(l’Humanite Translated by Amanda Cook)
Surely, since the end of the Algerian War, the people of France have more or less forgotten this vocabulary, calling it a bit old fashioned, or maybe even antiquated. Colonist, colonies, colonialism. Who, in 2009, in France, still thinks of the Caribbean islands as “the last of France’s American colonies” ?
Still, when you scratch the surface, barely covered by the veneer of 64 years of “departmentalization”, what do you find ? Four centuries after the official end of slavery—in the generous shade of coconut trees, on the warm and sunny beaches, where the bluest waters come to rest—you find the brutal exploitation of colonial capitalism. The “Dom” , as they call Martinique, Réunion, Guyane, or Guadeloupe, are false paradises.
Two weeks ago, French Secretary of Overseas Territories Yves Jégo, a chronic liar, had a moment of honesty when he demanded to know, “Why, in the Pointe-à-Pitre supermarkets, does an ordinary toothbrush cost 4.50 Euros ?” Indeed, he had just unintentionally discovered Pandora’s box.
In the beautiful colonies’ ever-cheerful sun…for wealthy vacationers, life is harsh. Wages are desperately low. Employers are an oligarchy, having occupied these “islands” since the earliest days of slavery. After using their whips against generations of disenfranchised black men and women (thanks to Colbert’s Code Noir ), yesterday’s masters have simply become today’s bosses. The social relations have hardly evolved : yesterday they enforced the Code Noir with severity and rigor, and today, they are seemingly unable to conform to the Labor Code.
Thus, over the years, unions have formed and leftist parties have asserted their anti-colonialism. The Colonial State, buddy-buddy with the industrial and agricultural capitalists, has never denied its support of the rich and powerful. Far away from France—the birthplace of art, the home of human rights—the destitute worker is much less than an ordinary victim of exploitation : he is also colonized. Over there, in the Caribbean sun, a less-than-perfect life lies on the other side of the pretty “sea, sand, sun” postcard.
On January 20, 49 Guadeloupian labor, cultural, and political organizations rose up as one and decided to jam the colonial machine. They say “no” to Sarko, “yes” to another life, and perhaps to another status. The fight against “pwofitasyon” or exploitation has begun, and this is not the last you will hear about it…
Danik Ibrahim Zandwonis is the editor in chief of Nouvelles Étincelles, the weekly newspaper of the Communist Party of Guadeloupe.