Martinique profile - Overview
- 28 January 2015
- From the section Latin America & Caribbean
A mountainous and densely-populated overseas department of France, Martinique's French and Creole heritage is mirrored in its customs, food and languages.
Tourism flourishes on the tropical Caribbean island, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and is a stopping-off point for cruise ships.
Most Martiniquais have mixed ancestry, being the descendants of 17th century French settlers and slaves brought from Africa to work on plantations.
From the late 1970s a lack of jobs prompted large-scale migration to France. But despite a reliance on aid from Paris, high unemployment and a large trade deficit, Martinique has one of the higher standards of living in the region.
Nationalist sentiment has sometimes flared, but the prospect of losing economic aid from Paris has tempered public support for independence. Voters rejected greater autonomy in a referendum in January 2010, with 80% voting against on a turnout of 55%.
Serious protests at rising prices and persistent unemployment flared early in 2009 on Martinique and other French Carribean islands, prompting the French government to negotiate more aid and the promise of constitutional reform.
The island has an active volcano, Mount Pelee, which erupted in 1902, razing the town of Saint-Pierre and killing its 30,000 residents.
Martinique is the birthplace of the African-French music form "the Beguine", whose influence can be heard in the zouk music of the French West Indies.
Visited by the explorer Christopher Columbus and briefly occupied by the Spanish, Martinique was settled by the French in 1635.
Other colonial powers vied for control of the increasingly-prosperous sugar-producing island, and it came under brief periods of English rule in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
In 2012, Martinique said it was applying for associate membership of the Caribbean regional bloc Caricom.