Aimé Césaire


When Aimé Césaire died in Fort-de-France, Martinique on April 17, 2008, Ségolène Royal and others called for him to be buried in the Panthéon in Paris, alongside Rousseau, Hugo, and Zola. Away from the land of his ancestors, the acclaimed poet and long-time mayor of Martinique’s capital Fort-de-France could be claimed for France. But the obituaries make clear that Césaire’s legacy is both powerful and troubling.

The writer who once celebrated Haiti as the country where “black men stood up in order to affirm, for the first time, their determination to create a new world, a free world,” stood by, a powerless politician, as his own country turned into an acquiescent neo-colony. He had hoped to make the former colony a full partner in the economic and social benefits of the post-war metropole. It did not work. Harsh economic inequalities, reflected in de facto segregation by color and status no less effective for lack of legal sanction, remained. As late as 1973, Edouard Glissant noted that in Fort-de-France a cinema boasted “la salle de l’élite.” Even now Fort-de-France stagnates in its ongoing role as accommodating child of Mother France, while passive consumerism and cultural dependency stifle local initiative.

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