|General background: The Portuguese discovered
the uninhabited island in 1513. From the 17th to the
19th centuries, French immigration supplemented by influxes
of Africans, Chinese, Malays, and Malabar Indians gave
the island its ethnic mix. The opening of the Suez Canal
in 1869 cost the island its importance as a stopover
on the East Indies trade route.
Slightly smaller than Rhode Island
Tropical, but temperature moderates with elevation;
cool and dry from May to November, hot and rainy from
November to April.
Terrain: Mostly rugged
and mountainous; fertile lowlands along coast.
Population: 743,981 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: French, African, Malagasy,
Chinese, Pakistani, Indian
Religions: Roman Catholic 86%, Hindu, Muslim,
Language: French (official), Creole widely
Government type: NA
Legal system: French law
Economic overview: The economy has traditionally
been based on agriculture. Sugarcane has been the
primary crop for more than a century, and in some
years it accounts for 85% of exports. The government
has been pushing the development of a tourist industry
to relieve high unemployment, which amounts to more
than 40% of the labour force. The gap in Reunion between
the well-off and the poor is extraordinary and accounts
for the persistent social tensions. The white and
Indian communities are substantially better off than
other segments of the population, often approaching
European standards, whereas minority groups suffer
the poverty and unemployment typical of the poorer
nations of the African continent. The outbreak of
severe rioting in February 1991 illustrates the seriousness
of socio-economic tensions. The economic well-being
of Reunion depends heavily on continued financial
assistance from France.
Communication/Telephone system: Adequate system;
principal center is Saint-Denis.
Places of interest: