77. Carte Blanche in Guadeloupe during 2010 to 2015
SEP. 7, 2023
Ryan heads to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. We learn the less-than-sweet story of sugar, and discover the ups and downs of developing a modern marvel to memorialise those who suffered.
Between North and South America, you’ll find the Caribbean sea, home to a group of islands which form an arc called the Lesser Antilles.
Somewhere in the middle of that, beneath Montserrat, and just above Dominica – is Guadeloupe.
And Guadeloupe is not actually a country. It is in fact a ‘French-administered territory’ – which basically means that is an overseas region of France, so subject to all the same laws and regulations as all the other regions in France.
Guadeloupe is a collection of more than 12 islands, the two largest being Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre. Together these two islands are separated by a narrow channel called ‘Salt River’, which gives them the appearance of a butterfly shape when looking from above.
The whole area covers 1,628 square km (629 square miles), which is around 3 times the size of Paris - or 395 times smaller than a France.
It’s a tropical place, so expect palm trees and sandy beaches, but there’s also an active volcano there too, called Soufrière – which is about 5000 ft high (that’s 1500m) and last erupted as recently as April, 2021.
Guadeloupe has a population of around 400,000 citizens, most of whom are of African or mixed-descent. French is the official language, Catholicism the religion, and the national symbol is the Guadeloupe Woodpecker – a bird with black plumage that has a long tongue with horny, backward-facing hooks that it uses to extract insects from holes in wood.
The currency is the Euro, and the capital is the island of Basse-Terre.
Tourism is the most significant part of Guadeloupe’s economy - over 1 million visitors arrive every year to sit on beaches, go diving, and drink rum produced locally from the various different distilleries.
The official flag is the French tricolore, which has three vertical bands of blue, white and red, but an unofficial flag exists too which is a little more elaborate – it has a black or red background on which is the image of a yellow sun and a green sugarcane, above which a blue stripe contains three yellow fleurs-de-lis
From the late 1600s to the early 1800s, Guadeloupe was a frequent haunt for pirates. They were drawn to the islands because it was a major trading hub. Pirates plagued the waters attacking merchant ships and plundering all the loot that they could take.
The famous Blackbeard was said to have attacked Guadeloupe on a number of occasions, as did Calico Jack Rackham, whose ship The Revenge would often terrify the French navy as it prowled the waters around the islands.
Piracy became such a problem for the French government that they took steps to protect the island by building forts and stationing troops there.
In fact, today, you can visit Fort Fleur d'Epee – which is one of the remaining forts, and you can also board a replica pirate ship called ‘Le Galion Pirate’, and of course, if you’re really on a mission to discover what life was like as a Pirate, you can visit Pirate's Adventure Golf - a pirate-themed 18-hole mini-golf course.
And talking of pirates and Guadeloupe.. You might have heard of the legendary ghost ship ‘The Flying Dutchman’ which is said to be doomed to sail the seas forever. One of its origin stories says that the ship was once captained by a pirate named Willem van der Decken, a ruthless and cruel man who found himself caught in a storm off the coast of Guadeloupe, and vowed to sail the seas forever if he could just get his ship to safety.
According to legend, his wish was granted, and upon his death, his spirit was cursed to sail the high-seas forever more.
If you consider yourself a treasure hunter, then Guadeloupe is probably a decent bet to find buried gold, because there are rumours that a French pirate called Jean Hamlin hid his treasure on a beach in Guadeloupe shortly before being killed by the navy which means that his treasure is still out there still waiting to be discovered.
But with no treasure map, and 249 miles of coastline to search, you might want to skip that and head to Morne Rouge, a mountain that supposedly contains an entire pirate ship filled with treasure – but prospectors beware - legend says that the ship is guarded by a fearsome dragon, so unless you have expertise killing dragons, then you might be best advised to leave that one alone too.
The oldest living person on Guadeloupe is Emilienne Becarmin, who at the time of recording, in Aug 2023, is 112 years and 89 days old. Known by her family as Mimi, Emilienne was born in 1911, and spent much of her life living in the countryside as a farmer and a merchant .
