European Elections: Down in the South American rain forest, a little bit of Europe votes

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The Independent Online
IF THE European elections seem remote to voters in Britain, spare a thought for the people of Guiana - sandwiched between Brazil and Surinam, yet part of the European Union.

Guiana is a French depart-ement, its currency is the euro and its government is that of Lionel Jospin. Yesterday, like their Parisian counterparts, the people of the capital, Cayenne, went to the polls to vote for their representatives in Strasbourg. So who would the inhabitants of this corner of South America, ninety per cent of which is covered by Amazon rainforest, vote for?

Leon Bertrand, the deputy mayor of St-Laurent-du- Maroni, Guiana's second largest town, said: "I think that 60 to 80 per cent of the population will abstain."

This is not particularly surprising. Only one sixth of the population is registered to vote and none of the French party lists contains a Guianese candidate for them to vote for. Considering the indifference to the European campaign shown by the mainland French electorate, what significance could the elections, and indeed Europe, have for the Guianese, more than 10,000 kilometres (5,500 miles) away?

A technician at the space centre in Kourou said most Guianese "had no concept of any European identity at all". The European flag is often identified as the logo of the space centre, he said, as that is the only context in which the people of the town have seen it.

Things are little different in the other overseas departements: Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean, and Reunion in the Indian Ocean. Julien Merion, 52, a university lecturer in Guadeloupe, predicted that only 10 per cent of the population would vote: "On the national lists there are very few local figures, and even the three that are on the lists are in such low places that they stand no real chance of being elected.

"The people aren't worried about Kosovo or the euro: what worries them is the number of jobs, having better facilities, and the banana crisis," Mr Merion added.