By Jody Littleton, Courant Staff Writer
(Eds: Updates throughout. With AP Photos.)
GOLIVIE, Guadeloupe — A grassroots organization stormed the court at Garenke Pierre James High School, completing its weeklong occupation of the school and advancing its long-running campaign to voice grievances against the Guadeloupe government.
The group of students, activists and community leaders staged a sit-in Monday night after Haitian police broke through their blockade the previous day. Guadeloupe’s governor directed the chief of police on Tuesday to remove the barricades, but the protest persisted.
By the time the group took over the court Tuesday afternoon, an estimated 1,000 people had gathered to protest the government’s austerity measures that have led to electricity shortages, hours-long commutes and the furlough of public employees in Guadeloupe, a French overseas territory east of Haiti. The government has also slowed the movement of goods and services across the island.
“We have to organize ourselves. This government is breaking us,” a student told the crowd. “It’s difficult. I lost everything. But we have to stand up for ourselves.”
The protesters are demanding the resignation of Gov. Eugene Blancinck, who has put in place what he has called a “culture of poverty” to allow Guadeloupe’s shipbuilders and cabins builders to remain “guestimates.” The protesters, who have been meeting each day outside of the school since Sunday to devise their demands, say the shipbuilders should be considered Guadeloupe’s own “little princes.”
The students have allowed dozens of students from other schools to join their sit-in after hours of negotiation. Since Monday night, the student group has discussed organizing a rally when the governor visits Guadeloupe in late March.
The protest comes on the heels of a sharp drop in exports to Haiti, which saw a 15 percent decrease in Guadeloupe, as well as a decrease in production at Haitian shipyards.
The Haitian government says Guadeloupe’s fall is due to a lack of Haitian-owned shipyards, but Guadeloupe leaders argue their neighbors are shipping their goods to Guadeloupe because it’s easier than hiring Guadeloupeans. Haitian shipyards see about three times as many buyers than Guadeloupe companies, according to Haitian Navy Lt. Major Gethin Wegner.