Open Letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy
16 August 2001
published in Libération
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.
Tariq Ali, Gilbert Achcar, Michael Albert, Pierre Alferi, Jean-Claude Amara, Kevin B Anderson, Roger Annis, Anthony Arnove, Alain Badiou, Étienne Balibar, Nnimmo Bassey, Rosalyn Baxandall, Pierre Beaudet, Dan Beeton, Walden Bello,Medea Benjamin, Andy Bichlbaum & Mike Bonnano, Serge Bouchereau, Myriam Bourgy, Houria Bouteldja, José Bové, Leslie Cagan, Aldrin Calixte, Ellen Cantarow, Camille Chalmers, Noam Chomsky, Stefan Christoff, Jeff Cohen, Jim Cohen, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Brian Concannon, Raphaël Confiant, Mike Davis, Warren Davis, Nick Dearden, Rokhaya Diallo, Christine Delphy, Rea Dol, Ariel Dorfman, Stephen Duncombe, Berthony Dupont, Ben Ehrenreich, Joe Emersberger, Yves Engler, Eric Fassin, Dianne Feeley, John Feffer, Anthony Fenton, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Eduardo Galeano, Grazia Ietto-Gillies, Greg Grandin, Arun Gupta, Peter Hallward, Hamé, Hammond, Thomas Harrison, Helene Hazera, John Hilary, HK, Doug Ireland, Kim Ives, Olatunde Johnson, Eva Joly, Mario Joseph, Mathieu Kassovitz, Robin D. G. Kelley, Richard Kim, Amir Khadir, Sadri Khiari, Naomi Klein, Pierre Labossiere, Joanne Landy, Fanfan Latour, Charles Laurence, Jesse Lemisch, Reed Lindsay, Pauline Londeix, Isabel Macdonald, Christian Mahieux, Henri Maler,Noël Mamère, Betty Reid Mandell, Marvin Mandell, Jerome Martin, John G. Mason, Gustave Massiah, Georgina Murray, Cyril Mychalejko, Robert Naiman, Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Bernard Noël, Derrick O'Keefe, Karen Orenstein, Rosalind Petchesky, Wadner Pierre, Kevin Pina, Justin Podur, Serge Quadruppani, Adam Ramsay, Jacques Rancière, Judy Rebick, William I. Robinson, Pierre Rousset, Stephen R. Shalom, Bobbi Siegelbaum, Steve Siegelbaum, Fanny Simon, Eyal Sivan, Ashley Smith, Jeb Sprague, Louis-Georges Tin, Cornel West, Howard Winant, Cécile Winter, Lawrence Wittner, Marie Yared, Nick Nesbitt, Melanie Newton