Does 'the root of Haiti's misery' date back to France's 19th-century extortion? (Part 2)
A newspaper exposé has reignited debate over the ongoing legacy of debts that Haiti was forced to pay to former colonial ruler France in the 19th century -- but the country's elites are surprisingly keen to bury the issue. After months of poring over archives, The New York Times estimated that debt payments starting in 1825 cost poverty-stricken Haiti between $21 billion and $115 billion -- or as much as eight times its GDP in 2020. One of the New York Times journalists who worked on this in-depth historical report, Constant Méheut, joins FRANCE 24 to recount exactly what ensued following Haiti's resounding victory against France and Napoleon's forces in 1803. When it declared independence in 1804, Haiti became the world's first Black-ruled republic and an outcast in an era dominated by countries that engaged in slavery. But, as Mr. Méheut explains, Haiti's new-found freedom came at a heavy price. In 1825, more than two decades after Haiti's victorious revolt over their former colonial power, "the French came back with a fleet of warships and told Haiti you have to pay us an astounding amount of money in reparations to the former French slaveholders or we will [wage] war again." For more than half a century, Haiti would be forced to pay exorbitant "reparations" to their former enslavers, all the while taking out loans from French banks to cover the forced reparations and thereby suffering from a "double debt" phenomenon. By the 1880's, with the extortion payments nearly paid off, Haiti was ready to break free from the French financial shackles, open a new central bank and ring in an exciting new era of freedom and prosperity. They had big dreams of investing in the nascent country's future: infrastructure, public works, schools, hospitals, etc. But Haitian hopes were quickly dashed. Haiti's new national bank was set up by French bank Crédit Industriel et Commercial (CIC) which functioned more as a Trojan horse. As The New York Times describes it, "The National Bank of Haiti, on which so many hopes were pinned [...] was national in name only. Far from an instrument of Haiti’s salvation, the central bank was, from its very inception, an instrument of French financiers and a way to keep a suffocating grip on a former colony into the next century."