Protesters force concessions from the French

Bert Wilkinson | 4/28/2017, 12:10 p.m.

They had practically shut down the country for more than a month, protesting what they called a high level of abject neglect from France, the poor state of infrastructure and the widening disparities between the quality of life for whites and those for Blacks and others.

Over the weekend, they declared victory after authorities in Paris bowed to their demands to provide grant aid worth more than 2 billion euros to address the slew of issues that brought hundreds of protestors into the streets of French Guiana in the first place.

The protestors had taken to the streets of the capital Cayenne early last month to demand political, social and economic amelioration from France, shutting down the Guiana Space Center, forcing the cancellation of rocket launches at the spaceport, paralyzing the civil service and bringing life to a standstill. The inactivity at the spaceport hurt France and its commercial clients.

Launches are to resume later this month, the Guiana Space Center said in a statement.

The attention France gives the spaceport and the whites in its Overseas Department, while neglecting the rest of the population, was held up as a key reason for the protests. Protest leaders say life will return to normal slowly this week, even as they monitor how Paris will disburse the money and to what extent life will improve.

Thirty-seven labor unions, civic organizations and the small but militant independence movement had taken to the streets calling for a U.S.-style “Marshal Plan” to help the country move from a neglected outpost neighboring Suriname and Brazil to one where the quality of life is acceptable.

The AFP news agency said leaders of the Collective to Get Guiana Moving and French authorities signed the deal late Friday, setting the stage for life to return to normal, just hours before French citizens voted in the first round of presidential elections.

The agreement provides for a disbursement of 2.1 billion euros, or $2.25 billion in grants to French Guiana, doubling the amount that Paris had said was its final offer about two weeks ago.

Overseas Territories Minister Ericka Bareigts called the agreement “a defining day for the future of French Guiana,” as leaders removed barricades, and to end blockades of the spaceport and other key installations.

Areas where whites live and socialize have electricity and running water, whereas the areas where locals or creoles reside and play do not. Unemployment is approximately 25 percent.

Protest group spokesman Davy Rimane said demonstrators welcome the agreement. “We managed to get the terms of the deal published in the official gazette,” he said. “Now we can work with this document to get justice if our demands aren’t met.”

Except for Suriname, media coverage of events in nearby Caribbean countries such as Guyana and Trinidad was sparse if not altogether absent. The leaders say they were able to have the agreement published in France’s official gazette to ensure it is legal and binding. Approximately 250,000 people live in French Guiana, including Brazilians, Guyanese, Surinamese and Haitians.

In recent weeks, violent crime had begun to spiral out of control with burglaries and muggings that police linked to a lack of jobs and other opportunities for locals.