Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Repay historic debt to Haiti: An open letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy

By Derrick O'Keefe
August 16, 2010 -- rabble.ca -- A Bastille Day hoax on the French government helped to expose the long history of extortion, betrayal and structural injustice that left Haiti so impoverished and vulnerable to devastation by the earthquake that claimed over a quarter of a million lives earlier this year.
Yes Men-inspired activists calling themselves the Committee for the Reimbursement of the Indemnity Money Extorted from Haiti (CRIME) pulled off a fake announcement indicating that France would finally pay its historic debt. France was forced to deny that it was doing any such thing and threatened legal action against the activists. The action brought media attention, reminding journalists and the public of the historical context behind Haiti's immiseration.
On August 16, Libération published an open letter from social activists, politicians and academics from around the world making the point that the demand for France to pay restitution to Haiti is "unassailable". I hope this letter will circulate widely, keeping this story in the news and raising awareness of the real causes of Haiti's plight.

An open letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy
The French government has indicated that it is pursuing possible legal action against the Committee for the Reimbursement of the Indemnity Money Extorted from Haiti (CRIME) over a Yes Men-inspired announcement last Bastille Day pledging that France would pay Haiti restitution.
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.
This “independence debt,” which is today valued at well over the 17 billion euros pledged in the fake announcement last July 14, illegitimately forced a people who had won their independence in a successful slave revolt, to pay again for their freedom. Imposed under threat of military invasion and the restoration of slavery by French King Charles X, to compensate former colonial slave-owners for lost “property” (including the slaves who had won their freedom and independence when they defeated Napoleon’s armies), this indemnity burdened generations of Haitians with an illegitimate debt, which they were still paying right up until 1947.
France is not the only country that owes a debt to Haiti. After 1947, Haiti incurred debt to commercial banks and international financial institutions under the Duvalier dictatorships, who stole billions from the public treasury. The basic needs and development aspirations of generations of Haitians were sacrificed to pay back these debts. Granting Haiti the status of Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) and canceling part of the current debt only begins to reverse the financial damage done by these recent debts. More recently, in 2000, Inter-American Development Bank loans of $150 million for basic infrastructure were illegally blocked by the US government as a means of political pressure. This also did measurable economic and human damage. Each of these institutions and governments should be responsible for the harm they did to Haiti's society and economy.
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. Today, the French government responds to the same demand by CRIME by threatening legal action. These are inappropriate responses to a demand that is morally, economically, and legally unassailable. In light of the urgent financial need in the country in the wake of the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, we urge you to pay Haiti, the world’s first black republic, the restitution it is due.

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