LES ABYMES, Guadeloupe – While vaccination has been widely available to the general public since January 2021, in August, COVID-19 mortality increased by 227% in Guadeloupe and 175% in Martinique.
And these official numbers do not paint the whole picture. Almost two years after the beginning of the pandemic, it remains difficult to know the number of COVID-19 deaths that have notably occurred outside hospitals in these Caribbean islands which have 40% and 41% vaccination rates.
Amid the COVID-19 vaccination, an insurrection has sparked in the French West Indies.
Marie and her parents decided not to get vaccinated, and choose instead to limit social interactions as much as possible to avoid any risk of contamination. Marie — which is not her real name — agreed to tell her story on condition of anonymity to protect her privacy.
“They didn’t go out or see anyone. I took a lot of precautions, we spoke on the phone but we hardly saw each other and when we did, we kept our distance,” says the 50-year-old Guadeloupean.
Last September, Marie lost her mother and father in a matter of days. The two octogenarians contracted the virus in August, during the peak of the epidemic in Guadeloupe. Hospitals were overwhelmed with patients, and doctors reported they were forced to do medical triage to give younger patients priority over older patients. They were not admitted to hospital. While they had negative PCR tests, they were treated at home by their daughters, but their health condition continued to gradually deteriorate. Then her mother was hospitalized for a day but was sent back home.
“They said there was nothing more they could do to save her and that we had a choice between leaving her in the hospital or letting her live out her final hours surrounded by her loved ones at home. We took her back, but you can imagine what we went through,” she said.
Marie’s father passed away a few days later.
More than a month after having to bury her parents, Marie confides that the pain remains.
“I still can’t believe they are gone. You can imagine when you lose one parent, but then both at the same time…,” she shared.
Located in the Lesser Antilles, Guadeloupe and Martinique are legally part of France. Guadeloupe is a French overseas department — the administrative division France uses for its territory — and is governed in the same way as the rest of the 101 departments of the European country, and are subject to European law. Guadeloupe went from being a former French colony to becoming part of France in the late nineteenth century while Martinique still holds a territorial status which gives it more autonomy from France.
Since July 2021, while doses of vaccine are available and accessible to the general public as in continental France, both territories have experienced their greatest COVID-19 epidemic wave. The population of Guadeloupe is estimated at 375,693 and that of Martinique, at 354,824, and in a matter of a few weeks, both territories have recorded several hundred deaths.
Faced with a surge of deaths since July 2021, hospital morgues and funeral services in the French West Indies were quickly overcrowded. In Guadeloupe, the municipalities were faced with a logistical problem in the cemeteries for the organization of burials, sometimes of numerous persons within the same family. With the gradual end of the fourth COVID-19 wave in October, the tension diminished at the municipal services of the archipelago, said Jocelyn Sapotille, president of the Association of Mayors of Guadeloupe. According to Sapotille, between the deaths related to COVID-19 recorded in hospitals and other deaths, more than 700 Guadeloupeans have died in a matter of months.
“It is terrible. We have never seen this. It is as if two jumbo jets had fallen,” he said.
In the West Indies, where the culture remains marked by orality, the tradition is to announce funeral notices on the radio every day. In August, with the surge in deaths, this daily exercise proved to be a real challenge for the hosts. They were confronted with more than a hundred notices compared to the twenty or so that they usually have to read.
Thus, at RCI (Radio Caraïbes International), the leading radio media in the French West Indies in terms of audience, they recorded 3,911 funeral notices between January 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021, more than the whole years of 2018 and 2019 when 3,454 obituaries and 3,698 where registered respectively. That number is close to the full first year of the pandemic, 2020, when there were no vaccines and they had 4,069 obituaries. Thus, 2021 is on track to break the record for the highest number of funeral announcements broadcast by radio.
This excess of mortality is a concern in both territories. A large-scale vaccination campaign against COVID-19 began on January 7, 2021 in Martinique and on January 8, 2021 in Guadeloupe. However, although both regions have a large stock of vaccines, accessible to the greatest number of people, the number of vaccinated persons is struggling to increase. This situation is partly linked to a strong distrust of the population towards public authorities in terms of health because of a past environmental and health scandal of chlordecone pollution in the French West Indies and the rise of a new form of nationalism.
