Guyana was first colonised by the Dutch, Essequibo being the first settlement in 1616. The British assumed control in 1796 and it became a British colony in 1814 and was known as British Guiana. It remained a British colony for over 200 years before gaining independence on 26 May 1966. Guyana officially became a republic in 1970 and in 2008 the country joined the Union of South America Nations as a founding member.
French Guiana was first settled by the French in the 1600’s, but tropical diseases and climate killed most of the early settlers. The Portuguese Empire gained control of the country in the early 1800’s, but it was returned to France in 1814 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. The infamous Devil’s Island prison operated from 1852 to 1953 and France sent over 55,000 prisoners to the island. French Guiana became an overseas department of France in 1946 and during the 1970’s France helped resettle Hmong refugees from Laos to French Guiana.
Suriname was first explored by the Spanish in the 16th century, settled by the English in the mid 17th century, finally becoming a Dutch colony in 1667. The plantation colonies relied heavily on African slaves to cultivate the plantations, but they were treated extremely badly and many escaped into the adjoining rainforests where they established a new culture and were known as the Maroons. African slavery was abolished in 1863 and workers were brought in from Java and India. The Dutch governed Suriname as Dutch Guiana until 1954. Suriname gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975.
Guyana is in the north east of South America. It is bordered by Suriname to the east, Brazil to the south, Venezuela to the west and by the Atlantic Ocean to the north. The country can be divided into several natural regions. Most of the population is based on the low, fertile coastal plains along the Atlantic coast. Inland there is a white sand belt where most of Guyana’s mineral deposits lay. The southern part of the country is covered by dense rain forests and is known as the Forested Highland Region. The southwest is low desert savannah and in the central southwest part of the country there is high savannah that leads to a mountainous area towards the Brazil border.
Guyana has one of the largest unspoiled rainforests in South America. The highest mountain in Guyana is Mt Roraima (2,810m) on the Brazil-Guyana-Venezuela tri-point border. The climate is tropical - hot and humid, with northeast trade winds along the coast. The country has 2 rainy seasons - May to mid-August and mid-November to mid-January.
Guyana’s natural resources include bauxite, gold, diamonds, hardwood timber, shrimp and fish.
French Guiana is a department of France in the Amazonia region of South America. It borders Brazil to the south and east, Suriname to the west with the Atlantic Ocean to the north. The country has two main geographical regions - a narrow coastal strip where the majority of the population lives and dense, almost impenetrable rainforest that rises to the Tumuc-Humac Mountains on the Brazilian border. The territory is almost entirely separated from Brazil and Suriname by the Oyapak River to the east and the Maroni River to the west. There are also several islands found off the coast including Devil’s Island and Îles du Connetable bird sanctuary.
Like Guyana, the climate here is tropical - hot and humid with little seasonal variation. The rainy season starts in November/December and runs through to July.
French Guiana’s natural resources include bauxite, timber, gold, cinnabar, kaolin and shrimp.
Suriname is the smallest independent country in South America. It is bordered by French Guiana to the east, Brazil to the south, Guyana to the west with an Atlantic coastline in the north. There are two distinct geographical regions. In the north the lowland coastal area is cultivated and houses most of the population. The southern part of the country is mainly tropical rainforest with savannah along the border with Brazil and accounts for 80% of the land.
Suriname has a hot, wet, tropical climate. Temperatures are fairly constant throughout the year and the humidity is high. There are two wet seasons and two dry seasons.
Suriname’s natural resources include timber, hydropower, fish, kaolin, shrimp, bauxite and gold as well as small amounts of nickel, copper, platinum and iron.
Guyana is the only English speaking country in South America. Three quarters of the population is made up of the 2 largest ethnic groups - the Afro-Guyanese (descendants of African slaves) and the Indo-Guyanese (descendants of Indian labourers). Guyanese culture is a fusion of cultures with influences from African, Indian, Amerindian, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish cultures. There are also nine indigenous tribes including the Arawaks, Wai Wai and Caribs. Although English is the official language, most of the population speak Guyanese Creole.
Guyana’s predominant religion is Christian followed by Hindu. The most popular music is Calypso. Guyanese cuisine is also a melting pot of influences reflecting from the ethnic diversity of the country. The food is varied and includes curries and roti, Guyanese style chow mein, Pepperpot (an Amerindian meat stew) and cassava bread. The national dish is the one pot meal and the most popular drink is dark rum.
