Thursday, February 19, 2015

French Guiana

In this post-colonial world, a map of France should not include a significant chunk of Central America, between Surinam and Brazil, and yet it does. 32,000 square miles of it, with a quarter of a million people, speaking French of course, though in a local Creole, and employing the Euro for its currency, which is simply absurd. Mostly equatorial rainforest, it produces timber and gold, as well as fish, but not much else, largely because the central areas of the country are entirely inaccessible. Most people live either on social security, provided by France, or subsidies, from the same source, which sustains a surprisingly decent standard of living. 

Like most French "second-home-states" (if I may coin such a phrase; it is the best I can do to give the notion of "we have one home in Europe and another that we visit from time to time in South America"), FG is ruled by the President of France, though he doesn't even show up to church on Sundays, let alone other state occasions; these are handled for him by an appointee, while two councils, the Conseil General and the Conseil Regional, theoretically have the real power, though why it needs two ineffective bodies to do a non-job can best be explained by the need on both sides to pretend democracy. The FGs rejected a referendum for greater autonomy back in 2010, and not surprisingly really, given the financial underpinning and the total impossibility of replacing the funds internally if they kicked out the French. 

French Guiana was once famous for Devil’s Island, where French convicts were sent – the most famous among them Alfred Dreyfus. Actually this was the main purpose of FG for the French until the 1930s; like Australia to the British, it was where you sent the people you couldn’t jail or didn’t want to hang back home, but still wanted to be rid of. Most of the convicts died of malaria and yellow fever. Today the French keep FG because they have a space station there, and a place to one day launch their rockets to some other planet – presumably for the purpose of creating another prison, on Mars say, or Venus.


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