The area now called French Guyana was inhabited by indigenous peoples (Indians) thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. The Kalinja, Wayana, Oyampi, Trio, Lokono live scattered over the area. Cayenne, for instance, was originally an Indian village. Tradition has it that both the Spanish and the French committed very sadistic crimes against the indigenous population in the past.
Around 1500, the country was first visited by Spanish explorers. However, they found the land too uninhabitable to settle.
The French arrived around 1604 and established their first settlements. In 1637, Cayenne was founded. From 1660 to 1664, the area was occupied by the Dutch. In 1676, the Dutch conquered it again during the Dutch War. A year later, the French recaptured it again and it became a department of France. In 1801, the area became a colony of France. From 1794 to 1805, it was used as a penal colony for people who formed the opposition during the French Revolution. In 1809, the Portuguese from Brazil occupied the colony in response to the conquest of Portugal by the French. After the fall of Napoleon, the Treaty of Paris in 1814 allocated it back to France. In 1817, the Portuguese left.
A growing economy with mainly plantations developed. After France abolished slavery in 1848, the economic boom disappeared.
In 1852, in response to the economic downturn, Napoleon III established a penal colony on Devil's Island. This island, and a number of areas on the mainland near Kourou, served as a prison for more than 80,000 political prisoners, thieves and serious murderers. Due to the poor conditions, only few survived this 'dry guillotine'. In 1938, the sending of new prisoners stopped, and in 1946 the penal colony closed.
From 1940 to 1943, the administration fell under Vichy-France and then under the Free French. In 1946, it became an overseas department of France again. In 1974, French Guiana also became an administrative region. On 10 January 2010, the inhabitants voted in a referendum to retain this status. With a 70% majority, they rejected proposals to extend their autonomy. However, the status will change (the former overseas department will become a territorial collectivity). This operation will be completed in December 2015. In 2017 there is much unrest and there are large strikes because of the lack of support from France for the ailing economy.
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