Abstract of the Desirade Affair

In order to better understand the public health catastrophe which struck the inhabitants of this small isle, first we offer a brief background of Desirade, a dependence of Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean. Its area is 24 sq. km. (9 sq. mi.) and lies 9 km (5 mi.) to the north-east of Guadeloupe’s Chateaux Point, and is separated by a strait of the same name. There are 1610 inhabitants. The principal natural resource is fish and the climate is dry and the soil arid. Almost all of the drinking water is imported from the Guadeloupe mainland. The principal events are as follows:

In february 1991, an underwater pipeline 14 km (9 mi.) long is installed to transport potable water from mainland Guadeloupe to Desirade. This project is financed by public funds and carried out by some twenty odd companies, all subsidiaries of the conglomerate ‘Generale des Eaux’ (now called Vivendi). On October 22, 1991, the mayor of Desirade, Max Mathurin, who refuses to sign for completion of the pipeline, is assassinated while on the principal highway of the island, which passes along the southern coast. His body is filled with bullets, his tongue is cut, his head in the sand and the body burnt. The assassins still remain at large and the police consider the matter a result of a love affair gone awry. His brother-in-law, Emmanuel Robin, becomes the new mayor and signs for the completion of the work on the pipeline. Of particular interest is the fact that Mr Robin is at this time an employee of the Generale des Eaux, a conflict of interest which is legally forbidden.

In september 1995, the underwater pipeline is broken after hurricanes Luis and Marilyn. Three weeks later, once the water flow is re-established by the Generale des Eaux, the health crisis starts. Within a few months, more than half of the population has started to suffer from abdominal pains and skin problems. In addition, worms appear in the Desiradeans’ tap water (copies of the analyses from three samples are available on request). Between September 1995 and July 1996, 230 inhabitants and several tourists must be operated for appendicitis, 70 alone for the month of June! At the beginning of July 1996, the epidemic suddenly stops. The reason for this is that the only physician on the isle, Dr Louis-Marie Le Cabellec has counseled the Desiradeans to stop drinking untreated tap water. Dr Jerome Manuceau, surgeon at Pointe-a-Pitre on the mainland, performs 80% of the appendectomies. He orders histopathological analyses of biopsy specimens from all of these patients. All but one shows signs of pathology. By comparison, only one-thirds of the appendices removed in France appear healthy, showing no such lesions.

› One month after denouncing the quality of the tap water, August 11, 1996, Dr Le Cabellec is the victim of an assassination attempt. A 16 inch (40 cm) long dagger goes completely through his chest. He miraculously survives. The gendarmes conclude after less than a week’s investigation that this was ‘a suicide attempt made as a publicity stunt to defend his cause’. The report of the medical examiner who examined Dr Le Cabellec contradicts this hypothesis.

In February 1997, just as the prefectural authorities are orchestrating a vast media campaign defending the water quality at Desirade, the epidemic begins for a second time. This occurs even in the absence of Dr Le Cabellec, who is accused of being responsible for it (in fact Dr Le Cabellec was forced to stop his professional activity following the attempt on his life). This second epidemic stops as soon as Dr Manuceau, through the news media, asks the Desiradeans to once again stop consuming untreated tap water.

› The health authorities, although alerted from the start (October, 1995) by Dr Le Cabellec, insist that the water could not be causing the epidemic. The official explanation is that the Desiradeans are suffering from ‘mass hysteria’ provoked and maintained by Drs Le Cabellec and Manuceau in order to increase their revenues. This accusation is repeated by the popular French newspaper ‘Figaro’, leading to a suit lawsuit by the physicians for diffamation of character. The Tribunal Correctionnel of Paris rules in favor of the physicians, and this is upheld in the Appeals Court of Paris.

In 1999, a private institute, the Jean Daucet Institute, is asked to lead an investigation into the state of public health in Desirade. The origin of this request remains unknown. Professor Camille Berchel, himself a Desiradean and Director of the Pediatric Service of the Hospital of Pointe-a-Pitre, participates in the investigation. He was known to be a straightforward and honest individual, unafraid to speak his mind. He is found one morning in December 1999 burned to death in his parked car, peacefully seated at the steering wheel. The gendarmes conclude that the death was a ‘suicide by auto-immolation because of depression’ despite a body of evidence that he had died prior to the moment that the car was lit on fire. The results of his autopsy remain secret to this day, and his remains were incinerated. After this death and in light of negative public opinion, the Jean Daucet Institute renounces the investigation.

› Thus there is a pattern of violent attacks and deaths of persons involved with the water and public health of Desirade, all of which the gendarmes casually explain away as suicides or endings of unhappy love affairs. A more likely explanation of this easily comes to mind after recalling certain facts:

  • The brother of the Prefect of Guadeloupe in 1995 and 1996 was the third ranking executive of Generale des Eaux.
  • The Mayor of Desirade was an employee of Generale des Eaux, which was forbiden by the law . He also was member of SIAEG (Syndicat Intercommunal d'Alimentation en Eau et d'Assainissement de la Guadeloupe) and of the General Council . His brother was in charge of water providing, his sister secretary, thus they were both employees of Generale des Eaux . His wife was an employee of DDASS, in charge of water sampling, then analysed by Institut Pasteur.
  • Despite the fact that legally access is supposedly guaranteed, we have been barred from consulting the public records concerning the planning or execution of the pipeline work for Desirade, the acceptation of the work, or documents concerning the financing and payments for the project. Clearly the officials are hiding something.

Dr. Manuceau, like Dr Le Cabellec, has been forced to leave Desirade and Guadeloupe. He is now being sued by public health officials who are attempting to remove his medical and surgical credentials :

In 1996, the Health Ministry laid charges against Dr. Manuceau for "Violences involving mayhem and permanent infirmity ". Dr. Manuceau obtained easily a dismissal . Ahead of this fact and the judgment of Le Figaro, the Health Ministry gave up the juridical way and prefered to sue Dr. Manuceau before the administrative instances they controled, namely, the Sécurité Sociale and the Ordre des Médecins . In a first time, he got a "blame", for the Desirade affair . This blame was confirmed by the Conseil d'Etat in 2003 . Meanwhile, they sent a medical adviser in Guadeloupe, who set up a file in 1997 about the medical pratices of Dr. Manuceau and concluded to "Multiple unjustified operations, and numerous administrative irregularities ". Let's specify that no patient accepted to lay charges against Dr. Manuceau, in spite they were asked to do so . This second charge was laid before the Assurances Sociales section of the Conseil National de l'Ordre des Medecins . This instance is a wonderful State tool, which allows State to get rid of any uncooperative practitioner . Thus, in September 27th of 2005, Dr. Manuceau was condemned and forbiden to heal any social insured patient during the year 2006.

In 1998, it was discovereed that the water on Guadeloupe was also polluted, as well as that of Desirade: pesticides were found to be present at high levels, and most of the pipes of the potable water network were composed of an asbestos-cement amalgam. Could this explain the higher incidence of cancer on Guadeloupe relative to France ?

In march 2003, consumer protection associations on Guadeloupe and Desirade have filed complaints against the state for water poisoning, refusal to help a population in grave danger, and failure to respect basic principles of risk avoidance.