Marine Le Pen may not have won the French presidency, but she caused a shock in the French Caribbean and Guiana, where the mostly Black electorate voted for her by a wide margin. In the second round run-off on 24 April, the far-Right candidate trounced Emmanuel Macron locally, receiving 70% in Guadeloupe and 61% in both Martinique and French Guiana.
When did this all start? Was it in July 2020, when young people waving red green and black flags – Rouge, Vert, Noir in French, hence the name “RVN” – removed a series of colonial-era monuments? Or was it in 2009, when Martinique and Guadeloupe saw a general strike, in protest at la vie chère and pwofitasyon, the cost of living and exploitation? It was certainly not obvious back then that people would vote en masse for Le Pen. But this time, they did.
Geographically speaking, Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana lie somewhere between France and the Global South. Their feet are in the Caribbean and South America but their heart is in France. Or if not the heart, then the head: they are departments of France and their inhabitants are French citizens, living in a love-hate relationship with the motherland, which they still call by its colonial name: la Métropole. The slogan of the 2009 protests, péyi-a sé pa ta yo (“our country is not theirs”) cast the relationship as one of ‘us and them’ – much like Bob Marley did when he sang “me nuh know how we and dem ago work this out, but someone will have to pay.”
It’s worth noting that “nationalism” is not a dirty word in the Global South – or, indeed, in most parts of the world – in the way that it is for much of Western Europe. Martinique, for instance, has frequently elected a Martiniquan nationalist leader, Alfred Marie-Jeanne, to high office in the region since the 1970s. Even the leftist party founded by Aimé Césaire in 1958, the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais (PPM), is strongly nationalist.
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However, as good French citizens, the Antillais have been taught from a young age the catechism that French nationalism means Le Pen, and Le Pen means fascism. In 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen unexpectedly reached the second round of the presidential election, nearly 97% of the French Caribbean voted for his opponent, Jacques Chirac.
In fact, when Le Pen senior tried to visit Martinique more than a decade earlier, in 1987, thousands of people gathered on the airport runway to prevent his plane from landing. (The plane eventually landed in nearby Guadeloupe, but Le Pen was not allowed to disembark and had to fly back to France.) Marie-Jeanne, Martinique’s own nationalist figurehead, was the politician who rallied the crowd.
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