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French Caribbean – report

Guadeloupe and Martinique deadlocked, frustration rises

by Sarah Elzas

Article published on the 2009-02-16 Latest update 2009-02-19 09:14 TU

Queues at petrol stations continue in Guadeloupe(Photo: AFP)

Queues at petrol stations continue in Guadeloupe
(Photo: AFP)

The French departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique, in the West Indies, have been shut down by strikers protesting the high cost of living. Negotiations between employee unions and employers are deadlocked on both islands: in Guadeloupe over a pay raise, and in Martinique over a 20 per cent reduction of the price of 100 essential goods.

“What is happening in both islands is that people have been taking to the streets,” reports correspondent Laurence Baptiste from Martinique's capital, Fort de France.

Interview: Correspondent Laurence Baptiste in Fort de France, Martinique

16/02/2009 by David Page

President Nicolas Sarkozy has yet to go to the islands to address the crisis, which has made strike leaders question his stance on the overseas departments.

“People in Guadeloupe and in Martinique are questioning [whether] we are French departments,” explained Baptiste.

People are becoming frustrated at not finding food in supermarkets or fuel in petrol stations.

“In Martinique we can see huge, kilometres-long queues for gas stations,” said Baptiste. “People even sleep in their cars their whole night… And more often they just wait for nothing, because gas stations are not correctly fuelled.”

The French government, recognising the high cost of living on the islands, pays civil servants forty per cent more than their counterparts earn on the mainland, says Baptiste. Workers in the private sector do not have this advantage.

“Even when you have this forty per cent more, it’s still hard to make ends meet,” she said, because “one person controls almost all the supermarkets both in Martinique and in Guadeloupe”.

Added to high prices and the feelings of being ignored by the French government, is resentment towards white business owners. Most of the main businesses on both islands are controlled by white descendants of colonists, said Baptiste.

“That means in fact they have all the economic power,” she said. “Some black people can feel a bit discriminated against, because they are working, they are contributing to the success for example of these white supermarket chain owners, but they can’t really see the fruit of their work at the end of the month.”