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French Guiana

Overseas region of France
Flag of Guiana
Coat of arms of Guiana
Coat of arms
Country  France
Prefecture Cayenne
Departments 1
 • President Rodolphe Alexandre (PSG)
 • Total 83,534 km2 (32,253 sq mi)
Population (Jan 2013)[1]
 • Total 250,109
 • Density 3.0/km2 (7.8/sq mi)
Demonym French Guianese
Time zone GFT (UTC-03)
ISO 3166 code GF
GDP (2012)[2] Ranked 27th
Total €3.81 billion (US$4.90 bn)
Per capita €15,416 (US$19,828)
NUTS Region FR9
Website Prefecture

French Guiana (pronounced or , French: Guyane française; French pronunciation: ​), officially called simply Guiana (French: Guyane), is an overseas department and region of France, on the north Atlantic coast of South America. It borders Brazil to the east and south, and Suriname to the west. Its 83,534 km2 (32,253 sq mi) area has a very low population density of only 3 inhabitants per km2, with half of its 250,109 inhabitants in 2013 living in the metropolitan area of Cayenne, its capital. By land area, it is by far the largest overseas region of France. As an overseas region, it is inside the European Union, and its official currency is the euro.

The addition of the adjective "French" in English comes from colonial times when five such colonies existed (The Guianas), namely from west to east: Spanish Guiana (now Guayana Region in Venezuela), British Guiana (now Guyana), Dutch Guiana (now Suriname), French Guiana, and Portuguese Guiana (now Amapá, a state in far northern Brazil). French Guiana and the two larger countries to the north and west, Guyana and Suriname, are still often collectively referred to as the Guianas and constitute one large shield landmass.

A large part of the department's economy derives from the presence of the Guiana Space Centre, now the European Space Agency's primary launch site near the equator.


  • History 1
  • Geography 2
    • Administrative divisions 2.1
  • Climate 3
  • Environment 4
    • Agriculture 4.1
  • Economy 5
  • Demographics 6
    • Immigration 6.1
    • Religion 6.2
    • Fertility 6.3
  • Languages 7
  • Politics 8
  • Transport 9
  • Main settlements (2011) 10
  • Military, police and security forces 11
  • Culture 12
  • In popular culture 13
  • See also 14
  • References 15
  • Further reading 16
  • External links 17


Coat of Arms of French Guiana

French Guiana was originally inhabited by indigenous people. The French attempted to create a colony there in the 18th century in conjunction with its settlement of some other Caribbean islands.

Bill Marshall wrote:

The first French effort to colonize Guiana, in 1763, failed utterly when tropical diseases and climate killed all but 2,000 of the initial 12,000 settlers. During its existence, France transported approximately 56,000 prisoners to Devil's Island. Fewer than 10% survived their sentence.[3]

Its infamous 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, and which 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.[4] 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 the region was handed back to France, a Portuguese presence remained until 1817.

A border dispute with Brazil arose in the late 19th century over a vast area of jungle leading to the short-lived pro-French independent state of Counani in the disputed territory. There was some fighting between 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, when French Guiana as a whole became an overseas department of France. During the 1970s, following the French withdrawal from Vietnam in the 1950s, France helped resettle 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 and has had commercial success with such launches as the Ariane 4 and Ariane 5.


Forested landscape of Remire-Montjoly.
Geographic map of French Guiana

French Guiana lies between latitudes and N, and longitudes 51° and 53° W. It 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 Tumuc-Humac mountains along the Brazilian frontier. French Guiana's highest peak is Bellevue de l'Inini in Maripasoula (851 m (2,792 ft)). Other mountains include Mont Machalou (782 m (2,566 ft)), Pic Coudreau (711 m (2,333 ft)) and Mont St Marcel (635 m (2,083 ft)), Mont Favard (200 m (660 ft)) and Montagne du Mahury (156 m (512 ft)).

Several small islands are found off the coast, the three Îles du Salut (Islands of Salvation) which include Devil's Island, and the isolated Îles du Connétable bird sanctuary further along the coast towards Brazil.