On August 12, 2021, according to Santé Publique France, the national public health agency, the incidence rate was 2,035.4 positive cases of coronavirus per 100,000 inhabitants in Guadeloupe. A level never reached since the beginning of the pandemic in France. In Martinique, at the same period, the incidence rate was 1,178 COVID-19 positive cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
On December 04, 2021, the Covid Urgence Outremer Steering Committee made up of 22 scientists, hospital, hospital-university and private practitioners published a study on the effects of vaccination in terms of hospitalization and death related to COVID-19 in Guadeloupe and Martinique. 73,401 vaccinated persons domiciled in Guadeloupe and 68,135 in Martinique, were thus followed from January 1 to August 31, 2021. A sample compared to the same number of unvaccinated people, of the same age, same sex and with a similar comorbidity profile.
According to them, 850 deaths could have been avoided during the 4th epidemic wave in the West Indies by vaccination: 339 deaths in Guadeloupe and 511 deaths in Martinique.
Excess mortality linked to this epidemic wave is reflected in the data collected by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE for its French acronym), which has been responsible for the production, analysis and publication of official statistics in France since 1946.
In 2020, Guadeloupe experienced an 8% increase in mortality compared to 2019, with a sharp 24% increase in deaths by the end of the year. In Martinique, the mortality officially recorded over the year 2020 was equivalent to that of 2019.
In 2021, from June 1 to September 20th, the increase in general mortality was much higher: 78% in Guadeloupe and 69% in Martinique, also compared to 2019, the reference year before the appearance of COVID-19. In Guadeloupe, from all causes combined, 983 deaths were counted in August 2021. In Martinique, 863 deaths were recorded over the same period, compared to less than 300 deaths in Guadeloupe and in Martinique that same month every year since 2016.
“In Guadeloupe, the increase in deaths was very clear at the beginning of August and accelerated in the middle of the month: the deaths that occurred during August 2021 are thus more than three times those of August 2019 (+ 227%), while the deaths that occurred in June and July 2021 are of the same level as in 2019,” INSEE observed in an assessment published in October.
In Martinique, the increase in numbers of deaths began in July, with an increase of 175% in COVID-19 compared to the same period in 2020.
Before that, in June and July 2021, deaths were at the same levels as in 2019. In September, after contagion measures enacted during the August surge, INSEE noted mortality returned to levels close to those pre-COVID-19.
In Guadeloupe, health authorities report that from July 12 to August 29, 2021, 297 COVID-19-related deaths were recorded in hospitals, representing 49.0% of deaths since the arrival of the virus. In six weeks the island recorded almost half of its deaths from the whole pandemic.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has also been an increase in general mortality. Many people have been found dead at home and on the public highway. These deaths have not been attributed to COVID-19 and are still unexplained by the authorities.
The unexplained deaths
This issue of mortality at homes is of concern to the emergency services. The Fire and Rescue Services of Guadeloupe (SDIS for its French acronym), reported an increase in the number of interventions for the management of COVID-19 in August 2021.
As of October 19, 2021, the SDIS reported 2,376 COVID interventions for 2021, compared to 957 in 2020. The emergency services have also been alerted by a large number of interventions for cardiac arrests at home or on the public highway of people that were not tested for COVID-19.
During the week of August 23 to 28, 2021 alone, nearly 6 deaths related to cardiac arrest at home or on public roads were recorded on certain days. A study conducted by the SDIS estimated they responded to less than one death a day on average in 2019.
Colonel Jean-Marie Levif, deputy director of the SDIS said that these sudden deaths of both men and women relatively young, 50 years average, continue to be recorded every day throughout the archipelago. The Regional Health Agency (ARS for its French acronym) will further investigate to determine a causal link with COVID-19.
A survey conducted by the Regional Health Agency
On August 14, 2021, the president of the Regional Union of Health Professionals (URPS for its French acronym), Dr. Frédérique Dulorme, indicated that city doctors had observed a significant increase in the number of death certificates issued for people who died at home. But did not want to give any figures at this stage.
