by Ramin Mazaheri
Is the European Union about to lose its modern-day colony in South America?
Your eyes should be turned towards tiny French Guiana because it is currently the global epicenter of anti-imperialism amid a 3-week General Strike.
It just got even more serious: A “total blockade” until a “new order” has just been announced to start on April 9th.
Yes, French Guiana is part of the EU, the Eurozone and France. It’s one of a half-dozen modern-day colonies of France, none of which are legitimate and all of which are rife with inequality and French-led hypocrisy, but none more so than French Guiana. It is the most violent “Overseas Département” of France and the poorest behind Mayotte, located in the Indian Ocean.
These are the largest-ever protests against French mismanagement in French Guyana, and they are demanding an end to their current colonial status and want much more local autonomy.
There have been unified strikes, blockades and peaceful protests, as well as the appearance of a respected “peoples’ militia”. France has been forced to make a historic “apology” for “a multitude of things”. They have had enough unity and good sense to reject a bribe of 1 billion euros and are holding out for 3 billion euros, and this investment fund is payable immediately.”
Demands for “investment” – this rings clear for those of us in France. In 2012 Hollande won 70% of the vote in French Guiana, but his broken promises to end austerity and to fund investment are a major reason for the current uprising.
This is why what is happening in this tiny region of “France” has meaning to all of France and Europe: this is another rejection of economic austerity and the deceptions of mainstream political parties.
It’s the same as the conflict between EU members and Brussels: When you have mismanagement and corruption led from a distant power center, eventually the locals demand control back. In this case, the corrupt mismanagement is located in Paris.
And because French Guiana has been successful, so far, this movement should be watched closely and supported by anti-imperialists around the world.
They will always tell you ‘it can’t happen’, but it can
I cannot hyperlink all the instances over the last three weeks where mainstream Western media has printed “the strikes are over,” “an agreement has been made”, “the strikes are called off”.
We must remember that it is much more important for the mainstream media to strangle any anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist uprising in the cradle, rather than to be accurate or honest.
Well, it is not over, even if Reuters, Stratfor and the other “house slaves” of the mainstream media want it to be! I will not be expecting the publication of dozens of retractions…
The protests began on March 20th, with a nationwide protest on the 28th attracting nearly 12,000 people. In a country of 250,000 people this is the equivalent of over 3 million people marching in mainland France – in this century that has only occurred for the disgusting “Je Suis Charlie” march.
All 37 trade unions in the Union of Guianese Workers joined. The movement crosses racial boundaries and economic class boundaries – to a certain point – because absolutely everyone in the region suffers from the lack of development and vast insecurities resulting from the decades of the horrific, neo-imperial mismanagement orchestrated by Paris. Even CEOs suffer when hospitals are “third-world”, after all.
Do not be lulled into happy complacency: the French appear to be preparing mainland-style repression of anti-government protesters.
Are the Guyanese asking for independence?
Not yet, but things change. Certainly, if Paris does not change their ways, accept demands and abandon their usual brutal repression, then that issue could come back on the table, according to French Guyanese I spoke with.
There was a referendum in 2010 in which Guyanese rejected independence by a vote of 70%-30%. It’s important to note that this does not mean there is not majority support for the new push for autonomy, and maybe even for independence. Certainly, a lot has changed in French politics since 2010, namely austerity, which was instituted in the fall of 2011.
They have plenty of reasons for demanding sovereignty.
Don’t be fooled by econometrics or France’s 18th century slogans
French Guiana is the “most prosperous territory in South America” – if you are silly enough to use GDP per capita as the barometer.
Some 12% of the region’s inhabitants are White French. I would assume that none are living like Amerindians in the nation’s wooded interior.
There was a demonstration of Guyanese in Paris on May 8 which I covered for Press TV – it was highly spirited but barely covered by French journalists – and demonstrators confirmed that the majority of people in high places are White. So there should be very little doubt that this 12% White minority necessarily distorts a simplistic metric like GDP per capita.
GDP per capita incorrectly assumes that wealth is distributed equally; it is favored by capitalists who are obsessed with GDP growth, and who also know that those at the top always benefit from economic growth even though there is no guarantee that the mass majority will benefit.
It is through useless, broad, vague and deceptive statistics such as these which lets capitalists call places like Guiana, or Indonesia, or other 3rd world countries “successes”.
However, the demonstrators in Paris on April 8th – around 300 people, perhaps a dozen Whites, no French unions in attendance – sure didn’t describe Guyana as a rich territory.