The Petit-Saut Dam, a hydroelectric dam in the north of French Guiana forms an artificial lake and provides hydroelectricity. There are many rivers in French Guiana, including the Waki River.

As of 2007, the Amazonian forest, located in the most remote part of the department, is protected as the Guiana Amazonian Park, one of the ten national parks of France. The territory of the park covers some 33,900 square kilometres (13,090 sq mi) upon the communes of Camopi, Maripasoula, Papaïchton, Saint-Élie and Saül.

View from the île Royale

Administrative divisions

French Guiana is divided into 2 arrondissements, 19 cantons (not shown here), and 22 communes:


Climate data for French Guiana (Cayenne)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 32
Average high °C (°F) 27
Average low °C (°F) 23
Record low °C (°F) 19
Rainfall mm (inches) 380
Avg. rainy days (≥ 0.1 mm) 20 16 22 21 26 23 18 9 4 4 11 18 192
% humidity 82 80 82 84 85 82 78 74 71 71 76 81 78.8
Mean monthly sunshine hours 155 113 124 120 124 180 217 248 270 279 240 186 2,256
Source: BBC Weather[5]


Liana on a palm branch near a lake in Kourou
The Grey-winged Trumpeter, a species of bird commonly found in the region.

French Guiana is home to many different ecosystems: tropical rainforests, coastal mangroves, savannahs, inselbergs and many types of wetlands. French Guiana has a high level of biodiversity in terms of both flora and fauna. This is due to the presence of old-growth forests (i.e., ancient/primary forests), which are biodiversity hotspots. The rainforests of French Guiana provide shelter for many species during dry periods and terrestrial glaciation. These forests are protected by a national park (the Guiana Amazonian Park) and six additional nature reserves. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the European Union (EU) have recommended special efforts to protect these areas.[6]

Following the [7] The coastal environment along the N1 has historically experienced the most changes, but development is occurring locally along the N2, and also in western French Guiana due to gold mining.

5,500 plant species have been recorded, including more than a thousand trees, along with 700 species of birds, 177 species of mammals, over 500 species of fish including 45% of which are Borneo and Sumatra. This single French department has at least 98% of vertebrate fauna and 96% of vascular plants as found in all of France and its overseas territories.

The threats to the ecosystem are habitat fragmentation by the roads, which remains very limited compared to other forests of South America, impacts of immediate and deferred Petit-Saut dam(fr) of EDF, of gold mining, poor control of hunting and poaching facilitated by the creation of many tracks, and the appearance of all-terrain vehicles. Logging remains moderate due to the lack of roads, on both the difficulty of climate and terrain. An ordinance of 28 July 2005 extended the Forest Code at French Guiana, but with important exceptions and modifications. In an approach that will be sustainable, concessions or free transfers may be granted by local authorities or other entities for use by persons traditionally deriving their livelihood from the forest, but the means no longer always used traditional means, and the Guianese ecosystem being vulnerable, the impacts of logging or hunting may be important.

The beaches of the natural reserve of the Amana, the joint Awala-Yalimapo in the west, is an exceptional marine turtle nesting site. This is one of the largest worldwide for the leatherback turtle.


French Guiana has some of the poorest soils in the world. The soil is low in nutrients (e.g., Soil acidity is another cause of the poor soils, and it requires farmers to add lime to their fields. All of these soil characteristics have led to the use of slash and burn agriculture. The resulting ashes elevate soil pH (i.e., lower soil acidity), and contribute minerals and other nutrients to the soil. Sites of Terra preta (anthropogenic soils) have been discovered in French Guiana, particularly near the border with Brazil. Research is being actively pursued in multiple fields to determine how these enriched soils were historically created, and how this can be done in modern times.


Ariane launched from the Guiana Space Centre near Kourou, on 10 August 1992.