An investigation is currently being conducted by the ARS in collaboration with the Fire Department and the municipalities to identify these deaths and establish a possible link with the virus.
When asked about this last October, the Director General of the ARS of Guadeloupe, St. Martin and St. Barths, Valérie Denux, said that a death certificate review is underway. Within the ARS, a team has been dedicated to these operations.
“There is no electronic transmission in the majority of town halls and we have to go through all these certificates by hand to see the reason for these deaths,” Denux said.
The task is tedious and today, nearly 300 certificates still need to be analyzed in order to assess the percentage of deaths attributable to the virus during this fourth wave.
The director general of the ARS indicated that 200 or even 300 additional deaths could be linked to COVID-19 but to date only 150 have been certified.
On the website of the CépiDC, the epidemiology center in charge of producing statistics on the medical causes of death, the data on Guadeloupe is still substantially incomplete. Out of the 983 certificates expected in August 2021, only 436 are available. Since 2008, the CépiDC has issued death certificates electronically, but the system is still struggling to modernize. Health organizations and municipalities still mainly use the paper version.
Collateral COVID-19 deaths
But how many people died in the French West Indies, not from COVID-19 but from the consequences of the pandemic? The question remains unanswered.
Since the first cases appeared in France, the national public health agency has been conducting a global survey on the excess mortality recorded in France, its departments, and territories to assess the impact of this pandemic.
The first studies revealed delays in the care of patients with other pathologies and the rejection of care by some people afraid of going to health facilities during the first initial lockdown from March to May 2020.
The investigation of collateral deaths of the pandemic also takes into account the psychological dimension of this crisis. Work has been initiated to measure the impact of decompensation on patients with psychological illnesses and on the mental state of the population facing confinement, restrictions and economic crisis.
However, the conclusions of these investigations can only be made at the end of this pandemic, the agency said.
Meanwhile, the questions of the mortality linked to the coronavirus or to the consequences of the disease these last months troubles many Guadeloupeans. In an archipelago of just over 375,000 inhabitants, more than 900 deaths in just one month represent a real catastrophe, as the Director General of the ARS of Guadeloupe, St. Martin and St. Barths has indicated on several occasions.
“There is not a family, not a business or association that is not affected by a loss,” Denux said at a press conference in August 2021.
Today, families and many groups and unions are demanding answers to this excess mortality recorded in Guadeloupe since the first cases of COVID-19 appeared. In spite of the information campaigns set up by the government and the local authorities and the various interventions of medical staff or members of the scientific community in the media, some West Indians still doubt the danger of the coronavirus. Because of distrust of the population towards the public authorities in matters of health, some blame the excess mortality to dengue and others to a will of the official authorities to let the West Indians die.
For many Guadeloupeans and Martinicans, the vaccine is also the cause of some of the deaths. While 88% of people over the age of 18 are fully vaccinated in France, the issue of vaccination has become the stumbling block in Guadeloupe and Martinique.
The sensitive issue of vaccination
Since the appearance of the first cases of coronavirus in France, the government has put in place many measures to limit the risk of contagion on the national territory, including the emphasis on the vaccination against the COVID-19. President Emmanuel Macron was one of the first world leaders to order the requirement of proof of vaccination or negative PCR test to enter public places in the mainland.
In order to curb the epidemic and reduce mortality, starting January 2021, local authorities have implemented large-scale vaccination campaigns. Initially reserved for those most at risk of contracting the virus, vaccination has gradually been opened up to as many people as possible, including since June, children 12 years and older. Vaccination for 5 year olds with health conditions is set to start at the end of December.
Nevertheless, the vaccination coverage rate is still low in Guadeloupe and Martinique.
In Martinique, as of November 28, 127,478 people had a complete vaccination schedule, or 40.3% of the population. As of November 16, 245,642 COVID-19 vaccine injections had already been completed in Guadeloupe, or 46.43% of the population having received at least a first dose. An 18.67% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 had received at least one injection. Nevertheless, Santé Publique France anticipates another possible contagion wave but indicates that they are having data recollection problems due to the social unrest situation. In Martinique, there have been 618 new cases detected in one week, but in Guadeloupe there is no conclusive data on new contagions available yet.
