By NAN Staff Writer
News Americas, MIAMI, FL, Thurs. July 30, 2020: As the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum globally, activists in at least two Caribbean islands, recently tore down three statues of colonial-era figures.
Activists in Martinique on Sunday tore down the statues of Joséphine de Beauharnais, the wife of French emperor Napoleon and Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc, a trader who established the first permanent French colony, Saint-Pierre, on the island of Martinique in 1635.
In neighboring Guadeloupe, a statue of Victor Schoelcher, French politician and writer who drafted the decree by which France abolished slavery in all of its colonies on 27 April 1848, was removed last week and broken into pieces that were found 40 kilometers away.
The statue of de Beauharnais in the La Savane park in Fort-de-France, Martinique, was removed on Sunday with sledgehammers. The words “death to colonialism” are graffitied on a concrete block.
It was first hacked at the stone base as drummers beat out a rhythm. They then attached cords to it and brought it crashing down before stamping on it.
Joséphine de Beauharnais, the first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte, was born on Martinique to a wealthy family that owned a sugar plantation.
Bonaparte’s nephew Napoléon III commissioned the statue in 1859. It was decapitated in 1991 and the head has never been found.
Activists also pulled down the nearby statue of d’Esnambuc. 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.
In May, the same group of activists tore down two statues of Victor Schoelcher in Martinique.
Activists opposed to Martinique’s colonial heritage said they wanted black emancipation leaders to be honored instead.
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.
France’s government on Monday condemned the act as “vandalism.” Prime Minister Jean Castex said “violence, albeit symbolic, and hatred will never push forward any cause.”