Tourists say ‘Non’ to French islands amid unrest

FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique — Thousands of tourists looking for fun in the sun have canceled vacations to a pair of French Caribbean islands, where violent strikes have left one man dead, piles of sm

Tourists say ‘Non’ to French islands amid unrest

FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique — Thousands of tourists looking for fun in the sun have canceled vacations to a pair of French Caribbean islands, where violent strikes have left one man dead, piles of smelly uncollected garbage in the streets, and stores looted and burned.

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Protesters in Martinique and Guadeloupe have persisted with a work stoppage to demand higher salaries and lower prices, hurting scores of businesses including restaurants, hotels and car rental agencies during the islands’ peak winter tourist season, Martinique Tourism Authority chairwoman Madeleine de Grandmaison said Wednesday.

“Tourism is fragile,” she said. “People are not only canceling this week, but also for all the months of February, March and April. We have a huge deficit of tourists ahead of us.”

At least 10,000 tourists have canceled vacations in Martinique and Guadeloupe, according to the National Travel Agencies organization.

Guadeloupe’s strike, waged by residents struggling with soaring living costs, has persisted for almost a month. Martinique’s is in its third week. A protester was shot dead late Tuesday on Guadeloupe as youths went on a rampage, looting 15 businesses and burning seven. Twenty-one cars were also torched. Looters were blamed for Tuesday night’s shooting — the first fatality in the unrest.

“People are scared,” said Laetitia Delaprade, a spokeswoman at Voyages Antillais, a Paris-based travel agency that specializes in French Caribbean vacations. “They do not want to travel to the Antilles now.”

Violence has not hit Martinique like it has Guadeloupe, but that has not spared the island from losing precious tourist euros.

Protesters have left papers, beer bottles, plastic containers and other trash throughout the capital, Fort-de-France, causing some to turn up their noses.

“All of Fort-de-France is closed and dirty,” Grandmaison said. “It is not reasonable to tell cruise ships to come.”

Six of seven cruise ships that were expected to arrive in Fort-de-France between Feb. 7 and Friday are docking elsewhere, de Grandmaison said. The “Bleu de France” and its 90 passengers will dock in Martinique, but at a southwestern town instead of the capital.

In Martinique, 50 percent of gas stations are operating, but health and emergency workers are being given priority. Car rental agencies are telling potential travelers that they cannot guarantee they will obtain vehicles, de Grandmaison said.

French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told reporters that France will send four extra police squadrons, totaling about 300 men, to Guadeloupe as reinforcements. About 150 riot police were sent earlier.

“Acts of pillaging, atrocities and violence against other people … will not be tolerated,” she said.

Jacques Bino was shot overnight in Guadeloupe as he drove home after attending a protesters’ meeting, police said. Rioters fired at police and emergency workers with hunting rifles, preventing them from reaching a wounded Bino for several hours, said Nicolas Desforges, the island’s top appointed official. By the time they arrived, three hours later, he was dead.

Three police officers also were injured in the overnight violence, one with a gunshot wound to the eye, Desforges said.

A Paris-based association of tour operators that works with France’s government tourism department calls Guadeloupe a “red zone,” meaning it is not endorsing it as a destination. The association began redirecting tourists to Martinique — until the strike also arrived there.

Guadeloupe’s Tourism Committee said Wednesday the main airport reopened after closing briefly because of a lack of workers. But American Airlines canceled a night flight; much of the violence on the island has occurred after dark.