PARIS, France: The French government is offering increased autonomy for the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, after COVID-19-related riots and long-running frustrations over inequality with the French mainland have resulted in repeated disturbances on the island.
But the offer made by Sebastien Lecornu, government minister for overseas affairs, was criticized by conservative and far right candidates running in France's April presidential election.
High unemployment levels in Guadeloupe and nearby Martinique, both administered by France, as well as high living costs and lingering resentment over historical abuses, have caused some local officials to demand change.
In a televised address to Guadeloupe's residents, Lecornu said, "Some officials have asked the question of autonomy and said Guadeloupe could manage itself better. The government is ready to talk about it."
He also denounced the earlier riots, but acknowledged that there were "structural issues" behind the anger and called for a "collective response."
France's obligatory vaccinations for health care workers sparked the recent tensions in Guadeloupe and Martinique, as well as the mandating of a nationwide health pass offering proof of vaccination or recovery for entry into restaurants and other venues.
Some 85 percent of medical personnel in Guadeloupe have received at least one vaccine shot, but the figure is only 46 percent for the general adult population, compared to 89 percent on mainland France.
Additionally, the government's handling of a toxic pesticide, chlordecone, has fueled anger and resentment, and caused mistrust in the COVID-19 vaccine polices, while false information about COVID-19 vaccines shared on WhatsApp and Telegram also caused skepticism.
Meanwhile, saying they had not been listened to for the four months since the mandatory vaccine for health workers and health pass rules were announced, the island's labor unions launched a general strike on 15th November, which was the deadline for health workers to get vaccinated or risk unpaid suspension.
Demands by the unions also included higher salaries and unemployment benefits, as well as the hiring of more teachers.
Anger erupted into rioting in November, and in Pointe-a-Pitre, the island's largest urban area, clashes left three people injured.
Also, the French government announced they would delay mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers until 31st December.