Considered a supercentenarian, Emilienne puts her long life down to eating vegetables and finding joy in singing. With good health, she will pass the oldest living Guadeloupean Marthe Roch, who in 2020 died at the grand age of 113 years and 33 days.
But Emilienne still has a long way to go to pass the oldest living person, María Branyas Morera, who at 116 years old, lives in Spain and has her own twitter account.
And if Emilienne does manage to pass 116 years, then she still has further to go to reach the oldest person to have ever lived, a Jeanne Louise Calment, who died in 1997 aged 122 years and 164 days old. Jeanne apparently survived that long despite eating a kilogram of chocolate every week and smoking every day from the age of 21 to 117.
Apparently in her youth, she sold painting canvases, including some to Vincent Van Gogh who she remembered fondly as being “ugly as sin” and blessed with a “vile temper and a smell of booze”. Nice.
History of Guadeloupe
4,000 years ago, the first people arrive in Guadeloupe, which they called “Karukera”, meaning “the island of beautiful waters”. These are the Arawak Indians, also known as the Lokono people, an indigenous tribe from South America who migrated north into the Caribbean looking to set up new shop on the various islands there.
They settled on Guadeloupe, grew crops, fished the sea, and gradually established a society which had a complex belief system, the remnants of which can still be seen today, with petroglyphs of animals, humans and various shapes and symbols carved into the sides of the Morne Rouge mountain (remember? The one with the dragon in it).
Around a thousand years ago though, the island is taken over by an aggressive tribe known as the Caribs who ship up and violently push the Arawak out.
On November 4, 1493 Christopher Columbus makes an appearance. On his second trip to the Americas, he runs out of fresh water and makes a pit-stop on the islands, which he claims for Spain, calling it Santa María de Guadalupe - after a statue of the Virgin Mary which can be found in the Spanish town of Guadalupe.
Columbus and the Spanish don’t linger long though, just enough time to use it as a trading outpost and spread their diseases such that the native population is effectively wiped out. Oops.
In 1635, French colonists arrive and finding only a few remaining natives left, decide to seize the land and colonise it.
They begin growing tobacco and later switch to sugar cane. But needing a workforce for these plantations, the French turn to Africa, and import over 40,000 slaves to work for them under especially brutal conditions.
In the latter-half of the 1600s, during the reign of King Louis XIV, Guadeloupe is officially recognised as a part of France, and the islands fall completely under French control.
Recognising the benefits of occupying Guadeloupe, Britain decides it wants in on the action too, and between 1759-1815 the two nations fight each other repeatedly, effectively taking turns at occupying the islands depending on who won and who lost their most recent battle.
After Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, a peace agreement between Britain and France, one of the clauses being that Guadeloupe is finally handed over to the French.
Slavery was abolished in 1794, but this didn’t last long, because within 6 years, slavery is reinstated by Napoleon who wanted to appease the colonies plantation owners who were grumbling about the abolitions impact on their profits.
And so, Guadeloupe faced another forty years of slavery until it was finally abolished properly in 1848.
In the late 1800s, Guadeloupe's economy suffers as the price of sugar declines and this leads to social unrest and demands for political reform.
In 1946, Guadeloupe changes its status and becomes a ‘French overseas department’, making it effectively no different than any other French region, like Grand-Est or Normandie. This means that the citizens of Guadeloupe now had the same rights as anyone living in France but also were subject to the same governments rules, regulations, taxes, and policies.
This limited the ability for the islands to control their own way forward, and questions of independence and full autonomy started to be debated.
In the 1960s, this escalated into general strikes, mass protests and even some violence as activists pushed for better wages, improved working conditions and the right to manage themselves.
But all attempts at independence were actively suppressed by the French government, often violently, and so, things remained pretty much as they were.
Things cooled down after the 70s, and the islands became something of an attractive destination for tourists, so much so that holidaymakers and honeymooners are now central to the islands' economy.
With funding from France, infrastructure, education and living standards improved, but by 2009, protests resumed over the cost of living, and a month-long general strike paralyzed Guadeloupe's economy – stopping only when France pledged to reform its policies - and the protests stopped.
But trouble in Guadeloupe wasn’t over, a hurricane hit in 2017 and the island experienced significant economic problems as they had to rebuild - just in time for COVID lockdowns to appear which effectively killed the tourist industry.
Today, the islands are recovering, but they continue to experience a shaky economy, and the debate about independence and local autonomy continues to remain a significant conversation piece.
But it’s a beautiful place, full of all the Caribbean treats you might want to experience, with white sands, crystal blue waters and towering waterfalls providing a picture-postcard playground for visitors to explore.
What do we mean by ‘carte blanche’?
Literally, "carte blanche" is the French words for ‘blank card’ - like a blank piece of paper, or an empty canvas – something that has the potential for anything to be written or drawn on. But over time it’s taken on another more symbolic meaning - as a metaphor for having the freedom to do whatever you want, often without any fear of consequence.
omeowners might give a landscaper carte blanche to design them a new garden.
Parents might give their child carte blanche to pick what they want to eat for dinner.
A president might feel he has carte blanche to take home dozens of boxes of highly-classified documents.
Basically, it means you have permission to do whatever you like, but where does it come from? Well, the origins are pretty obscure.
Some say it’s a military term for surrender, with the French sending a 'charte blanche' – an empty charter to their enemy to write out their terms on.
Others say it came from a time when French kings would sign blank proclamations and give them out to land owners to write in their own laws and taxes – which was a way of keeping influential people on their side whilst also being able to keep their hands clean if people didn’t like the new taxes or laws.
Other people claim it might come from the 18th century when aristocrats gave out a signed piece of paper to their mistresses, which allowed them access to their credit account.
Others think it might be from a time where if you were going to dance at a ball, you’d be given a card with names written on it and you had no option but to dance with those people - but if you were given a white card, then you could dance with whomever you liked.
But the origin story that we like best traces back to France in the early 17th century when if you were super important, like a member of royalty, then you might be given a ‘carte blanche’ – a blank invitation made of high-quality paper, with borders made from gold leaf, and sealed with wax, which gave the holder free pass to come and go at as many balls and banquets as they liked, including unlimited access to special foods and drinks and opened the door to exclusive ‘party rooms’. Access all areas, baby!
Regardless of its origins, by the 1800s, the phrase had become a general metaphor for giving power to someone to do with it as they see fit, pretty much as we use it today.
And it’s a pretty common phrase, especially in Europe where the Italians call it ‘carta bianca’, the Spanish call it ‘carta blanca’, and the Portugese call it ‘carta branca’. Other nationalities though use a different term, they say ‘free hand’ or ‘open hand’, the Russians call it ‘freedom of action’, the Thai call it ‘full authority’, and the Norwegians use ‘Fritt spillerom’ meaning ‘free playroom’
Whatever you call it, it all translates to the same meaning, being given freedom to do as you see fit.
And that’s where today’s episode comes in, because the Carte Blanche in Guadeloupe that we’re going to be looking at today is inspired by the former president of France, François Hollande, who said in a speech in 2015 that, "freedom is the foundation of our society… we must always fight for equality, regardless of our origins, beliefs, or sexual orientation"
Which given the history of slavery in Guadeloupe is especially relevant
Before we get into our time period, we need to set the scene, so our first section begins a decade before our time period, back in 1998.
52 years have passed since 1946 when the islands of Guadeloupe were granted full departmental status, giving the people that live there the same political rights as those living in France.
But that doesn’t mean that things are super-peachy. At the beginning of 1998, a series of hurricanes hit the island, causing damage to the island's economy with resulting job losses meaning widespread hardship.
Calls to France for assistance were made, but support doesn’t come quickly enough. Frustrated with the French system failing them, some islanders start to question whether they ought to have the autonomy to look after the islands themselves.
And so, the regional council of Guadeloupe proposed a referendum to challenge France’s control, seeking to give themselves the power to improve the lives of their citizens.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is met with some resistance from the French government who oppose the idea, arguing that a referendum was unnecessary because Guadeloupe already had a high degree of autonomy, and any further ability to self-govern would simply weaken ties between them.
