Originally: France Rejects Haiti’s Repayment Demand

PARIS — France on Tuesday dismissed a Haitian demand to repay billions of dollars handed over by the Caribbean country in the 19th century for recognition of its independence.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide made the demand for restitution on Monday as Haiti marked the 200th anniversary of the death of its founding father, Toussaint Louverture. Aristide put the sum owed by France at $21.7 billion.

“France notes that, since the return of President Aristide, the international community has, globally, lent nearly 2 billion euros, including more than 200 million euros in French aid,” said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau.

“Bad governance, the degradation of security linked to the current grave political conflict are the main reasons for the social, economic downward drift of the country,” he said.

Rivasseau said France has redirected its aid to directly benefit Haiti’s population, especially farmers.

Haiti became the world’s first free black republic after declaring independence on Nov. 28, 1803.

But only in 1838 did France recognize Haiti’s independence — after Haiti began paying France an agreed amount of 90 million gold francs to compensate former plantation owners.

While various Haitian groups have demanded reparations for slavery, European governments have refused.

Today, what was once France’s wealthiest colony has become one of the world’s poorest nations, hindered by political upheaval and dictatorships.

Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press