French Guiana (gēăn´ə, –än´–), Fr. La Guyane française, officially Department of Guiana, French overseas department (2005 est. pop. 195,000), 35,135 sq mi (91,000 sq km), NE South America, on the Atlantic Ocean. Part of the Guiana region, it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the north, Suriname on the west, and Brazil on the south and east. Cayenne is the capital and largest city. The Oyapock (Oiapoque) River on the east and the Tumuc-Humac Mts. on the south separate it from Brazil. The Maroni River on the west forms the border with Suriname.
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 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.
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Publication information: Article title: French Guiana. Encyclopedia title: The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. © 2012 The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia © 2012, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. Used with the permission of Columbia University Press. All Rights Reserved. Publisher: The Columbia University Press. Place of publication: Not available. Publication year: 2013.
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