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Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-01-13

Socialist presidential hopeful Francois Hollande and President Nicolas Sarkozy will both visit French overseas regions Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana in upcoming weeks, with Hollande kicking off the charm offensive first.

It’s a rite of passage for French presidential candidates, and this year, Socialist hopeful Francois Hollande will be the first to make the trip.

Hollande will leave the grey Parisian winter Saturday for the bluer skies of Caribbean islands Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as French Guiana, as he visits three of France’s overseas regions as part of a tropical campaign swing. President Nicolas Sarkozy will follow one week later.

The inhabitants of the regions - all three former French colonies that officially became departments of France in 1946 – are French citizens with full voting rights and make up roughly half of the estimated 1.6 million voters from France’s 11 overseas departments.

The fact that there are close to 1 million French citizens originally from those overseas departments currently residing in mainland France gives the visits added significance.

Showing overseas regions they are ‘as French as anyone else’

As a challenger to the incumbent, Hollande will be observed with particular interest on his trip. “Hollande’s visit is intended to make him look presidential beyond mainland borders,” explained Isabelle Veyrat-Masson, a political analyst at France’s Laboratory of Communications and Politics. “But he also wants to show that these people who live in places that are part of France, but are a bit exotic to us nevertheless, are just as French as anyone else.”

The visit by Hollande will therefore, according to Veyrat-Masson, likely be more about illustrating the ties that bind residents of these regions to mainland France, rather than emphasising French diversity or multiculturalism – themes often seen as contradicting a French Republican model that stresses social cohesion and integration.

Put simply, Hollande wants “to show the great importance of the overseas regions to France” and “to prove that they are not the forgotten citizens of the Republic”, as the candidate’s spokesman Bruno Le Roux told Agence France Presse.

Given that the overseas territory are generally friendly territory for Socialists, with a majority of voters in Martinique and Guadeloupe backing left-wing candidates, Hollande’s visit indeed mainly has symbolic -- rather than pragmatic -- value.

The candidate will be meeting both with local Socialist officials and voters in Guadeloupe’s biggest city, Pointe-à-Pitre, on Saturday and then in Martinique’s capital, Fort de France, on Sunday. In French Guiana, he is set to hold talks with political and business leaders, as well as representatives from the region’s Amerindian population and other indigenous communities.

Hollande spokesman Le Roux has said that the main theme of Hollande’s visit will be “economic development and dynamism”. Those issues have particular resonance in Martinique and Guadeloupe, where general strikes broke out in 2009 over the cost of living, food and fuel prices, and anger over low salaries.

“Hollande’s visit is a way for him to follow up on what happened in 2009,” Veyrat-Masson explained, “to show that he has not forgotten them, that he is aware of the difficulties in these regions.”

Meanwhile, Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party is not planning on letting Hollande enjoy the sun without sweating a bit; sources from the party told AFP that current Secretary of State for Overseas Territories Marie-Luce Penchard, originally from Guadeloupe herself, has already planned a counter-offensive to offset any benefits Hollande hopes to reap from his visit.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Artefact 40D under the Creative Commons license.

Date created : 2012-01-13


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