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Strikes, Civil Unrest Affecting Tourism in French Caribbean

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Palm tree nightAt least 10,000 tourists have canceled their travel plans to the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe as work stoppages and violent protests over the last month have crippled the islands during the peak winter travel season.

The strikes began almost four weeks ago as residents erupted in anger over the rising cost of living and low wages.

Looting and mayhem have led to supply shortages, road blockages, and even the closure of Guadeloupe’s airport for a short time on Wednesday.

Many cruise ships have opted not to dock at Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique, for the next few days, and dozens of tourists who were stranded for two days in hotels in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe’s capital city, were finally able to leave Thursday after 500 police restored some order to the island.

Guadeloupe has been harder hit by violence than Martinique. Over the last three nights businesses and cars were burned and looted in Basse-Terre and the tourist town of Gosier. Protesters have left trash throughout the capital.

One protester was shot and killed in Guadeloupe, but no injuries have been reported amongst tourists. Visitors are being warned not to venture out at night, which is when looting has been most prevalent.

Run down building in MartiniqueMartinique is relatively calm, but only 50 percent of gas stations are open and rental car agencies are telling customers that they cannot guarantee availability. Some museums and banks are closed, but overall it is generally business as usual for those who choose to visit the island.

Many of the travelers who have cancelled their vacations are from France and other French-speaking countries such as Switzerland. Guadeloupe and Martinique, which are overseas territories of France, are part of the French Antilles chain of islands in the eastern Caribbean.

Tourism officials are nervous because travelers have been cancelling trips all the way through April, which is causing a big “tourism deficit” right in the middle of the islands’ high season.

French government officials are hoping that emergency negotiations regarding pay raises and extra government benefits will help calm the situation in the islands. Unemployment is up to three times higher there than in mainland France, and twice as many people live below the poverty line.

Related links: USA Today, Business Wire, San Jose Mercury News

By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.

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