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Washington Post: “Is It Time For France To Pay Its Real Debt to Haiti?”

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French President Francois Hollande (left) and Haitian President Michel Martelly in Port-au-Prince. Courtesy of http://ichef.bbci.co.uk

On Sunday, President Francois Hollande announced during the official unveiling of the Memorial ACTe in Point-A-Pitre, Guadeloupe, that he will evoked France’s “debt” towards Haiti. On Tuesday he became the first president of France to make a formal state visit to Haiti, and while many Haitians are excited about his visit, some people see Hollande’s presence is a reminder of the debilitating costs of the successful slave revolt that made Haiti the world’s first black republic in 1804.

According to The Washington Post

In 1791, the slaves of France’s most profitable Caribbean colony, Saint Domingue, revolted. The uprising was kindled by the appalling exploitation and abuse of the colony’s enslaved African population, and stoked by the same Enlightenment values championed by white anti-monarchic revolutionaries in the United States and France itself.

But the independent republic of Haiti that eventually emerged in 1804 was never an equal among the brotherhood of Western nations. To the north, the United States, a nation of slaveowners, regarded Haiti, a nation of free blacks, with unvarnished horror and boycotted its merchants.

Meanwhile, France, the spurned former colonial ruler, fumed at its losses. In 1825, with a French flotilla threatening invasion, Haiti was compelled to pay a king’s ransom of 150 million gold francs — estimated to be ten times the country’s annual revenues — in indemnities to compensate French settlers and slaveowners for their lost plantations. The sum would be later reduced to 90 million gold francs, but that was little consolation: Haiti, in effect, was forced to pay reparations for its freedom.

This history is not as distant as it may seem. It set the stage for many decades of Haitian economic misery and underdevelopment to come—the country, one of the poorest nations in the Western hemisphere, did not finish repaying its 19th century debts to France and the U.S. until the middle of the 20th century.

And the legacy of the past was very much alive this week, as French President Francois Hollande landed on Tuesday on a historic visit to Haiti.

On Sunday, Hollande had made remarks in the Caribbean island of the Guadeloupe that he would “settle the debt that [the French] have” with Haiti—a declaration that was rapidly back-tracked by aides, who insisted Hollande was referring to a “moral” debt, not an actual financial one.

In Haiti, Hollande promised large-scale French assistance, including a plan to help modernize the country’s education system. He acknowledged that a “moral debt exists,” but skirted whether the wrongs of the 19th century would be more directly addressed through reparations.

“You’re not asking for aid, you want development,” Hollande said, addressing an audience of Haitian dignitaries in Port-au-Prince. “You’re not asking for welfare, you want investment.”

But many in Haiti want more than that, including a group of protesters who greeted Hollande’s arrival with placards and chants. France’s hollowing out of the fledgling nation’s coffers is seen by some as the original disaster, one that underlies the myriad Haitian dysfunctions and tragedies that followed. – Continue Reading Here

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Protesters in Port-au-Prince unveiled a banner that read: “Hollande: Money Yes, Morals No” – Picture Courtesy of http://www.bbc.com
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