Guadeloupe (gwädəlōpˈ) [key], overseas department and administrative region of France (2005 est. pop. 449,000), 687 sq mi (1,779 sq km), in the Leeward Islands, West Indies. The department comprises the neighboring islands of Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre (Guadeloupe proper) as well as Marie-Galante and Îles des Saintes to the south and La Désirade to the east. Saint-Barthélemy ("Saint Barts") and the French portion of Saint Martin were part of Guadeloupe politically until 2007. Basse-Terre, on the island of the same name, is Guadeloupe's capital; Pointe-à-Pitre, on Grande-Terre, is the chief port and commercial center. The islands have a mild, humid climate and are subject to hurricanes.
Tourism is the major industry, and the majority of people are employed in the service sector. Agriculture and sugar and rum production are also important. Basse-Terre, volcanic in origin and extremely rugged, is settled along the coasts and produces bananas, other tropical fruits and vegetables, coffee, cacao, and vanilla beans. Grande-Terre has low limestone cliffs and little rainfall; sugar and rum are its chief products. There also is subsistence farming, livestock raising, and fishing. Additionally, France provides many subsidies and necessities to Guadeloupe.
The population is mainly of African or mixed descent and largely Roman Catholic. French and a Creole patois are spoken. The head of government is a commissioner appointed by France. The legislature consists of a 36-member, popularly elected general council and a regional council.
Sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1493, Guadeloupe was only feebly colonized by the Spanish and was finally abandoned in 1604. In 1635 settlement was begun by the French, who eliminated the native Caribs and imported slaves from Africa for plantation work. By the end of the 17th cent., Guadeloupe was a leading world sugar producer and one of France's most valuable colonies. The islands were hotly contested with the English until they were confirmed as French possessions in 1815. During World War II, Guadeloupe at first adhered to the Vichy regime in France, but an accord with the United States in 1942 led to its support of the Free French. In 1946 the colony of Guadeloupe became an overseas department of France, and in 1974 it became an administrative center. Its deputies sit in the French National Assembly in Paris.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.