The Prefect Face to Face with Autonomist Teachers in French Guiana from 1946 to the Turn of the 1960s

Special Report Title: The State and Overseas
An Unprecedented Administrative Encounter in a Post-Colonial Context
By Edenz Maurice

As a result of the departmentalization of the French old colonies in 1946, the prefect became the head of the State services of these territories. In French Guiana, although the population initially welcomed this unprecedented administrative encounter, the latter was in a very short time disrupted. From the mid-1950s onwards, political life was articulated between a local Creole and autonomist left-wing party and a departmental right-wing party affiliated to the Mainland and taxed to be under the prefect’s control. Teachers engaged in movements of this local left-wing party were the main actors in this unprecedented bipolarization of political life which resulted in violent conflicts. After assessing the phenomenon on the basis of reports from the prefect, the Government promulgated a Law order on October 15, 1960 – following the recommendation of the same prefect. This Law order established the automatic recall to the Mainland of civil servants perceived as virulent propagandists of subversive ideas. Most of them were autonomist teachers. This article shows how, in less than twenty years, the opposition between the prefect and the autonomist teachers shed light on a new political space in France. This new political space was characterized by an intense political change during which French Guianese Creole teachers became a leading elite of their department, both opposed and allied to the prefect of the overseas department who had excessive powers in virtue of the perceived threat of separatism.

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