Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

France’s Discussion of Autonomy for Guadeloupe and Martinique Is an Imperialist Maneuver

The French government says it’s ready to talk about autonomy for Guadeloupe and Martinique, its Caribbean territories. That’s all about trying to calm the crisis in the West Indies and, at the same time, divide the movement.

Philippe Alcoy

December 4, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share
Photo: Christophe Archambault / Agence France-Presse

On November 26, France’s Minister of the Overseas Sébastien Lecornu surprised everyone by mentioning the government’s readiness to discuss autonomy for Guadeloupe and Martinique, its two “departments” in the Caribbean — both have which have been wracked by a deep social crisis that has gone on for several weeks. The proposal seems to have been just pulled out of a hat. Indeed, the current movement has not once raised autonomy among its demands, despite the objective anti-colonial character of the mobilizations. The minister says the question came up in discussions with local elected officials.

Not unexpectedly, the proposal attracted the wrath of the Right and extreme Right, quick to stir up the fantasy that territories still colonized by France were about to be given their independence. But what is the government after by making such statements?

Very quickly, the minister “smoothed the edges” by clarifying that there had never been a proposal about independence. But clearly one of the government’s objectives is to offer to open a discussion on possible autonomy for these territories as a way of creating the illusion that their populations can make their own decisions on a range of issues — and thus neutralize discontent. The government is holding out the possibility that such autonomy would allow people in Guadeloupe and Martinique, and perhaps even French Guiana, to vote — within specific frameworks, of course — for their own laws and how to apply some measures that are established back in Paris. With respect to what’s going on at the moment, it would mean being able to decide not to comply with the vaccine mandate and passport. Thus, something that might happen sometime in the future is meant to be a “substantive response” to some of the demonstrators, particularly hospital staff, firefighters, and some tourism and catering employers.

The government, though, has an ulterior motive: divide the movement. Autonomy has been raised in the past, and in Guadeloupe it was put to a referendum vote in 2003 and 2010. Both times, it was rejected by voters, many of whom see autonomy not as a step toward independence but as something that would substantially reduce the French government’s investment in the territory’s health, education, and social assistance. In other words, there is no consensus on autonomy within Guadeloupean society, and raising it could produce divisions in the current movement.

Referendums of this sort have only one real objective: reinforce the hold on and “legitimacy” of the French colonialist, imperialist state in its colonized territories.

Despite the fantasies stirred up by the Right and extreme Right, the French government has no intention of putting the question of independence on the table or even of reducing its control over its territories in the West Indies. French imperialism cannot afford to weaken its most important positions in the world. The Antilles–Guiana region serves as one of the most important support points for France’s global military system, with military bases, the presence of a thousand soldiers, and notably the Guiana Space Center in Kourou. It will take more than some highway blockades and demonstrations to make French imperialism abandon such strategic positions.

The current movement’s focus is not on autonomy, and even less so on the independence of these territories. It has been raising social and political issues, beginning with a challenge to mandatory vaccination in the face of irresponsible and authoritarian management of the pandemic that feeds popular distrust of the already widely discredited words out of officials’ mouths. The movement also focuses on the problems of water supply (another key public health issue), unemployment and the precariousness of youth, and the high cost of living. As Elie Domota, spokesperson for Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon (LKP, Stand Up Against Exploitation) — a collective of about 50 trade unions and social movement groups in Guadeloupe — puts it:

The questions of collective agreements that are not enforced, water that never reaches the tap or that is poisoned with chlordecone, 60 percent of youth under age 25 unemployed — how can opening a debate on autonomy today solve these problems? When the time comes, we can talk about anything we want, but right now the crucial issue is the people who have been suspended [from health-related jobs] — there are now nearly 3,000 of them, on an island with 380,000 inhabitants — and the 250 private practices that have been closed. That is causing a public health problem. It is what needs to be addressed.

Again, the government’s proposal is above all a political maneuver — but a risky one at that. The question of the sovereignty of the region, in the face of colonial domination and despite any special statutes, is quite delicate. It could indeed revive national sentiment in these territories, in a context where in New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific, such sentiment is agitating political and social life among the indigenous Kanak people. But it is not a simple matter for the workers and impoverished in the West Indies. French imperialism has made sure these territories are deeply dependent economically on France. Their economies are geared toward satisfying the interests of French capitalists and their allies among the “békés,” the local white bourgeoisie descended from the early French settlers.

