France’s refusal to pay Haiti reparations is a symptom of an even wider issue

by Halimat Shode

 

Last Tuesday, President Hollande arrived in Haiti – the first French president to make an official visit since Haiti’s independence – and declared that France had a ‘moral debt’ to the Caribbean country. Yet his declaration avoided any mention of the debt that France has enforced on Haiti since 1825, and which has crippled Haiti economically for almost 200 years.

Haiti became the world’s first black republic in 1804 after a slave revolt and a gruelling twelve-year war with the French. However, they were isolated from the international community for 21 years following their independence. To gain recognition from the international community, they were forced to negotiate an unfair, unbalanced settlement with France in 1825 which involved compensating French plantation owners for their loss of ‘property’, including slaves – in other words, paying France for having enslaved and oppressed them for centuries. Haiti did not finish paying this settlement until 1947, and this has been the root cause of its dire economic state and underdevelopment today.

The right to be compensated for loss of property is no longer an acceptable excuse for Haiti’s debt, and though the French government may now agree to this in words, their actions speak much louder. It was only in 2001 that they formally recognised the slave trade as a crime against humanity. After the 2010 earthquake that destroyed the majority of Port-Au-Prince, Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy only stopped in Haiti for an unofficial five-hour visit, and rejected a petition for the French government to pay $17 billion to Haiti in reparations.

In today’s value, Haiti’s debt amounts to $21 billion; this debt has made Haiti the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with 80% of its people living below the poverty line. Repayment of the independence debt could lead to life-altering changes for the people of Haiti and their country. However, France is extremely unwilling to return to the Haitians an amount that is rightfully theirs. In retaining its colonialist mindset, France is still reaping the benefits of Haiti’s suffering.

 

References

Hollande promises to pay ‘moral debt’ to former colony Haiti
France dismisses petition for it to pay $17 billion in Haiti reparations
Provide justice, not charity
France Isn’t Paying Back What it Owes Haiti After All: The Question is, Why Not?

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Halimat Shode has just completed a degree in English with Creative Writing and is planning to have a career in the publishing industry. She enjoys writing social commentary pieces and can be reached on Twitter at @Halimat_Writes.

This article was edited by Afroze Zaidi-Jivraj

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