French Guiana facing total shutdown


BBC reports that discontent over living standards in French Guiana led to a large-scale blockade on Monday. Demonstrators, led by a masked group known as the 500 Brothers, have been fighting for $2.5bn (£2bn) in aid; see details below:

The territory has regained control of its space station (more on that later) but anger there is not going away. Despite being in South America, French Guiana remains part of France and has been paralysed by protests against a lack of investment from the mainland.

Demonstrators, led by a masked group known as the 500 Brothers, have been fighting for $2.5bn (£2bn) in aid. France has made an offer of £1m, which has been rejected.

French Guiana has been experiencing widespread protests for the past two weeks, following a general strike on 27 March and an occupation of the Guiana Space Station, which delayed a rocket launch.

The 500 Brothers, a collective of black-clad, masked people who say they are campaigning against crime and delinquency, called for a total shutdown on Monday, including road blocks after a police officer was injured in protests last week.

[. . . ] What are people upset about?

Protesters have a catalogue of issues they want France to urgently address, from education and health needs, to rising violent crime. Household goods are 12% more expensive in French Guiana than in mainland France, despite a lower average wage. “The State does not respect its commitments, the State does not respect French Guiana,” Olivier Goudet, a spokesman for the 500 Brothers told France’s RFI network on Sunday. “We need to mobilise in order to raise awareness and remind the State of its responsibilities.”

The issue has even been raised during the French presidential election campaign – although leading candidate Emmanuel Macron wrongly referred to the territory as an island when discussing the crisis.

How are rockets involved?

French Guiana is largely covered in Amazon rainforest, with its development centred on a handful of towns hugging the coastline. One of these towns – Kourou – is home to the Guiana Space Station, which is used by the European Space Agency and the French government to launch satellites into space. Protesters say money is poured into the station, while the people’s welfare is neglected. They are calling for action under the slogan Pou Lagwiyann Dekole, which is Creole for “Let Guiana take off”. [. . .]

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