French dependent territories are not interested in independence

Dear Editor,

While several Caribbean luminaries are advocating that the anglophone Caribbean cut all links with their former colonial masters, politicians and the people in French (and even Dutch) colonies adopt the opposite attitude and in fact want to cement links with their colonial rulers.

Last month, I visited the French colonies in the Pacific (which will vote next month with France and its other territories to choose the French president) and they are completely against independence. The same is true of the people in the French Caribbean although some in French Guiana were advocating independence.

French Polynesia and the Francophone Caribbean (including French Guiana) want to retain their current status with France because of the enormous benefits that come with such ties. They are French citizens complete with civil and political rights.

For the anglophone overseas dependent territories, being tied to the former imperial power comes with certain benefits, not the least being financial aid, tourists to spur the economy, and visits from family members of the monarch that help to promote the countries as havens of stability and investment. A complete break from the UK may result in the loss of such assistance and as such may not be in their interest.

Such an important decision should not be made by politicians but by the citizens in the form of a referendum to approve or disapprove of severing all links with England. France and Holland allow their colonies to determine their political status as does the US with regard to Puerto Rico. And they all reject independence preferring to remain attached to their imperial mother countries which give them full citizenship rights.

Unlike British territories, anyone living in a French territory is a French citizen and can vote in its elections for president and the National Assembly in Paris.  Two citizens from Polynesia are elected to the National Assembly as are several more from the Caribbean and French Guiana.

The French politicians don’t neglect their distant citizens. President Nicolas Sarkozy recently visited the French Caribbean and French Guiana campaigning for votes but did not visit French Polynesia where he is not popular. Most Polynesians I spoke with last month are voting for the Socialist challenger Francois Hollande.

As in the territories in the Caribbean, the Polynesian politicians railed against France and demanded independence, especially during election campaigns, but once the elections were over, they toned down the anti-imperialist rhetoric and forgot about independence until the next election cycle. The same is true in St Martin, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, and Martinique.

Criticisms of French dominance and demand for more assistance and autonomy play well among local voters to win support.

The overwhelming majority of French Polynesians, like their counterparts in the Caribbean, prefer continued association with France.

The people do not want to lose their high standard of living compared with those territories which broke away from France or other imperial powers.  The GDP per capita of French Polynesia exceeds US$20K, far higher than any former French colony. France pumps some US$2B in aid annually into Polynesia that provides jobs and funds infrastructure work.  France would like to rid itself of that burden but the Polynesians won’t allow that to happen.

People told me they would like to have more autonomy and they are critical of French rule but when asked if they would like independence, they firmly said no.  They are promised a referendum again soon on status.  But that would be a futile exercise as people will not vote against the generous French welfare state and a French (EU) passport that provides access to most countries.  It is for similar reasons that Montserrat, Anguilla, Caymans, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands don’t want to break from Britain or why Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao don’t want to break from the Netherlands. If the Caricom territories want to sever their remaining ties (Republican status, Privy Council, etc) with Britain, the politicians should consult with the people in a referendum.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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