French President Emmanuel Macron is making his first scheduled overseas trip. In Guiana, Macron and EC President Jean-Claude Juncker are promoting a plan to develop the EU's peripheral territories.
On a visit to the French overseas region and department which borders northern Brazil, Macron on Friday presented his case for the development of the impoverished South American territory.
The French president confirmed his government's commitment to provide €1 billion ($1.16 billion) in development aid, which would include the building of a school of excellence. "The commitments will be fulfilled, not more and not less," he confirmed on Twitter:
Macron had stirred controversy the day before when he said in his initial statement that he had not come "to make promises."
"I am not Father Christmas because the people of Guiana are not children," Macron said on Thursday.
"The state has made too many promises which have not been kept," he added. "So I'm here to tell things as I see them, make commitments that I can keep during my term in office and help provide the authority which is essential on this territory."
Macron and French Development Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer visited Maripasoula near the border with Surinam
Unemployment spurs protests
Six months ago there were widespread protests over security problems and unemployment, which has reached 23 percent in Guiana. There are complaints that Guiana has been overlooked by the government in Paris as it faces large-scale illegal immigration and has poor infrastructure compared with the French mainland.
On Thursday, local activist groups held rallies and then gathered at the prefecture calling for a meeting with Macron that evening, rather than on Friday morning as had been offered to them. Over several hours there were clashes between protesters and police, leading to several arrests.
Kourou Space Center with Juncker
During demonstrations in March and April, protesters briefly occupied the Kourou Space Center (CNES), which is where European rockets are launched.
The government of then-President Francois Hollande had promised the €1 billion aid package and a further €2.1 billion in investments to Guiana over an unspecified period of time.
Macron scheduled a visit to the space center on Friday together with the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. An aim of the Lisbon treaty is to expand development and activities on the EU's periphery, which "allows a solid base for a new partnership," Juncker declared earlier this year at a Forum of Outermost Regions. The funds come from the EU's Rural Development Fund and the EU's Social Fund.
The space center is an emblem of the inequalities in the forested, humid territory of 83,000 square kilometers (32,046 square miles). While some communities have neither running water nor electricity, the space center is a high-tech facility for Arianespace's commercial launches with the heavy-lift Ariane 5, medium-size Soyuz and lightweight Vega spacecraft.
Macron's three-day visit concludes on Saturday.
jm/kms (AFP, AP, EFE)