Send your questions to our special correspondents Eve Irvine and Willy Bracciano, who are following the economic and social unrest in the French Caribbean islands.
We often hear the same old tune coming from mainland France: ‘Why don’t you eat local produce?’ Yet, now that the media have taken an interest in this crisis, we find out that local produce is more expensive. What accounts for these differences in prices?
(Question sent by a Web user on Feb. 23)
Willy Bracciano: Local producers’ main justification is the high cost of raw materials. Indeed, in recent years the price of the seeds, fertilisers and fuel required by farmers has risen markedly.
Once you add production costs, the bill gets heftier still. In all French territories, workers are entitled to a gross minimum wage of 1,300 euros.
One mustn’t forget that we’re in an economy of scale. The market is too limited for producers to charge the kind of competitive prices available in supermarket outlets, where stocks are bigger and goods are acquired in bulk at a fraction of the cost.
This situation doesn’t apply solely to the French Caribbean. Think of the hunger riots that swept across Haiti in 2008. The farmers I met back then were complaining about the exact same things: surging production costs and unequal competition from imported goods
Is the problem for the French Caribbean population actually that they want to be a separate state instead of being a French overseas territory?
(Question sent on Feb. 18 by Olivier Brou, Ivory Coast)
Will Bracciano: The current demonstrations are simply about demands for socio-economic change. Guadeloupe and Martinique are feeling the effects of the global economic and food crisis, just like the rest of the world. It is absolutely out of the question that they seek any sort of independence - even if some people are using the need to get out of the crisis as a reason to push for independence.
Is the unrest related to the global economic downturn or bad leadership?
(Question sent on Feb.14 by Meite in Ivory Coast)
Willy Bracciano: The primary cause of the unrest is the economic climate: poor families on the island have seen their buying power deteriorate rapidly since the global crisis started.
The costs of basic goods and of petrol have rocketed. The price of flour rose by 77% in Guadeloupe in 2008, while rice went up by 40% in Martinique and 30% in Guyana.
These are products that are vital for families with low budgets. They have had to fork out 18% more for food products in Guadeloupe and 8% more in Martinique, while the minimum wage has risen by only 3% in comparison.
Meanwhile, many of the supermarket chains have been bloating prices of basic goods to make up for cash shortages, linked to the credit crunch.
The phenomenon is also largely structural. These island economies are entirely dependent on their imports, most of which are food, other basic goods and petrol.
They have almost no local produce and no economy to speak of that could help them to weather this storm. They have literally imported the financial crisis via the supply chain.
Numerous players (suppliers, maritime companies, the State, local authorities, chamber of commerce, retailers etc.) have translated their rising costs to the cost of the product, each adding a layer.
This phenomenon is not new, and stirs up a sort of “anti-colonial” sentiment against those that have been reaping the profits from having a monopoly, while islanders are paying the cost.
What is the real problem regarding basic necessities?
(Question sent on Feb.14 from a viewer in Guyana)
Willy Bracciano: On February 12, and before his return to Paris, France's Overseas Territories Minister Yves Jego presented 39 proposals which he submitted to the union organization umbrella of “February 5”, which is protesting “against the high cost of living and for more jobs”.
Among these proposals is one lowering prices on the first hundred most basic necessities by 20 percent, by the end of February – a proposal the collective seemed to have obtained on February 10, during negotiations in the prefecture.
After Jego’s departure, prefect Ange Mancini was charged with continuing the discussions with the collective so as to sign a protocol agreement.
But until today the discussions have come to nothing on the issue of the one hundred most basic necessities.
The collective demands a reduction in price of 20 percent on families of products. In other words, for example, they want the reduction to apply to all brands of rice, not just one particular brand.
Their argument is that Martiniquais do not eat one brand more than another. They just eat rice. Moreover not all brands are sold in all supermarkets.
They demand therefore that all rice, regardless of the brand, be reduced in price.
Supermarkets are not open to this argument. They want to establish a list of 100 branded products on which the 20 percent reduction would be made.
It is thus on this particular disagreement that the discussions broke off on February 14, in Martinique.
Date created : 2009-02-23