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Once Again, From a Distance

Martinique and the French Presidential Election of 2007

William Miles

In May 2007, Martinique did not follow the rest of France in endorsing Nicolas Sarkozy in his bid to become president. Along with the other overseas French states Guadeloupe and Réunion (but not Guyane), Martinique supported rather the Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal. Martinique thereby distanced itself from the rest of the République—as it had done in 1995—by backing a left-wing presidential candidate rather than the ultimately victorious right-wing one. 2007 represents the converse of 1981, when Martinique voted for the rightist candidate but France as a whole elected a leftist (François Mitterrand). Over time, being at electoral odds with the nation as a whole has become less troubling for Martinicans: independence, which most islanders oppose, is no longer seen at stake in presidential outcomes. On the other hand, Martinicans have become progressively resigned to their peripheral status within French presidential politics.

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William F.S. Miles

Once again, Martinique confounds by voting. In 2002, incumbent president Jacques Chirac obtained his highest final result throughout all of France— Metropolitan and overseas—in this département français d’Amérique (DFA). Chirac’s otherwise overwhelming score for the Republic as a whole—82 percent— was modest compared with the 96 percent he obtained in Martinique.

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William F.S. Miles

Nineteen eighty-two marked a milestone in the history of Martinique and the career of Aimé Césaire. One year had passed since François Mitterrand's election as president and Césaire's declaration of a "moratorium" on challenging the island's status as a French département (state). Pro-independence violence still rocked the French West Indies. In this interview Césaire discusses the burdens of material dependency, dangers of in- and out-migration, centralizing legacies of France, opportunities afforded by Socialist governance, the need for decentralization, and the future of Martinican identity. The interview reveals Césaire's strategic flexibility within inviolate principles, his unique capacity to channel his people's psyche, his keen recognition of the relationship between nationalism and economics, and his sensitivity to micropolitics and intra-island differences.

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William F.S. Miles

On 17 April 2008, at the age of ninety-four, the foremost Black French intellectual-cum-politician of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries passed away. Born in the northwestern fishing village of Basse Pointe on the southeastern Caribbean island of Martinique on 26 June 1913, Aimé Césaire rose from humble beginnings to become a giant in the annals of colonial and postcolonial francophone literature. As the holder of several elected offices, from city mayor of the capital of Martinique to representative in the National Assembly of France, he was also a significant political actor. He was largely responsible for the legislation that, following World War II, elevated four of France’s “Old Colonies” in the West Indies and Indian Ocean into full French states (départements). A dozen years later he founded a political party that would struggle to roll back the very assimilating, deculturalizing processes that statehood (départementalisation) unleashed.