As an integral part of France, French Guiana is part of the European Union and the Eurozone; its currency is the euro. The country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for French Guiana is .gf, but .fr is generally used instead.[8]

In 2012, the GDP of French Guiana at market exchange rates was US$4.90 billion (€3.81 billion),[2] ranking as the largest economy in the Guianas, and the 11th largest in South America.[9]

French Guiana is heavily dependent on mainland France for subsidies, trade, and goods. The main traditional industries are fishing (accounting for 5% exports in 2012), gold mining (accounting for 32% of exports in 2012) and timber (accounting for 1% of exports in 2012).[10] In addition, the Guiana Space Centre has played a significant role in the local economy since it was established in Kourou in 1964: it accounted directly and indirectly for 16% of French Guiana's GDP in 2002 (down from 26% in 1994, as the French Guianese economy is becoming increasingly diversified).[11] The Guiana Space Centre employed 1,659 people in 2012.[12]

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 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: 20% to 25% (22.3% in 2012).[13]

In 2012, the GDP per capita of French Guiana at market exchange rates, not at PPP, was US$19,828 (€15,416),[2] the highest in South America,[9] but only 49% of metropolitan France's average GDP per capita that year, and 57.5% of the metropolitan French regions outside the Paris Region.[2]

Regional GDP of French Guiana
(at market exchange rates; values fluctuate YoY due to exchange rates)
 2008   2009   2010   2011   2012 
Nominal GDP (US$ bn) 4.63 4.59 4.53 5.06 4.90
GDP per capita (US dollars) 20,890 20,237 19,426 21,028 19,828
GDP per capita as a %
of Metropolitan France's
46.6 49.1 48.4 48.6 49.1
Sources: INSEE;[2] IMF for the exchange rates.[9]


French Guiana's population of 250,109 (January 2013 est.),[1] most of whom live along the coast, is very ethnically diverse. At the 2011 census, 56.5% of the inhabitants of French Guiana were born in French Guiana, 9.3% were born in Metropolitan France, 3.4% were born in the French Caribbean départements (Guadeloupe and Martinique), and 30.5% were born in foreign countries (primarily Suriname, Haiti, and Brazil).[14]

Estimates of the percentages of French Guiana ethnic composition vary, a situation compounded by the large proportion of immigrants. Mulattoes (people of mixed African and 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 to be about 60 to 70% of the total population if Haitians (comprising roughly one-third of Creoles) are included, and 30 to 50% without. There are also smaller groups from various Caribbean islands, mainly Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Lucia as well as Dominica.

Wayana mother and son. Photo taken in 1979.

Roughly 14% of the population is of European ancestry. The vast majority of these are of French heritage, though there are also people of Dutch, British, Spanish and Portuguese ancestry.

The main Asian communities are the Chinese (about 3–4%, primarily from Zhejiang province and Guangdong province in mainland China) and Hmong from Laos (1–2%). Other Asian groups include East Indians, Lebanese and Vietnamese.

The main groups living in the interior are the Maroons (formerly called "Bush Negroes") who are from African descent, and Amerindians. The Maroons, descendants of escaped African slaves, live primarily along the Maroni River. The main Maroon groups are the Saramaca, Aucan (both of whom also live in Suriname), and Boni (Aluku).

The main Amerindian groups (forming about 3%–4% of the population) are the Arawak, Carib, Emerillon, Galibi (now called the Kaliña), Palikur, Wayampi and Wayana. As of the late 1990s, there was evidence of an uncontacted group of Wayampi.


Place of birth of residents of French Guiana
(at the 1990, 1999, 2006, and 2011 censuses)
Census Born in
French Guiana
Born in
Metropolitan France
Born in the
French West Indies
Born in the
rest of Overseas France
Born in foreign
countries with French
citizenship at birth¹
2011 56.5% 9.3% 3.4% 0.2% 1.3% 29.3%
2006 55.3% 9.6% 3.1% 0.2% 1.4% 30.4%
1999 54.4% 11.8% 4.9% 0.3% 2.0% 26.6%
1990 50.5% 11.7% 5.2% 0.3% 1.9% 30.4%
¹Persons born abroad of French parents, such as Pieds-Noirs and children of French expatriates.
²An immigrant is by French definition a person born in a foreign country and who didn't have French citizenship at birth. Note that an immigrant may have acquired French citizenship since moving to France, but is still listed as an immigrant in French statistics. On the other hand, persons born in France with foreign citizenship (the children of immigrants) are not listed as immigrants.
Source: INSEE[14]
Historical population
14,520 20,940 25,561 33,500 37,005 28,506 25,459 27,863 33,505 44,392 55,125 73,022 114,678 156,790 205,954 237,549 250,109
Official figures from past censuses and INSEE estimates.


