Secret political ambitions

Saint-Martin Wake up on one of the lists in the March 2017 territorial elections?

The committee was established in October 2015 in the middle of the local urban planning scheme crisis (PLU). Several months earlier, some who are more or less close to the committee’s core members voiced out to criticize the current majority’s policy.

The first denunciation concerned the PLU in March 2015 at a public meeting at the CCISM, which gathered more than 150 people opposed to the project. Press conferences and meetings about the 50 geometric steps were also organized, another thorny topic which, according to these same people, has not been sufficiently taken into consideration by the Collectivité.
The case of the Grand Case beach chairs in November was also triggered following the demands from Grand Case residents, some of whom are active committee members. More recently, the Orient Bay carbets provided yet another opportunity to denounce current officials’ policy.

The committee’s name is quite suggestive of a political ambition in March 2017. Or perhaps even a desire to push the current majority to resign. Or at least discredit it. They have partly succeeded since the majority has agreed to stop the  local urban planning scheme process (which will certainly not be resumed this year for political reasons), to review the rents of Orient Bay restaurants and satisfy a few other requests (duration of the temporary occupation permits (AOT), etc.).



Even though, on 9 March, the Collectivité tried to blame the blockade on the prefecture whose responsibility is indeed to enforce law and order on public roads, it was nevertheless the cause. Yielding to the PLU has opened the door to the committee’s demands. A political mistake by the Collectivité. This was evidenced by what happened on March 8. It is almost certain that other demonstrations will be organized in the months to come and it will be more and more difficult for the Collectivité to respond favorably. And the Saint Martin Wake up committee has lots of reasons for blocking the island.

However, we will have to wait and see the extent of their impact and the relevance of their requests. Everything will depend on the method they use. Although throughout 2015, the Committee received a lot of support, in particular from metropolitan residents, concerning the local urban planning scheme on 9 March, it has received even more public criticism. Comments denouncing the method they use have been published on many social networks by both the local population and vacationers. American tourists feel as if they have been taken hostage and did not hesitate to point out that the island makes its living from tourism and needs their dollars.



The difference with 22 October can be found in the nature of the discourse. The blocking of Orient Bay was symbolic; a strong message sent to the metropolitans which are blamed to be too involved in the economy. The two-paged document on the general demands - in addition to those specific to Orient Bay- reflects in fact a nationalist political thinking. “It is crucial to end the deplorable loss of economic control of the island’s native inhabitants, compared to the benefits enjoyed by the people coming from elsewhere (…) No more evictions of Saint-Martin store owners at the Grand Case airport (…) No more waterfront project given in concession to external companies without any benefits for the Island’s natives…”, wrote the committee here and there in this document.

This feeling of invasion is understandable and is not specific to Saint-Martin. Fifteen years ago, French departments such as the Dordogne or the Gers complained about the surge in real estate prices caused by a mass arrival of Englishmen who were, at this time, attracted by old stones. And not to mention the Corsicans.

However, the context here is different. The island has forged its reputation on this cultural diversity. In the 1980s -1990s, local politics also benefited from the metropolitans and their efforts to develop tourism. They issued them building permits very easily. Today, a large part of the land remains held by Saint-Martin residents who rent to “foreigners”.

Metropolitans are not the only foreign community of the island to weigh in the economy. Mass retail is particularly dominated by the Chinese who own many small supermarkets. However, no fingers are pointed at them. The same goes for the Indians.



Even though some of the demands contained in this two-page document are justified - such as deploring the non-compliance with the prohibition of beach chairs on the Grand Case beach (even if one does not agree, an order was issued and must be respected), on the other hand, this is not the case for others.
For example, the Collectivité has been asked to improve the appearance and the environment of the Marigot entrance in Agrément or the sanitary conditions of some homes in Saint-James. But are the elected officials the only ones to be blamed for the degradation of these places?

They have requested a shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence; a day and night accommodation center has already been established.

Other demands will not find a response within the Collectivité. Like those stipulating cheaper airfare for inter-island travel or the introduction of monthly invoices for certain services.

Still others are currently being examined and do not depend solely on the Collectivité but rather the State, among which are the creation of a detention facility for young offenders and a prison. A socio-educational home has been planned to open soon (announced by François Hollande) for young offenders in particular. Concerning the prison, the Ministry of Justice has recently announced the modular construction of several cells to accommodate defendants for a few days while waiting for their judgment. It is necessary to be aware that a true prison will never be built in Saint-Martin as long as a lower court has not been established. A project which is not on the agenda since a detached Chamber from the District Court of Basse-Terre has just been created. Obtaining a TGI is another - political - subject with complex issues and requiring genuine and important political lobbying (more important than what is being done in Guadeloupe).

Finally, the committee would like to see police stations installed. However, they are only in urban areas and Saint-Martin is considered a rural area. Moreover, the gendarmerie already provides 24-hour service. And its mission is similar to that of the police.

Last week, the Collectivité promised to respond to several requests within two weeks; it therefore still has a week to do so. A second meeting has also been planned later to address other subjects.




Estelle Gasnet