French Guiana’s population is ethnically diverse and highly multicultural with ancestry from France, Africa, the Caribbean, Haiti, The Netherlands, Britain, Spain, Portugal, China, Laos, East Indies and Brazil. The culture is heavily influenced by the French culture. Most of the population lives along the coast but the Maroons (descendants of escaped African slaves) and Amerindians are found in the interior.
French is the official language of French Guiana although a number of other languages are spoken including Creole, Amerindian languages, Maroon dialects and Hmong Njua. The dominant religion of French Guiana is Roman Catholicism but the Maroons maintain their own religion. Even the Hmong are mainly Catholic. The cuisine is again diverse and can be quite spicy. A traditional dish is bouillon d’aoura prepared with smoked fish and flavoured with aurora fruit. Pimentade is fish with a tomato sauce, spiced and seasoned with lemon.
Suriname’s population is made up primarily of Creoles (African and European mixed heritage), Maroons (descendants of escaped African slaves) and the descendants of Indian and Javanese contract workers. There are also Chinese, Europeans, Brazilians and various indigenous groups.
Dutch is the official language of Suriname, spoken by the majority of the population. Sranang Tongo, a local Creole language was supressed by the Dutch for many years but is now also widely used. The predominant religion is Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism) followed by Hindu. Many Maroons practice Winti - an Afro-American religion. Due to the country’s multicultural heritage, Suriname celebrates a variety of distinct ethnic and religious festivals and has a variety of cuisines ranging from Indian to Chinese, Javanese and Creole. Surinamese cuisine includes roti, nasi goreng, the casserole pom and chicken masala.
Guyana’s economy is based mainly around agriculture and mining and is heavily dependent on the export of sugar, rice, gold, bauxite, timber and shrimp. The country is vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices and adverse weather conditions. The economy has shown moderate growth over the last few years but is hindered by a lack of skilled labour and poor infrastructure.
French Guiana is part of the European Union and Eurozone and its currency is the Euro. The country relies heavily on France for subsidies, trade and goods. Fishing, gold mining and timber are the main traditional industries. The Space Station near Kourou, built by President Charles de Gaulle in 1964, contributes significantly to the local economy and is now the European Space Agency’s primary launch site. Sugar, banana and rice exports have virtually stopped but tourism, especially eco-tourism is increasing.
Suriname’s economy is dominated by the mining industry. Bauxite, gold and oil exports account for 85% of total exports resulting in the economy fluctuating with the mineral prices. Agriculture (rice and bananas) is also an important contributor to the economy and ecotourism is providing new opportunities. The Central Suriname Nature Reserve was established in 1998 signalling Suriname’s commitment to conserve its huge tract of unspoiled rainforest. The Reserve became a World Heritage Site in 2000.
Guyana is a representative democratic republic with a President and a Prime Minister. The country is divided into 10 regions and universal suffrage is granted to those 18 years of age. After independence and up until the early 1990’s, mainly socialist-oriented governments ruled Guyana. It was not until 1992 that the country had it’s first free and fair election, overseen by former US President Jimmy Carter. The People’s Progressive Party has governed the country since then.
French Guiana, being part of France, is part of the European Union. The President of the French Republic is its head of state and the Prime Minister of France its head of government. A prefect is appointed by the French President as his representative to head the local government of the country. The Guianese Socialist Party dominates the politics of the region. One of the major problems affecting French Guiana is the influx of illegal immigrants and gold prospectors from neighbouring Brazil and Suriname.
Suriname is a constitutional democratic republic, divided into ten districts. The president is the chief of state and head of government. Universal suffrage is granted to those 18 years of age.
Suriname has seen its share of political instability. One third of the country’s population emigrated to the Netherlands in the years leading up to independence. In 1980, five years after independence, the civilian government was overthrown by a military regime. In 1982, the dictator Desi Bouterse arrested 13 prominent citizens who had criticised the military dictatorship and took them to Fort Zeelandia where they were executed (December Killings). He was tried for murder but was given amnesty by the parliament and allowed to remain in charge of the army. Bouterse dismissed the government in 1990 by phone in what is known as the “Telephone Coup”.
An ongoing civil war between the Suriname Army and the Maroons during the 1990’s weakened Bouterse’s position and in 1999 he was convicted in absentia in the Netherlands of drug smuggling and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment. He returned to power as the president in 2010. Relationships with the Netherlands are strained but Suriname has positive relations with the US, Barbados, China and Brazil.