Haiti: Grants to repay an odious debt?

Linked on our blogs with Eric Toussaint – Belgium. – Published on Voltairenet.org, by Eric Toussaint and Sophie Perchellet, 19 January 2010.

Geography and bad luck are only partly to blame for Haiti’s tragedy. Haiti was born of slavery and revolution, declaring independence from France on 1 January 1804. In exchange for diplomatic recognition, France forced the new republic to pay enormous reparations. Ever since, Haiti has been trapped in a spiral of crippling debt, exploitation, corruption, violence and destitution. Decades of US occupations and policies, combined with strangling IMF-World Bank diktats and horribly one-sided “free trade” deals, have brought Haiti completely to its knees. The fundamentals of the Haitian human tragedy can hardly be pinned on nature … 

… It is therefore necessary to look back at the struggle for emancipation waged by the Haitian population, because in retaliation against this double-faceted revolution, both anti-slavery and anti-colonial in nature, the country inherited the ransom France demanded for independence, amounting to 150 million francs (that is, France’s annual budget at the time). In 1825, France decided that “The current inhabitants of the French part of Santo Domingo will pay into France’s Federal deposit and consignment offices, the sum of one hundred and fifty million francs, to be paid in five instalments, year after year, with the first term due 31 December 1825. The money will be used to compensate the former colonists who will demand compensation. [2]” That is equivalent to approximately 21 billion dollars nowadays. From the outset Haiti had to pay a very high price. Debt became the neo-colonial instrument used to maintain access to this country’s many natural resources.

The payment of this ransom is therefore the founding element of the Haitian State. In legal terms, this means that it was contracted by a despotic regime and this contract was used against the interests of the people. First France, then the United States, whose sphere of influence expanded to Haiti from 1915, are entirely responsible for this. Now, whilst it would have been possible to face up to their painful responsibilities of the past in 2004, the Régis Debray Commission report [3] report preferred to scrap the idea of repaying this sum on the pretext that it was “legally unfounded” and that this action would open a “Pandora’s box.” The Haitian government’s request was rejected by France: no compensation was warranted. Moreover, France does not recognize the role it played in the shameful present it gave to the dictator in exile “Baby Doc” Duvalier, by granting him political refugee status and thus, immunity

… Asian countries at the end of December 2004 (Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh) or after cyclone Jeanne hit Haiti in 2004. Promises were not kept and a large part of the funds were used to line the pockets of foreign or local elites. The majority of these “generous donations” came from the creditor countries. Rather than giving donations, it would be preferable that they cancel Haiti’s debt: totally, unconditionally and immediately. Can we really speak of donations when we know that most of this money will either be used to repay foreign debt or to implement “national development projects” decided on the basis of the interests of these creditors or local elites? It is clear that without these immediate donations, it will not be possible to secure repayment of this debt, at least half of which corresponds to odious debt. The major international conferences, whether G8 or G20 expanded to include IFIs, will not produce any progress whatsoever in terms of Haiti’s development rather, they will rebuild instruments to help them secure neo-colonial control of the country. The purpose is ensuring that debt repayments continue, the basis for submission, as has been the case since the recent debt relief initiatives.

On the contrary, in order for Haiti to rebuild itself in dignity, national sovereignty is the fundamental issue. A total and unconditional debt cancellation for Haiti must be the first step towards a more general course of action. A new alternative development model to the IFIs and the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA signed in December 2009, the Hope II Accord…), is necessary and urgent. The most industrialized countries, which have systematically exploited Haiti, beginning with France and the United States, must pay compensation towards a fund aimed at financing the reconstruction of the country, controlled by the Haitian people’s organizations. (full text).

Related articles:

La CIA déstabilise Haïti, Voltaire Network, 14 January 2004.

Haïti : ce que ne montrent pas les grands médias, by Ernesto Carmona, Voltaire Network, 7 mars 2005.

Voltaire Network Dossier on Haiti in English.

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