The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The People Weakened by Underdevelopment

Apr 20, 2020

Translated and excerpted from Combat Ouvrier (Workers’ Combat), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Coronavirus can be fatal for everyone. But it’s particularly dangerous for people with chronic illnesses. Martinique and Guadeloupe have many people like this.

Chronic illnesses are called “co-morbidities” because they increase the risk of dying from the virus. They are much more frequent on the islands than in France. This is the result of the islands being underdeveloped. It’s a heritage of the colonial situation, which is not fully overturned.

For example, different kinds of cancer are very frequent on the islands. The level of prostate cancer is the highest in the world. Pollution of the soil and groundwater by the insecticide chlordecone (Kepone) made the situation worse. Ninety-five percent of the population were exposed. The wealthy white owners of the big banana plantations used this poison widely to increase profits, threatening the health of the population, especially the farm workers.

Other serious illnesses are very common here, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. These are associated with bad nutrition and living conditions. The main cause is poverty, which keeps most people from having a healthier life.

Other significant diseases regularly recurring are epidemics transmitted by mosquitoes, like dengue fever, zika, and chikungunya. These diseases have natural origins. But their effects are made worse by the overall lack of hygiene and public services. Trash which isn’t collected becomes a haven where mosquitoes multiply. So do rats carrying the deadly leptospirosis bacteria.

Finally, another consequence of underdevelopment is that young people leave here. Youth unemployment hits three out of five young workers, so they emigrate. This leaves an older population behind, who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.