The unusual deployment follows several weeks of turmoil over COVID-19 measures—including a vaccine mandate for health care workers—military reinforcements were sent on Tuesday.
Compulsory vaccinations for health workers, a measure already introduced on the French mainland, had fuelled widespread resentment among the islands’ population.
Sebastien Lecornu, the minister for France’s overseas territories, said 70 military gendarmes had arrived in Martinique earlier in the day, in addition to two previously unannounced squadrons that were deployed from metropolitan France to help clear roadblocks.
“Social dialogue is not possible without a sound basis and that sound basis is the re-establishment of freedoms … and our capacity to re-establish order,” Lecornu told a press conference in Martinique after meeting its leaders and trade unions.
In Guadeloupe, home to some 400,000 residents, 70 reinforcements were sent on Tuesday along with 10 extra SWAT team members to help shore up security, Lecornu said.
There is a historic mistrust of the government’s handling of health crises in Guadeloupe after many people were systematically exposed to toxic pesticides used in banana plantations in the 1970s. Protesters have insisted they should be allowed to make their own choices about health treatment.
Protests have continued although the French government last week said it would postpone a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public sector workers amid the widespread protests that are beginning to cripple the french economy.
The vaccine mandate and other COVID-19 restrictions fanned long-standing grievances over living standards and the relationship between France’s Caribbean islands and Paris.
French President Emmanuel Macron has described the ongoing unrest as an “explosive” situation.