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The French-speaking Caribbean in flames

Evoking an imperial past, the overseas territories have always provided France with an advantageous geostrategic position around the planet. However, these territories are far from achieving the levels of socioeconomic wealth of continental France, a delicate situation in recent days has turned into a violent outbreak of violence in the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

 

More than 50 years ago, France stopped being a colonial empire and accept the independence of its Maghreb, Indochinese, and sub-Saharan colonies, although it built a powerful economic, political, and cultural structure to secure post-colonial influence.

 

Despite the successes, it refused to let go of territories spread around the world, which it has maintained until today under the name of “overseas departments,” and euphemism which rescinded the colonial status. With that, it continues to maintain its presence in faraway oceanic routes.

 

Currently, these territories are divided into three: overseas departments and regions, overseas collectivities, and French Southern and Antarctic territories. Among them they are more than 120.000 km of surface area that allows France the right to exploit their waters and resources, allowing them to be the second maritime power after the United States.

Strategic territories

 

In the Caribbean are the traces of the first French colonial empire developed between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries: Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Saint-Barthélemy, and French Guiana. Beyond seeming exotic fads for tourists, these territories have a notable strategic and geopolitical value. For instance, in French Guiana, a country almost the size of Cuba, France has a military base and it has harbors the Guiana Space Center, the only French spaceport of the European Space Agency (ESA).

 

Protests for compulsory vaccination for healthcare workers were the breaking point for the people to express their discontent, requesting among others, an increase in salaries and reducing the price of fuel.

 

French Guiana has an ideal strategic position in a jungle environment and is scarcely populated, in an area of around 700 sq. km, and has stable seismic and environmental conditions in front of the sea to restrict any failed rocket launch. It is close to the equator, facilitating placing any satellite or rocket into space orbit. Since 1975 France decided to share its base with the ESA and all European space activity is carried out in this Caribbean territory.

 

A little to the north are the French Antilles that have had an overexploitation and slavery colonial history which provided an enormous economic gain to France, in form of tobacco and sugarcane, and that helped protect French interests along with one of the most traveled maritime routes of the world, the Panama Canal. Therefore, Guadeloupe and Martinique are very important military bases for the French interests in the region and are a usual port of call for French vessels and aircraft.

 

Poverty and inequality

 

Although France opted for maintaining these territories to preserve their interests, its economic efforts to sustain them did not always translate in good results for them or the population of these territories, and although they are more advanced in regards to the rest of the region, they are still too underdeveloped compared to continental France, being one of the most impoverished in the region and with the greatest unemployment rate.

 

Geographic isolation, aging of its population, and reliance on investments and subsidies have stalled its economy.

 

Other indicators that show the delicate situation are, for instance, that Martinique has the lowest life expectancy and greatest child mortality, the crime rates are very high, and French Guiana leads the pack in these not-so-fortunate indicators.

 

In the Caribbean are the traces of the first French colonial empire developed between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries: Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Saint-Barthélemy, and French Guiana. Beyond seeming exotic fads for tourists, these territories have a notable strategic and geopolitical value.

 

In Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana, commodities cost on average 10 to 15% more than in France and food can reach up to 30% more, and salaries are much lower.

 

The lack of economic expectancies has provoked social unrest and conflict. The dissatisfaction of its inhabitants is evident, there are protests on the high costs of living, aggravated by the consequences of an endless pandemic.

 

Historic unrest

 

This has all converged on economic and identitarian social protests. In Pointe-à-Pitre, the capital of Guadeloupe, there were strong strikes, and the Minister of Overseas Territories, Sebastián Lecornue, urgently traveled to Guadeloupe to talk about the autonomy of the island where 35% of the population lives under the poverty threshold.

 

The proposal of the French Government was criticized both by the French opposition and by the Antillean people, which say this is not what they are demanding. Anyway, last week Guadeloupe politicians requested the visit of an inter-ministerial delegation to discuss the competencies of the French government.

 

Although France opted for maintaining these territories to preserve their interests, its economic efforts to sustain them did not always translate into good results for them or the population of these territories.

 

However, the Minister strongly criticized the violent situations that ended up in establishing a curfew on both islands.  The protests against the obligatory vaccination of healthcare workers were the trigger for the inhabitants to express their discontent and also leveraged the opportunity to demand better salaries and a reduction of the price of fuel. 

The historic untrust is present and the Government will have to handle the situation with finesse, as this also all adds to the chlordecone (a toxic and cancerogenic substance, present in the water, soil, and people’s blood) scandal. This pesticide contaminated the soil after being used between 1972 and 1993 in Banana plantations to control pests such as weevils, that impacted crops and it is now suspected of being responsible for many diseases, including cancer.

 

Up to now, the French Government had resisted acknowledging any direct link between prostate cancer cases and chlordecone. A decree of December of 2021 acknowledges the effects and provides for variable indemnifications for professional diseases such as prostate cancer for the use of this pesticide if workers had been in contact with the pesticide for at least 10 years and developed any disease during the following 40 years.

 

More than ever, it is time to open a debate and listen to the French-speaking inhabitants of the Caribbean.

Consejo Editorial