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This was an entirely new story to me when I saw an article in the Times yesterday, and a quick search tells me it hasn't been the subject of a DKos post yet. It's closer to your back yard than mine here in the UK, though as the Times piece points out, what's happening right now in Martinique, Guadelupe, Reunion and French Guyana has implications beyond the French Departments and the Caribbean. I'll fill you in below the fold.

Guadelupe is a popular tourism stop and business area for the French, comprised of one large and several small islands. It is an overseas Department--something more than a colony, something less than an integral part of France, though that is what it is supposed to mean. As a Department, it uses the Euro as its currency (as do Martinique, Reunion and French Guyana). It is something of a banana republic in many ways. Not only are bananas its main cash crop, but the majority Black and mixed-race population live very different lives than the minority French population.

As a direct result of the recession, the cost of living has been soaring in the Caribbean. Unemployment has increased as well, so families have fewer euros with which to buy more expensive items. Just below this simmers long-running issues of colonialism and racism. As in Haiti, which is more familiar to most Americans, you can pretty much guess someone's income and class position by the gradation of their skin colour. (Although since this is France, you can't even cite the official statistics that would make this crystal clear--collecting demographic data on employment and income is not legal, so there's no "proof" of what everyone knows, leaving islanders in a massive Catch-22.) Shops on the island are not owned only by whites, but also by Indian and Chinese immigrants--but not often by Blacks. Prices for food, clothing and other essentials are high, and there has also been a massive real estate bubble in the past few years that has driven up home prices by 5, 6 or 7 times what they were. This affects not only those who might have been able to afford to buy a home, but also those who rent, as former rentals and farmland are given over to luxury homes for French expats.

On the 20th of January, the main trade union on Guadelupe declared a general strike, with the backing of 47 other organisations--these include smaller unions, civic groups, farmers organisations, etc. This followed on from the formation of a coalition last year (the Collective Against Extreme Exploitation, the LKP), its development of a platform with over 100 demands related mostly to employment and economic matters, and two days of mass demonstrations in December over these issues that got no response from the French government. The government was not willing to meet to discuss the platform, hence the demonstrations.

I haven't been able to dig up the full list but here are some of the top items on it:

- The immediate drop of 50 cents in fuel prices (gasoline costs double what it does in France, a big part of that is an import duty imposed by France as a type of tax).

- The decline in prices of all essential goods and all taxes.

- An increase in the minimum wage to 200 euros (this is per month--note that prices of basic food items in Guadelupe are considerably higher than they are in France and you can see that this is not asking much!).

- The decline in the price of water and transport of passengers.

- Contracts for all precarious workers, public and private (much of the island's Black population does day labour or agency work)

- The development of production to meet the needs of the population.

- The right to education and training for youth and workers of our country. - Priority in hiring and positions of responsibility for Guadeloupeans and end of racism in hiring (the strikers say that French companies operating in Guadelupe hire their staff in France, and rarely hire locally even for low-paid jobs). - Freezing rents for an indefinite period and for the year 2009, canceling the increase of 2.98% (most Black residents of Guadelupe live in social housing and the rents are set by the government). - Set aside 50,000 hectares of agricultural area as a protected agricultural zone and setting up a committee for its annual evaluation (Guadelupe exports massive amounts of food to Europe in the form of cash crops, but residents eat mostly imported food...).

- Exemption from taxes for the benefit of farmers throughout the country.

- Representation of trade unions in Guadeloupe in all companies and joint bodies (ASSEDIC, Social Security, CAF, AGEFOS, SME, Fong, CIF ...).

- Commencement of proceedings for the reconstruction of the hospital.

- The urgent development of transport networks.

- Taking into account in the media the language and culture of Guadeloupe through the presence of representatives of cultural associations in the boardroom.

A few weeks ago the French government started sending over planeloads of police, which is of course worrying to the Guadeloupeans. The last time they had unrest in the late 1960s, the same thing happened and over 100 striking workers were killed. And that was in a strike limited to the construction industry, not a general strike situation. Two days ago, tear gas was used. Yesterday the expected happened, as French security forces waded into a demonstration. Shots were fired (some may have been fired by demonstrators but as in all situations like this no one is sure) and a union member was killed by the police.

In the past two weeks, the unrest has started to spread beyond Guadelupe and into other Caribbean French departments: Martinique, Reunion and French Guyana. There had been solidarity protests at first but now similar slates of demands are being put forwards. The French government is doing its best to hold a united front, but there is pressure on three additional fronts:

  1. Participants in the recent general strike in France made explicit ties between their strike and the one in Guadelupe.
  1. Many residents of the banlieus (poor/working-class suburbs) in France are of Afro-Caribbean descent and are hearing the news daily from friends and families, expectations are that any move against the Caribbean strikers will have serious repercussions at home.
  1. The great fear is that unrest will spread to Haiti, which is poised for an eruption... and where a good segment of the desperate population is  armed, which is not generally the case in these somewhat more prosperous departments.

