French West Indies: the central state on trial

December 15, 2021

Published on: 12/15/2021 – 10:58

In the departments of the French West Indies, the last roadblocks blocking traffic were lifted by the police last week. The movement born from the refusal of compulsory vaccination for caregivers and firefighters, and which degenerated into a social crisis, has given way to discussions between unions, local elected officials and the population to respond to the many economic and social problems of these territories. Expensive life, failing public services, the grievances are multiple and very often, it is the French State, which in these former colonies comes up against the distrust of the demonstrators.

From our special correspondent in Guadeloupe,

Chlordecone, I bathed in it », Sums up Jean-Michel Emmanuel, banana planter. For years, the 60-year-old has spilled kilos of this pesticide on his banana plantation. In the West Indies, the government continued to authorize the use of this probably carcinogenic molecule, whereas it had been banned in France in 1990. By these exemptions granted, is the French State solely responsible for the damage or for sharing- Does it have responsibility with industry?

Read also : The pesticide chlordecone in the West Indies: “The State is primarily responsible”

The issue has never been decided. For Jean-Michel, it is a very personal feeling of guilt which pushed him towards an agriculture which tends towards less pesticides. ” The fact that we have been users makes us even more sensitive [à l’agriculture durable]. This is why we are committing ourselves alongside the State in a sustainable Banana plan. Our goal is to achieve zero pesticides. We no longer want the chlordecone effect in our country », Summarizes the planter.

Jean-Michel Emmanuel, a banana planter, wants to “put an end to the chlordecone effect”. © RFI / Aabla Jounaidi

Many reasons to be angry

Almost all West Indians carry traces of this pesticide in their body. The theme is therefore easy to mobilize to denounce a state that does not protect its citizens in these overseas regions. In front of the Pointe-à-Pitre University Hospital, the UGTG union does not deprive itself of it. Under the music spitting over the speakers to keep the troops motivated, he continues to accompany unvaccinated caregivers who have been suspended. In speeches, infoxes fed by social networks abound, such as the one on the alleged illegality of the vaccine.

Read also : Crisis in the West Indies: compulsory vaccination, catalyst of an explosive social situation

You have to understand that in the West Indies, you can’t do just anything. We already had chlordecone », Affirms Véronique Mayeko, nurse and elected UGTG. ” They want to give us a vaccine which is not a vaccine, which is an experimental product. They cannot lie to us: he has not yet received the final MA. So we are against this obligation, not against the vaccine “, Continues the nurse suspended last month.

Also to listen: French West Indies: why is there a new social crisis?

A punishment. The word comes back in the mouths of several caregivers who doubt or reject the vaccine. They remain in the minority at the hospital but as the CHU is a major employer on the island, the economic damage is felt for many families. ” Losing my job ’cause I don’t wanna inject that shit, that’s not fair , breathes Sandra Filomin, nurse in the Diabetology department. ” My salary is suspended, I find myself with two children. We have credits. This is not fair because when it was necessary to be there to save the sick, including during the fire [du CHU en 2017], we were there », Says the young woman, bitter.

A gendarmerie helicopter flies over the Boucan dam, manned by young people and members of civil society. Standing near the roundabout which serves as a rallying point, the spokesperson for the collective Guadeloupeans, Ludovic Tolassy, ​​perhaps suspects it. This high place of protest is living its last hours before the final assault on the public force. The opportunity to draw up one last time the long list of public policy failures attributable to the State or to communities: poor access to drinking water, a new university hospital which should only see the light of day in two years, the lack of employment opportunities and the representativeness of young people, often described as “thugs”.

Also to listen: Social crisis in the French West Indies: the reasons for the anger

Let’s go to the neighborhoods that bring together a number of issues in today’s society , exclaims the former policeman from metropolitan France who has returned “to the country” to set up his industrial cleaning company. ” Here in Sainte-Rose, we have the Sainte-Marie district where there are still problems of absorption of unsanitary housing and access to certain services. There are gifted young people in these neighborhoods who are struggling to find work. It would be nice to go get them, listen to what they have to say, see who among them is capable of making those demands and invite them to sit around the table. », Concludes the spokesperson who will be arrested the following night.

On the Boucan roadblock, detained by non-union youths, and evacuated on December 7 by the police. © RFI / Aabla Jounaidi

A call for dialogue

To resolve the crisis, the government called on elected officials to discuss economic and social issues, as well as autonomy, with prefects, unions and the population. Some mean “independence”, which is excluded by the government. For Jocelyn Sapotille, the president of the Association of Mayors of Guadeloupe, the State must rely on elected officials to take into account specific local realities.

It is necessary ” do in place of the State when we can do better locally than the State , supports the mayor of Lamentin. If, like the government, his elected status has attracted criticism from many demonstrators at checkpoints, he wants to see it as a fad. For him, the main thing is ” a failure of the centralization of power. We must move towards more decentralization, even more deconcentration for the efficiency of public authorities and that we stop wasting public money », Advises the elected official who sat opposite the Minister of Overseas Territories during his eventful visit at the end of November.

But this is not the time for a debate on autonomy. After a devastating fourth wave in August, a fifth wave of Covid-19 contamination awaits. And the complete vaccination rate of the population still does not exceed 50% in the West Indies.

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