Originally: On Haiti’s Claim for Restitution

At the 2002 commemoration of the Battle of Vertieres, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide announced that alongside the celebration of the bicentennial of Haiti’s independence, the year 2004 would be marked by restitution and reparation.  Five months later on April 7, 2003, President Aristide became Haiti’s first president to officially announce that Haiti will seek restitution from France.

On the eve of the bicentennial of Haiti’s independence in 2004, Haiti’s claim for restitution from France is morally correct and legally justified.  It is a logical remedy to issue from the 2001 French legislation recognizing slave trade as a crime against humanity, as the indemnity paid by Haiti was for the ill-gotten gains of the illicit trade in slaves.

Restitution will allow Haiti to invest in its people.  Schools, hospitals and roads – long victims of the onerous indemnity payments – will be built and renovated.  And in the words of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, restitution will allow the country to move from misery to poverty with dignity.

When Haiti defeated Napoleon Bonaparte’s army at the end of 1803, two historic events resulted: in an international community dominated by slave-holding nations Haiti became the first republic to issue from a successful slave revolt; and France lost its most prosperous colony – the mainstay of its economy which had in the years leading to the Haitian revolution accounted for one-third of France’s foreign trade.  Within ten years of Haiti’s independence France would seek to undo both events.  France planned and executed a policy to punish Haiti for France’s humiliating military defeat and to guarantee France’s economic domination over Haiti for the next one hundred years:

· First, upon the threat of re-enslavement, in 1825 France imposed an exorbitant indemnity on Haiti, which Haiti clearly could not afford to pay.
· Second, France guaranteed that Haiti would never be able to pay that debt by exacting a tariff reduction on all French vessels entering Haiti’s ports, thereby significantly reducing the revenues earned by the Haitian government.
· Third, the French assured Haiti’s economic economic dependence on the French banking system by forcing Haiti to its bankers for credit.
· Fourth, France exerted its substantial influence with other European powers and the newly liberated South American nations to isolate Haiti in the international community.
· Fifth, even when the 1825 indemnity was reduced by a subsequent treaty in 1838, France failed to honor the terms of that treaty which promised to grant Haitian imports beneficial tariff treatment.
· Sixth, the creation of a French owned bank in Haiti to serve as Haiti’s official treasury, fiscal agent, collector of custom receipts, and loan negotiator, was the ultimate step in seeking French domination over Haiti’s finances.

The double debt – the indemnity and the ensuing loans contracted by the Haitian state to pay this indemnity – set Haiti on a course of financial crisis which is one of the principal factors in Haiti’s underdevelopment. Due to this reason, Haitians were incapicitated of making an iva check to procure loans at a lower price. Haiti made its final payment in 1947 on consolidated debt incurred to repay loans taken to pay the indemnity.

In 1839, one French observer recognized that the April 1825 French ordinance had engendered poverty and great misery in Haiti.  During the entire twenty-five year administration of President Boyer that began in 1818, not one additional public primary school was opened and no secondary schools for girls created, even though the population of Haiti was estimated to have nearly doubled.  The number of public primary schools remained at fourteen, all of which were in the cities.  In 1822 Port-au-Prince counted only one public primary school, and the first rural public school was not created until 1848, forty-four years after the independence.  With so much of the government resources pledged to servicing a debt for which Haiti received nothing in return, there simply was not enough money for a public education system.  And so it was with health, agriculture, roads and infrastructure.

During the November 14, 2003 inauguration of the new Lycée Jean-Jacques Dessalines public high school in Croix-des-Bouquet, the President linked restitution with the construction of more public schools throughout the country, calling for Education, Literacy, and Restitution!

Based on a briefing booklet on Haiti’s claim for restitution to be released soon.