A protest group that has led two weeks of general strikes in French Guiana has dismissed France's offer of €1 billion to tackle persistent social problems as “unsatisfactory” and is instead demanding a "new status" for the overseas territory.
Interior Minister Matthias Fekl and France’s minister of overseas departments, Ericka Bareigts, announced a renewed commitment to the overseas territory to the tune of more than €1 billion on Saturday, mainly slated for projects to improve security, the justice system, and education and health programmes.
But the protesters’ collective (Pou La Gwiyann dékolé) dismissed the offer as insufficient to tackle the persistant social problems Guiana is facing. Instead, activists 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".
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".
Speaking on the steps of the regional prefecture in Cayenne, where activists held negotiations with the French ministers, Rimane added: "With another kind of system, we could decide for ourselves what is good for us [rather than] asking for permission for everything" from metropolitan France.
Interior Minister Fekl tried to assuage protester concerns by underscoring 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 [government representative]. There is a need for "immediate solutions, but also long-term work", he said.
Wedged between Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean, the remote French "département" [region] of Guiana, located some 7,000 kilometres from Paris, is a holdover from France’s colonial past. It is the second-largest French administrative area after Nouvelle Aquitaine but it is also one of the poorest: Its per capita income of €15,000 is less than half the average on mainland France.
The dearth of jobs and educational prospects has pushed unemployment to record highs, particularly among young people. And with the territory’s already high crime levels rising further, its disgruntled population is now up in arms. Some 10,000 people marched in the territory’s main cities of Cayenne and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni on Tuesday – the largest protests ever witnessed in this enclave of 250,000 inhabitants.
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.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2017-04-02