Sunday, March 7, 2021

French Guiana faces shutdown call after protests


tiamin rice

Members of the 500 brothers collective protest in front of the Prefecture on April 7, 2017, in Cayenne, French Guiana, as they call for the prefect to meet with a delegation from the collective. The prefect refused the meeting leading to clashes with security forces who fired tear gas. Workers have launched protests and strikes demanding pay raises and improved public safety, creating a fresh crisis in the last few weeks of outgoing French President Francois Hollande’s unpopular term in office. jody amiet / AFP

The movement behind more than two weeks of social unrest in French Guiana has called for a complete shutdown of the overseas territory from Monday, after a police officer was injured.

Activists are protesting decades of under-investment in the French territory in South America, paralysed by a general strike which 37 unions called on March 25. Locals last week rejected an offer from Paris to inject a billion dollars of aid to the territory, home to 250,000 people, demanding $2.5 billion immediately.

The protests also led to the indefinite postponement of an Arianespace rocket launch at Europe’s Guiana Space Centre in Kourou.

A “Collective to Get Guiana Moving,” spearheading protests to improve economic development and job creation programmes, on Saturday called for a complete blockade from Monday of the territory, which relies on huge injections of public funds.

Friday saw demonstrations in which one police officer was injured. One member of the collective told local radio that nobody would be able to pass the blockade after midnight on Sunday “even on foot.”

But the collective’s call to ramp up protest has sown some division, spawning an anti-blockade Facebook group and a 1,000-signature online petition to that effect.

An ongoing blockade of the port in the capital Cayenne has seen the flow of fresh produce slow to a dribble in the territory bordering Surinam and northern Brazil on the northeast coast of South America, some 7,000 kilometres (4,400 miles) from Paris.

Last Tuesday’s protest in Kourou escalated the tension, police using teargas as locals pressed demands for a “Marshall Plan” of French aid, along the lines of the huge US economic support given to help western Europe to recover after World War II.

The Kourou space centre has become a symbol of economic disparity in Guiana and a focus for anger, given many locals have no electricity or running water and around one in four is jobless.

Guiana has been administered as a French region since the end of the 18th century and was also used as a place to send convicts for forced labour between 1852 and 1946.

The police officer injured Friday received a delegation from the “500 brothers against delinquency” group whose hooded members have been at the heart of the protests.

“The values we share are much more important than our differences,” the injured officer said, stressing his “respect” for the group, whose spokesman insisted that “the forces of law and order are not our enemies”.

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