Regardless, the referendum went ahead, and after votes were counted, 44% of the island’s population voted in favour of autonomy and 56% voted to remain governed by France – the main reason being that leaving France would only lead to further economic hardship and a loss of culture and identity.
With almost half of the island having to accept the loss of the referendum, tensions rose – particularly between some of the black population and the minority whites.
The black community felt rejected, and the conversation shifted to debates about the legacy of slavery on the island and the continuing discrimination faced by black people – a type of ‘slavery in name’, where, while not legally enslaved, they were still being exploited and discriminated against.
Simply put, the loss of the referendum meant that Guadeloupe was seen by almost half of the citizens as still a colonial society.
And so, under growing pressure, the French government decided that they needed to make a concerted effort to address the perception that they were modern-day colonisers.
By the end of 1998, the idea of a "museum of slavery and the slave trade" appears.
Six years later, on October 26th, 2004, the President of the Guadeloupe Regional Council, a man called Victorin Lurel - who had voted ‘no’ in the referendum - makes a pledge to create a memorial on the slave trade and slavery.
He envisions a space dedicated to the collective remembrance of slavery and the slave trade – a place that can bring together all people around a common past – a museum which would be open to the world, and a memorial which will inspire everyone to reflect upon liberty and freedom.
In the words of Lurel himself, it would not be “a Fine-Arts or Society Museum, but a space designed to host multiple activities, multiple approaches, multiple ambitions, and whose primary mission is to promote ‘living together better’”.
It would describe the atrocities suffered by the victims of slavery, but also open a window on the future - an act of remembrance as a tool to help build a new society.
And so, in 2005, a scientific committee was formed, with professors, historians and heritage chiefs working together on a board to help define the scope of the project.
A project which became known as the ‘Memorial Acte de l'Indépendance’, meaning ‘Memorial to the Act of Independence’, or more simply called, the ‘Mémorial ACTe’
The first thing that the committee agreed was that they needed to build a ‘monument’ to Guadeloupe and the Caribbean, a large permanent exhibition, which could host events and shows that offered visitors an educational experience.
A venue which would describe the reality of the European slavery system of the past but also shine a light on contemporary forms of enslavement too, racism and all forms of ostracism.
But also a place that would encourage research on the slave trade and their abolitions, as a means to shedding new light on the gray areas, and confront any attempts at revisionist histories which might attempt to downplay the miserable reality of the past.
And so, work gets underway, trying to identify the specific cultural and scientific programming that would be presented there.
As a physical act of their intentions to build the memorial, Lurel and his team commemorate the 160th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Guadeloupe, by laying a foundation stone down.
Progress continues, and things are rolling along nicely.. that is, until Jacques Chirac, the then French President declares that the memorial is too good of an idea to be built just in lowly Guadeloupe and decides instead that it should be built - not in the Caribbean at all - but in Paris!
This throws the Memorial team into somewhat of a panic, but that doesn’t last long, because not long after making this decision, President Chirac loses the next general election- and the new leader of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, abandons the idea entirely – completely opposed to the idea of French repentance.
So, sadly, progress on the Memorial stops. For now.
To recap.. tensions in Guadeloupe regarding a lack of autonomy results in renewed debate about the history of slavery and the lack of freedom that the island has to manage and direct its own future. A memorial to atrocities of the past is proposed as a way of helping ease tensions but in 2007 this is put to a stop by incoming French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
A couple years pass, it’s now 2010, the start of our time period, and Victorin Lurel, the man who started work on developing the memorial is now President of the Guadeloupe region.
He’s won the election by a strong majority, with 56% of the vote, and while he’s restricted by Sarkozy’s decision to stop the project, it doesn’t prevent him from continuing to build out the plan – hoping to find funding from elsewhere. As such, development continues, and plans for the memorial start to take shape.
But key to the project’s success was where to locate it, and so Lurel and his team set out to identify a suitable location, and it didn’t take them long.
