French Guiana general strike enters 2nd day

By Pierre-olivier Jay, AP

CAYENNE, French Guiana — More than 10,000 protesters, clad mostly in black, marched in French Guiana’s capital Tuesday to demand better treatment from France on the second day of a general strike over crime and economic hardship in the South American territory.

The crowd included families, workers, farmers, doctors and lawyers who denounced high crime, the cost of living and the poor quality of health care, among other things.

“We are fed up!” they yelled. “French Guiana, rise up, rise up! It’s time to rise up!”

People hoisted signs accusing the French government of having forgotten the territory, which serves as the site of Europe’s Ariane rocket launches. About a quarter million people live in French Guiana, where there is a 50 percent unemployment rate among young people and 30 percent of the population lacks drinking water or electricity in their homes, according to local officials.

“We are all united today because the country is in danger!” protesters yelled as they marched through the capital of Cayenne.

As anger mounted, the French government announced it was sending two high-level ministers in a nod to demands made by the groups organizing the protests. French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Interior Minister Matthias Fekl and Overseas Minister Ericka Bareigts would arrive Wednesday and meet with union representatives, politicians and other residents.

Cazeneuve praised a “spirit of appeasement” observed in the protests, which have paralyzed French Guiana in recent days along with a strike organized by more than two dozen unions. The strike and protests have halted flights, disrupted a rocket launch and prompted a U.S. travel warning. Roads to neighboring Brazil and Suriname are blocked, and many businesses and schools are closed.

Candidates in the race for France’s presidency have urged aid or intervention in French Guiana amid pressure from overseas voters.

The unrest is a reminder of the deep economic, social and racial divides between France’s mainland and its former colonies that remain French territories today. Like some of the territories, French Guiana uses the euro currency, and they all depend heavily on imported goods and policy decisions made in Paris.