What the French Really Owe Haiti, by Marlene L. DAUT

Marlene Daut Discussion

What the French Really Owe Haiti

Compensation for a history suffused with violence that left physical wounds and psychological trauma.

By Marlene L. Daut

Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1993. (Photo by Georges Merillon / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Last month, The New York Times made headlines with its front-page series about the billions (in today’s dollars) that France forced Haiti to pay following centuries of slavery. Despite the terrors and tortures of French colonialism, the Haitian revolutionaries won their independence from France in 1804 to become the first modern nation to permanently abolish slavery. Yet, in 1825, the French returned to Haitian shores to demand 150 million francs in exchange for recognition of Haitian independence—21 years after the fact—and to compensate enslavers for their lost “property.” 

Dozens of manuscripts and pamphlets from early-19th-century France show that what the French really wanted wasn’t money at all, though. Rather they sought, in their words, to “restore Saint-Domingue,” which meant to bring back slavery. The French began planning the reconquest of Haiti soon after the Haitian Declaration of Independence on January 1, 1804, and threatened the new nation under all its first leaders from its founder, Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines (who was assassinated in 1806) to both King Henry Christophe (who ruled after Dessalines in the north until he committed suicide in 1820) and Alexandre Pétion who was simultaneously president over a republic in the south and west until 1818 when he died of natural causes.

By the time Pétion and Christophe’s successor, President Jean-Pierre Boyer, signed the indemnity in 1825, the French had been openly plotting for two decades to “exterminate” the Haitian populace in the name of restoring slavery. That history of planned genocide is essential to understanding the threat of violent warfare, not merely financial exploitation, that 19th-century Haitians lived with because, in the words of Dessalines, they “dared to be free.”

Read the rest here: https://www.thenation.com/article/world/haiti-france-reparations-slavery/