As French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads to French Guiana on February 11 and 12, FRANCE 24's special envoy Nicolas Ransom takes a look at some of the important issues in this French territory within Latin America.
Beyond French Guiana, across the river Oyapak, lies Brazil, the world’s fifth most populous country with 183 million inhabitants.
For many Brazilians, crossing the river is as simple as crossing the road. But French immigration authorities on the other side share a different view.
The border town of Saint Georges in French Guiana is one of the main gateways to European territory for illegal Brazilian immigrants. Last year alone, border police expelled more than six hundred illegal immigrants from Saint Georges.
In September 2006, France began a crackdown. Today, thirty-eight border police check every boat that docks. According to Captain Pascal Robilliart, Chief of Border Police in Saint-Georges, “People who have been here illegally for a long time have to understand that if they haven’t gone through the right procedures with the authorities to get their papers in order, they will be obliged to leave French territory.”
French and Brazilian police services are reinforcing their cooperation to fight against illegal immigration.
Ironically, the two countries are also preparing for the opening of the first bridge linking French Guiana and Brazil. The 300 metre suspension bridge is due to open in 2010.
“It will be a bridge between south America and Europe, with all that that implies in terms of cooperation, police cooperation in particular, “ says Captain Robilliart
Claude Le Reun, who heads the project on the French side, thinks that the bridge will not affect normal traffic: “People can already come to Guyana from Brazil by boat. What the bridge will change is freight transport, which is very complicated at the moment. The bridge will make that a lot easier.”
France and Brazil will thus have their first physical link in a few years. What remains to be seen, however, is its effect on the laden boats that ply the waters of the Oyapock.