Haiti used to be one of the richest countries in the world, but it was forced to pay for its independence for over a century leading to its current state of poverty. The French independence debt and natural disasters drove down a once rich country into one of the poorest countries in the world. Haiti was self sufficient but because of the tyranny of the French they now survive off aid.
Under the name Saint- Domingue, Haiti was one of the richest countries. Its economy was built by the labour of 800,000 West African slaves who worked the vast plantations under the brutal control of French slaveowners. Between the years of 1697-1804 Haiti produced 60% of the coffee consumed by France and Britain and three quarters of the world’s sugar. Not only did Saint-Domingue account for one third of the entire slave trade, but the conditions they lived under were known to be one of the cruellest.
Against all odds the slaves rose against their captors and attained independence in 1804. Barely two decades after winning its independence France deployed heavily armed warships to Haiti and held them as hostages until they acceded to their ultimatum that amounted to extortion. The French threatened to attack the small Haitian island unless they paid a ridiculous amount of 150 million Francs (later reviewed to 90 million Francs) the modern-day equivalent of 21 billion dollars. The payment was for loss suffered by French slave owners in property and this property was mainly the people of Haiti themselves who were viewed as the property of the French.
The independence debt was a cruel heist on the Haitian people. Since 1825 they paid off this debt until 1947. Furthermore, France demanded Haiti discount its exported goods to them by 50%. The debt was paid off by loans given to the Haitian government by French and American banks which levied draconian taxes and interests on the loans. It is rumoured that Haiti ended up paying double because of the interest charges that were put on loans they took to pay France.
The effects of the independence debt to France is far reaching and can be felt today. Haiti has been a victim of corrupt leadership and natural disasters. The French robbery of the Haitian people across centuries remains the worst disaster they ever had. As a result of the debt Haiti could not develop their country. Educational institutions could not be built, to this day Haiti has one of the worst road networks. All the projects that had started before 1825 had to be put on hold to ensure the French debt was paid. Failure to pay would guarantee an attack and possible recapture by France.
French economist Thomas Piketty acknowledged that France should repay at least 28 billion to Haiti in restitution. However, former French Presidents from Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy to Francois Hollande, have a history of downplaying Haitian demands for recompense. In 2015 Francois Holland became the 2nd French President to visit Haiti, he admitted that his country needed to “settle the debt”. Later realising he had acknowledged the moral and material injustices France had imposed on Haiti he clarified that the debt he meant was merely a moral one. To deny that consequences of slavery were also material is to deny French history itself.
France carried out a grand heist on the Haitian people, the effects of which can be felt today. Haitian people have been French slaves for centuries they paid them money that could have developed their own, and produced products for them at 50%, this ensured they failed to generate wealth through exports. Refusal by France to repay what they rightfully owe Haiti borders on arrogance and spite. 21 billion dollars which would be a pittance in the French budget is desperately needed by the people of Haiti and could help it begin a broad-based recovery that would be a great relief to its long-suffering people.