15 Days ago it all started with 1 roadblock in Kourou. Strikers blocked the access road to the Space Center in an attempt to delay the planned rocket launch. It worked. It took the Guyanese people only 1 day to rise and with the whole community they dropped what they were doing, resulting in a general strike throughout the whole country. Well, the whole overseas department, as French Guiana is not really a country on its own. (In the French media there was quite some discussion about this subject: how you can talk about the ‘Peuple guyanais’ if there is only a ‘Peuple français’?).
On Thursday, 3 days after the first strike, roadblocks throughout the whole country were put up. You couldn’t get in or out any village in French Guiana anymore. This does not only count for individuals, but also for companies, resulting in empty shops: no more fresh fruits and vegetables, no more milk products in the fridges… We have never seen an empty shop like that. Luckily we still have canned food, pasta and rice, meaning we won’t die for quite some time 🙂
Another problem that rises is the limited gasoline. Since ports and airports are cordoned off, there is no delivery of gasoline and right now all gas stations are running out… Our first reaction was ‘well, that’s no problem, we can’t leave Kourou anyway!’. But once in a while (at night and on Sundays) they open the roadblocks, so we decided on doing our weekly measurements in the forest on Sundays instead of on Thursdays. If this situation continues for a while, we won’t be able to get to our field site anymore.
Direct flights from Paris to Cayenne are almost all cancelled. You can still go via Martinique for the moment. Irene, a colleague of us, had to arrive today, but as expected her flight was cancelled. She’ll try the ‘new route’ to get here. Let’s see how it goes 🙂
A lot of our friends are technically unemployed for the moment, as many of them work for the Space Center which has been blocked off continuously for over 2 weeks already. The first 2 days it’s funny and they enjoyed some days at the beach. But after a while it’s quite boring, as you can’t leave the village. As long as the weather is nice (we’re experiencing the ‘small summer’ in between two wet seasons) it is okay, but on a rainy day, you’re really trapped inside your house… It’s weird to write this, because we never thought we would consider ourselves lucky to be the only one to work while other people are enjoying the beach, but we’re lucky we can still get to campus and do some work (although we have fieldwork to do which we can’t for the moment) 🙂
Despite all strikes, roadblocks, closed shops… we agree with all the reasons for striking! So today we decided to join the big assembly in Kourou for a while! Now why are people on strike?
- Better education, more schools: some kids can’t go to school because there are not enough available places
- Better economy (which economy?)
- Cleaner hospitals and NO to privatising the hospital: in Kourou they want to sell the hospital to a private company. This would increase the price of health care and make it impossible for a lot of the poverty stricken guyanese to pay for it. In Cayenne the hospital is in bad state: fungus on the walls, electricity cables are out in the open, dirty toilets and showers…
- More security: It’s impossible to leave your house empty if you’re going away for a weekend. You’ll come back home in a real empty house! At night (it’s dark before 19h every day of the year!) you have to be careful with your belongings.
What also causes a lot of grief is the general French attitude. It took over a week for French media to pick up on the strike and when they finally did, one of the presidential candidates (Emmanual Macron) was asked for his opinion. He says it can’t be tolerated that the island is blocked off. The island. Running for president, but doesn’t know that French Guiana is a landlocked country on the south American continent. A lot of other French reactions were also filled with love, saying the ‘Guianese should shut up and be thankful for what they get’ or ‘If people want kids to be educated, they should send them to school’. This just shows that people in France either don’t care about French Guiana or don’t understand the plight of the locals.
If you want to read more about these strikes, we recommend this blogpost ‘When the Bastard has had enough: Nou Gon Ké Sa!’.