Wednesday, February 17, 2010

economics tied to politics: Haiti's history with France

Well, well, after over 200 years, the French president has finally shown up in Haiti.   I have to say that this truly astounds me.  Does anyone know how long it took before the US and UK officials started visiting back and forth?  I'm glad to hear it has happened, though.  And better, much  more impressive news:  France has forgiven Haiti's debt!  That's what I call putting your money where your mouth is.  Anyone else out there??? 

But as the article points out, it's not entirely without reason, sheer grace, so to speak. It traces Haiti's history, beginning with the 1804 Revolution through which Haiti won its independence from France, and including the story of the astronomical sum they had Haiti pay them - "pay them back," that is, including the price of the slaves! Did the US have to do that for England?  The article explains:

"In 1825, crippled by the U.S.-led international embargo that was enforced by French warships, Haiti agreed to pay France 150 million francs in compensation for the lost ''property'' -- including slaves -- of French plantation owners.

By comparison, France sold the United States its immensely larger Louisiana Territory in 1803 for just 60 million francs. The amount for Haiti was later lowered to 90 million gold francs.

Haiti did not finish paying the debilitating debt -- which was swollen by massive interest payments to French and American banks -- until 1947.

But Haiti's wealth already was destroyed. It had been the world's richest colony, providing half the globe's sugar and other exports including coffee, cotton, hardwood and indigo that exceeded the value of everything produced in the United States in 1788.
By the early 1780s, half of Haiti's forests were gone, leading to the devastating erosion and extreme poverty that bedevils the country today."

The article says, "With an eye on that old grievance, France has already said it was canceling all of Haiti's 56 million euro (US$77 million) debt to Paris. The aid package also will include reconstruction money, emergency aid and $40 million in support for the Haitian government's budget."  

If you are not familiar with Haiti's history or the story of the relationship between these two countries, I'd suggest this article, as it covers a lot of ground.  You can read the full story about President Sarkozy's visit and the background to it here:  French President Sarkozy Arrives in Haiti - NYTimes

The photo here is of the Neg Mawon, a famous statue of a revolutionary blowing on a conch shell to signal others.   I found it here:

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