“The Guyanese are not asking for a pool in every house – we asking for running water and electricity in our houses,” said Hendy Chocho, speaking with me on behalf of the Collective of Guyanese in the Ile-de-France Region. “We are asking for things which are simple, noble and dignified which every region of mainland France already has. Every other overseas region of France deserves this, which is only the minimum, after all.”
But even if we fantasize that GDP per capita is equally distributed in French Guiana, it is still just 49% of that of mainland France.
That seems about right: For centuries the French have believed that non-Whites are worth about half as much as a White Frenchman.
But, in 2017, if France is a country of “liberty, equality and fraternity”, how can tiny French Guiana be treated so poorly?
There obviously is no satisfactory answer to this charge of hypocrisy, and that is why we have this uprising.
I reprint this quote from Mr. Chocho which I used in my Press TV report, because it is just too accurate: “We want to live with the liberty to demand our political and social rights, we want equality with other regions, and we want fraternity with the government, but only if they will consider us like brothers, and not as dogs or slaves,” said Mr. Chocho.
French Guiana, with just 250,000 people, classifies as France’s 42nd-largest urban area, after mighty Besançon. I’m certain that if you are not French you have no idea where that is, LOL! Even if you are French I wonder if you can place it on a map!
The point is: it is unthinkable that Paris would allow a White-majority region of mainland France to have a GDP per capita which is half of the national average. The closest is the extremely rural Limousin, the country’s least populated region, which is at 76% of the national average.
The simple fact is that there is no excuse for such a disparity in 2017; such a disparity proves that French colonialism is alive and well, and the current resistance shows the need to throw it off for the benefit of the colonized.
The double colonization of French Guiana: First France, now the EU!
What are the resources French Guiana has?
First, let’s not make a common mistake: ignoring the imports. Colonial England prohibited Barbados, Jamaica or Monserrat to manufacture even a needle or a horseshoe. Not only did this retard the development of local industry – eliminating competition – but it forced the colonized to buy English: Imports enrich the colonizers as much and often even more than exports.
Historically, French Guiana has imported around 5 times more products from France than they have exported to France. This is hardly beneficial to French Guiana, as it leads to debt and the perpetuation of their dependent status. More than 60% of their imports today are from France, and by prioritizing France instead of trading with their neighbors the growth of the entire region has been retarded.
This colonial format has been applied around the globe.
But it is even more terrible now that French Guiana is part of the EU!
Goods from nearby South American nations are blocked out by EU tariffs. Therefore, the Guyanese have to favor goods from the Netherlands and Germany instead of Venezuela and Brazil despite the obvious higher shipping costs (this is a 2nd retarding of regional growth).
This is obviously a terrible arrangement. The mainstream media outlet and government apologist France 24 is satisfied to call this “one of the great paradoxes” of France’s neo-colony.
It is not a paradox at all! It is extremely good sense…if one is forced to apply the heartless logic of European capitalism. It’s that only when it comes to following the rules of capitalism, only then is French Guiana the same as Besançon or Limousin – and the dissatisfaction is the same across all 3.
Food prices are up 45%, and local agriculture has always been stifled due to the capitalist-mandated growth of cash crops (in this case sugar and bananas) instead of focusing on subsistence farming to feed the locals cheaply.
Housing costs are higher as well because all materials need to come from the EU.
The land is all owned by France, of course.
This largely why there is currently revolt in French Guiana: the cause is capitalist neo-colonialism, and the effects are predictable and shared by the 99% across the EU and France’s overseas colonies.
It goes without saying that such imperialism is absent in the true fraternity of communism, which seeks the mutually-beneficial cooperation that France has never truly extended to the Guyanese in the past and up until the typing of these very words.
Not just the EU is to blame – France has led corruption for decades
When it comes to exports what the newspapers won’t say is “gold”.
Gold is nearly 20% of all exports, and that’s just the “official” figure. A huge problem in French Guiana is illegal gold mining, mainly due to France’s refusal to control French Guiana’s borders. These cross-border invasions are a major cause of violence and another major reason for the unrest.
But the media prefers to focus on the space shuttle industry in Kourou, which accounts for around 15% of the economy and 60% of the world’s commercial satellite launches (the equator location gives rockets a 19% boost). For this reason losing French Guyana would be “devastating” to France, but the French say that about all their neo-imperial relationships….
Focusing on Kourou gives the impression of the superior French bringing their superior technology to the Guyanese masses. Fine, tiny Guiana would not be launching spaceships if not for France. I don’t see how this is a cause for embarrassment, and I’m sure they would prefer to have potable water.
Because they don’t – apparently the far-more intelligent French have not figured out (or cared to figure out) how to get drinking water to 30% of the population, and the same goes for electricity. Many cultures assume intelligence and morality go hand in hand, but some would rather put rockets on the moon than help their fellow man…or at least not exploit them
What’s more, 1/3rd of the communes are not connected by roads, health care is 3rd-world standard, unemployment is 22%, youth unemployment is over 40%, the average class size is 35 students, there is a major shortage of nursery, middle, high and university schools, the murder rate is the highest of any French region, etc.
“The difference between French Guyana and mainland France is almost too incredible to believe! We lack schools, doctors, hospitals, and even basic security,” confirmed Mr. Chocho.
La belle France!
A key fact among all those problems was the youth unemployment rate of 40%, because 45% of the region is under the age of 20. It appears that half the population has nothing to lose, and thus you get revolt.
Again, French Guiana is the European Union writ small – austerity has aggravated unemployment and caused widespread dissension across the bloc.
But all of these are long-term problems which were perpetuated by France, something said Mr. Chocho stressed to me that he felt was “voluntary”. I certainly can’t believe such endless mismanagement was “accidental”.
Let’s forget all about history: The hypocrisy of France in 2017 is that French Guiana is treated as being “French”. It is not.
A big difference between French Guyana and mainland France is that all these unemployed youth have been forced to fight for their own security. I’m sure the price they have paid has been immense, but it is now paying dividends. Mainland France, however, remains in a hyper-vigilant state of emergency.
Demonstrators in masks: Western Media don’t like, but Guyanese sure do
As mentioned earlier, French Guiana is the most murderous and dangerous region of France. The borders are porous and nearby nations suffer from major gun ownership.
The refusal of France to protect its own citizens on par with those of mainland France created the rise of a people’s militia called, “The 500 Brothers Against Delinquency”.
They have led the demonstration and their militancy has kept it on track.
This citizen’s brigade was completely supported by the protesters in Paris: I spoke with a White protester in Paris – a Christian pastor named Dominique Roullinger – and he said the 500 Brothers were absolutely necessary. I think that about says it all about the group’s legitimacy….
If a government cannot even provide physical security for its citizens, it has failed on seemingly the very first imperative of government…at least to the Asian point of view. The Western Hemisphere appears to have very different cultural standards about what constitutes “safety” and “justice”. There is obviously much to admire in Cuba, seemingly the only safe country in the Western Hemisphere, where tourists and locals are in safety 24 hours a day.
I am unsurprised that Guyanese desire what Cubans already enjoy.
The primary concerns of Guyanese were also, as you may remember, health care, education and basic services. These 3 things are precisely the 3 main concentrations of Cuba’s state-led economy, and they are able to deliver, and they are even able to deliver despite an international blockade which is called “the longest running genocide in history”. France has no such excuse – the reason must be mismanagement, racism and heartless capitalism.
In every revolution if you do not have the military on your side then you must have a hell of a militia. The 500 Brothers spokesperson, Mikael Mancée, says leftist things like “this fight is for everybody” and “I desire to see the Guyanese people united, determined and ready to make sure that we can live well here.”
Again, what is happening in French Guyana is vitally important and au courant: “We must call out to Europe,” said Mancée, according to France-Guyane, the top newspaper in French Guyana. “We are in Europe, because we are in France. Europe is affected by our situation.”
What’s unfortunate is that even if French Guiana doesn’t have the army, they did seem to have a reasonable police force…until now.
The coming police repression ordered by Paris
In France, simply type my name and “police brutality” and you should get scores and scores of reports from this decade about the shameful problem of France’s problems regarding violence against pro-democracy protesters, Muslims and prisoners. There were 2,000+ arrests of anti-government demonstrators in France last year, and I have been tear-gassed too many times to count while covering demonstrations ranging from anti-austerity to Palestine to police brutality. When the Guyanese speakers at the rally were condemning the recent use of tear gas in French Guiana, I joked to my cameraman colleague that they seemed to forget that they were protesting in France!
Such non-violence was apparently unacceptable, and the French Guyanese police force has gotten their wake-up call: The police chief has just been fired.
The Guyanese protesters in Paris told me they were surprised because relations had been “good enough”. After all, the police chief was dealing with demonstrations of historic proportions and yet violence had been almost totally avoided – that’s a pretty good barometer of success. Hell, that’s what the damned police are supposed to do – protect citizens, protect our rights, not start violence and not react to violence with more violence! C’est la France….
The official reason: Failure to comply with basic requests…whatever that means. Regardless, that same night cops launched tear gas against protesters for only the 2nd time, as local officials cancelled a planned meeting with protest leaders.
