27 February 2009

Cracks in French Dependency Governance

Developments in Guadeloupe and Martinique in the French West Indies, and the emergence of yet another ruling coalition in French Polynesia could signal the need for a major re-assessment of the sustainability of the overseas department model of political integration, and the efficacy of the semi-autonomous overseas country/ territory model of dependency governance, respectively.

Accordingly, Rajeev Ravisankar’s stimulating article in “The Lantern,” the student voice of the Ohio State University is quite revealing and provides important parallels to the contemporary colonial circumstances in U.S. – administered territories as well.

Meanwhile, Tahitipresse reports on the beginning of talks in Paris between department/country and French leaders on the overseas situation in the French-controlled areas, mainly in the Pacific and Caribbean. Both articles appear below.


Colonization Still Breeds Strife

The Lantern
The Student Voice of the Ohio State University
By: Rajeev Ravisankar

Protests and violence have recently rocked the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique as workers asserted their rights and made demands for livelihood. These island territories are so-called overseas departments of France, but are much closer geographically to Florida than to France.

A general strike began in Guadeloupe with demands for price cuts and wage increases. Tens of thousands of people have joined the demonstrations, which are a response to high unemployment and persistent racial discrimination. Also, the impact of French colonialism cannot be understated. Descendents of white colonizers, who make up only 1 percent of the population, own half of the land, exercise monopolies over major industries and control 20 percent of the economy.

The climate became so volatile after the killing of a union leader that France sent large police forces to Guadeloupe. The protests spread to neighboring Martinique and French Guiana, and a growing segment of France's population has expressed solidarity with the protests. While things have quieted down for the time being, the situation poses a great challenge to French control and imposition over these areas.

All of us in the U.S. should take note of the events in Guadeloupe and Martinique. There is a bigger worry here than how spring break plans to the Caribbean will be affected. Racial divisions and socioeconomic conditions that contributed to the unrest in French colonial territories exist in the U.S. and in many other countries. The solidarity and sense of unity among workers that spread all the way to mainland France is increasingly likely to spread around the world as workers face the brunt of the economic downturn.

Of course, France's colonial history and sociopolitical situation are different than the United States'. However, this should not lead us to dismiss the possibility of similar situations arising in mainland U.S. or the territories that the U.S. continues to control and dominate. As France and the citizens of the French Antilles reconsider their colonial arrangement, the U.S. should examine the relationship it has with its various colonies, including Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The most contentious of these is Puerto Rico, which is a self-governing, unorganized territory, according to the U.S. government. Puerto Ricans are considered American citizens, but they cannot vote in U.S. national elections from Puerto Rico. In a 1998 referendum, a slight majority of Puerto Ricans essentially boycotted and voted "none of the above" as opposed to supporting commonwealth status, statehood, and independence. More recently, Puerto Rican public school teachers voted against being represented by a union affiliated with the U.S.-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The teachers cited U.S. labor imperialism in their opposition.

All of this suggests broadly that we cannot move beyond the past because it is so much a part of the present. Colonialism, whether it comes from the U.S., France, England or Israel, should be vehemently opposed, and decolonization must be carried forward to the fullest extent.


President Temaru, 2 ministers arrive in Paris for French govt. meeting


Exactly two weeks to the day from his election as Tahiti's president for the fourth time since 2004, Oscar Temaru arrived in Paris on Wednesday with two of his cabinet ministers at the invitation of French Prime Minister François Fillon.
Accompanied by Economy and Finance Minister Georges Puchon and Environmental Resources Minister Teva Rohfritsch, Temaru said before leaving Tahiti Tuesday night that the visit had two purposes.

First, they were due to attend a meeting Thursday of French parliamentarians to discuss the French overseas situation, a meeting resulting from the more than month-long social conflict in Guadeloupe that has now spread to Martinique, both French departments in the Caribbean.

Also in Paris for the meeting are Tahiti's two members of the French Senate—Gaston Flosse and Richard Tuheiava—as well as Tahiti's two French National Assembly deputies—Michel Buillard and Bruno Sandras.

Second, Temaru and his two ministers were to meet Thursday with Fillon, French Interior and Overseas Communities Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie and French Overseas State Secretary Yves Jégo.

Thursday's meeting with the parliamentarians will focus on a propose orientation law aimed at determining the main objectives for the economic development of French overseas communities over the next five or 10 years. The goal is to have overseas economic development more in tune with the present situation, particularly in the French Caribbean.

Sen. Tuheiava of Tahiti was among parliamentarians who signed a motion to defer consideration of the orientation law. He noted before leaving Tahiti that the proposed orientation law is more oriented towards French overseas departments rather than territories.

He called the proposed legislation "obsolete, outdated and not suited to the situation. It does not take into account the (global) financial crisis or the crisis in Guadeloupe."

Other parliamentarians from the French Pacific—French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna—want to defend their proposed amendments to the proposed law.

The French Senate is due to examine the proposed orientation law on March 10, with the French National Assembly due to take up the matter in April.

While there is a current debate in France and the French Caribbean over the question of whether to grant further autonomy to overseas departments, French Polynesia has its own internal autonomy statute plus an organic law defining its autonomy status with the French state.

The Paris meetings offer Tahiti's government and French parliamentarians the opportunity to explain the specifics of French Polynesia, to defend Tahiti's interests and to seek a renegotiation of certain agreements with the French state. One is the so-called DGDE, or the French state's global economic development subsidy.

One of President Temaru's biggest concerns on the eve of his trip to Paris was Tahiti's political instability over the past five years. That instability has produced eight governments, with the French Polynesia Assembly electing Temaru to a fourth mandate on Feb. 11.

He called for France providing Tahiti with the necessary tools to prevent political instability, although he was evasive when asked to give some examples. "We'll see during the discussions," he told French language daily newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti.

Temaru summarized Tahiti's political situation by telling the newspaper, "I'm president, but I don't know for how long."

Actually, if he finishes out what's left of the presidential term, he will remain in power until 2013, or four more years of a five-year term. The five years began last year following the general elections for the 57 French Polynesia Assembly seats.

The assembly elected Bora Bora Mayor Gaston Tong Sang president following those elections. He served from last April until earlier this month when his government was toppled by the opposition's motion of no confidence.

But during political negotiations before and after the assembly's adoption of the no confidence motion, one of the main subjects dealt with asking France to help Tahiti create a new electoral law.