The COVID-19 vaccination issue is a source of great tension in the French West Indies. In Guadeloupe, several elected officials, health care providers, members of the scientific community and public figures have been threatened after urging the population to be vaccinated. On August 1, 2021, a vaccination center was burned down in Martinique.
Since August 9, 2021, the health pass is mandatory in France in establishments receiving the public, medical establishments, long-distance transportation, trade fairs and exhibitions. In order to obtain a health pass, a complete vaccination scheme or a PCR test less than 72 hours old or an antigenic test less than 48 hours old must be presented.
For the moment, in France, vaccination is mandatory for all those who work in contact with vulnerable people. Since September 15, 2021, it has been compulsory to vaccinate all personnel, including administrative staff in health care, medical and social institutions. All home care health workers and health care transport companies; all health care professionals and their employees; all health care students; firefighters and personnel of occupational health services, must be vaccinated.
The vaccination obligation for health care providers came into effect between August 7, 2021 and September 15 in mainland France, but in view of the severe COVID-19 wave at the time, the French West Indies were granted a postponement until October 15.
However, at the present, nearly 1,016 caregivers in hospitals and health professionals in private hospitals, or around 10% of them, were not in compliance, according to the authorities. Health professionals who do not present a vaccination card, are suspended from their duties. The situation provoked the ire of trade unions who were denouncing mandatory vaccination and the health pass since July. In Guadeloupe, the main hospital of Guadeloupe, the University Hospital (CHU for its French acronym) and the Base Terre Hospital (CHBT for its French acronym), as well as several clinics and private health establishments were blocked, jeopardizing the functioning of the local health system.
In the Guadeloupean archipelago, they have been demonstrating in the streets every Saturday since July. Among the leaders of this protest movement is Elie Domota, former secretary-general of the General Union of Guadeloupean Workers (UGTG for its French acronym), the union, one of the main trade unions in the archipelago, and spokesman for the Christian Movement for the Liberation of Guadeloupe (LKP for its French acronym), led a 44-day general strike against excessive exploitation in Guadeloupe that received international media coverage in 2009.
In several interviews given to french and local media, Domota said he is conducting an investigation with his union on the number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
“With 22 deaths per 10,000 inhabitants, Guadeloupe is the first country in the Caribbean in terms of COVID mortality and among the first in the world too. We are neck to neck with the United States. Today, there are more deaths in Guadeloupe than in France,” Domota said.
The leader of the LKP insists on the contradiction of small French departments and territories like Guadeloupe and Martinique having such a high number of deaths.
The union denounces the mismanagement of the health crisis by the authorities and elected officials. According to him, Guadeloupe is facing an increasing number of deaths since September 2020 without effective measures having been taken by the representatives of the State, and compares the situation in Guadeloupe with that observed in the Caribbean neighboring nations.
“With more than 24,000 dollars of GDP per capita we are considered a rich country in the Caribbean and we realize that the first two countries in terms of deaths per capita are Guadeloupe and Martinique. This is unacceptable,” he said.
He attributes the differences in results to the difference in the health policies implemented in the Caribbean countries.
“These countries have controlled their borders, with tests on arrival and controlled isolation, including for those vaccinated. Kits containing azithromycin and ivermectin have been made available to the population. They have promoted the local pharmacopeia and they have also had a vaccination policy,” Domota claims.
He said that the measures implemented in the French West Indies have not been sufficient, and insisted on the fact that the authorities did not take into account the demographic particularities of the population of these territories which have high rates of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, obesity and diabetes, many of the high risk factors for coronavirus complications and deaths.
“And with 95% of the population poisoned by chlordecone, it is also necessary to know what is the incidence of COVID-19,” he added. “The authorities have not been up to this crisis.”
According to the leader of the LKP, the authorities preferred to punish Guadeloupeans by pointing the finger at the low vaccination rate instead of proposing other solutions.
