It is exactly one month since workers in the French overseas department , Guadeloupe, have been on strike, demanding better working conditions and better salary in order to deal with high rise in commodity prices. What began on January 20th escalated on February 17th when Sarkozy decided to send 250 French gendarmes, in order to help quell the strike. Violence flared when union official, Jacques Bino, was shot to death by unidentified armed men at a barricade in Guadeloupe’s largest city, Pointe-a-Pitre.
Authorities tried to put the blame on youth gangs. Few believed it. Jean Noiseau, a resident on the island we spoke by phone yesterday, told us that many residents feel their salaries are not keeping up with the rising cost of living. Six members of the security forces were also reported to be slightly injured during the clashes, which led to the closure of Guadeloupe’s airport on Tuesday.
Calm appeared to be coming back on Friday after Nicolas Sarkozy appealed for an end to violence. The Guadeloupe police headquarters reported no clashes overnight but said groups of young people had erected new roadblocks in some areas. Police on Thursday pulled apart barricades on roads to the main airport, enabling dozens of tourists to depart.
The roadblocks had been put up by strikers protesting high prices and low wages, whose work stoppages have brought commerce and daily life to a near-standstill in recent weeks. The barricades were manned by rioters earlier this week as the strikes degenerated into three nights of violence.
Sarkozy, in a televised appeal on Thursday night, called for an end to the violence while announcing a 580 million euro ($730 million) financial package to help development in France’s overseas regions.
Elie Domota , leader of the Guadeloupe protests, said it was too early to say whether Sarkozy’s announcements were anything more than “attention-getting” measures. Domota said on France-Info radio that he was waiting for mediators who have been working with protesters and employers to explain the government’s proposed measures and what “that will bring about, and only based on that will we give our opinion.”
Behind the glittering façade of Guadeloupe’s white-sand beaches, groves of palm trees and all-inclusive resorts, joblessness and poverty are rampant on this Caribbean island. Strikers in Guadeloupe and also in Martinique have been demanding a euro200 ($250) monthly raise for low-paid workers who now make roughly euro900 ($1,130) a month. The violence is likely to continue because the mistrust is so deep after years of second class citizen treatment the people of these so-called French Overseas departments were being subjected to.