On the island of Grand Terre, at the heart of the city called Pointe-à-Pitre, directly on the waterfront and in full view of the city – was the perfect area - an 8,000 square metre derelict scrubland - with a significant past.
Since it’s founding in 1763 by merchants who arrived from France, Pointe-à-Pitre has a history of being the economic capital of Guadeloupe.
Initially, the merchants used the land to start a timber industry but by 1869, when the forests started to dwindle, these French industrialists turned their minds to other ventures.
People like Ernest Souques and Jean-François Cail, who gave up on trees and started growing sugar cane instead. Their success started a sugar rush on the island, with other capitalists seeing opportunity and doing the same, growing the cane and processing it in refineries.
One of those was Jean Darboussier, who became so successful at sugar processing that eventually he became the wealthiest person in Guadeloupe.
But sugar making was labour intensive, and when France abolished slavery in 1848, it meant that the Darboussier family had to face the fact that their cheap workforce was now free to find other work.
Darboussier and other refiners tried to work around this by bringing in labour from Cabo Verde and other Caribbean islands – shipping in thousands of Indians, and buying the freedom of slaves on the understanding that they work 10-year contracts on incredibly low salaries.
In fact, at one point, more than 70% of the workforce was Indian, there was several hundred Chinese, 450 Japanese, and political prisoners from French Indochina who had been sentenced to do forced labour in Guadeloupe, all of whom were paid next to nothing to produce sugar for the firm.
It was a successful model, and after Jean Darbussier died, his son, Jean-Baptiste Darboussier, took over the business, deciding in 1846 to expand the business’s production power by building a huge modern sugar refinery.
This factory used the most advanced technologies of the time, with a steam engine, a boiler room, and an enormous warehouse that could hold over 1,000 tons of processed sugar ready to be transported around the globe.
In fact, at its peak, the Darboussier factory operated around the clock in three eight-hour shifts, with over 1,000 workers grinding away at machinery to produce upwards of 8,000 tonnes of sugar a year.
And talking of the workers, many of them were former slaves, and for most, they were happy to be there. Darbussier treated them like employees, with status, job security and benefits like pensions, paid vacations and healthcare. Recreation facilities were provided for local children, with a sports club, a swimming pool and basketball court being especially popular.
Every year, at the feast of St Eligius in December, a company party was held, with bosses handing out presents to the ‘good’ and ‘most generous’ employees. They were also given access to on-site accommodation, on-site hospitals, and company-grown food that could be bought from on-site stores.
This had the benefit of keeping the workers content, but also ensured that the refinery became closed-circuit – a small autonomous entity within Guadeloupe that was to many extents autonomous of the French government’s control.
Today, the factory isn’t remembered quite so glowlingly by the relatives of those who used to work there, and the name Darbussier is today synonymous with a place that exploited their workers
For example.. In 2015, Urbain Novercat, the son of a machine operator at the Darbussier refinery, was interviewed and said that..
o “To me, it was slavery. There wasn’t a day when no one was injured. My father lost full use of one leg. The workers were all badly paid and the bosses got rich at their expense”
Although, not everyone shares that sentiment.. considering the treatment something of a blessing, another relative was quoted as saying…
o “Discipline at the factory was draconian, but better to wear rags than go naked — better Darboussier than slavery”
An example of where Darbussier does deserves some harsh criticism though comes from their apparently generous approach of giving workers carte blanche to grow crops on company land.
Because while Darboussier did offer employees the opportunity to farm their own cane fields, and be paid for what they produced, this was actually just a form of colonage — which is a name for a type of tenant farming that gives workers poor quality land so that they are unable to produce crops large enough that they could sell to anyone else.
One such farmer was Alphonse François who was given a Darbussier cane field to farm, and he said…
o “I grew cane on a small plot that had been allotted to me. I got to keep half of what I grew, and the other half went to them. At the end of the day, colonage wasn’t really that profitable, and you were still breaking your back working for the factory. Worse still, they could cancel the agreement unilaterally. You knew you were being exploited.”
