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French Guiana, History

The first French settlement on the Guiana coast was established early in the 17th century. Captured by the Portuguese and the British in 1809, the colony was restored to France between 1814 and 1817. In 1852 it was made the site of a penal colony. Because of the unsavory reputation French Guiana thus acquired, attempts at colonization were generally unsuccessful. In 1938 penal servitude in French Guiana was abolished. After the fall of France in World War II (June 1940), the local administration of the territory, despite strong popular sentiment in favor of the Free French movement under General Charles de Gaulle, proclaimed its allegiance to the pro-German Vichy regime of Marshal Henri Petain. On March 18, 1943, however, the Vichy-oriented authorities in French Guiana were expelled by a pro-Allied committee that had the support of the French military forces and the majority of the population of the colony. Vichy decrees aimed at the suppression of democratic rights were revoked, political prisoners were liberated, and minor pro-Vichy officials were removed from the administration. The Allied blockade of French Guiana was lifted, and trade was resumed with the United States, Brazil, and the British and Dutch possessions in America. The area became an overseas department of France on March 19, 1946. In 1968 the European Space Agency established a satellite launching facility at Kourou, helping to lift the area's economy. In the late 1970s the Plan Vert, or Green Plan, was implemented to improve production of agricultural and forestry products.

 
 

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