On May 11th French President Francois Hollande made a statement that drew widespread international attention. Immediately afterwards came a resurgence of widespread frustration with European attitudes.
In this case old France, who centuries ago populated Haiti’s plantations with enslaved Africans, charged the island the equivalent of an estimated $17 billion in today’s currency to grant her freedom. The debt was paid off by the middle of the 1900s, but the resultant crippling of Haiti’s early development will likely have negative repercussions for centuries to come.
Shortly after the 2010 earthquake that killed over 100,000 Haitians, then French President Nicolas Sarkozy pardoned the remainder of Haiti’s debts in the amount of $77 million. He also offered aid in the amount of $300 million. By some reports only $25 million of that has been delivered.
Activists argue, and I agree, that France owes Haiti a big, fat refund for that $17 billion colonial welfare check. Haiti and her people were stolen, and then their petulant captors charged an illegal debt to return them to freedom. In any other business, no one would question that this payment should be reimbursed. Apparently France does not hold the nation she disenfranchised in high enough esteem to care about basic professional courtesy.
So when on May 11th Hollande made the statement that he would “settle the debt” that the French have with Haiti, excited talk of reparations resurged with a vengeance. Alas, according to his aides, the debt he referred to is a moral one. I suppose Haitians should just write off their financial losses to France in their next few years of tax filings.
Hollande’s words to a group of Haitian dignitaries were, “You’re not asking for welfare, you want investment.” Are you kidding me? The rich country should collect from the poor country for a debt that should have never been owed and that’s perfectly fine, but the poor country requesting a refund qualifies as welfare?
This is the sickening psychological rubbish that is packaged inside eloquent rhetoric to appease poor folk who don’t know any better. Fortunately there are people who know better. The struggle continues.
Calibe Thompson is the Executive Producer of the “Taste the Islands” cooking series, now airing M & Th at 7:30PM, and Sat at 3:30PM on South Florida’s WPBT2 (Ch 2). Her next television project “Island Origins” explores the concept of the American Dream from the Caribbean perspective.