The Documentary Podcast
Martinique: The poisoning of paradise
Thursday, 19 November
“First we were enslaved. Then we were poisoned.” That’s how many on Martinique see the history of their French Caribbean island that, to tourists, means sun, rum, and palm-fringed beaches. Slavery was abolished in 1848. But today the islanders are victims again – of a toxic pesticide called chlordecone that’s poisoned the soil and water and been linked by scientists to unusually high rates of prostate cancer. For more than 10 years chlordecone was authorised for use in banana plantations – though its harmful effects were already known. Now, more than 90% of Martinicans have traces of it in their blood. The pollution means many can't grow vegetables in their gardens - and fish caught close to the shore are too dangerous to eat. French President Emmanuel Macron has called it an ‘environmental scandal’ and said the state ‘must take responsibility’. But some activists on the island want to raise wider questions about why the pesticide was used for so long – and on an island divided between a black majority and a small white minority, it’s lost on no-one that the banana farmers who used the toxic chemical and still enjoy considerable economic power are, in many cases, descendants of the slave owners who once ran Martinique. Reporting from the island for Assignment, Tim Whewell asks how much has changed there. Is Martinique really an equal part of France? And is there equality between descendants of slaves and the descendants of their masters, even now?
Produced and presented by Tim Whewell
Editor, Bridget Harney
(Image: Sunset on a beach in Martinique. Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images)