Cayenne Cathedral. Most inhabitants of French Guiana are Catholic

The dominant religion of French Guiana is Roman Catholicism; the Maroons and some Amerindian people maintain their own religions. The Hmong people are also mainly Catholic owing to the influence of missionaries who helped bring them to French Guiana.[15]


The total fertility rate in French Guiana has remained high and is today considerably higher than in metropolitan France, and also higher than the average of the French overseas departments. It is largely responsible for the high population growth of French Guiana.

Total fertility rate
 1999   2000   2001   2002   2003   2004   2005   2006   2007   2008   2009   2010   2011   2012 
French Guiana 3.87 3.93 3.79 3.73 3.77 3.47 3.79 3.80 3.73 3.57 3.49 3.37 3.38 3.50
Four overseas departments 2.32 2.45 2.42 2.35 2.38 2.40 2.46 2.48 2.48 2.46 2.42 2.39 2.39 2.44
Metropolitan France 1.79 1.87 1.88 1.86 1.87 1.90 1.92 1.98 1.96 1.99 1.99 2.02 2.00 2.00
Source: INSEE[16]


The official language of French Guiana is French, and it is the predominant language of the department, spoken by most residents as a first or second language. In addition, a number of other local languages exist. Regional languages include French Guianese Creole, six Amerindian languages (Arawak, Palijur, Kali'na, Wayana, Wayampi, Emerillon), four Maroon dialects (Saramaka, Paramaccan, Aluku, Ndyuka), as well as Hmong Njua.[17] Other languages spoken include Portuguese, Hakka, Haitian Creole, Spanish, Dutch and English.


French Guiana, as part of France, is part of the European Union, the largest landmass for an area outside of Europe (since Greenland left the European Community in 1985), with one of the longest EU external boundaries. It is one of only three European Union territories outside Europe that is not an island (the others being the Spanish Autonomous Cities in Africa, Ceuta and Melilla). As an integral part of France, its head of state is the President of the French Republic, and its head of government is the Prime Minister of France. The French Government and its agencies have responsibility for a wide range of issues that are reserved to the national executive power, such as defense and external relations.

Cayenne City Hall

The President of France appoints a prefect (resident at the prefecture building in Cayenne) as his representative to head the local government of French Guiana. There are two local executive bodies: the 19‑member general council and the 34‑member regional council, both elected. They will soon be reunited into only one council, since they have authority on exactly the same territory.

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 two senators to the French Senate.

Politics in French Guiana are dominated by the Guianese Socialist Party.

A chronic issue affecting French Guiana is the influx of illegal immigrants and clandestine

  • French Guiana : Sacred land of biodiversity – Official French website (in English)
  • Conseil régional de Guyane Official website (French)
  • Préfecture de Guyane Official website (French)
  • French Guiana at DMOZ
  • Geographic data related to French Guiana at OpenStreetMap
  • Consular Information Sheet from the United States Department of State
  • Ethnologue French Guiana page
  • Silvolab Guyanae – scientific interest group in French Guiana
  • Article on separatism in French Guiana
  • French Guiana travel site
  • Status of Forests in French Guiana
  • Officials reports, thesis, scientific papers about French Guiana (en|fr)
  • Training legionnaires to fight in French Guiana
  • The IRD's database AUBLET2 stores information about botanical specimens collected in the Guianas, mainly in French Guiana
  • James Rogers and Luis Simón. The Status and Location of the Military Installations of the Member States of the European Union and Their Potential Role for the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). Brussels: European Parliament, 2009. 25 pp.

