France says it is “willing” to discuss the autonomy of Guadeloupe

The government of France proposed to discuss the possibility of granting some autonomy to the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, which has been rocked by riots related to the pandemic of the COVID-19 and strikes that have exposed long-standing frustrations about inequality with the French mainland.

The offer made overnight by the French government minister for foreign affairs, Sebastien Lecornu, drew much criticism on Saturday from far-right candidates for France’s presidential election.

Guadeloupe uses the euro and has close political ties to the mainland. But the high unemployment rate on the island and in nearby Martinique, the high cost of living and persistent anger over historical abuses have led some local officials to demand change.

Both Guadeloupe and Martinique are overseas departments of France.

“Some officials have asked the question about autonomy,” Lecornu said in a televised speech Friday night to Guadeloupe residents. “According to them, Guadeloupe could be managed better” than it is managed from Paris, and in particular they want more autonomy to manage health-related issues locally, he said.

“The government is willing to discuss it,” he added.

He criticized the protesters, whose looting is affecting local merchants and workers, and whose barricades are preventing some patients from receiving medical care and has led to school closings. But he also acknowledged “structural problems” behind the nuisance, and called for a “collective” response.

The recent tensions in Guadeloupe and Martinique began with the mandatory vaccination that France imposed for health workers, and the national pass to enter restaurants and other establishments.

To get the pass, people must be vaccinated or show a negative test for the virus or that they have recently recovered from the disease.

The majority of Guadeloupe’s medical staff, 85%, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. But the administration of the vaccine in the rest of the population remains limited, and around 46% of the adult population has been inoculated compared to 89% of the French mainland.

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