French Guiana (pronounced or, Guyane; ) is an overseas department and region of France, on the north Atlantic coast of South America in the Guyanas. It borders Brazil to the east and south and Suriname to the west. Since 1981, when Belize became independent, French Guiana has been the only territory of the mainland Americas that is still part of a European country.
With a land area of 83,534 km2, French Guiana is the second-largest region of France (it is more than one-seventh the size of Metropolitan France) and the largest outermost region within the European Union. It has a very low population density, with only 3.6 PD/sqkm. (Its population is less than 1/200 the population of Metropolitan France.) Half of its 296,711 inhabitants in 2019 lived in the metropolitan area of Cayenne, its capital. 98.9% of the land territory of French Guiana is covered by forests, a large part of which is primeval rainforest. The Guiana Amazonian Park, which is the largest national park in the European Union, covers 41% of French Guiana's territory.
Since December 2015 both the region and the department have been ruled by a single assembly within the framework of a new territorial collectivity, the French Guiana Territorial Collectivity (collectivité territoriale de Guyane). This assembly, the French Guiana Assembly (assemblée de Guyane), has replaced the former regional council and departmental council, which were both disbanded. The French Guiana Assembly is in charge of regional and departmental government. Its president is Rodolphe Alexandre.
Before European contact, the territory was originally inhabited by Native Americans, most speaking the Arawak language, of the Arawakan language family. The people identified as Lokono. The first French establishment is recorded in 1503, but France did not establish a durable presence until colonists founded Cayenne in 1643. Guiana was developed as a slave society, where planters imported Africans as enslaved laborers on large sugar and other plantations in such number as to increase the population. Slavery was abolished in the colonies at the time of the French Revolution. Guiana was designated as a French department in 1797. But, after France gave up its territory in North America in 1803, it developed Guiana as a penal colony, establishing a network of camps and penitentiaries along the coast where prisoners from metropolitan France were sentenced to forced labor.
During World War II and the fall of France to German forces, Félix Éboué was one of the first to support General Charles de Gaulle of Free France, as early as June 18, 1940. Guiana officially rallied Free France in 1943. It abandoned its status as a colony and once again became a French department in 1946.
After De Gaulle was elected as president of France, he established the Guiana Space Centre in 1965. It is now operated by the CNES, Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA).
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, several hundred Hmong refugees from Laos immigrated to French Guiana, fleeing displacement after United States involvement in the Vietnam War. In the late 1980s, more than 10,000 Surinamese refugees, mostly Maroons, arrived in French Guiana, fleeing the Surinamese Civil War. More recently, French Guiana has received large numbers of Brazilian and Haitian economic migrants. Illegal and polluting gold mining by Brazilian garimpeiros is a chronic issue in the remote interior rain forest of French Guiana.
Fully integrated in the French central state in the 21st century, Guiana is a part of the European Union, and its official currency is the euro. The region has the highest nominal GDP per capita in South America. A large part of Guiana's economy derives from jobs and businesses associated with the presence of the Guiana Space Centre, now the European Space Agency's primary launch site near the equator. As elsewhere in France, the official language is standard French, but each ethnic community has its own language, of which French Guianese Creole, a French-based creole language, is the most widely spoken.
The region still faces such problems as poor infrastructure, high costs of living, high levels of crime and common social unrest.
Guiana is derived from an Amerindian language and means "land of many waters". The addition of the adjective "French" in most languages other than French is rooted in colonial times, when five such colonies (The Guianas) had been named along the coast, subject to differing powers; namely, from west to east: Spanish Guiana (now Guayana Region and Guayana Esequiba in Venezuela), British Guiana (now Guyana), Dutch Guiana (now Suriname), French Guiana, and Portuguese Guiana (now Amapá in 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 landmass known as the Guiana Shield.