Sarkozy to take reconstruction plan to Haiti

President Nicolas Sarkozy is bringing a French plan to rebuild Haiti with him on Wednesday's visit to the Caribbean country, a trip officials hope will usher in a new era between France and its former colony.

Some Haitians are welcoming France's new interest in their earthquake-shattered nation as a counterbalance to the United States, which has sent troops there three times in the past 16 years.

But Sarkozy's visit, the first ever by a French president to what was its richest colony, is also reviving bitter memories of the crippling costs of Haiti's 1804 independence.

A third of the population was killed in an uprising against exceptionally brutal slavery, an international embargo was imposed to prevent slave revolts elsewhere and 90 million pieces of gold were demanded by Paris from the world's first black republic.

The debt hobbled Haiti, it seemed for life.

A country plagued by natural and unnatural calamities was desperately poor and mismanaged even before a magnitude-7 earthquake smashed up the capital Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, killing more than 200,000 people and leaving more than a million homeless.

Haitian politicians this week diplomatically skirted the question of French reparations — a demand put to Paris by ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. That suggests Sarkozy's four-hour visit could herald a new era.

French officials say Sarkozy will announce details of "a French plan for the reconstruction of Haiti" — if Haitian officials agree. It differs little from proposals from Haitian, US. and UN officials to decentralize power away from the devastated capital and boost agriculture and tourism.

The trip brings Sarkozy to an island where, French officials acknowledge, fascination with things French duels with strong, lingering resentments.

One official close to the French presidency, briefing reporters in Paris on condition of anonymity, hinted that France is not deaf to calls for reparations, calling Sarkozy's visit "an occasion to show that France is mobilizing to give Haitians control of their destiny and pay past debts."

For Millien Romage, a legislator for Aristide's party when reparations were demanded, "This is not a time to be making loud demands. We don't want to fight. But perhaps the French could recognize their debt by helping us to get out of poverty. They can help build roads, houses, schools."

Sarkozy himself has said the catastrophe, following so many others, offers "a chance to get Haiti once and for all out of the curse it seems to have been stuck with for such a long time."

Some Haitians would say they were cursed by their French colonizers.

"The indemnity imposed by France condemned the Haitian people to a cycle of indebtedness, environmental degradation and underdevelopment from which they have yet to recover," said Norman Girvan, a professor at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. "President Sarkozy would do France — yes France — a great service if he were to acknowledge the role of the French Republic in Haiti's present plight."

France has already said it was canceling all of Haiti's 56 million euro debt to Paris.

In 1825, crippled by the U.S.-led international embargo that was enforced by French warships, Haiti agreed to pay France 150 million francs in compensation for the lost "property" — including slaves — of French plantation owners.

By comparison, France sold the United States its immensely larger Louisiana Territory in 1803 for just 60 million francs. The amount for Haiti was later lowered to 90 million gold francs.

Haiti did not finish paying the debilitating debt — which was swollen by massive interest payments to French and American banks — until 1947.

But Haiti's wealth already was destroyed. It had been the world's richest colony, providing half the globe's sugar and other exports including coffee, cotton, hardwood and indigo that exceeded the value of everything produced in the United States in 1788.

By the early 1780s, half of Haiti's forests were gone, leading to the devastating erosion and extreme poverty that bedevils the country today.

France's other former colonies in the region — Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Martin, St. Barts and Guiana (in South America) — all have voted to remain part of France and send legislators to the French parliament.

The human cost of the colonial exploitation in Haiti was staggering. Slaves lasted little more than 10 years under brutal conditions. Haitian slaves who displeased their masters were boiled to death in vats of molasses, buried alive in piles of biting insects, crushed by heavy stones or simply starved to death. Just before the rebellion, Haiti had some 450,000 slaves, 25,000 whites and several thousand freed blacks and a mixed-race elite.

The uprising was as brutal as what had gone before.

Haitians asked about their independence today quickly recall the bloody Creole slogan "koupe tet, boule kay" — cut off their heads, torch their houses.

Homeless Haitians who had not heard of Sarkozy's visit said they would welcome help, wherever it comes from.

"I hope he can bring me a tent, and the food, medicine and houses that everybody needs," said 19-year-old Joint Dewendsca, who expects to give birth to her first child under a tent made of bed sheets and wood poles on the grounds of Quisqueya University.

Many remain wary, however, in a country where people still describe a deceitful politician as "speaking French." The vast majority of Haitians speak Creole.

"France still has its eye on Haiti," said Evens Dangervil, 31. "It might want to control us politically and economically."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible