Protesters destroy colonial statues on French Caribbean isle

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PARIS (AP) — Cheering protesters tugging on ropes tore down a statue of Napoleon’s wife on the Caribbean island of Martinique and another from the French territory’s colonial history, adding to a growing list of monuments being ripped down and defaced in spreading global revulsion of racial injustice.

France’s government on Monday condemned the “vandalism.” Prime Minister Jean Castex said “violence, albeit symbolic, and hatred will never push forward any cause.”

Protesters with sledgehammers first hacked at the stone base of the statue of Empress Josephine, which was already missing its head. As drummers beat out a rhythm, they attached cords to it, brought it crashing down and stamped and jumped on it.

Also brought down Sunday to screams of delight was a statue of Pierre Bélain d’Esnambuc, a French trader who in 1635 established France’s first permanent Caribbean colony on Martinique. The mayor of Fort-de-France, the island’s capital, had said that he wanted to take down the statue in coming weeks but the protesters beat him to it.

The protesters’ actions directly challenged a vow in June from French President Emmanuel Macron that France will not take down statues of controversial, colonial-era figures as has happened in some other countries in the wake of Black Lives Matter movement.

Josephine was born on Martinique and lived there into her teens before moving to Paris. She and Napoleon Bonaparte married in 1796.

Bélain established France’s first Caribbean colony on St. Kitts, which later became British, before taking possession of Martinique for France’s King Louis XIII.

Other statues have also been torn down in Martinique and in French Guiana. Statues have come down outside of France, too, as the Black Lives Matter movement has gathered pace in the wake of the death in the United States of George Floyd.


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