Authorities in the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe have extended a nightly curfew until Sunday as police attempt to restore calm after several nights of protests and violent clashes that were triggered by Covid-19 regulations but are rooted in long-running concerns over the high cost of living, low wages, youth unemployment and mistrust of the Paris government.
Gunfire has targeted police over the past few days, a general strike has entered its second week and many stores remained closed after night-time looting. The curfew requires people to be inside between 6pm and 5am.
In nearby Martinique there were gunshots fired at police for a second night running, French media reported on Wednesday, in a sign that unrest is spreading in the French Caribbean overseas territories.
Roadblocks affected public transport and there were school closures in Martinique. Trade union groups decided to lift their protest barricades but some citizen groups were expected to continue demonstrating on roads.
People in Guadeloupe and Martinique have been angered by a government requirement – also in force in mainland France – for all healthcare workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Compulsory vaccination is a particularly sensitive issue in the two island territories owing to significant mistrust of government science after a long-running health scandal over exposure to toxic pesticides used in banana plantations.
In one of France’s biggest health and safety scandals, the insecticide chordecone was used from 1973 to 1993 on banana plantations in Martinique and Guadeloupe, exposing a significant part of the population to health dangers and related cancers and polluting the soil. The product was banned in the US in 1976 and in France in 1990, but special provisions were made for its continued use in the Caribbean territories until 1993.
In Martinique, protesters demanded not just an end to the mandatory vaccination of health workers but also action to tackle high fuel prices.
The unrest represents a test for the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who has made much of the global footprint given to France by overseas territories that span the Caribbean to the Pacific via the Indian Ocean.
France’s economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, said the Covid health pass was “not negotiable” in the Caribbean territories. The pass, showing a person has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for Covid, is required in cafes, restaurants, libraries and other public buildings.
Opposition politicians from the left to the right have accused the government of being unprepared for the crisis in the Caribbean, which they said should have been prevented.
The far-right leader Marine Le Pen said: “The government always has the same method – let the situation deteriorate, like it did with the gilet jaunes protesters, or over pensions, and wait until the violence that ensues discredit the demands being made.”