External links

  • Robert Aldrich and John Connell. France's Overseas Frontier : Départements et territoires d'outre-mer Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-521-03036-6.
  • René Belbenoit. Dry guillotine: Fifteen years among the living dead 1938, Reprint: Berkley (1975). ISBN 0-425-02950-6.
  • René Belbenoit. Hell on Trial 1940, translated from the original French manuscript by Preston Rambo. E. P Dutton & Co. Reprint by Blue Ribbon Books, New York, 194 p. Reprint: Bantam Books, 1971.
  • Henri Charrière. Papillon Reprints: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon Ltd. 1970. ISBN 0-246-63987-3 (hbk); Perennial, 2001. ISBN 0-06-093479-4 (sbk).
  • John Gimlette, Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge 2011
  • Peter Redfield. Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana ISBN 0-520-21985-6.
  • Miranda Frances Spieler. Empire and Underworld: Captivity in French Guiana (Harvard University Press; 2012) studies slaves, criminals, indentured workers, and other marginalized people from 1789 to 1870.

Further reading

  1. ^ a b  
  2. ^ a b c d e  
  3. ^ Marshall, Bill (2005). France and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc. pp. 372–373.  
  4. ^ "French Guiana", Encyclopædia Britannica
  5. ^ "Average Conditions Cayenne, French Guiana". BBC Weather. Retrieved 15 May 2010. 
  6. ^ Comité français de l’Union Internationale pour la Conservation de la Nature (French Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature) (2003). "Guyane (Guyana)". Biodiversité et conservation en outre-mer (Biodiversity and conservation overseas). Comité français de l’UICN (French Committee of the IUCN). Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  7. ^ Borloo, Jean-Louis (12 January 2009). "Portant engagement national pour l'environnement (on national commitment to the environment)". Loi n° 2010-788 (law number 2010-788). Sénat français (French Senate). Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  8. ^ French Guiana. CIA Wolrd Factbook (2004)
  9. ^ a b c  
  10. ^ IEDOM. "Guyane – Rapport annuel 2012". p. 46. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  11. ^  
  12. ^ IEDOM. "Guyane – Rapport annuel 2012". p. 136. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  13. ^  
  14. ^ a b  
  15. ^ Palmerlee, Danny (2007). South America.  
  16. ^  
  17. ^ "Ethnologue report for French Guiana".  
  18. ^ Tabor, Damon (1 April 2010) French Guiana: Interview with Colonel Francois Müller, Commander of the Gendarmes.
  19. ^ Tabor, Damon (17 March 2010) French Guiana: Welcome to the Jungle.
  20. ^ Journal of Guyana RFO TV 18 August 2009
  21. ^ Aéroport.
  22. ^ If this is correct; the 'real' Papillon. Rue Rude. December 2005
  23. ^ Randall, Colin (27 June 2005) Ex-convict aged 104 claims to be Papillon.


See also

Charrière stated that all events in the book are truthful and accurate, allowing for minor lapses in memory. Since its publication there has been controversy over its accuracy.[22][23]

The novel, Papillon, by the French convict Henri Charrière, is set in French Guiana. It was first published in France in 1969, describing his escape from a penal colony there. Becoming an instant bestseller, it was translated into English from the original French by June P. Wilson and Walter B. Michaels for a 1970 edition, and by author Patrick O'Brian. Soon afterward the book was adapted for a Hollywood film of the same name.

In popular culture

Carnival in Cayenne


Among the military, police and security forces in French Guiana, are the following:

The commander of the French armed forces in French Guiana since July 2009 has been General Jean-Pierre Hestin. The military there is currently 1,900 strong, expected to increase enrollment in 2014–2015.[20]

Military, police and security forces

Main settlements (2011)

An Oyapock River Bridge over the Oyapock River (marking the border with Brazil) has been built and, as of April 2013, is due to open in December 2013. This bridge is 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 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 could not cope with modern traffic.

French Guiana's main international airport is Cayenne – Félix Eboué Airport, located in the commune of Matoury, a southern suburb of Cayenne. There are two flights a day to Paris (Orly Airport), served by Air France and Air Caraïbes. 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 and Belém.

Cayenne, monument to French abolitionist Victor Schoelcher.



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