Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Demands for reparations greet French president

Demands for reparations greet French president

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Recently, a French head of state visited Haiti for the first time since 1803. That’s when Napoleon’s army was decisively beaten at the Battle of Vertières by an army of ex-slaves who displayed exceptional valor and determination. Vertières was an especially humiliating defeat because the racist and colonialist French ruling class did not believe an army of Black people either kidnapped or born into subjugation, could defeat veteran French soldiers in hand-to-hand combat.

Signs say: “Down with Preval! Down with Sarkozy!” and “We want the return of Aristide!”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped in on Haiti for less than four hours on Feb. 17. He saw the earthquake devastation from a helicopter, made a speech in the gardens outside the ruined National Palace while Haitian President René Préval looked on, and then headed to Martinique and Guadeloupe, French colonial possessions in the Caribbean, and Guyana.

Thousands of protesters organized by Fanmi Lavalas, the party of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, showed up at the National Palace shortly after word of Sarkozy’s visit got out. They carried signs demanding restitution of the $21.69 billion (as of 2003) that France extorted from Haiti in 1825, as well as reparations for the two centuries of French slavery and all the violence and misery that flowed from that.

They also demanded the return of former President Aristide and chanted, “Down with Préval!” Some signs read, “Nicolas Sarkozy, slavery and colonialism are worse than the catastrophe of January 12.” (La Presse, Feb. 18)

France deliberately adopted a genocidal strategy against the Haitian people from 1792 to 1803, a genocide that failed only because the army carrying it out was crushed. But under King Charles X, France sent its fleet to Haiti in 1825 to extort 150 million gold francs as payment for the “property” — that is to say, the enslaved human beings and the land — its citizens had lost with the success of the Haitian Revolution. This debt was so crushing that it took 122 years for Haiti to repay it completely.

Despite this history, Sarkozy had the gall to say, “Between our two countries, the ties are intense, family-like, but as in every family there have been some very painful moments.”

The French leader raised the issue of interimperialist rivalry when he spoke against putting Haiti under “tutelage,” a 21st-century version of a “protectorate.” He said, “To those who ... embrace the idea of an international tutelage over Haiti, I say this: The Haitian people are battered, the Haitian people are exhausted but the Haitian people are standing tall.”

Sarkozy seemed to have forgotten that his predecessor and compatriot Jacques Chirac cooperated fully with the United States and Canada in the coup-kidnapping of President Aristide and in placing Haiti under the “tutelage” of a United Nations occupation.

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