French Guiana profile
- 18 May 2016
- From the section Latin America & Caribbean
Dense equatorial forests, colonial towns and a major space centre are among the faces of French Guiana, a region of France on the north-east coast of South America.
A lack of infrastructure has hindered tourism as much of the sparsely-inhabited interior is accessible only by river.
The ethnically-diverse population enjoys one of the higher standards of living in the continent, propped up by the French social security system and subsidies.
Street violence in the 1990s, fuelled partly by high youth unemployment, was seen as manifestations of tension with Paris. However, voters rejected the option of increased autonomy in a 2010 referendum.
France occupied the territory in the 17th century. The Dutch and Spanish also settled the area. Until the 1930s, France dispatched convicts to penal colonies there, including the notorious Devil's Island. Another former penal settlement, Kourou, is home to a European Space Agency rocket launch site, accounting for a significant slice of GDP and lending strategic value.
French overseas territory
Area 83,534 sq km (32,253 sq miles)
Major languages French (official), Creole
Major religion Christianity
Life expectancy 73 years (men), 81 years (women)
Head of state: President of France
An appointed prefect represents the French government in Paris. Two elected councils - the Conseil General and the Conseil Regional - exercise power locally. The territory sends elected representatives to the French National Assembly and to the Senate.
Commercial broadcasters operate alongside services provided by public broadcaster Reseau France Outre-mer (RFO).