One of my new year resolution was to take a 2 week vacation with my family. A few months later, here I am in Martinique. A French Caribbean island. It is nicknamed the island of flowers.
Due to French laws, its coastline is pristine. No high rise hotels nowhere close to the beaches. Actually, what I enjoy most, is to swim out and look back and mostly see trees and the mountains in the background. I have seen more beautiful beaches, but I rarely saw a similar landscape.
A few facts to set up the scene of how Martinique benefits from riding with France. Martinique has benefited greatly by still being a part of France. The roads are like 10 times better than the roads in New York state. The Health system is as good as in many places in France. And although official unemployment rate is high (especially with young people), they benefit from France’s benefits of 551 euros per month. Not everything is perfect; there is a high rate of drug related crimes for example, but many of neighboring islands envy Martinique.
Let’s talk about slavery’s legacy. Well, no spoiler here. The island was built on slavery. The main crops were coffee, cocoa, and sugar cane. The latter is what caused me a major conundrum this year. Yes only this year. Not the other 20 times I visited my parents homeland. Why? My wife. On day 2, we went to visit a former “habitation”, a euphemism to describe a luxurious house where slave masters where living. There, we visited a cocoa plantation. As we walked through the beautiful gardens and old buildings my wife kept asking pertinent questions: “who does this belong to?”; “why are all the good jobs for whites”; etc… and quickly we got to the obvious, yet quiet truth about Martinique. This habitation belongs to slave masters descendants, the family of the Bekes. Although we are being frugal to become Financially Independent, we aimed to buy from locally owned businesses. It was hard in the US, but I truly thought that in Martinique I could easily spend on Black businesses. Well, it was possible until we came to the staple item of the Island: agricultural rum. I should have known. Rum is made from sugar cane. Sugar cane was one of the major crop during slavery. Buying rum benefit descendent of slave owners. That is true for all brands except Neisson, because that brand started after slavery was abolished.
I am bothered. I used to come back from Martinique with some amazing bottles of rum, and now I know where my money was going. A 40 year old bottle, limited editions, etc… a true palate reviver.
Now the real question. Am I right to penalize the Bekes? Like my Dad said, the pyramid were made by slaves, and I would still visit it (it is on my list). Well the descendent of Pharaohs are dead. and if not dead, they are no longer in power. Martinique may be a unique case globally: 2000 Bekes control 20% of the island wealth, and own 50% of the cultivable land.
How come?In 1793, slavery was abolished in France, after the French revolution. In France, nobility got their heads chopped. The same happened in the other French island, Guadeloupe. But the Bekes from Martinique got protected by the Brits. Hence they are probably the only family in the world that still live where they enslaved people, and still enjoy the wealth built on the misery of slaves. True, this is the past and it can not be changed. What I can do though, is to choose where I buy my rum. I know it will taste better knowing it has nothing to do with Bekes.