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  • Ariane 5 rocket taking off from Kourou Space Center on Aug. 24, 2016.

    Ariane 5 rocket taking off from Kourou Space Center on Aug. 24, 2016. | Photo: AFP

Since its colonization in 1503, France has denied Guiana the same labor and health care rights that those on the mainland enjoy.

More than a week after French Guiana workers started a massive strike across the country, a Eutelsat 172B satellite remains unloaded at the Cayenne airport, making its launch scheduled for April 25 unlikely.

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The strike, which started more than a week ago but officially paralyzed all sectors starting on Monday, has now affected three launch programs at the Kourou space center, costing about US$500,000 a day in lost productivity, said a researcher from French space agency CNES, Joel Barre.

The Kourou Space Center, located on the coast, is the main provider of jobs on the French territory, besides the public sector — mostly education jobs — creating a situation of sharp inequalities between state officials and employees from the space center on one hand, and the rest of the population on the other.

The average wage per year is about 44 percent lower than wages in mainland France, while the unemployment rate is twice as high at 22 percent.

As a matter of a fact, the strikers decided to block the road leading to the center first, quickly paralyzing the whole country, as Le Vent Se Leve recalled. Blocking access to the center clearly demonstrated that all the economic activity of Guiana relies heavily on the center.

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But other demands quickly followed, like better infrastructures for transport, better security overseeing children going to and from school, and the development of new university courses or professional training — as many Guiana students are forced to study in mainland France, while those who cannot afford it remain unemployed in the South American territory.

Among the 15 to 24-year-old population, about 40 percent are reportedly unemployed, while only half of them are going to school — 10 percent less that mainland France. Only 12 percent passed the baccalaureate and a quarter of them have “difficulties reading” — as opposed to only 4 percent on the mainland.

Out of 250,000 inhabitants, 46,000 don't have direct access to water, and the territory has half of the number of general practitioners that France has. On the other hand, living costs in Guiana are about 12 percent higher than in France, according to official estimates, especially regarding food products, which are 45 percent higher and rent, which is 20 percent higher.

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