Today, the union is working with lawyers to make the United Nations question the responsibility of the French State in the high rate of mortality in the French West Indies and over mortality in the poisoning with chlordecone.
For the government, the seriousness of the health situation in the French islands during this fourth wave is the consequence of a relaxation of COVID-19 protection measures and the low vaccination coverage compared to the French mainland.
On August 12, 2021, faced with the magnitude of the situation in the West Indies, the Minister of Solidarity and Health, Olivier Véran accompanied by the Minister of Overseas Territories, Sébastien Lecornu, went to Martinique where he visited the University Hospital.
“The health situation, I weigh my words, is without comparison with what we have seen during previous waves and particularly in mainland France. There are many reasons for this: the virulence of the variants, the power of the epidemic which is a reality that everyone must be able to face with courage, with cold blood, with determination.”
One does not emerge unmoved from the visit of this hospital as Sébastien Lecornu did not emerge unmoved from his visit to the hospitals of Guadeloupe.
The patients are young, very young. In the emergency room, they are 40, 50 years old. In the intensive care unit (ICU), they may be 20 or 30 years old and do not necessarily have comorbidities. Many are not obese or immunodepressed. They are people who were in good health a few days ago and who today are on their stomachs, intubated, ventilated, in a coma, and in intensive care units as the situation was in many countries at the beginning of the pandemic.
These hospitals in Martinique, like those in Guadeloupe, are filled with patients who are not vaccinated. There was not a single vaccinated patient in the intensive care unit at the hospital in Fort de France.
“The people who are here today, with oxygen masks, with tracheal intubation tubes, I say it very simply, if these people had been vaccinated they would not be in hospital today, they would be at home”, said Véran about the situation during the fourth COVID-19 wave.
Minister Véran insisted on the problem of vaccination in the French West Indies.
“I say it without provocation, with my conviction as a doctor and minister, the delay in vaccination in the French West Indies can no longer continue. It is too serious a matter for us to fail in protecting the population. Especially since there are vaccines here for everyone, Pfizer vaccines are the same as in metropolitan France, the same as in most Western countries,” he said during his visit to Martinique.
During his visit, he argued that the French Government was doing everything possible to help the islands and detailed the measures put in place.
A military hospital was deployed in Martinique and Guadeloupe in August, with 20 beds to relieve the emergency room. One hundred intensive care beds have also been deployed in Martinique and one hundred in Guadeloupe to cope with the influx of patients in hospitals.
After the call for national solidarity launched by the Minister of Health on August 8, 2021, several hundred reinforcements came every week from France to assist the teams of caregivers in hospitals and support the emergency services in Guadeloupe and Martinique. In addition, oxygen and innovative treatments, monoclonal antibodies that limit severe forms of the virus in people at risk, have been sent to the islands.
An unprecedented airlift
In addition, in order to relieve the congestion in the islands’ hospitals, the authorities have carried out medical evacuations by plane to France. During previous waves of the epidemic, the authorities had already carried out medical evacuations by rail or air in mainland France. Patients were transported to hospitals in regions where the incidence rate of COVID-19 was lower or to foreign hospitals.
During his visit to Martinique, the French Minister of Health insisted on the need for collective awareness. For him, it is everyone’s responsibility, and especially that of elected officials, to encourage the population to be vaccinated. He pointed the finger at political or civic personalities who, by their statements or their involvement in movements against vaccination, have not lived, he said, up to the responsibility of their positions. The Minister regretted the attacks on vaccination centers.
What is the explanation for such distrust of vaccines?
In France, there is a strong mistrust of the population towards the public authorities on the issue of health because of a past marked by many health scandals such as the “contaminated blood” or the “Mediator” affair. In Guadeloupe, the chlordecone pollution scandal has raised doubts and suspicions among the population.
While this pesticide, considered dangerous to health, had already been banned in the United States and Europe, the French government authorized its use from 1972 to 1993 in Guadeloupe and Martinique to fight the banana weevil. The banana economy was then the main source of income for these two territories. The use of chlordecone is now prohibited but this substance, very toxic and persistent, caused an unprecedented health, environmental and economic disaster.
Many Guadeloupeans, marked by the chlordecone affair, are wary of vaccination against COVID-19. They and others also see the COVID-19 vaccine as an imperialistic imposition on them by the French Government.
During his trip to Guadeloupe, on August 10 and 11, 2021, the Minister of Overseas France, Sebastien Lecornu recalled that President Macron had recognized the chlordecone pollution in the French West Indies as “an environmental scandal” in which “the State has its share of responsibility.” But for the Minister, the management of COVID-19 has nothing to do with that incident.”
But beyond the chlordecone issue, the COVID-19 crisis reveals a real split within the West Indian population divided between pro and anti-vaccine.
Faced with the magnitude of the movement against vaccination in the West Indies, many people who have been vaccinated do not dare to admit they have been vaccinated.
Patricia Braflan-Trobo, a sociologist with a postgraduate degree in political science and author of numerous essays on the impact of the history of identity and culture on social conflicts in Guadeloupe, sees several reasons for this. For her, the low rate of vaccination reflects the large number of people who fear the vaccine in the West Indies. The mistrust of Guadeloupeans towards the vaccine is a matter of belief. “When a person is more afraid of a drug than of death, it is a strictly personal belief and a personal understanding. It is difficult to make these people change their position,” she says.
But, she adds, this belief system has been fueled by the controversy around the spike herb. In March 2021, the Guadeloupean laboratory Phytobokaz announced the discovery of an enzyme contained in an endogenous herb, the spike herb, which would block the development of viruses, including COVID-19. Presented as a major scientific breakthrough by local researchers, the announcement caused a stir among the population.
Stocks of Virapic, a dietary supplement based on the spike herb grass produced by the Phytobokaz laboratory and sold without prescription, have literally been taken by storm in local pharmacies. A patent was filed on February 10, 2021 to protect the discovery of Phytobokaz researchers. To date, clinical trials have not begun. Dr. Henri Joseph, founder of the laboratory, has defended himself from criticism saying he did not announce his invention as COVID-19 treatment but as a possible future treatment for viruses like COVID-19. For the time being, he no longer accepts interviews on the subject.
Moreover, for Braflan-Trobo, the politics in these territories is at the origin of these strong tensions in the Antilles. She describes Guadeloupean society as a “departmentalized colony”: an overseas department but with all the structures of a colony. This, she says, may explain the reluctance of many Guadeloupeans and Martinicans to follow the government’s recommendations.
Moreover, she believes the opposition to vaccination in the West Indies is a manifestation of a fight against French colonialism that some people have tried to use in an attempt to lead to an insurrection.
“In this fight against French colonialism, who dies? The Blacks and the Indians. Whether people want to hear it or not. It is a reality. Whites got massively vaccinated, Syrians, people from the Dominican Republic too.”
But, to the sociologist, this is a pandemic context and not a political struggle.
“Guadeloupe and Martinique, with their low vaccination rate and the mortality it causes, have become, in spite of themselves, the best examples of why it is necessary to be vaccinated,” concluded Braflan-Trobo.
Stéphanie Mulot, professor of sociology at the University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès and researcher at the Centre d’Etude et de Recherche Travail Organisation Pouvoir (CERTOP), conducted a sociological field survey among patients and staff of the University Hospital of Guadeloupe in August 2021. According to her, nationalism has developed in Guadeloupe for a long time to oppose the effects of colonization and assimilation which had generated forms of denigration of Guadeloupean culture that contributed to the devaluation, the loss of self-esteem, a difficulty in valuing heritage, local know-how, to the benefit of those from France or elsewhere.
Nationalism has developed valuing local skills, to show Guadeloupeans that they can be proud of what they are and can do without what comes from France.
This dependence on France is both denounced and desired, because it also guarantees support for economic and administrative development and support in terms of resources, even if it is limited.
According to the researcher, this paradox generates forms of revaluation of local identity and, at the same time, forms of resistance to government decisions.The latter are in fact experienced as a relationship of domination and the imposition of measures that do not take into account local particularities.
The idea that Guadeloupeans should oppose and resist vaccines coming from France in order to defend their particularities, their identity, their culture and their difference, is always invoked.
In this context, the health decisions taken since the beginning of the pandemic are sometimes viewed as overlooking local particularities, of wanting to limit the freedoms of the population.
The state is accused of not protecting Guadeloupeans sufficiently or of putting in place too many measures that limit their freedom, and of wanting to treat and vaccinate people against their will.
Furthermore, the researcher explains that the discourse on vaccination in Guadeloupe is highly politicized.
“We believe that it is not just a vaccine, that it is not just a health issue, but an issue of political opposition, of union protest, of opposition to identity, and we call upon something other than the sole question of health. We invoke history, identity, politics, denunciation of dependence and domination, the claim of a local pride and a belief in the capacity of Guadeloupe to defend itself against the virus, as it would be able to resist crises and show resilience during its history.”
For Mulot, there is a very strong belief among the population that Guadeloupe would be able to cope without using a vaccine, that the archipelago has other resources, that they should use those resources, especially the local pharmacopeia, which could be alternatives to the vaccine.
Today, it is difficult to know what will happen in the French West Indies in the coming weeks.
The situation is “very explosive,” according to Macron. On November 22, the Head of State, on a trip to Amiens, spoke about the violence that has broken out in Guadeloupe since November 19. He said these events are linked “to a very local context, to tensions that we know and that are historical, and also to certain interests that seek to use this context and anxiety.”
Since November 15, when the mandatory vaccination came into effect, Guadeloupe has been in a state of near insurrection. A call for a general strike has been launched by several unions and political organizations to denounce the compulsory vaccination against COVID-19 for certain professions and the introduction of the health pass on the whole territory. Roadblocks have been set up on the main roads of the archipelago. Traffic is difficult or impossible in some areas of the island.
In Martinique, a general strike was also launched on November 22 by an inter-union group which is also calling for the repeal of the mandatory vaccination against COVID-19.
But behind this rejection of mandatory vaccination are hidden economic and social demands. In both islands, the Intersyndicale, a coalition of labor unions, and collectives have drafted platforms of demands including the cessation of layoffs and suspension of additional resources for the health and education sectors, an emergency plan for access to safe drinking water, an emergency plan for training and employment of young people in Guadeloupe or the condemnation of those responsible for the chlordecone contamination.
After several days of mobilization, the two islands experienced an outbreak of violence when youth gangs joined the movement. Several buildings with homes and businesses were burned in Guadeloupe and Martinique. Businesses and public buildings were also targeted for looting. Weapons and ammunition have been stolen during these misdeeds in Guadeloupe. Law enforcement agencies reported being shot with live ammunition on several occasions in both islands. Several police officers were slightly injured by bullets or projectiles and a gendarme was seriously injured in Martinique when he was hit by a looter’s vehicle.
In response to this situation, the prefects of both territories instituted a curfew from 6:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. On November 20, following a crisis meeting, the Minister of the Interior of France, Gérald Darmanin, announced that reinforcements would be sent to Guadeloupe, bringing the number of police officers available to local authorities up to 2,250, including the elite units of the police and the gendarmerie, a police force with military status in France. A squadron of 70 gendarmes and 10 additional soldiers were sent as reinforcements to Guadeloupe on November 29.
On November 26, the government postponed again the mandatory vaccination for caregivers and firefighters. Individual coaching will be provided to support its implementation, and suspensions will be lifted for caregivers who accept this support.
Lecornu visited Guadeloupe and Martinique to meet with representatives of the mobilized groups and elected officials. These discussions were short-lived in Guadeloupe, where the inter-union refused to negotiate with him and a majority of elected officials declined his invitation. In Martinique, discussions were held but did not lead to any agreement to end the conflict.
Since then, discussions between collectives and elected officials have begun in Guadeloupe. In Martinique, negotiations are being held between the various parties.
The police have been working for several days to clear the roads in Guadeloupe and Martinique. More than a hundred arrests have been made since the beginning of the conflict.
The investigation was possible in part with the support of Para la Naturaleza, Open Society Foundations and Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL).
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