Via: Web of Democracy.
“We’re not looking for pity, no, but for you to acknowledge that we have the right to recuperate a part of what has been stolen from us.”
As Haiti-watchers are aware, in 1825, France forced its former colony to pay 150 million francs under Charles X’s Ordinance of 1825 in exchange for conditional recognition and, as Paul Farmer notes, “as indemnity for the losses of the plantation owners” during Haiti’s revolutionary overthrow of France.
The quote above, attributed to exiled former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, comes from Peter Hallward’s Damming the Flood (p. 226). Hallward notes how Aristide’s statement, made in April 2003 and reflecting the findings of the Haiti Restitution Commission, “is the single most threatening international demand that anyone has made on Haiti’s old imperial creditor (if not on the whole ex-colonial world) since the end of its last major colonial war, in 1961…Unlike most slavery-related reparation demands currently in the air, the Haitian claim refers to a precise and well-documented sum of money extracted in hard currency by the ex-xolonial power.”
The findings of the Commission were to be published in the Spring of 2004, except, before this could happen, France (along with Canada, the US, and sectors aligned with Haiti’s oligarchy) overthrew Aristide in a well-orchestrated coup that was staged in such a way as to make Aristide appear to be the author of his own demise (sold by the Western powers, media, and their Haitian counterparts as a “resignation”).
Shortly following Aristide’s removal (on February 29, 2004) and the arrival of the foreign-backed caretaker Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, the demand for restitution was withdrawn. Latortue, in so doing, said the claim was “illegal, ridiculous and was made only for political reasons. This matter is closed.” (p. 230)
Unfortunately for France, there’s only one way that they matter will ever be officially closed. Solidarity activists have continued to call for reparations as part of their campaigns to keep meddling foreign hands off of Haiti. With the occasional exception, however – such as Jean Saint-Vil’s demand on a cross-country Canadian news channel, that “it is time that France returns the $40 billion ransom that it collected at gunpoint from the Haitian state between 1825 and 1947” – such calls have remained on the margins.
That is, until last week*, when pranksters going by the acronym C.R.I.M.E (Committee for the Repayment of the Indemnity Money Expropriated from Haiti), pulled off a Yes Men-style prank which, by cloning both the French Foreign Ministry website and the Agence France Presse websites (both of which have since been taken down by France) made it appear that France was voluntarily choosing to repay $21 billion to Haiti under the auspices of the ‘Framework Initiative for Haiti’s Reconstruction.’ According to the faux press release, issued by the ‘Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs’:
“Under the FIHR, France has committed to pay back the historic indemnity of 90 million gold francs which Haiti paid to the French republic following the Caribbean nation’s independence from France. Including adjustments for inflation and a minimal interest rate of 5 percent per annum, this sum is today valued at € 17 billion (21 billion USD)…The Ministry is encouraging other governments to follow the French example, and “take responsibility and action to correct the mistakes of the past in this hour of Haiti’s greatest need.”
Predictably, France didn’t take to kindly to the prank, condemning it and threatening legal action. Worse, according to (the real) AFP, “France has no plans to repay Haiti this sum, and a foreign ministry spokesman confirmed that the press release, video and website were all fake.”
On Thursday, wearing ‘Zorro-type face covers’ representatives of C.R.I.M.E held a press conference in Montreal, where they stated, in spite of threats of legal action by French authorities, “we have every intention of continuing” to target France until the deadbeats pay Haitians what is owed to them.
To the people of C.R.I.M.E., whoever (and wherever) you are, the W.O.D salutes you.
*Apologies for getting to this so late; I was traveling when the story broke.