Unrest in Guadeloupe Affects Yachting

27 February 2009 By Kate Lardy

Five weeks of island-wide strikes and demonstrations over the high cost of living has brought tourism to a halt on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Hotels and shops have been forced to close and the protests have turned violent at times as rioters have blockaded roads and set fires. One union member was shot and killed by rioters in Pointe-à-Pitre last week.

"It is a political crisis, an institutional crisis and we are on the brink of sedition," Guadeloupe's Regional Council President Victorin Lurel told France-Info radio.

On Thursday this week, Paris finally broke the stalemate and agreed to increase the wages of the lowest-paid workers by €200 a month but the strike still has not ended. The high cost of living remains on the agenda for islanders who believe that food and energy costs should be comparable to metropolitan France.

The protests have overflowed to the nearby French island of Martinique, which saw two consecutive nights of riots this week.

The yachting industry has not been immune. Ariane Graf of Marina Bas-du-Fort in Pointe-à-Pitre reports that while the marina has been thankfully isolated from most of the violence, for three days last week she and other marina personnel did not report to work after rioters set fire to shops near the marina entrance.

Graf says that some yachts meant to be based at the marina for the season have departed with the captains saying that they hope to return within a month. Other yachts scheduled to charter in the area also have changed their plans.

She notes that the drama is concentrated around the main island; the Iles des Saintes, a popular cruising destination off the coast of southwest Guadeloupe, have been fortunately immune and are as peaceful as ever.

“It’s not an easy situation,” says Graf. “It’s more than a strike. It’s more of a civil rights movement.”