After centuries of Caribbean orientation, the enclave accentuates its relationship with its neighbours on the continent

Two years ago, Suriname and Guyana became part of the South American football federation, leaving the federation of North, Central America and the Caribbean to which they belonged. It is a clear symbol of the change in geographical orientation that is taking place in this northeastern corner of South America which, as in the case of football, sees the potential for a greater relationship with its southern neighbours.

The Guianas, lost between South America and the Caribbean

article / Alba Redondo

As vestiges of the colonial past of the great European naval powers of the seventeenth century – England, Holland and France – we find in the northeast of South America the three Guianas: Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. In addition to the natural barriers that isolate the region and hinder its connection with the rest of the South American continent – it is more closely related to the Caribbean, although its Atlantic coast is outside that sea – there are also social, cultural and language barriers that complicate its integration into the continent.

Located in the northeast of the South American continent, the region was called Guyana or "land of many waters" by its original inhabitants, the Arawaks. The area It is bordered to the west by Venezuela and to the south by Brazil, countries that also include lands that are part of the Guiana natural region. The humid terrain and coasts dense with mangroves and swamps are combined with the tropical climate of the interior, particularly for its virgin forests, its high plateaus and its great mountain ranges such as the Guiana Shield. Its population, which ranges from indigenous people to European descendants, is located in the area coastal beaches and river valleys.

The Guianas are spoken of as a whole, not only because they form a common territory for the natives, but also because they are outside the continental division made by the two great empires of the Iberian Peninsula. Being a territory not easily accessible from the rest of the continent, the lack of presence of Spaniards and Portuguese led other European powers of the time to seek to set foot there, in exploration campaigns carried out during the seventeenth century. British Guiana gained independence in 1970 and Dutch Guiana won independence in 1975. French Guiana remains a department and an overseas region of France and thus an outermost territory of the European Union in South America.

The Three Strangers

To the west of the region is Guyana, officially known as the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. The country has a population of around 773,000, mostly located in Georgetown, its capital. Hislanguage is English, bequest of its colonial past. The political and social reality of Guyanese is marked by the conflictive coexistence between the two major ethnic groups: the Afro-Guyanese and the Indo-Guyanese. Its domestic policy is characterized by the bipartisanship between the PNC (People's National Congress), made up of Afro-descendants concentrated in urban centers; and the PPP (People Progressive Party), with greater influence in rural areas, made up of descendants of immigrants from India who arrived during the British Empire and who work on sugar plantations.

Despite a recent surge in foreign investment, Guyana is the poorest country with the highest rates of crime, violence and suicide on the continent. In addition, its international image is conditioned by its perception as a area It is a benchmark in the international distribution of cocaine and its high rate of corruption. However, the country's future points to an entry into the world's major oil powers after the finding of one of the largest oil and gas deposits discovered in our decade.

Like Guyana, the political life of the Republic of Suriname is subject to a great ethno-cultural mosaic. The former Dutch colony, with its capital in Paramaribo, is the smallest and least populated country in South America, with just 163. 821 inhabitants. After its independence in 1975, more than a third of the population emigrated to the metropolis (Holland). This produced a major structural crisis due to the lack of human capital in the country. Suriname is made up of descendants from almost every continent: Africans, Indians, Chinese and Javanese, aborigines and Europeans.  Its domestic policy is marked by the influence of Desiré Bouterse and by the democratic aspirations of society. With regard to its foreign policy, Suriname is committed to better control of exports of its resources, mainly aluminium, and to progressive integration in the regional and international sphere, in most cases, together with its neighbouring country, Guyana.

Unlike the other two Guianas, French Guiana is not an independent country, but is an overseas region of France, from which it is more than 7,000 km from France. The capital of this territory is Cayenne. For a long time it was used by France as a penal colony. It has the highest homicide rate in the entire French-speaking territory and is known for its high level of crime. How department It is part of the European Union and home to the Guiana Space Center, hosting one of Europe's main satellite launch stations in Kourou. French Guiana is facing rising unemployment, a lack of resources for Education and the dissatisfaction of its population, which has led to numerous protests.



Change of orientation

Due to the strong historical relationship with their respective metropolises and their late independence, there has traditionally been a significant barrier between the Guianas and South America. Geographically, they are cornered on the northern coast of South America, with difficulty developing contacts to the south, due to the orography of the Guiana massif and the Amazon rainforest. But there have also been cultural and linguistic reasons that contributed to a rapprochement between this region and the western Caribbean, where England, Holland and France had – and still have in some cases – island possessions.

However, after a long period of relative isolation, with little contact with southern neighbours, the republics of Suriname and Guyana have begun to join the dynamics of economic and political integration in South America.

Traditionally, the two states have had a closer relationship with the Caribbean: both are full members of CARICOM, Georgetown being the seat of this community of Caribbean countries, and are part of the association of Caribbean States (ACS), with the peculiarity of the presence of French Guiana as an associate. In recent years, Suriname and Guyana have begun to look more towards the continent itself: they have participated in the creation of UNASUR and are observer countries of Mercosur. A symbol of this change in orientation was the entry in 2016 of these two countries into Conmebol, the South American football federation, leaving the federation of North America, Central America and the Caribbean to which they belonged.

This greater relationship with its continental neighbours and participation in the South American integration process should serve to resolve some outstanding border issues, such as the dispute between Venezuela and Guyana: Caracas has historically claimed the territory that extends between its border and the Essequibo River, which runs through half of Guyana. However, as other Latin American territorial disputes are resolved in international courts, the Essequibo dispute threatens to perpetuate itself for the time being.

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