A Brief History of
French Guiana was discovered by the Spanish in 1496, who established a few settlements in 1503 and 1504. The French first moved in a century later. Under the 1667 Treaty of Breda, the Dutch, who had also shown an interest in the area, were forced out. Numerous changes in control followed over the next 200 years, alternating between France, Britain, the Netherlands and Portugal, until the territory was finally confirmed as French in 1817. The colony enjoyed a brief period of prosperity in the 1850s when gold was discovered, but afterwards went into a decline from which it has never fully recovered.
French Guiana was finally given French Overseas Department status in 1946, under which the territory effectively became an integral part of the French nation. However, the territory was largely neglected by Paris and continued to deteriorate until civil unrest broke out in the 1970s. After a security crackdown, the central government promised various improvements. These failed to materialise until the Mitterrand presidency, under which a series of reforms was introduced in 1982-83. Some decentralisation also took place: local affairs are now dealt with by the Regional Council.