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French Guiana negotiations revived after overseas minister apologises

French Overseas Territories Minister Ericka Bareigts (2nd R) speaks to a crowd through a megaphone at the balcony of the prefecture in Cayenne, French Guiana, on March 30, 2017, after a round of negociations with local groups during an ongoing crisis.
French Overseas Territories Minister Ericka Bareigts (2nd R) speaks to a crowd through a megaphone at the balcony of the prefecture in Cayenne, French Guiana, on March 30, 2017, after a round of negociations with local groups during an ongoing crisis. AFP/Jody Amiet

Ericka Bareigts, France’s overseas territories minister, apologised to the people of French Guiana on Friday, allowing stalled strike negotiations to move forward. 

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From the balcony of the prefecture in Cayenne, French Guiana’s capital, with megaphone in hand, Bareigts apologised to the large crowd below. “After so many years, I am the one who has the honour to apologise to the people of French Guiana.”

Her remarks prompted cheering from the protestors, who have demonstrated by the thousands since a general strike over economic insecurity, crime and inequality began on Monday. Many schools, businesses and public offices have closed, roadblocks have been erected, and flights have been halted. The unrest, however, began days before the general strike was declared, and led the United States to issue a travel warning last week.

Moments before, the minister had responded to the 400-page list of grievances brought forth by local politicians, unions and protest organisers at a meeting in the prefecture. “If someone had apologised before, for a multitude of things, maybe we would have advanced in a more peaceful way, and we wouldn’t be in the situation we are now,” she said. “So in the interest of French Guiana, I will do so, because my ego and personal interests are of no importance now.”

Negotiation tensions running high

The French government sent Bareigts and Interior Minister Matthias Fekl to the territory on Wednesday to respond to the strikers’ demands. But negotiations got off to a rocky start, with local groups upset by the ministers’ delayed arrival days after the unrest had begun, and parties unable to agree on how to proceed.

However, Bareigts’s apology has reset the course for the once-tense negotiations, which will now be able to move forward. Bareigts and Fekl will be contact with the ministries in Paris so as to decide how best to meet strikers’ demands, according to French daily Le Monde.

Growing frustrations over economic hardship and crime led more than two dozen unions to organise protests in the South American territory, where unemployment is upwards of 20 percent. According to local officials, some 30 percent of households to not have access to running water or electricity.

The demonstrations have brought to light the ongoing economic, political and social divides between France’s overseas territories and its mainland.
 

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