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 more facts to set up the scene of the benefits of riding with France. Martinique has benefited greatly to still be 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. although official unemployment rate is high, especially with young people, they benefit from France min subvention of 551 euros per month. Not meaning that everything is perfect, the high rate of drug related criminality shows the limits, but many of neighboring island envy Martinique.
Let’s talk slavery legacy. Well, no spoiler here. The island was built on slavery. 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. On this domain, 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 all the good jobs are for whites”; etc… and quickly we got to the obvious, yet quiet truth of Martinique. This habitation belongs to slave masters descendent, Bekes as called in Martinique. 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 brand 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. 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 in the whole world. 2000 Bekes control 20% of the island wealth, and own 50% of the cultivable land.
How come? In 1793, slavery is abolished in France, after the French revolution. In France, nobility get their head chopped. The same happened in the other French island, Guadeloupe. But the Bekes from Martinique get protected by the Brits. Hence they are probably the only one 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.