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French govt urged to pay back Haiti's 'independence debt'

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2010-08-16

Leading international academics and authors have written an open letter to France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, urging him to repay a €17 billion "independence debt" imposed on Haiti two centuries ago.

In an open letter to President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday, a group of international academics called on France to pay back the €17 billion of “independence debt” it extorted from the former colony some 200 years ago.

A total of 130 signatories have endorsed the letter (which appeared in French daily "Libération"), including American linguist Noam Chomsky, Canadian activist Naomi Klein, and several renowned French philosophers.

The appeal comes weeks after a hoax group called CRIME (Committee for the Reimbursement of the Indemnity Money Extorted from Haiti) falsely announced on July 14, the French national day, that France would pay back this “debt” to Haiti. The announcement, which was published on the government's website after it was hacked, was supposed to draw attention on France’s refusal to pay back the money. The French government said it was considering legal action against the group.

Concerning the potential legal action against the hoax group, the signatories of the open letter wrote: “We believe the ideals of equality, fraternity and liberty would be far better served if, instead of pouring public resources into the prosecution of these pranksters, France were to start paying Haiti back for the 90 million gold francs that were extorted following Haitian independence.”

Haiti, the world’s first black republic, declared independence from France in 1804, thirteen years after a successful slave revolt. But French slave owners soon demanded compensation for the loss of revenue from what had been France’s most profitable colony.

In 1825, French King Charles X demanded Haiti pay 150 million gold francs, a sum which was later reduced to 90 million gold francs, the equivalent of €17 billion. Faced with the prospect of a French blockade, Haiti was powerless to refuse. It took the fledgling nation almost 125 years to pay the full sum.

The letter's signatories described the “independence debt” imposed on Haiti as “illegitimate and illegal”, urging France to return the money. They said it would help cover reconstruction costs in the country, which was devastated by a massive earthquake seven months ago. International donations pledged after the disaster have been slow to come through.
 

Date created : 2010-08-16

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