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PM’s Cayenne visit - Reaching out to St. Lucians in the French Antilles

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Contact: Earl Bousquet

Thursday, January 20, 2005 - Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony’s official visit to French Guiana, where thousands of St. Lucian and their dependants reside, will be the first by a St. Lucian Prime Minister in the country’s 25 years of Independence.

The visit, which begins January 23 and ends January 27, also represents a continuation of the current St. Lucia Government’s outreach to the French Antilles, with which St. Lucia has rich historical ties spanning two centuries.

St. Lucians and their dependants in the French-administered territory have over the years been clamouring for closer ties with the land of their birth. Many still have historically unresolved immigration problems, while others are interested in a better understanding of St. Lucian citizenship and nationality issues.

A major issue for all, however, has been the appointment of a diplomatic or consular representative of St. Lucia to attend to such issues.

The desire for official representation was largely achieved on St. Lucia’s part in January 2004, when Prime Minister Anthony announced the appointment of former Agriculture Minister Cass Elias to his current position as Consulate General with responsibility for relations with the French Antilles of Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana.

Mr. Elias is himself a fitting example of St. Lucia’s close and direct relations with distant Cayenne. Born in St. Lucia, his father has lived in Cayenne for more than 40 years. The former St. Lucian Cabinet Minister also has three brothers and a sister who were born in French Guiana.

Prime Minister Anthony’s first major outreach to the French Antilles was in 1999, when he paid a similar official visit to neighbouring Martinique.

As a result of an agreement with Paris negotiated through the French Embassy to the OECS, which is based in Castries, the Administrative Councils in Martinique have been granted a certain level of “devolution” that allows for bilateral agreements with Government entities in St. Lucia.

In 2000, St. Lucia opened its Consulate General in Martinique to promote relations between the two neighbouring islands. In the case of Cayenne, however, distance and the absence of structures has been a significant factor impeding closer relations over the years.

St. Lucians in Cayenne have kept their culture alive and embedded it into the folk culture of French Guiana, a vast territory several times the size of France. But this is also a vastly under-populated territory that is rich in minerals and forests.

The population of Guiana reflects a multi-cultural mosaic of descendants of diverse people and customs.

The country boasts a strong representation of France at the administrative level, with French and other European nationals dominating the commercial heights of the territory’s economy.

But there is also a significant historical presence of other persons from countries as far apart as former French colonies in Africa, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, the Arab States, Guyana, Haiti and St. Lucia.

The Guiana Chamber of Commerce four years ago expressed interest in doing business, if the authorities in Castries and Paris would make travel time and costs shorter and cheaper. But both wishes have proved elusive over the years.

However, contact between St. Lucia and French Guiana continues at a people-to-people level. Relatives and friends travel to and forth, utilizing air links via Martinique.

An increasing number of persons now come every year for the annual St. Lucia Jazz Festival, which is covered by teams from radio and TV stations in Cayenne.

The last official contact at Governmental level was a visit by a delegation led by the late Foreign Affairs Minister George Odlum, in the year 2000.

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