French Guiana activists end crippling protest after deal

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Cayenne (AFP) – The movement behind social unrest that left French Guiana paralysed for almost a month has ended the protest after Paris pledged an aid package worth billions of euros.

A general strike by 37 unions on March 25 has crippled the French territory in South America with locals pressing for a “Marshall Plan” along the lines of the huge US economic support given to help western Europe to recover after World War II.

An AFP journalist said the government and the “Collective to Get Guiana Moving” spearheading the protests signed a deal in Cayenne late on Friday, just two days before France’s presidential election.

Under the accord, the French government pledged to provide 2.1 billion euros ($2.25 billion) in aid to the territory, but did not give a precise timetable for its implementation.

The amount would be in addition to just over one billion euros in emergency funding agreed in early April but which the movement considered insufficient.

France’s overseas territories minister Ericka Bareigts hailed the deal as “a defining day for the future of Guiana.”

Blockades in the capital Cayenne began to be lifted on Friday, but those around Europe’s Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, where the launch of an Arianespace rocket had been postponed, were still in place.

The Kourou space centre has become a symbol of economic disparity in Guiana and a focus for anger, given many locals have no electricity or running water and around one in four is jobless.

The protests caused the flow of fresh produce to slow to a dribble in the territory bordering Surinam and northern Brazil on the northeast coast of South America, some 7,000 kilometres (4,400 miles) from Paris.

Guiana, home to some 250,000 people, has been administered as a French region since the end of the 18th century and was also used as a place to send convicts for forced labour between 1852 and 1946.

Representatives of the collective “500 freres” announce to a cheering crowd the signing of an agreement with the government in Cayenne, French Guiana on April 21, 2017
Copyright AFP jody amiet
French Guiana
Copyright AFP Thomas SAINT-CRICQ, Simon MALFATTO, Jean Michel CORNU