When economic downturn reveals economic apartheid in the French colonies

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Obviously, the capitalist rule wants it that when the mother nation is suffering economic downturn its colonies are the first to feel the economic hardship. Besides the simple call for an increase of purchasing power, the unrests of these last few weeks in the French colony of Guadeloupe have revealed the still existing discriminatory system, inherited from the French colonial system. Life in the French West Indies is in general more than twice more expensive than in the hexagon, while salaries are lower. The Guadeloupians have indeed the feeling that their claims for better living standards remain ignored when compared to the claims of the other workers in the mother land. Financial crises have for sure the merit of putting into the spot-light many of the shrilling stories we too often ignore concerning the functioning system of our economy and aforesaid modern societies. Thus, we learn that in 1952 similar unrests in the island were violently hushed down by the French government of the time. In Guadeloupe today, that deadly day is still remembered by many people as the St Valentine’s massacre. More than fifty years later not much

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seems to have changed, hence the present blockade of the island by most Trade Unions. The claims are still the same. Guadeloupians are claiming better living conditions through salary increase; but more importantly, they are claiming for an end to the colonial system still existing in the island and driving many a black youngster to deprivation.

Though, the black community -from Black slave and Indian descents- is the majority in the island, political and economic powers are still detained by a white minority most of whom are the descendants of the former slave owners. In the island of Guadeloupe poverty has for sure been racialised. Two weeks ago, a meeting of the entrepreneurs of the island was displaying the existing racial inequalities. The Whites represented 90% of the attendants in an island where the Black community represents more than 80% of the population. It is therefore clear that the revolt that has been going on for more than a month now is also a revolt against the white landowners and bosses, often known as Bekes, and considered as obvious legacies of slavery. The situation of the Black community in the French island of Guadeloupe is another illustration of the hypocrisy there was in the French Obamania during the American presidential elections. Had Mister Hussein Barak Obama and his wife been born in France, their fate would have for sure been otherwise. There is in the French West Indies in general a society of two speeds that appears to be less and less acceptable by the Black community in this twenty first century and above all after the election of an African American as president of the United States. But for the despising attitude of both Yves Jego -the French overseas Secretary- and the rest of the government the situation could have been handled rapidly and efficiently though. It took more than three weeks for the French government to seriously consider what it first regarded as a short and temporary unrest. Just after having praised the US for the election of the first African American president some few months ago, for many black French citizens, the dream of something similar happening in France is soon challenged by the French reality. The unrests have now spread to other islands such as Martinique and French Guiana; and already claimed the life of a Trade Unionist in Guadeloupe. This shameful reality should normally hush many a French citizen whose first preoccupation consists in criticising other nations on their Human Rights record. For the French intelligentsia, it is indeed difficult, in such circumstances, to give lessons to the Chinese on the way they should deal with the Tibet issue.

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It is however important to remember that when financial crises echoe with calls for racial justice and independence, unless the claims are satisfied, nothing remains but complete chaos.

By Dr. Moustafa Traore

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