Monday, August 23, 2010

Haiti Isn't Well at All Eight Months Later

Some news on the Haitian front where millions were displaced, turned into enviornmental refugees, and where 300,000 lost their lives as a direct result of the earthquake.

Smithsonian has a great piece on Haitian "Earthquake Art." See --

But there is more on the Haitian front, including a call to France to pay $40 billion for a forced rip-off of the country in 1825. Read the various blurbs and continue onto the longer versions, the stories on this:

"Haiti's claim is not really for reparations for slavery," said Ira Kurzban, Miami immigration attorney and Haiti's chief counsel in the U.S., "but for restitution specifically that happened in 1825. It is based on the French government's efforts to extract 150 million French francs (which is equal to $21 billion today) from an economy the French knew couldn't afford it, through the use of force. This is impermissible under international law."

Christian Science Monitor

France dismissed a call by left-leaning politicians and others for it to pay the modern equivalent of 90 million gold francs – about $17 billion – to Haiti as reparations for a 200-year-old injustice.

A petition signed by 100 artists, scholars, and EU politicians that was released Monday called on France to give Haiti $17 billion for earthquake reconstruction. The money would essentially reimburse a fee French King Charles X charged Haiti after a revolt that ended slavery there. King Charles justified the fee as compensation for the loss of slaves and other property.

Such requests are not new, authorities say, arguing that France has given substantial aid and debt relief to its former colony, and plans more.

The British Guardian and French Liberation dailies yesterday ran the open letter to French president Nicolas Sarkozy signed by the likes of US academics Cornel West and Noam Chomsky, EU political figures Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Eva Joly, columnist Naomi Klein, and a host of US and French academics, rappers, and public figures.


Why Haiti's Earthquake Is France's Problem
by Tunku Varadarajan
January 14, 2010

When it came to Haiti, France was first a brutal colonizer, and then a usurious bully. Tunku Varadarajan on why it’s time for reparations.

As Haitians lurch destitute in the rubble, and as governments, churches, and NGOs do the best they can to bring succor to Haiti's hell, a vivid solution to the country's needs presents itself, one so obvious and irrefutable—so resonantly just—that it must be advocated with the greatest of energy: France must repay its colonialist debt to Haiti by paying for much of the island country’s reconstruction.

Haiti's chronic impoverishment began at its birth in 1804, when, having overthrown its French rulers in a bloody, 12-year slave revolt, the newborn nation was subjected to crippling blockades and embargoes. This economic strangulation continued until 1825, when France offered to lift embargoes and recognize the Haitian Republic if the latter would pay restitution to France—for loss of property in Haiti, including slaves—of 150 million gold francs. The sum, about five times Haiti's export revenue for 1825, was brutal, but Haiti had no choice: Pay up or perish over many more years of economic embargo, not to mention face French threats of invasion and reconquest. To pay, Haiti borrowed money at usurious rates from France, and did not finish paying off its debt until 1947, by which time its fate as the Western Hemisphere's poorest country had been well and truly sealed.

In this era of multibillion-dollar bailouts of private banking institutions,
$22 billion should scarcely raise a Gallic eyebrow. But to Haiti, the sum would be a godsend.

France must now return every last cent of this money to Haiti. In 2004, at the time of the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence, the Haitian government put together a legal brief in support of a formal demand for "restitution" from France.

The sum sought was nearly $22 billion, a number arrived at by calculations that included a notionally equitable annual interest rate. (For a full account of the calculation, read Jose de Cordoba's excellent news story in The Wall Street Journal, published on Jan. 2, 2004.) The demand was made by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a firebrand ex-preacher who was forced out of office by a violent uprising that February. His successors, Boniface Alexandre and Gerard Latortue, controversially chose to renounce Haiti's claim for restitution/reparations. (There was, of course, much pressure exerted on them by France, which had found Aristide's demand politically disconcerting.)

for more, read:

France Urged to Pay $40 Billion to Haiti in Reparations for "Independence Debt"

According to the UN-sponsored Haiti Reconstruction Fund, only two countries—Brazil and Estonia—have fully paid the pledged amount. The United States, France, Canada and many others have failed to send their pledged aid. A recent review by CNN found that just two percent of total pledges have been delivered to Haiti. Calls are now growing for another form of payment to Haiti: reparations. This week, a group of prominent academics and activists published an open letter calling on France to repay an "independence debt" it imposed nearly 200 years ago after Haiti successfully won independence from France. Haiti was forced to pay France around 90 million gold francs up until World War II, which after interest and inflation is valued today at up to $40 billion.

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