Demand that the French repay the 21 billion dollars it extorted from Haiti from 1825-1947 sign now

Demand that the French repay the 21 billion dollars it extorted from Haiti from 1825-1947

The January 12th Haitian earthquake is now being described as one of the worst and most intense earthquakes, in terms of loss of life and devastation, recorded in human history. Estimates are that Haiti, the western hemisphere's poorest country, with a population of 9 million, has lost between 100,000-500,000 lives, and that 50\% of the buildings of its capital Port au Prince, where 80\% of the Haitian population resides, have been destroyed in the immediate aftermath of this disaster. It must be stressed that many more deaths are likely to follow as a result of devastated infrastructure, lack of clean water and the high rates of malnutrition all of which preceded and have exacerbated this disaster making it part natural and part man-made. Many observers have tried to understand the factors which have made Haiti, which was once the crown jewel of new world colonies, providing approximately one half of Europe's sugar and coffee and unimaginable wealth to its colonial masters, so vulnerable to this calamity. One of the more outlandish hypotheses came from televangelist Pat Robertson, famous for his calls for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, amongst other controversies.

In a January the 14th broadcast Robertson claimed that all of Haiti's disproportionate suffering since its revolution and independence, including presumably the January 12th earthquake, has been due to a pact Haitians made with the devil to help them overthrow their French slave masters. Robertson was presumably referring, in this idiotic and despicable comment, to the African culture and Voodoo spirituality which gave the rebels strength in their revolutionary war in the face of unimaginably high casualties against the world's foremost superpower at the time, Napoleonic France. So ruthless was France's exploitation of their slaves that many were simply worked to death necessitating a constant flow of new Africans to the colony bringing with them their traditional beliefs and the longing for lost freedom.

However, if interpreted more loosely, Robertson's words may provide a unique insight into the historical forces which have shaped Haiti's unique vulnerability to natural disaster. A pact of sorts was indeed made by Haiti--with a diabolical entity--namely the French government which for two decades following Haiti's independence enforced a naval blockade and constantly threatened to invade and restore slavery. In 1825, at gunpoint, a Haitian government desperate for security agreed to pay France an indemnity of 90 million Francs as compensation for the loss of their colony and its slaves in return for diplomatic recognition and an end to French military hostility.

This debt was so crippling to Haiti's already devastated post-war economy that it took Haiti one hundred and twenty-two years to finally pay it off, the last payment being made in 1947. In a vicious cycle of debt, Haiti often had to borrow money for payments at high interest rates from French and American banks, making the actual amount bled from Haiti incalculable. However, in 2003 lawyers who were in the process of launching a legal case on behalf of Haiti for the repayment by France of this money conservatively calculated that France had looted from Haiti, in present-day currency, more than 21 billion dollars. In order to pay off this debt Haiti deforested most of its land, closed down rural schools and was never able to build the infrastructure so necessary for its people to recover from the legacy of slavery.

It is important to note that the demand that France repay this debt is not even a call for reparations to be paid for the unimaginable brutality and crimes of slavery. While many other colonial and imperial powers, including Canada and the United States, have contributed to Haiti's poverty and its multi-factorial vulnerability to natural disaster through military and economic intervention, this "original sin", this true and well-documented pact with the devil" must have a strong role to play in Haiti's current status as the poorest country in the western hemisphere and its unique vulnerability to natural disasters.

Haiti is in desperate need at this moment, and a massive humanitarian response is being prepared and carried out. However, this effort is being undertaken within a framework of charity as if there was no history behind Haiti's vulnerability and no culpability on behalf of the worlds superpowers in contributing to this vulnerability. Ironically, it is French President Nicolas Sarkozy who is leading calls for a donors conference for Haiti. Now more then ever, in Haiti's supreme hour of need it is time for France to return the money that it extorted from the poorest country in the western hemisphere to Haiti's government and people. We the undersigned demand that France at once own up for its historic crime and pay its debt to the Haitian people.

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