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01.03.2021 Europe

Thousands protest in Martinique against 'insecticide impunity' in chlordecone case

© AFP/Lionel Chamoiseau
LISTEN MAR 1, 2021
© AFP/Lionel Chamoiseau

Several thousand people have demonstrated on the French Caribbean island of Martinique as the expiry of the statute of limitations approaches in the chlordecone contamination case. The insecticide, which was proven to be toxic in the 1960s, is believed to have poisoned more than 90 percent of the adult population of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Organisers said up to 15,000 people (5,000 according to police) took part in the weekend march, outraged that it may be too late according to French law to prosecute those responsible for authorising and marketing the insecticide whose dangerous effects on humans they say had been known as early as the 1960s.

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

But during a hearing by an investigating magistrate in January of this year in Paris they were told that the case may fall under French statute of limitation rules which would make it impossible to pursue their action.

The announcement sparked widespread anger on the islands, resulting in Saturday's demonstration, with "No Impunity" seen written on placards.

Chlordecone poisoning

The chlordecone was widely used between 1972 and 1993 to protect banana plantations from insects in Martinique and neighbouring Guadeloupe, two French territories (DOM-TOM) in the Caribbean.

Over 90 percent of the adult population of Martinique and Guadeloupe suffer from chlordecone poisoning, according to Santé Publique France, the French public health agency.

Chlordecone, also known as Kepone, has been linked to prostate cancer -- the rate of which 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.

"Thousands are mobilised to respond to...the statute of limitations," said Francis Carole, a local left-wing politician, who said the island's soil was likely to remain contaminated for hundreds of years.

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

'Not stopping here'

Around 300 people demonstrated at a simultaneous Guadeloupe gathering, according to a local organiser, while some 200 took to the streets in Paris.

"The entire French population should mobilise to make sure the statute of limitations doesn't apply," said Toni Mango, head of the Kolektif Doubout Pou Gwadloup association.

He said this was the first such demonstration since the Covid pandemic, "but we're not stopping here".

(with AFP)