Regardless, Darbussier’s approach to operating their business saw them become the major centre of sugar production in the Caribbean, operating until the 1970s, when a series of strikes stopped harvests and a union was founded which immediately called for workers rights
This was too much noise for Darbussier, and in 1980, the refinery closed its doors where it then lay untouched for 30 years.
In 2002, Point-à-Pitre council bought the site for around €10m, as a means to protecting the area against speculators and property developers.
And so, by 2010, nature had totally reclaimed the site.
All that remained were broken walls covered with tree roots, and the remnants of trucks, railway tracks and rusty boilers – which were in the process of being dismantled and sold off for scrap.
And so it was that this broken-down historic site, a symbolic link to the slave trade of old, was the perfect choice for Lurel’s team to place their Memorial.
It was an opportunity to bring new life to the neighborhood whilst simultaneously highlighting the roots of Caribbean history.
But an idea and a location does not a memorial make.
You need a design and you need funding…
Another quick recap then. It’s the early 2010s and President of the Guadeloupe region, Victorin Lurel, is attempting to build the ‘Memorial ACTe’ a museum of Slavery in the Guadeloupe city of Ponte-a-Prite. He’s hamstrung by government policy which is restricting funding but he’s not letting that stop work on the project. He and his team have identified a location for the building but now they need something to bring it to life - a design that gets to the heart of the project.
So, they set up an international competition to find the right creative team.
27 architects from around the world were given carte blanche to design something that Guadeloupeans would be able to feel a sense of ownership in, an identification with, something that helps them recognize their own representations of slavery, but can also speak to other communities – to act as a collective memory that people around the world can visit and share in
Once the designs were submitted, Lurel and his project team identified their favourite - the winning design coming from home-grown Guadeloupean citizen, Pascal Berthelot, who in his own words, “envisioned the Memorial as a beacon for the island, a new geographical centre of gravity which symbolizes its cultural and intellectual soul”
Given the challenge of being lead architect on the project, Berthelot said in an interview in 2010 that:
o “Our architectural response is tinted with emotion because it takes the shape of the act of remembrance, the expression of a people whose memory has often been suppressed and denied. Our commitment is absolute. From now on, our work will focus on establishing a link between the monument and the town, through its morphology and location”
And so with that in mind, he and his team of architects set to work on refining his vision.
Functionally, they propose two independent spaces linked by a 40m long metal arch bridge, which would give views of the seafront as you pass over it.
This would represent the cornerstone of the Memorial, two spaces which would shelter all the riches contained in the knowledge of the past and upon which memory is being built. The first space he proposed would be a large 1,500 square metre permanent exhibition that would offer visitors at least an hour long tour. The second smaller space an exhibition hall that would host a new major exhibition every year.
Together, they would include a 300-seat multipurpose hall for shows, film screenings and conventions, as well as space to hold festivals, trade fairs, and networking events.
But Berthelot also proposed other smaller buildings too - a space dedicated to helping promote research by hosting guest experts, another building as a centre for public documentation, and a genealogical archive holding Civil Registry documents which could be accessed by members of the public looking to investigate their ancestry.
Berthelot’s team even designed a garden too – which they called Morne Mémoire (Memory Hill) – which could be accessed by a short and peaceful walk along the coast.
At its peak, Pascal estimated that the Memorial ACTe would be able to attract 300,000 visitors a year, and to help achieve that, he included in his design a pontoon that could be used to berth cruise ship shuttles directly at the Mémorial’s entrance.
Visually, Berthelot and his team proposed a façade for the two main buildings which would be constructed of black quartz. The black speckled minerals acting as a symbolic tribute to the countless victims of slavery, sparkling in the sunlight like a constellation of millions of lost souls.
And covering these black boxes would be a fish net of silver latticework which he called “the Silver Roots”, made to evoke the structure of tree roots which would anchor the main building to the ground, and, in his own words… “evoke the quest of origins to which the history of slavery and the slave trade inevitably brings us.. reflecting the global impulse by suggesting growth, motion and life!”
And so, armed with an idea, a location, and now a design, Victorin Lurel was poised to make the Memorial a reality.
But with a budget totalling somewhere around €40m, the problem he now faced was the government’s refusal to allocate any funding.
