Tuesday, August 17, 2010

France Urged to Repay Haiti Billions For Its Post-Independence Blockade

France urged to repay Haiti billions paid for its independence

Leading activists write to Nicolas Sarzoky urging president to repay
more than €17bn to help earthquake-hit country rebuild

Kim Willsher in Paris guardian.co.uk,
Sunday 15 August 2010 19.07 BST

A group of international academics and authors has written to Nicolas
Sarkozy calling on France to reimburse the crushing "independence
debt" it imposed on Haiti nearly 200 years ago.

The open letter to the French president says the debt, now worth more
than €17bn (£14bn), would cover the rebuilding of the country after a
devastating earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people seven
months ago.

Its signatories – including Noam Chomsky, the American linguist, Naomi Klein, the Canadian author and activist, Cornel West, the
African-American author and civil rights activist, and several
renowned French philosophers – say that if France repays the money it would be a solution to the shortfall in international donations
promised following the earthquake.

Despite pledges at an international donors' conference in March of aid
totalling £3.4bn, only five countries – Brazil, Norway, Australia,
Colombia and Estonia – have sent aid amounting to about £325m.

The letter, published in the French newspaper Libération today says
the debt was "patently illegitimate ... and illegal".

The debt dates back to when Haiti, then St Dominique, was France's
most profitable colony thanks to slavery. In 1791 the slaves revolted,
and in 1804, after defeating Napoleon's forces, they founded the
world's first independent black republic.

But after independence, French slave owners demanded compensation. In 1825 the French monarch Charles X demanded Haiti pay an "independence debt" of 150m gold francs – 10 times the fledgling nation's annual revenue. The original sum was reduced but Haiti still paid 90m gold francs – about €17bn today – to France. It was still paying off this debt in 1947.

In 2004, a lawsuit launched by Haiti to recover the money was
abandoned when France backed the overthrow of the government.

Campaigners say the debt was illegal even in 1825, because when the
original demand for compensation was made slavery was technically

Their letter says: "The 'independence debt', which is today valued at
well over €17bn ... illegitimately forced a people who had won their
independence in a successful slave revolt, to pay again for the

"In 2003, when the Haitian government demanded repayment of the money France had extorted from Haiti, the French government responded by helping to overthrow that government."

The letter describes France's actions as "inappropriate responses to a
demand that is morally, economically, and legally unassailable",
adding: "In light of the urgent financial need in the country in the
wake of the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, we urge you to pay Haiti, the world's first black republic, the restitution it is

The letter has also been signed by members of parliament from Europe, Canada and the Philippines, as well as scholars, journalists and activists in France, Haiti, the US, Canada, the UK, Nigeria, Sierra
Leone and Germany.

No comments: