Poverty in French Guiana
French Guiana, the small French territory located in South America, is home to a uniquely intricate story. However, poverty in French Guiana remains an issue, inflating tension between the territory and France.

Initially explored by the Spanish in the 1500s, the territory became a part of France in 1667. French Guiana’s fascinating history has collected tales of its former penal colonies and its recent prominence as a European rocket-launching site.

Unfortunately, most of French Guiana’s problems arise from the inhabitants’ standings as citizens of France. Much of the tension centers around the administration of the area by the French Constitution.

Despite French Guiana’s recent vote against increased autonomy in governance of the area, longstanding struggles with unemployment and unbalanced trade creates much frustration towards the French administration.

In 2009, the territory threatened to revolt, following the lead of other French territories Martinique and Guadeloupe. While they never carried out their threats, French Guiana still expressed its anger over poor living conditions and low wages.

Even with limited support from the territory, France helps sustain French Guiana’s developing economy by sending aid and technical assistance. The country suffers from unfavorable trading balances, as their exports are significantly less valuable than their imports.

This imbalance is compounded by high rates of unemployment and inflation, as well as insufficient infrastructure (for example, only two-fifths of the roads are paved). French Guiana must also import fossil fuels for all electricity needs.

Despite these faults, French Guiana has one of the highest gross national incomes per capita in South America. The largest contributors to the economy are the manufacturing and service industries.

One 2012 study estimates that 26.5 percent of households in French Guiana live below the poverty line. However, another source states that while poverty is a major issue, French Guiana has less acute poverty than other similar economies.

Other aggregate poverty assessments generally do not include French Guiana because of its small size and population. This knowledge gap poses a large problem for combating poverty and identifying the major issues concerning French Guiana.

While French Guiana’s living conditions are substantially worse than those on mainland France, the territory maintains a better standard of living than many other developing economies.

Universally free education and health care for the poorest segments of society prove beneficial in coping with poverty in French Guiana. Almost all children between the ages of 6 and 16 attend school. There are also several colleges and universities.

However, the territory’s lack of infrastructure affects health care in rural areas. In fact, there is only one full-service hospital in French Guiana.

Poverty and unemployment rates represent a large source of social discontentment and everyday hardship as French Guiana continues to develop.

Despite these obstacles, France will continue to provide aid to its territory. With a more holistic study of French Guiana, perhaps this examination of poverty will create substantial positive change.

–Charlotte Bellomy

Photo: BBC