Today's development is a promise of 580m euros to the islands and a "vast programme of modernisation" by Sarkozy, but the general strike will continue during negotiations. Understandably, residents worry that this promised money will not benefit Black workers but will instead further enrich French expats who could get grants for expanding their tourism operations, corporate farms, and security arrangements.

I think this story has been undercovered in the US press, and it's on your doorstep. If unrest spreads to Haiti as well, the implications could be huge. There are also fears that similar activities may hit the British Caribbean as well.

Originally posted to expatyank on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 12:12 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'm no expert in Caribbean politics (25+ / 0-)

    and would love to hear some details and comments from those who are.

    Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
    "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

    by expatyank on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 12:13:03 PM PST

  •  MSM won't cover what they fear may happen here (8+ / 0-)

    Out of sight, out of mind

    F#@k this Congress and the limos they rode in on!

    by MinistryOfTruth on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 12:23:45 PM PST

    •  "Don't give them ideas" (5+ / 0-)

      They are probably right about that. Which is in some part why I posted about this.

      Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
      "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

      by expatyank on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 12:27:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  so is there a general strike and rioting (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Stranded Wind

        occurring now?  Or did you mean to suggest that these things are likely in the near future?

        •  There has been a general strike on (9+ / 0-)

          for almost a month now and rioting for the last two days, in Guadelupe. Martinique has also been on general strike--not sure for how long--and this is still going on. France sent riot police to Martinique last week, started sending them to Guadelupe the week before as unrest was getting very widespread there. There has been some looting on both places. I am less certain of the situation in French Guyana and am trying to find out...

          Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
          "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

          by expatyank on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 01:12:26 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  French Caribbean and strikes go hand in hand (0+ / 0-)

            I previously lived in the Caribbean.....It is very common to see these strikes. Our company has businesses in over 25 countries in the caribbean and strikes and the occasional riot is the cost of doing business there - esp in French Caribbean.

            Of course the economic situation adds to the usual drama ...but the reason why people in the Caribbean are not freaking out - a month long strike maybe bad but they've seen it before. I've seen the burning of service stations during strikes and workers unable to leave offices because of riots.

            The only place this will spread in the English caribbean is to a place like Guyana - which is a bit unstable with high crime and corruption. The other countries have much more stable governments and are not that influenced by places like the French Departments and Haiti.

            With the entire Stanford Fraud -  Antigua could be another place of unrest, since Stanford had significant investments and influence in their economy.

    •  The MSM won't cover it because It's a tiny island (5+ / 0-)

      in the Lesser Antilies. Hell, when the Bahamian government fell over the Anna Nicole Smith thing, the MSM didn't even cover it. (they just covered her)

  •  For those who can read French and/or Creole (8+ / 0-)

    there is some up to the moment bloggage here. Also, there is an official LKP web site but all that's on it right now is the names/initials of the organisations in the coalition.

    Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
    "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

    by expatyank on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 12:26:57 PM PST

    •  Some interesting stuff there. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Peace JD, truong son traveler

      Just to translate some of the post headlines for non-French/creole readers:

      Elie Domata on Guadeloupe's Channel 10: If it's civil war that you want, you can count on us.

      NO to economic suicide in the French Antilles.  Sign the petition.


      It isn't being updated all that much, actually.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 02:02:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Your quote ........ (11+ / 0-)

    I think this story has been undercovered in the US press

    Just so you know, as a US citizen I can tell you - "there is no US press".

  •  oops I forgot... thanks for doing the job of the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    catdevotee, High Tide

    US press.

  •  Good diary! (5+ / 0-)

    I saw a brief about this the other day but didn't really get what it was about. I appreciate the detailed information.

    When offshore accounts are outlawed, only outlaws will have offshore accounts.

    by High Tide on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 12:37:27 PM PST

    •  Second... reco. (6+ / 0-)

      And I found it interesting to learn that "Sir" Allen Stanford how deeply intwined his fraud was with the Venezuelan financial sector.  By going after Stanford, the SEC has its pawprints on the destabilization of the Venezuelan political scene.  Not saying they wouldn't have gone after him eventually, but its an interesting externality.

