PARAMARIBO--An offer of 1 billion euros by French Government Ministers to tackle persistent social problems in French Guiana, has failed to persuade protestors there to call off social unrest that has crippled this overseas territory for more than ten days now. The protestors have called the offer “unsatisfactory” and are now instead demanding a “new status” for the overseas territory.
Interior Minister Matthias Fekl and France’s Minister of Overseas Departments Ericka Bareigts arrived in French Guiana on Friday, to meet with the protest group Pou La Gwiyann dékolé that launched massive protests two weeks ago. The protestors demand attention from France for the record high unemployment and the scarcity of educational prospects among young people, the territory’s already high crime levels and illegal immigration, among other subjects.
They literally closed down the country, putting up roadblocks – including on the roads to neighbouring Brazil and Suriname – and many businesses and schools have closed. The airport in Cayenne was also closed, as was the space centre in Kourou, which caused the postponement of the launch of several satellites; this is costing the territory millions in income per day.
A high-level Government delegation rushed over from France and promised multi-million-euro injections into the territory and projects that would tackle crime and unemployment, but in response, the protestors called a general strike that brought some 10,000 people to the streets of the territory’s main cities of Cayenne and St. Laurent on Tuesday, March 28 – the largest protests ever witnessed in the territory. The protestors were sticking to their demand to speak to someone who is at least at the level of a Minister, which brought Ministers Bareigts and Fekl over.
Minister Fekl tried to underscore France’s long-term commitment to the territory. “We know that the crisis is deep and affects an entire territory,” Fekl told the delegation of about 50 people who took part in talks at the prefecture in Cayenne. There is a need for “immediate solutions, but also long-term work,” he said.
But the protesters’ collective said this was insufficient to tackle the persistent social problems French Guiana is facing. Instead they are demanding a “new status” for the territory, which they say has “too centralised and too vertical” a relationship with Paris that has prevented it from “moving forward.”
Qué hay detrás de las protestas en Guayana Francesa, el único territorio de la Unión Europea en Sudamérica
Davy Rimane, a spokesman for the group, said the protesters are “asking the President of the Republic and the Government to begin open discussions with Guyanese society on endowing our country – which is too far from the centres of French decision-making – with a special status. With another kind of system, we could decide for ourselves what is good for us [rather than – Ed.] asking for permission for everything” from metropolitan France.
The demonstrations come as France’s mainland gears up for two rounds of presidential elections on April 23 and May 7; candidates from opposing sides of the political spectrum have seized upon the unrest in Guiana in a bid to boost their electoral chances. Both far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon have blasted President François Hollande’s government for the strikes that have paralysed the territory.
Authorities in both Suriname and the US have warned citizens to be careful when traveling to French Guiana. Both have warned that there is potential for the protests to turn violent.