Violent protests against the vaccine rocked France’s overseas department of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean last week, fueled by long-standing social and economic frustration over inequality with the mainland and seething anger over the French government’s ignorance.
Guadeloupe, an archipelago of islands, is one of several French overseas territories that have been hit hard by the pandemic in the past few months and where the French vaccination campaign has generated the most suspicion and opposition.
The combination of old grudges and new mistrust of the Covid-19 rules has made the riots particularly volatile.
Demonstrations that began peacefully from roadblocks and pickets in front of the main hospital in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe’s largest city, became increasingly violent over the weekend as protesters burned cars, looted businesses and clashed with riot police. tear gas.
More than 30 people were arrested on charges of violence or looting, and local authorities imposed a curfew at night. The central government also announced over the weekend that it is sending over 200 police reinforcements.
Roads and schools were closed on Monday with the remains of charred vehicles as French President Emmanuel Macron called for calm and order.
“Our priority is to continue to convince that vaccination is the best protection,” Mr. Macron told reporters during a visit to Amiens, his hometown in northern France. “And give in nothing to the lies, misinformation and manipulation of some of these situations.”
“There is a very explosive situation with a very local context, with historical tensions that we know about,” admitted Mr. Macron, accusing some government critics of “using this context and these fears” to exacerbate the situation. …
According to official statistics, over 40 percent of Guadeloupe’s adult population is fully vaccinated, but this figure is almost 90 percent for all of France, including the overseas regions.
The riots began last week with a strike by local unions against the introduction of a vaccine for healthcare workers in France. These unions say it was imposed by the central government without much consultation, and are particularly outraged that unvaccinated health workers are being suspended from work without pay.
“This is an unheard-of level of violence against them and their families,” said Jean-Marie Nerdtin, general secretary of the General Confederation of Labor of Guadeloupe, one of the protesting trade unions, last week.
Protesters also rejected a French medical passport, which is required to access restaurants, museums and other public places and can only be obtained through full vaccinations, confirmation of recovery from Covid, or a recent negative test, which now has to be paid for. pocket for those who are not vaccinated and do not have a prescription.
As with other overseas departments such as Reunion or French Guiana, which are legacies of the French colonial empire, Guadeloupe has long been considered underrated by politicians in Paris due to years of anger over stagnant unemployment, high cost of living, and dysfunctional utilities that fueled protests. in Paris. past.
Public health suspicion is particularly high in the French Caribbean, where the government has authorized the use of a highly toxic pesticide called Chlordecone on banana plantations for decades, despite repeated health warnings.
“People are afraid, they don’t trust them,” Mayor of Pointe-à-Pitre Harry Durimel told Franceinfo on Monday, adding that locals are “ready for a confrontation” over vaccination regulations if they feel pressured “to introduce the product into their body. “
On the neighboring island of Martinique, unions on Monday called for a general strike over similar concerns.