Thousands protest in France’s Martinique against insecticide “impunity”

Thousands demonstrated on the French island of Martinique over the weekend against a threatening limitation period that could damage their compensation case for extensive damage caused by a highly toxic insecticide.

The chemical, chlordecone, was widely used between 1972 and 1993 to protect banana plantations from insects in Martinique and neighboring Guadeloupe, also a French territory in the Caribbean.

More than 90 percent of the adult population in Martinique and Guadeloupe suffer from chlordecone poisoning, according to French public health services.

Chlorodecone, also known as Kepone, has been linked to prostate cancer – whose rate in Martinique and Guadeloupe is among the highest in the world – as well as stomach and pancreatic cancer.

In 2009, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants banned its use worldwide.

Up to 15,000 people according to the organizers – 5,000 according to the police – took part in the march on Saturday, upset that according to French law it may be too late to prosecute those responsible for approving and marketing the sale of the insecticide whose dangerous effects on people they say they had been known as early as the 1960s.

Several associations from Martinique and Guadeloupe filed a legal complaint about the poisoning of their islands in 2006, which triggered an investigation two years later.

However, during a hearing by an investigating judge in January this year in Paris, they were told that the case may fall under French statute of limitations rules that make it impossible to continue their action.

The announcement provoked widespread anger on the islands, resulting in Saturday’s demonstration, with “No Impunity” seen written on posters.

“Thousands are mobilized to respond to the spit sent to us by the French state, the restriction,” said Francis Carole, a local left-wing politician who said the island’s land was likely to remain polluted for hundreds of years.

“The government pretended to accept legal action but did nothing but wash its hands of this piece by piece,” said Harry Bauchaint, a member of the Peyi-A political movement. “The government must protect all French people,” he said.

About 300 people demonstrated at a simultaneous Guadeloupe gathering, according to a local organizer, while about 200 took to the streets of Paris.

“The entire French population should mobilize to ensure that the restrictions do not apply,” Toni Mango, head of the Collective Doubout Pou Gwadloup Association, told AFP.

He said this was the first demonstration since the Covid pandemic, “but we will not stay here”.