So the government’s new approach is clear…thankfully, it failed: protesters refused to yield and camped overnight. They are hunkering down for the long-haul, and it is very inspiring.
What do the protesters want?
The English-language media – which could not care less about the people of French Guyana, seeing them only as wasters/producers of their money – made it seem that by rejecting the 1 billion euro payoff and demanding 3 billion euros that it was a sort of shakedown.
“The people of Guiana are asking for a new investment fund which will simply permit us to catch up with the rest of France, because we have been left behind for decades, and many would say “intentionally” left behind,” said Mr. Chocho during our interview.
Indeed, but there 4 other key facts here:
While the French state made some 30 agreements, there were 428 demands which all deserve to be addressed. Second, the offer was to spread this money out over 5-10 years, but French Guiana is in a state of crisis now, and that money is simply to stabilize the situation. Thirdly, much of the money is reportedly earmarked for police and security. Lastly, this money is demanded immediately because there will be a new administration in 4 weeks.
This new administration will be either a pro-austerity one (Emmanuel Macron or Francois Fillon) or a largely “anti-non-white” one (Marine Le Pen). If a miracle occurs and the Socialist candidate wins: well, they have just spent 5 years reneging on promises. Why should the Guyanese believe that any of these 4 will keep promises made by the dying Hollande administration?
The far-left’s (actual left) Jean-Luc Melenchon openly expressed support for the protests in French Guiana during the 2nd and last presidential debate last week, as did the two far-left (actual far-left) candidates, Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou.
I asked protesters in Paris about this demand for immediate reparations/investment and they stopped me short: They said that revolutions don’t run according to any political calendar. Indeed (but too bad we cannot organize them more effectively!).
They said that nobody could have predicted such an uprising just one month ago, and that they aren’t going to be controlled by France’s election schedule because the situation in French Guiana is simply too intolerable and has been that way for too long.
I, for one, hope that French Guiana gets this money and then demands even more. Such reneging on a colonial agreement – by the colonized – would turn history on its head, and thus be justice.
What can we learn from this for the international struggle?
What is consistently amazing is the speed with which general strikes get their way. There is no greater weapon of the people! Not of the “workers”, but of the people!
Any union or group which opposes a general strike should be prepared to explain how they are not being counter-revolutionary.
In less than 2 weeks the economy was ground to a halt and the strikers won major concessions: France was forced to apologize, even if it was laughably vague; they were forced to make a reparations offer, even if it was insufficient.
In just 2 weeks! History shows it rarely takes much more than 10 days to change the world IF there is unity for a General Strike!
How did the strikes against France’s Macron Law/right-wing labor code roll back lose last year?
Divide and conquer. The state bought off certain sectors of strikers, giving in to their demands. The state gives up just a bit, the strike gets weakened, people say to themselves, “oh, they don’t really have solidarity with us” and it’s all over.
Some farmers have already left the movement in French Guyana (5 million in investment, some state lands given back), and there must be a special place in hell for sellouts and scabs.
The Guyanese do have a “superb hostage” in the Kourou space center. France’s rocket has been stuck in hangar since the unrest and it was even the site of the 2nd-largest protest.
But truly, every colony has such an economic hostage. This is imperialism: they are there for big business, so protesters must target such imperialist enterprises and not simply march around a city square in funny hats.
Why do France’s troops in Mali focus on the uranium mines of French power giant Areva?
Why do France’s troops in the CAR focus on the airport, the center of transport, instead of not sexually molesting children in refugee camps?
The reasons are obvious – they are protecting the cash flow of imperialism, and these must be the main targets for activism, as the French Guyanese know.
The slogan of French Guiana’s uprising: Pou Lagwiyann dekolé – “Let Guyana take flight”. This is a good anti-imperialist slogan even for those peoples who aren’t helping to launch rockets.
Another one is: “This is not an exercise”. I must admit, during the Hollande administration only the Macron Law protests did not give the feeling that “perhaps this strike/demonstration/protest is just for show”. This is another fine slogan to motivate the Guyanese and others.
A third popular slogan is completely French: “We are fed up”.
Is it because they are part of the EU? Is it because they are part of the austerity-plagued Eurozone? Is it because they have been colonized by France? Is it because they are Colored people in France and thus subject to institutional racism?
It is all of these things, and around the world nearly everyone has similar problems with their 1% – France is not so different, they are just much more capitalist.
Mr. Chocho summed up the inability to predict the future of French Guiana’s uprising: “We simply live each day, and we are obliged to live each day as if it is our last or if it is our first.”
What French Guiana has is solidarity in thought, word and deed – that makes them an example to follow for the entire world in 2017, especially Europeans.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.