BASSE-TERRE — Since July 2021, various trade union organizations have been calling for the cancellation of the vaccination obligation and the reinstatement of suspended non-vaccinated employees. The movement hardened on November 15, leading to roadblocks thus paralyzing the Guadeloupe archipelago, a French overseas department.
Through this vaccination obligation which does not pass, it is the ills of a Guadeloupean society which resurface: precariousness, high cost of living, massive unemployment, youth without prospects, drinking water crisis, environmental scandal, identity crisis, etc. The malaise is not new: since the vote of the law of March 19, 1946 called “departmentalization law”, allowing the transition from colony to overseas department, Guadeloupe is subject to various disputes ranging from political to the social, including the economy and even culture.
The general strike of 2009 brought to light the economic problems inherent in Guadeloupe. Pricing is 33 percent higher than the national [French] average. A small number of actors in important fields such as fuel, agrifood or even in mass distribution, often békés, descendants of slavers, dominate the economy. The “expensive life” is explained by several factors, including insularity, remoteness, local taxation and the existence of a customs tax applied to all products imported into overseas regions, including Guadeloupe, but also Martinique.
This uncompetitive market has an impact on the purchasing power of consumers.
The chlordecone scandal
The current distrust of the population towards vaccination can be explained by a distrust towards the elites, and this, in particular following the so-called “chlordecone scandal”.
The French government allowed the spreading in Guadeloupe and Martinique of this pesticide used in the fields of banana plantations to fight against the weevil until 1993. However, the ban on its use on French soil was pronounced in 1990. The WHO classified it in 1979 as a “possible carcinogen” while the United States banned it in 1976.
Very resistant, the chlordecone molecule poisons the soil for 700 years after it is spread. Its massive use is also spreading in rivers, or on the sea coast where certain areas are prohibited to fishing.
In 2018, a study by the French national public health agency showed that “92% of Martiniquans and 95 percent of Guadeloupeans are contaminated by this pesticide.” The effects are devastating: “risks of prematurity, cognitive and motor development disorders in infants.”
There is also a correlation with prostate cancer, of which the French West Indies hold the sad world record. Although the latter was recognized at the end of 2021 as an occupational disease, the civil parties and victims demand recognition of the State’s responsibility in this environmental and health scandal.
Drinking water drop by drop
The current social crisis has also brought about a resurgence of the drinking water management crisis that has persisted for decades 5 . The lack of maintenance makes the pipes obsolete. Poor management of the network leads to a massive loss of drinking water. Result: rotating cuts are put in place daily in order to best distribute the distribution of water over all the municipalities of Guadeloupe. Many homes are left without drinking water. At a time when the population is asked to adopt barrier gestures, washing their hands regularly is almost impossible for most Guadeloupeans.
Whose fault is it? Local politicians and governments blame each other. The State aims to inject nearly 80 million euros 6 to enable a lasting resolution of this problem. Nevertheless, “the island of beautiful waters”, as Guadeloupe is called, finds itself facing a critical situation. The population is left to fend for itself and must use tricks (water reserves) to try to maintain the most rudimentary lifestyle while continuing to pay for the most expensive water in France, all regions combined.
The last few weeks have been an opportunity for young people to share their difficulties. I am one of those young people who, after obtaining a master’s degree in public law, were forced to leave to pursue their studies in Montreal six years ago 7 . Being overqualified, it became difficult for me to find a job that matched my skills.
Every year, thousands of Guadeloupeans and Martiniquans take a one-way ticket to France or abroad. It is the escape of the intelligentsia. About 60% of 16-25 year olds are affected by unemployment. Without prospects, many of them find themselves forced to leave Guadeloupe in the hope of a better life.
Identity in the background
On November 30, 2021, fifty-five years after its independence, Barbados broke away from the British crown 8 . This was possible thanks to its affirmation of identity and its desire to take flight. At the same time, the statutory question and more specifically autonomy resurfaced in Guadeloupe, initiated by Sébastien Lecornu 9 . The Minister for Overseas France considers that “there are no bad debates as long as these debates serve to solve the real problems of the daily lives of Guadeloupeans”.
The question of identity is complex. Guadeloupe’s identity is caught between Frenchness, Indianness, Creoleness and Negritude. This has an impact on the political choice of Guadeloupeans regarding the statutory and institutional change of the archipelago.
Autonomy, independence or status quo? Such a major political change for Guadeloupe must be accompanied by education and awareness-raising work. We must heal the wounds linked to colonization and the slave trade, to their impact on Guadeloupean (and Caribbean) societal construction and on political and economic development. It also means becoming aware of what Guadeloupean identity is in order to think about a common political and societal project. What is this collective memory that unites the population? Who are we?
Being the subject of numerous debates (intellectual, political, economic, etc.), Guadeloupe’s identity is still under construction. The population seems for the moment to favor the status quo rather than autonomy, confused with the notion of independence. The fear of change in the face of a major statutory and institutional change within the population of Guadeloupe also seems to explain this trend.
|1.||↑||“Does the arrest of Elie Domota [leader of the LKP collective at the origin of the general strike of 2009] set the fire to the powder again?”, Guadeloupe La 1ère, December 31, 2021, bit.ly/3umZxhg|
|2.||↑||“2009: a 44-day strike paralyzes Guadeloupe”, INA, November 23, 2021, bit.ly/3HtDY28|
|3.||↑||Faustine Vincent, “Health scandal in the West Indies: what is chlordecone?”, Le Monde, June 6, 2018, bit.ly/3rsHvbt|
|4.||↑||Margaux Otter, “Chlordecone, this insecticide which poisons the Antilles for several centuries”, L’Obs, November 30, 2021, bit.ly/3LeLGQb|
|5.||↑||“The water crisis in Guadeloupe, an old problem”, INA, November 21, 2021, bit.ly/3J8iGHE|
|6.||↑||“Guadeloupe: inaccessibility to running water has persisted for several years”, FranceInfo, December 6, 2021, bit.ly/3B3ukkn|
|7.||↑||Guest of the blog of the Guadeloupean independent journalist and publisher Mylène Colmar, bit.ly/3GtjC7Z|
|8.||↑||Michael Safi, “From monarchy to republic, Barbados pursues its emancipation”, Le Courrier international, December 25, 2021, bit.ly/3sm7Mr1|
|9.||↑||“Crisis in the West Indies: the government ‘ready to talk’ about the ‘autonomy’ of Guadeloupe” (AFP), Le Monde, November 27, 2021, bit.ly/3LfEjaX|
Michelle EJ Martineau is a doctoral student in political science, specialist in the Caribbean, at the University of Montreal and founder of the blog identitescaraibes.org. She works on issues related to identity, ethnicity and politics in the Caribbean.
Article published under the title “Guadeloupe is in crisis and this goes far beyond the health situation” in The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/fr
*AFP, South West, January 21, 2022, access: bit.ly/3Ja11Q9</fn>
SOURCE: Le Courier