In response to COVID-19 vaccine orders, civil unrest has erupted on the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, fueled by mistrust of the French government.
Martinique was shut down early Thursday after demonstrators set fire to barricades, plundered stores, and attacked police. It’s part of a pattern that started after a week of protests in Guadeloupe, which included homemade bombs and burnt automobiles. There have been no recorded casualties.
In Guadeloupe, some 90 people have been arrested as a result of the protests. Earlier last week, France sent scores of special soldiers to the island. In response to the pandemonium that resulted from a strike the week before, authorities imposed a curfew.
The French government has made vaccination mandatory for healthcare personnel, and public venues, such as restaurants, cafes, and libraries, require a health permit, or vaccine passport, to gain admission.
On the French Caribbean islands, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters that “the health pass is not negotiable” and that “we are not going to negotiate the French health security.”
The ministry was obliged to alter its stance by last Friday evening. The ministry announced in a statement that it will push back the deadline for finalizing the vaccine mandate from Nov. 29 to Dec. 31.
Those who refused the vaccine were similarly put on unpaid leave, but they will now have additional time to “talk” with their bosses while still being paid.
In response to an increase in instances in France, French President Emmanuel Macron strengthened COVID-19 regulations on Thursday. Earlier this week, Macron described the situation on the islands as “explosive,” but said the government will “not give in to lies, misinformation, and the exploitation of this situation by some people.”
Vaccine apprehension among Martiniquans and Guadeloupeans is rooted in trauma and a long-standing suspicion of the French authority that dates back to slavery.
Guadeloupe’s MP, Olivier Serva, did not mince words when describing the situation on the island as “quasi-insurrectional.” He feels the opposition is a sign of the legacy of “colonial enslavement” and an attempt to “weaken governmental power.”
The soil and water on the islands have been poisoned by a cancer-causing pesticide that the French continued to use despite knowing about its harmful effects.
For decades, chlordecone, sometimes known as Kepone, was sprayed on the islands’ banana harvests. After hundreds of workers at a Virginia manufacturing got nervous tremors, slurred speech, short-term memory loss, and poor sperm counts, it was prohibited in the United States in 1975. It was not formally prohibited on the French islands until 1993, three years after it was prohibited on the mainland.
According to research, 95% of Guadeloupe inhabitants and 92 percent of Martinique residents are affected by the chemical. According to reports, Guadeloupe, a country with a population of about 395,000 people, has the world’s highest prostate cancer rate.
The turmoil comes as New Caledonia, France’s Pacific island, prepares to hold an independence referendum on Dec. 12.
While France has postponed the complete implementation of the vaccine mandate, the island’s leaders have stated that they intend to continue their demonstrations.
The protest has turned into a wider confrontation, according to Maité Hubert M’Toumo, secretary general of the island’s largest union, the UGTG. “They express the depth of people’s suffering, injustice, poverty, and marginalization, particularly among the young and elderly.”