France urged to repay Haiti billions paid for its independence
A group of intellectuals and politicians Monday called for France to repay Haiti €17 billion extorted by its former colonial master in exchange for recognition of independence 200 years ago. Left-leaning French and British dailies Liberation and The Guardian published the appeal to President Nicolas Sarkozy.
It was signed by figures including American linguist Noam Chomsky, Canadian author Naomi Klein and a number of philosophers and politicians.
The letter said the money would cover rebuilding costs in Haiti after January's devastating earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people, as it would cover the shortfall in cash promised by international donors.
Despite pledges at an international donors' conference in March of aid totalling €4.2 billion, only five countries – Brazil, Norway, Australia, Colombia and Estonia – have sent aid amounting to about €396 million.
"The 'independence debt', which is today valued at over €17 billion illegitimately forced a people who had won their independence in a successful slave revolt, to pay again for their freedom, the letter said.
France had threatened to invade and restore slavery if Haiti did not pay up.
The debt of 150 million gold francs was equivalent to 10 times Haiti's annual revenue.
"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," the letter said.
Such actions were "inappropriate responses to a demand that is morally, economically, and legally unassailable", it added.
The French foreign ministry said such demands were not new, and added that France already plans to send Haiti €326 million in development aid by the end of next year and has written off €56 million in Haitian debt.
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