      In Venezuela, where a Stanford bank was seized by government regulators on Thursday, wealthy investors complained that they had been driven to put their money into the entrepreneur's controversial certificates of deposit in order to get it away from Hugo Chávez's socialist regime. About a quarter of the $8bn invested in Stanford's allegedly fraudulent certificates of deposit is thought to have come from Venezuela.

      •  Stanford International didn't have branches in (11+ / 0-)

        any of the French Caribbean Departments as far as I can tell, but there are many more Stanfords out there. This kind of fraud steals the savings of people in the US and Europe, but it literally steals the lives of poor people sometimes. Real estate bubbles, the need for the super-rich to hide and move their assets, the pressure to reconfigure national economies to meet the needs of the super-rich and financiers--all of these things have impacted the Caribbean, whether French, British, Dutch or "independent."
        Of course, the French government is trying to set up Chavez as some kind of bogeyman behind the LKP. I'm sure this sort of thing gives him a smile but haven't seen any evidence of a connection other than perhaps a bit of inspiration.

        BTW, things are bad enough that Martinique has just announced that Carnival is cancelled this year--the island's biggest tourism draw.

        Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
        "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

        by expatyank on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 01:23:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Stanford was in Angtigua. (2+ / 0-)

          There was a run on his bank there yesterday.

          I haven't been there for a while and I was a bit surprised to the extent of the bank's influence in terms of local accounts.  I would have thought it would be a private bank frequented more by ex-pats than locals.  The videotape I saw was of the police guarding the bank while depositors stood outside wondering what was going to happen.

        •  Stanford in Venezuela (0+ / 0-)

          Chavez just stopped the directors of the local Stanford Bank from leaving Venezuela. He also seized control of the bank.

  •  it's obvious what's going on here.... (4+ / 0-)

    The colonial power is sucking blood out of the locals, conveniently demarcated by skin color, for the sake of a pampered aristocracy's ability to live a life of luxury and not have to do real work.

    Same as everywhere else:  the aristocracy wants its pampering, and will extract it from everyone else by every possible means.

    The world can no longer afford aristocracies.  

    •  how leftist of you (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Can you envision any alternate explanations, good sir? :-)

      I'm an Emersonian Transcendentalist. What's your excuse?

      by Stranded Wind on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 01:38:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  yeah, "the devil made them do it" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Abra Crabcakeya, Stranded Wind

        In which case an exorcism is long overdue.  Or 40 milligrams* of psilocybin and 8 hours on the psychiatrist's couch, with follow-up counseling twice a week for six months to a year.  


        *That's at the upper end of the normal clinical dosage range of 20 - 40 mg. We can reasonably assume it's going to take a stronger dose to break through the layers of denial.  

      •  Let's see (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Abra Crabcakeya

        The trade unions, the poor, the working class and the community organizations have mobilized a general strike and demonstrations against the ruling elite pressing for a broad range of social, economic and political reforms.  Generally speaking, in such conditions, it would be pretty reasonable to apply a leftist analysis.  In fact I can't imagine how such a mass mobilization  could be a rightist movement (or as Americans would call rightism, "centrism".)

  •  rec'd (2+ / 0-)

    this seems an important piece to the grim mosaic that is starting to appear.

    I'll give you this here wedding ring when you take it from my cold, dead hand.

    by homo neurotic on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 01:21:02 PM PST

  •  economic collapse and peak oil (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    catdevotee, justCal

    This one might be pulled out of it's nosedive for a time but in general we're going to see more and more of this. There are too many of us and too little planet to go around, even after we correct the inequities such as are seen here.

    I'm an Emersonian Transcendentalist. What's your excuse?

    by Stranded Wind on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 01:34:45 PM PST

    •  on a related note (2+ / 0-)

      I was interested to see "solar energy" listed as an up and coming export of Guadelupe on one of the sites I looked at while researching this. Some of the islands will be poised to do well out of peak oil's changes--depends on population density and what kind of shape the environment is in I should think. In other words, Haiti is screwed (as always) but others may find a way through that works for them.

      Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
      "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

      by expatyank on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 01:46:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The BVIs don't yet seem to be feeling the (0+ / 0-)

    pain as yet according to what I heard the other day.

    Of course, the lowest standard of living there is far higher than it is in the French islands.

    •  lots of hedge funds and dodgy investment co's (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      truong son traveler

      are in the BVIs though. Found a piece in Forbes on one of these hedge funds falling due to links with Madoff. As for the US Virgin Islands, looks like Stanford was up to his neck in (no doubt) dirty deals there.

      Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
      "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

      by expatyank on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 01:53:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  As far as locals go though, those (0+ / 0-)

        off shore banks aren't as important as they used to be.  A lot of banks, corporations and customers - a huge percentage - fled a number of years ago when the US forced the BVIs and many of the other Caribbean nations into a deal where the US could look at their books and customers' bank accounts whenever they wanted to.

        At this point, according to my sources which are pretty good, things are relatively normal right now even the high season tourism which surprised me to hear, but I was glad for my friends.

  •  What's the situation on St. Bart's (French half)? (0+ / 0-)

    Is there a similar situation on the Dutch half? Do you think it will spread there?

    Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. - FDR

    by Jeff in CA on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 01:56:45 PM PST

  •  Thanks - (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Peace JD

    Haiti is undergoing a bit of stress these days, but it is Carnaval time, so hopefully nothing will happen in the next few days..
    There was a gas strike going on for about a month, but that, I believe was coming from the station owners not wanting to lower prices, as the wholesale price had dropped. Diesel was avail., but gasoline was scarce. It's running now. Politically, they are due for an election in mid-April, and the gov't is blocking Lavalas from participating - that could be a really bad idea, but there are a few weeks to watch how that develops.
    You wrote

    that unrest will spread to Haiti, which is poised for an eruption... and where a good segment of the desperate population is  armed,

    . I just don't think that's true. There are weapons, but the guns are mostly owned by the gangs (and of course all the secirity guards...), and that is not a good segment of the population. MINUSTA is there for a reason, of course, and god knows I hope it all stays steady.

    "Junkies find veins in their toes when the ones in their arms and legs collapse." - Al Gore

    by parryander on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 03:14:43 PM PST

    •  didn't mean the segmentv with guns was "good"-- (4+ / 0-)

      should have said "good sized." As in the US, there are lots of folks in Haiti who own guns. You always hear about it being gang members but I would assume that there are many non-gang members (rural people especially... and those who live in gang-affected areas) who also do. There have been some issues with gang members taking advantage of the unrest in Guadelupe to cause trouble via looting. It has not been widespread but still troubling.
      i hope it holds steady too.
      Thank you very much for the update re Haiti BTW.

      Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
      "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

      by expatyank on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 03:28:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm just not (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        truong son traveler

        sure about the numbers with guns. I really don't think there are that many. Rioting when it occurs in Haiti is usually violent, but not with guns, with burnings and property destruction. An ugly 'tradition' is necklacing - capturing someone in a tube of tires and setting it all on fire, but guns, not so common. The UN does use weapons, as Cite Soleil has sadly witnessed...

        but I may be naive about it all, just haven't seen it.

        "Junkies find veins in their toes when the ones in their arms and legs collapse." - Al Gore

        by parryander on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 03:45:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  On a planet based on exploitation, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    disparity, and on which literally billions are living at survival level or below, this is just a taste of things to come as the economy tanks and climate change makes food, water and livable habitats even more scarce. I don't understand how the well-off could think this situation would be sustainable indefinitely. I'm afraid life on Earth is about to get very Hobbesian. I think we've hit a wall, and we're not going to re-establish the old order, ever. Change is coming, indeed, but it won't be pretty. As many, many scholars and social critics have warned, an economic order based on private accumulation of wealth and screw-the-poor policies is a powder keg. The fuse is lit, and it leads to one hell of a bang.

    -7.75, -7.64 "In the conservative lexicon, 'freedom' means the right to starve the death without anyone giving a shit." -- Me

    by scorponic on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 08:47:12 PM PST

  •  This is important. Thanks. (0+ / 0-)

    I wish there was something we could do about it, other than sit here and worry.

    I would imagine this is going to spread throughout the entire Caribbean. That would be highly unfortunate.

    •  No it will not (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Peace JD

      Even though the Caribbean islands are close to each other - the cultures are different.

      Many of the English speaking countries are not influenced at all by the French Departments or Haiti - .

      •  I'd have said no, before, too. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        But the English (as in British) countries aren't doing any better than the French ones in this global fuck-up, either. The Stanford thing pretty much destroyed Antigua. Wonder how many other ticking time bombs there are in the various Caribbean banks...

  •  The whole Caribbean (0+ / 0-)

    is a tinderbox, even popular tourist destinations. Resorts do not want to shed the light on the real reality of the islands. Some even put up fences to prevent their guests from going into 'unfriendly' territory. Resorts also orient guests as to which areas are safe or those to be avoided. They don't usually explain specifics as to why.

    Islands such as Trinidad with a high crime rate are still on the list for cruise lines. Tourists depart the ship having little idea of what they may be facing.

    The disparity between the rich and poor has turned many islands into a powder keg. Unless drastic improvements are made, we will all hear the boom.

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