In 2012, the French economy was in a recession and many citizens put the blame squarely on the shoulders of President Nicholas Sarkozy.
Seen as arrogant and out of touch, his right-leaning policies meant that many people saw him as being too closely tied to the wealthy and powerful, giving out tax breaks that favoured the already rich.
Unemployment rates were high, small businesses were struggling, and austerity measures were not popular with most voters.
At the same time, a growing rise of the far right saw many voters shift their allegiance from Sarkozy’s Conservative Party to the National Front led by Marine Le Pen.
This split in the right-wing vote gave an advantage to the left, something which they took full advantage of by running an election campaign based on populist reforms, such as raising the minimum wage and increasing taxes on the wealthy.
People went to the polls to cast their votes, and on the 6th May 2012, the results were announced.
Nicholas Sarkozy gained 48% of the votes, coming second to François Hollande who collected 51.6% of the votes and subsequently became the new President of the French Republic.
This was the end of a conservative era for France and the beginning of a new era of social democratic rule. Which was fortunate for Victorin Lurel, because at the top of President Hollande’s overseas agenda was greenlighting the creation of a memorial to slavery.
And so, finally, with the promise of partial funding from the French State, Lurel and his team set to work.
By March 2013, the construction phase of the Memorial ACTe was underway. And just one year later on the 21st March 2014, Lurel held an inauguration of the Memorial ACTe Project House – their onsite base for information about the project.
Another year later, in 2015, construction finished, at a cost of €84m (double the initial budget).
On the 10th May, 2015 - the French national day of commemoration of the abolition of slavery - the “Caribbean Centre of Expressions and Memory of the Slave trade and Slavery” was inaugurated.
Attending the event was the French President, François Hollande, as well as several Heads of State and Government from Africa and the Caribbean.
A notable exception at the inauguration though was Luc Reinette, who fights for Guadeloupian independence, and so refused to attend the event as a show of his disapproval for the French President being there.
A fortnight later a large festival was held around the Mémorial, and after some final work to fit and finish the buildings, on the 7th July, 2015, a grand ceremony was held to open the exhibitions to the public.
On display were permanent installations offering visitors a journey through six historic periods:
o The Americas, featuring information about the indigineous peoples
o Towards slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, focusing on the arrival of Columbus, the French colonization of Guadeloupe and the establishment of slavery
o The slavery period itself, showing how Guadeloupe's economic boom in the 18th century was driven by sugar and slave labour
o Abolition, discussing the impacts that came from the 18th century abolitionist movement
o Post-abolition and Segregation, which shows what life was like following emancipation, and..
o Today, which shines a spotlight on the estimated 50 million people who are still forced to live in conditions comparable to slavery
The Memorial opened to great success, and continues to be one of, if not the single largest tourist attraction on Guadeloupe.
It is a landmark on Unesco’s ‘Slave Route Project’ – an ambitious initiative which aims to showcase the global scale of the slave trade through a network of archives, historical sites, museums and galleries.
And it’s rated highly on Tripadvisor.com, with hundreds of 5-star reviews, including user ‘Getaway60636528465’ from Sweden who said, “You simply cannot miss this museum if you go to Guadeloupe. It is an absolute must.”
Jon J W from the UK, who said “the whole thing is a real Eye-Opener to Slavery and Trafficking globally since the beginning of time to current day”
And Fibanex269 from unknown, saying, “one will leave feeling moved, saddened and angry that we are still dealing with this issue”
Not everyone is impressed with the Memorial however, one reviewer, Laurent E from France giving it a one-star review because, and I quote… “They force you to get rid of your phone if you want to visit. They say it's to avoid people taking pictures. Seriously, we are in the 21st century, trying to forbid people to take pictures and take their phones away is like modern slavery.”
Yeah. They said that.
But there we are.. in Guadeloupe during 2010 to 2015, a monument was built to freedom, a permanent statement on the horrors of slavery, exploitation, and oppression, and a physical reminder that we should all have carte blanche to live our lives enjoying the human rights we deserve