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, and then Maripasoula and Papaichton. The strike resulted in the disconnection of the flight to Paris and the delay of scheduled launches of Ariane 5 rockets with satellites. After a few days, the university closed down, schools, administrative buildings and ports. On March 28, the “Day of the Dead” was held, with all businesses closed and 8-10,000 demonstrating in Cayenne. The largest demonstration in the country’s history. At the beginning of the strike, the French state offered to implement infrastructure programs worth $ 1 billion. €. It was rejected by the strikers who demanded 2.5. After a month of strikes and actions, France agreed to implement programs worth $ 2.1 billion. € – especially in education and health.

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