Guiana rejects autonomy

Published on iAfrica.com, AFP, 11 Jan.

Voters in French Guiana rejected an offer from France for more autonomy for the territory bordering Brazil and Suriname in South America …

… Sixty years after being granted the status of department — which makes them legally as French as Normandy or Provence — the tropical territories face recurrent social problems including high unemployment and low wages despite massive financial support from the state.

The mayor of Guiana’s capital Cayenne, Rodolphe Alexandre, said the question of financing drove the campaign and the result of the referendum. 

While recognising the current statute has its drawbacks, Alexandre said “in the end its not a problem of powers or the statute but of financing and strategy. That is what changed people’s minds.”

He called the result a “victory for democracy, for the silent majority.”

France’s opposition Socialists suggested that Sarkozy’s warning that more autonomy would come with less state support influenced the result.

“What could have weighed on the result is the president saying in February 2009 that with the transfer of powers to overseas departments funding should be from local resources,” Socialist party chief for overseas departments Axel Urgin said on RFO radio.

Martinique, a major rum and banana producer and a tourist destination for mainland French seeking winter sunshine, has an unemployment rate topping 20 percent, more than twice that of metropolitan France.

Guiana, perhaps best known as the launch site for Europe’s Ariane space rockets, faces similarly high joblessness.

“No” campaigners had warned the French state might be seeking to disengage from its overseas departments and reduce their people’s social benefits, which are largely the same as in France.

Voters on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, which had also been convulsed by strikes, did not take part in the consultation as their local leaders decided that the tense social climate was not conducive to holding a referendum. (full text).

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