Posted by Sydney Noel on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 Under: Op-ed
When France's president François Hollande last week, said during his inauguration of the Caribbean Center expressions and trafficking memory and slavery (ACT) at Pointe-à-Pitre, in Guadeloupe, that he would fulfill France's debt towards Haiti, many hopes were aroused, hopes that were soon to be disappointed.
To understand what all this fuss in local, international and social media was all about we need to go back to the very founding of Haiti. The founding of this poor, seemingly irrelevant Caribbean country that continues to be the point of departure for many of this world most important discussions about colonialism, racism, injustice, resistance and revolution.
In 1804, Haiti won its independence from France after 14 years of bloody battles between France's colonial army and the slave revolutionaries ; as a result, Haiti not only became the first country in the world to abolish slavery; by force, the Haitian Revolution remains the only successful slave revolt in human history.
The slave trade was the first institution of modern times in which labor power was brought and sold on a large scale. The Haitian Nation emerged from the plantation market, but it did so in direct contradiction to the values propounded by this very western institution.
An unwelcome arrival in a world that was still colonialist and pro-slavery.
The lost of Saint Domingue, which would be renamed Haiti was a crushing economic blow to the French empire; for Saint Domingue, the " Pearl of the Antilles" "Queen of the West Indies" "Pride of France in the New World" was the richest colony in the world. A colony with a 214 billion francs economy which kept the entire navy of France in business. (See Saint Domingue became richest colony in the world.)
The french planters whom had invested all their money in this tiny half-island and transformed it, thanks, to the murderous labors of Africans into the most productive place on earth, wanted reparations for their losses from the french government.
A bankrupt France, unable to pay after its devastating wars with Haiti, and embroiled in other wars with Britain and Spain in Europe didn't have the means to compensate for those losses.
So in 1825, France's King Charles X, sent 14 warships to the coast of Port-au-Prince, demanding an indemnity of 150 million gold francs and a 50% tariff reduction for all french ships docking in Haiti, against an immediate invasion.
The destruction of properties, businesses and plantations during the wars for independence, had left the new republic founded by former slaves economically devastated, plus a crippling embargo was imposed by the western world whose economy still depended on the labor of slaves. And,the Haitian army was no longer the force it was, it has been obsolete for more than 20 years at that point.
To meet the first payment of 30 million francs under the terms of the ordinance, the government of Haiti was constrained to borrow the full amount from a private French bank, MMch, Terraux Grandolphe et Cie.
In 1922, seven years into a nineteen-year American military occupation of Haiti, the US imposed a $16 million loan on the Haitian government, which they were in charge of; to pay off Haiti " debt" to France. That loan was finally paid off in 1947.
After 125 years of never missing a payment, Haiti has paid what historians have called the " independence ransom." It was the first time in world history that reparation would be imposed by a defeated nation on the nation that had defeated it.
These long-ago efforts, forgotten by most citizens of these countries today, continue to affect the lives of Haitians, and just like the previous generations, this one and the future ones will continue to reject France's empty, sorry and meaningless moral diplomatic obligation.
What Haitians want is accountability and financial refund, not another proof that the crimes of the powerful will always be justified in this world. Unlike most countries with a past of colonialism and slavery, we are not asking for reparations for the obvious consequences that have resulted, Haitians are asking for the refund of the ransom that was taken by force from us illegally from 1825 to 1950.
When we say refund we don't mean that France should write Haiti a check for the current value of the millions Haiti paid, but a refund in the forms of investments over the years in Haiti's education, infrastructures and other important sectors of Haiti. Just like Haiti was constrained for 125 years to a loan, France must commit to some sort of annual payment to Haiti until the full amount is paid in full. Just like they were defending their interest back then, today Haitians are defending Haiti's and once again Mr François Hollande, non merci for your " morale obligation"
In : Op-ed