French settlement dates from 1604. In the Dutch wars of Louis XIV, Cayenne was captured (1676) by the Dutch but was later retaken. The Portuguese and British occupied it during the Napoleonic Wars, but the Congress of Vienna (1815) restored French authority. French Guiana was used as a penal colony and place of exile during the French Revolution, and under Napoleon III permanent penal camps were established. Devils Island, one of the Îles du Salut, off the coast, became notorious. The penal colonies were evacuated after World War II.
In 1947, French Guiana became an overseas department of France, and in 1974 it also became an administrative region. The Guiana Space Center, a rocket-launching base at Kourou and Sinnamary, was established in 1968; it is used by the European Space Agency, Arianespace, and the French space agency. Economic problems and divisions between the white European elite and the Creole majority persisted into the 1990s, accompanied by increasing local demands for autonomy. A proposal, however, for an unspecified increase in French Guiana's autonomy was rejected in a referendum in 2010.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.