A wish for Haiti on its 220th anniversary of political independence
We join the international community in extending congratulations to our sister Caribbean nation Haiti on the occasion of her 220th anniversary of political independence from France.
The United Nations, in its message, expressed the hope that Haitians would use the anniversary, observed on Monday, to celebrate the resistance and courage of an entire people.
While Haitians may find it difficult to celebrate that achievement, given the country’s current economic and social circumstances, they have reason to be proud because the revolution of 1791-1804 was the first and only slave uprising that resulted in the establishment of a free State ruled by former slaves.
It also made Haiti the second country in the Americas to free itself from colonial rule. The first being the United States.
Unfortunately, since that hard-fought independence, Haiti’s development has been imperilled by myriad forces, among them foreign interference, internal political malfeasance, social instability, epidemics, natural disasters and, arguably the most cruel of all, a crippling debt imposed by France as a penalty for independence.
Obviously stung by the fact that its forces were defeated by slaves, France, in 1825, imposed an indemnity of 150 million francs as a condition of recognising Haiti’s independence. The French sought to justify the penalty as a form of reparations to the former slave holders. In other words, the former slaves were forced to pay the former slave owners for their so-called loss of property, including land and enslaved people.
Historians tell us that, under threat of military action, Haiti yielded to the demand.
But even after France later reduced the amount, it still forced the young nation to finance the reparations with a 30-million-franc loan from French banks. The debt spiralled into billions of dollars and played a significant role in impoverishing Haiti to the point of it being cast, for decades, as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
We recall that after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010, a group of international academics and authors wrote to then French President Nicolas Sarkozy urging France to reimburse the crushing “independence debt” it imposed on the Caribbean nation.
The letter writers also said: “The ‘independence debt’, which is today valued at well over â‚¬17bn… illegitimately forced a people who had won their independence in a successful slave revolt to pay again for the freedom.”
Additionally, they noted that, “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.”
In 2020, French economist Mr Thomas Piketty revived the argument and stated that France owes Haiti at least US$28 billion. Significantly, though, successive French administrations have resisted making any such payment. The upshot is that Haiti continues to struggle with development, a regrettable outcome for a country with such a rich cultural heritage.
We endorse the hope by the United Nations that 2024 will be a pivotal year for stability in Haiti, thus setting the country on the road to a prosperous future.