The global economic downturn is hitting France's overseas territories particularly hard. A wave of protests and strikes has shuttered supermarkets, gas stations and schools in the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. The government has vowed to respond but the protests threaten to spread to France's other overseas regions.
Residents of Guadeloupe and Martinique in particular are protesting the high cost of living, mostly imported food and fuel, in territories where salaries are generally lower, and unemployment significantly higher than in mainland France. The unrest has been particularly intense in Guadeloupe, where garbage is piling up and stores and schools are closed after a month of strikes and demonstrations. Tourists, who are a mainstay of these Caribbean island economies, are staying away.
And there are fears the protests could spread to France's other overseas territories, there have also been strikes in the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, as well as to the rest of France. A recent survey published in France's regional Sud-Ouest newspaper found 63 percent of respondents believe the unrest could also take place on the mainland. Already an estimated one million people took to the streets of France two weeks ago to protest government reforms and demand protection against the economic crisis.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for a government body to review the country's policies toward its overseas territories, which also include regions in South America and off the Canadian coast. And the country's minister for overseas territories, Yves Jego, says steps are being taken to address the complaints of residents in Guadeloupe and Martinique.
In a recent interview with France-Info radio, Jego said the government had already managed to meet many demands of disgruntled Guadeloupe residents. The government was also checking complaints about the high price of consumer items and fuel and the lack of competition.
Concern in France over rising unemployment and falling growth has taken a toll on President Sarkozy's popularity ratings. The French leader is meeting with unions Wednesday to forge an agreement on economic stimulus plans to fight the economic downturn.