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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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Thomas A. Hale and Kora Véron

Aimé Césaire's dramatic break from the French Communist Party in 1956 raises questions not only about the reasons for his resignation, but more importantly, about how he overcame the negative consequences of the rupture to give a new impetus to his career as the principal political leader in Martinique. A close examination of his writings from 1945 to 1959, based especially on his lesser-known declarations, essays, interviews, and speeches, as well as on his more widely-disseminated poetry and history, reveals a more nuanced explanation for the rupture. Above all, these texts offer new insights into how he was able to recover his political momentum by building new alliances both at home and abroad.

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Césaire is Dead

Long Live Césaire! Recuperations and Reparations

A. James Arnold

Events surrounding Aimé Césaire's funeral in Martinique (April 2008) brought to the fore a number of unresolved contradictions that have swirled around his literary production, as well as his political legacy, for decades. Did Césaire really mean to speak for a culturally and historically determined group of dispossessed colonials and former colonials, as he often stated from the 1960s onward? Or did he intend to appeal to a biologically determined collective unconscious, as he sometimes stated in less guarded moments? Finally, should Césaire's ambiguous statements about the movement to require reparations from the French state for centuries of enslavement in the Antilles be taken as an endorsement of such demands? None of these questions were resolved in the flood of writing about Césaire's importance and significance in the year of his death.

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"The Best Avenue of Escape"

The French Caribbean Route as Expulsion, Rescue, Trial, and Encounter

Eric T. Jennings

Can exclusion and rescue constitute the two faces of a same coin? How did the door slam shut on maritime rescue schemes in 1941? How precisely did Varian Fry and HICEM spirit refugees stranded in Southern France to the new world? In answering these questions, this article delineates and analyzes the sinuous routes that led to the emigration of thousands of refugees from Marseille to the French Caribbean in 1940-1941. It exposes some of the ambiguities of this project—including the comparable conditions of refugee internment in Vichy France and in Martinique—and its ultimate undoing. It delves into the encounters and synergies that the exodus engendered, and explores the perspectives of some of the refugees and Martiniquais whose paths crossed.

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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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Tyler Stovall

This article considers how the life of Aimé Césaire constitutes a template for the black presence in Paris. It concentrates on three themes: Paris as a (conflicted) symbol of liberty; Paris as an artistic and intellectual center; and Paris as a global city. It shows how, as the life of Césaire exemplifies, the black communities of Paris have seen the French capital as both a site of diasporic encounters and as a beacon of liberty. Like Césaire, the black presence in Paris has both challenged and underscored traditions of French universalism.

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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

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.

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Culture-as-Race or Culture-as-Culture

Cultural Identity in French Society

David Beriss

“Yes, but aren’t these people black?” This is perhaps the most common question Americans ask about my research among West Indian activists in Paris and Martinique. It is asked in a tone that suggests that the answer itself is obvious and, more than that, that the questions I ask about West Indian claims to identity would be almost moot if I were to just get that answer through my head. This question has always confused me.

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Aimé Césaire et la politique

Sept leçons de leadership

Fred Constant

The Caribbean has yielded many leaders with statesmanship abilities that are on par with the very best in the world; it is to one of these that the present essay is devoted. Specifically, it attempts to understand the nature of the political leadership that Aimé Césaire has epitomized for more than fifty years in his native Martinique and abroad. In doing so, it examines what accounts for his political appeal and his capacity to pursue his political vision. The essay also suggests some insights that the rest of the world could draw from Césaire's experience.