Martinique

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Martinique

Martinique (märtĬnēk´), overseas department and administrative region of France (2005 est. pop. 433,000), 425 sq mi (1,101 sq km), in the Windward Islands, West Indies. Fort-de-France is the capital. The department and the island of Martinique are coextensive.

Land, People, and Economy

Of volcanic origin, the island is rugged and mountainous, reaching its greatest height in Mt. Pelée. The mainly Roman Catholic population is largely of African or mixed descent. French and a creole patois are spoken.

Most agriculture occurs in the hot valleys and along the coastal strips; a large part of this area is devoted to sugarcane, which was introduced from Brazil in 1654 and which provides one of Martinique's chief exports, rum. Bananas and pineapples are also important agricultural products. The island's industries consist mainly of petroleum refining, sugar and rum production, and pineapple canning. Tourism, which has eclipsed agriculture as a source of foreign exchange, constitutes a major sector of the economy, and the majority of the people work in the service sector or administration.

History

Visited by Columbus, probably in 1502, the island was ignored by the Spanish; colonization began in 1635, when the French, who had promised the native Caribs the western half of the island, established a settlement. The French proceeded to eliminate the Caribs and later imported African slaves as sugar plantation workers. In the 18th cent. Martinique's sugar exports made it one of France's most valuable colonies; although slavery was abolished in 1848, sugar continued to hold a dominant position in the economy. A target of dispute during the Anglo-French worldwide colonial struggles, Martinique was finally confirmed as a French possession after the Napoleonic wars. In 1902 an eruption of Mt. Pelée destroyed the town of St. Pierre.

Martinique supported the Vichy regime after France's collapse in World War II, but in 1943 a U.S. naval blockade forced the island to transfer its allegiance to the Free French. It became a department of France in 1946 and an administrative region in 1974. Although the island has recovered from the extensive damage caused by a hurricane in 1980, France has continued its attempts to improve the economic life of the Martinique, which is plagued by overpopulation and a lack of development. A referendum on increasing the island's autonomy was defeated in 2010, in part because the proposal did not specify the extent of the change.

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