French Guiana activists protested the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron in the capital city of Cayenne late Thursday night.
Activist groups "So That Guiana Takes Off" and "500 Brothers" reportedly threw homemade petrol bombs while local police answered with tear gas. Forces also arrested five demonstrators who were out in the street to show their opposition to Macron's refusal to talk about territorial issues.
Protesters were also angry over the French president’s comment, "I am not Father Christmas because the people of Guiana are not children" as he got off the plane. The leader of the association of mayors, David Riche, said, "We don't need Father Christmas, we need a government that realizes that in Guiana, nothing works."
The French colony suffers from 23 percent unemployment, more than double that of mainland France. Residents and activists complain the country suffers from a massive influx of undocumented immigrants, pot-holed roads, high crime rates and an inadequate public health and education system.
Macron said he’s committed to providing the current Guiana government US$1.26 billion in “emergency” funds.
Macron added, "The state has made too many promises which have not been kept … I'm here to tell things as I see them, make commitments that I can keep during my term in office and help provide the authority which is essential on this territory."
Macron pledged US$1.26 billion as part of a larger package agreed upon by the former French Guiana Prime Pinister, Bernard Cazeneuve, and previous French President Francois Hollande last April as they were both leaving office. The two former leaders, who departed their posts in May, also promised to invest approximately US$2.4 billion in French Guiana over an unspecified timeframe
The leaders’ pledges were to appease territory-wide strikes and roadblocks that took place last March and April as residents protested the French government’s neglect of the territory. Activists took over the Kourou Space Center in French Guiana, where European and French rockets and satellites are launched and maintained.
To protesters, the center represented government transfer of money into an international space project in their backyard while ordinary citizens of French Guiana endure poverty and unemployment.
"What we need today is that the commitments are honoured," Cazeneuve told a local news channel.
Macron and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker are set to visit the space center on Friday.