Restitution by France to Haiti
The people of Haiti gained their independence in 1804 following several years of a persistent and bloody struggle against the brutal French colonialists. The colonial powers of the time, notably the United States and France, refused to recognize the legitimate independence of this small island nation. The United States, perhaps the most notorious of the slave owning countries, believed that recognizing Haiti's independence would threaten the stability of its own inhumane system of slave labor.
In 1825 France demanded that Haiti pay the French government 150 million gold francs to "compensate" French plantation slave-owners for their "financial losses" and in exchange for France's recognition of Haiti's independence. Years later, the amount was reduced to 90 million gold francs. The Haitian elite who had gained control of the country following independence, caved in to the pressure, seeing this ransom as an inevitable and necessary financial obligation if the country were to be allowed to live in peace and freedom and resume trade with its former colonizers. It took Haiti close to 100 years to pay off this debt and the debt was paid, not out of the money made by the elite through the export of raw goods, but rather on the backs of the Haitian people who continued to work the land. All the public schools in Haiti were closed in order to make the first payment, the first example of the imposition of a structural adjustment program.
Today, the people of Haiti have joined with their democratically elected government to demand that France restitute to the Haitian people this "debt" money - 21.7 billion dollars in today's currency. On behalf of the people of Haiti, President Jean Bertrand Artistide has made an official request to France, which has formally recognized slavery to be a crime against humanity; French legislators have verbally recognized the legitimacy Haiti's request for restitution. Although several international lawyers are working on the case for restitution, the hope is that France will act according to its stated principle and pay its debt to the Haitian people without the recourse of international law. Unfortunately, in an echo of the ugly "1825" past, the French government has reacted to this just request by placing Haiti on a list of "undesirable" countries not to be visited; this vindictive and unjustifiable response is being protested by people of conscience, particularly in France and Haiti.
As Haiti starts the celebration of its bicentennial, we are asking you to support the Haitian people in their claim for restitution. France's payment of this debt will give the people of Haiti the financial resources needed to finally reverse the legacy of neo-colonial exploitation, oppression and structural underdevelopment that has caused their country to be labeled the "poorest in the western hemisphere". Restitution will pave the road toward true economic rebuilding, independence and improved living conditions, and will send a clear message that the financial and human damages inflicted by the colonial powers must be rectified, not just in Haiti, but throughout the world.
Article - The debt of independence: a new sit-in in front of the French Embassy to demand restitution and reparations
Restitution by France to Haiti for the Ransom Paid for its IndependenceA Radio Solidarity Interview With Haitian Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Philippe Antonio - Port-au-Prince, April 10, 2003 (Translated from Creole)