Originally: Haiti steps up fight for $22 billion from

 By Amy Bracken

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Nov 20 (Reuters) – It’s hard to listen to Haitian

radio or watch Haitian television these days without hearing the uplifting

government public service announcement song that goes: “We demand

reparations, restitution. France, pay me my money, $21,685,135,571.48.”

     The television images show people in African clothing dancing and

working in fields, the Eiffel Tower, infrastructure such as a dam and

buildings and stacks of dollar bills.

     Haiti is making serious efforts to get France to pay restitution of

nearly $22 billion, according to Haitian Foreign Minister Joseph Antonio.

     France colonised the Caribbean nation in the 17th century and imported

African slaves to work the sugar cane and coffee plantations. The slaves

rebelled, killing or driving out their French rulers, and Haiti declared

independence in 1804.

     France demanded 150 million francs, worth about $28.3 million today,

as compensation for the loss of its colony and the Haitian government paid

90 million of that, enough to plunge the country deeply into debt for


     “It was not enough to have taken up arms in the struggle for

independence,” wrote Haitian novelist Jean Metellus. “It had to be paid

for, too, and it’s cost was high.”

     In April, President Jean-Bertrand demanded that France pay

restitution, specifying the above sum, which takes into account inflation

and interest.

     After first refusing to discuss the matter, French President Jacques

Chirac finally appointed Regis Debray, a left-wing intellectual, to head a

commission to investigate the possibility of restitution.

     With an invitation from the French Institute of Haiti, Debray held a

conference in Port-au-Prince last month in which he made no promises about

restitution but convinced those attending that France was seriously

considering the matter.

     Aristide held a three-day international colloquium in October to

discuss the matter. It overlapped with the anniversary of his 1994 return

to Haiti under U.S. military protection, which came three years after a

coup drove him out.

     “If on October 15, 1994, the impossible became possible, when it comes

to restitution, the impossible will be possible,” Aristide said.

     The colloquium featured artistic entertainment, including a Haitian

rapper chanting in Creole slang, “Lafrans kale m lamama m,” or “France,

give me my money.”

     Some critics believe the money, if paid, would go to waste in a

government they view as corrupt. The running joke is that France agreed to

pay the entire sum except for the 48 cents, to which Aristide replied: “But

then what will be left for the people?”

     Others say the government’s approach will fail to persuade France, or

that the discussion itself will hurt relations between the two countries.

     But many are hopeful about the prospective cash flow, while

recognising the process could take years and the sum could be altered.

     “I’m optimistic because it’s a just fight,” said Joseph Antonio. “When

the fight is just, you always end up winning… When is another question.”

     Evans Paul, head of the opposition Convention for Democratic Unity

party, agreed the cause is just but doesn’t think it can be won. He called

the president’s public and confrontational approach to the issue “political


     Paul said Aristide “gives the impression that France is a mean old

colonist,” something he doesn’t expect France to respond well to. Paul

advocates working with France to find the right moment and conditions for


     “Mr Paul is not the only one to think that way,” said government

spokesman Mario Dupuy. “There are some people who think (the president)

should do this in private, above the population, which is to say behind the

back of the population. But the president has adopted a transparent and

public path with the population because…demanding restitution is for the


     Some feel the entire process is a mistake. When Lionel Etienne, a

Haitian who heads the French-Haitian Chamber of Commerce, heard about the

government’s plans to demand restitution, he said: “It was like finding a

hair in my soup.”

     Etienne believes that further developing diplomatic and economic ties

between the two countries is far more productive than demanding money.

     “France is our port of entry into Europe, and I think it is a shame to

put in question our relationship with France” by reducing it to a demand

for restitution, he said. “It’s a combative undertaking.”

     Indeed, as the country prepares for the January bicentennial of its

victory over France in the battle for independence, the political language,

especially in reference to restitution, is full of bellicose terms —

“combat,” “fight,” “struggle” and “battle.”

     The demand for restitution may turn out to be the ultimate

revolutionary war re-enactment in Haiti.