The economist Jean-Marie Nol writes:

Yes, the notion of independence does live deep down in the minds of trade union leaders, but as elected officials see it, we must not make a mistake with the timetable and skip any steps, because otherwise Guadeloupe and Martinique will be ungovernable — like Haiti or even worse. Indeed, the Haitian situation, for which the imperialist and colonialist powers are the main culprits, has historically been used as a straw man against any desire for independence in these colonized territories.

The right to self-determination of France’s last colonies will never be guaranteed by French imperialism. This fundamental right of the West Indian and Guyanese peoples can only be truly guaranteed by challenging the entire colonial and imperialist structure of dependence. To put it clearly, it is a matter of expropriating French imperialism and the béké bourgeoisie. That can come about only through a class-based revolutionary alliance among all the region’s colonized workers, as well as with the exploited and oppressed in France itself, with the objective of establishing a federation of socialist states in the Caribbean.

First published in French on December 3 in Révolution Permanente.

Translation by Scott Cooper

Facebook Twitter Share

Philippe Alcoy

Philippe is an editor of Révolution Permanente, our sister site in France.

Twitter

INTERNATIONAL

Matteo Salvini, Silvio Berlusconi and Giorgia Meloni at the centre-right coalition's closing rally in Italy.

Right-Wing Coalition Wins Italian Elections amid Record-Low Turnout

Amid record-low turnout, Italy’s right-wing coalition won in the country’s snap election this weekend. Ultra-right-wing politician Giorgia Meloni is now set to be the new prime minister. But forming a stable government that lasts five years will be difficult.

Giacomo Turci

September 27, 2022
A postal workers' strike outside Mount Pleasant Royal Mail sorting office in London on August 26, 2022

Britain in Strike Fever after Queen’s State Funeral

After the state funeral of Elizabeth II in the United Kingdom, several sectors are preparing to strike on October 1. The coming workers’ struggles and the fight against the anti-union laws will be a key moment of class struggle in Britain.

Dan Kedem

September 27, 2022
Iranian women and some men protest while holding images of a woman who was killed in police custody.

Support the Protests in Iran by Opposing Sanctions

Feminists in Iran are waging a powerful struggle against the Iranian regime. Leftists in the U.S. can support the protests by opposing sanctions, which disproportionately harm Iranian women and workers.

Sam Carliner

September 26, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via video link at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia September 23, 2022.

With Mobilization of Reservists and Nuclear Threats, Putin Prepares for Prolonged War

Russian President Putin announced the mobilization of 300,000 reservists and raised the threat of nuclear war. The move exposes the political interests behind the war in Ukraine and their geopolitical prospects.

Claudia Cinatti

September 26, 2022

MOST RECENT

All That's Left, the podcast from Left Voice.

#AllThatsLeftPod: Elections in Brazil

In this episode of the podcast, we talk about the upcoming general elections in Brazil, including Bolsonaro’s legacy, what a Lula presidency would look like, and what the tasks are for the Left going forward.

Left Voice

September 27, 2022
Russian protester being arrested by Russian police.

Mass Arrests in Russia during Nationwide Anti-War Mobilizations

Nationwide protests were called in Russia on Saturday against the war and against Putin’s recent announcement to mobilize reservists. Demonstrators were met with mass arrests.

Woman holds a yellow sign that says "Nueva constitucion" in black text and another person is holding a yellow sign behind her that reads "No violencia clasista"

‘Boric Has Strengthened the Right-Wing Opposition’: Interview with a Chilean Socialist

In Chile, the illusion of winning the battle against neoliberalism in parliament has been shattered. We interviewed Chilean socialist Dauno Totoro about the recent rejection of a proposed constitution and the need to fight for a revolutionary, internationalist, and socialist Left.

Left Voice

September 25, 2022
Italian far-right leader Giorgia Meloni gives a speech, an Italian flag covers the podium

Elections in Italy amid Political Crisis: Interview with an Italian Socialist

The right wing is expected to win in Italy’s snap elections on Sunday. An Italian socialist explains the origins of the current political crisis, the rise of the right wing, and the tasks for the Left.

Left Voice

September 21, 2022