France stands up for ex-slave colony Haiti

France stands up for ex-slave colony Haiti

18th January 2010, Comments 0 comments

With a shared history that dates back to the 15th century, it is no wonder the French has been prompt in providing aid to quake-hit Haiti.

France on Friday bid for a leading role in rebuilding Haiti after the earthquake, reflecting its special ties with the impoverished former colony where sugar and slaves once lined its pockets.

As its rescuers joined others scrambling to reach people trapped by rubble after Tuesday's earthquake, France led calls for an international conference on rebuilding the country and urged creditor countries to cancel its debt.

Of all the foreign countries sending aid, France has the strongest cultural ties with Haiti, whose inhabitants speak the heavily French-influenced Creole language.

Some 45,000 Haitians live in France and many have relatives there affected by the disaster. A foreign ministry information line for Haiti reported 6,000 calls in the two days following the quake.

"We have a lot of family there, my grandmother, and my brother who is on holiday in Port-au-Prince," said Camita Guelce, who runs a hairdressing salon in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, home to more than 12,000 Haitians.

"The hardest thing is not knowing anything: whether they are alive or dead, whether they are suffering," she added.

Up to 30 French citizens are feared dead in the wake of this week's devastating earthquake in Haiti, France's development minister said Friday midday.

Army officers from France and other European countries work in a crisis center to coordonate European assistance to the victims of Haitian earthquake disaster, at the French Defense ministry in Paris

"There are at least 20 to 30 citizens who we believe should have come forward and have not, that leads us to believe the worst," Alain Joyandet told AFP.

Six French dead have been confirmed so far, said the French foreign ministry in Paris.

An estimated 1,400 French citizens live in Haiti, the vast majority in the capital Port-au-Prince. Around half have dual French-Haitian citizenship.

The French adoption agency AFA estimated that between 1,200 and 1,500 French families were in the process of adopting a child from Haiti and asked them to contact French authorities to see if the children survived the quake.

French music stars mobilise for Haiti
Meanwhile, dozens of French rappers and pop stars are joining renowned singers Charles Aznavour and Youssou N'Dour to record a music video Friday to raise funds for quake-stricken Haiti.

Un geste pour Haiti Cherie (A Gesture for Dear Haiti) will be widely distributed to French television stations, appealing to viewers to make a donation for quake relief.

Hip hop duo Neg'Marrons wrote the music and each of the 40 odd artists would contribute a line to the lyrics of the song that would be recorded in a Paris studio, said a spokesman for Trace TV music channel.

Slam poet Grand Corps Malade, rappers Passi and Stomy Bugsy were among the big names taking part along with 85-year-old Aznavour, who is French-Armenian, and N'Dour, of Senegalese origin.

Paris' Archbishop, cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois (L), officiates during a mass for the victims of the Haiti earthquake on 16 January 2010 in the Cathedral Notre Dame in Paris

Haitian-born standup comic Anthony Kavanagh, who lives in Canada, separately called on French artists to organise a fundraising telethon for Haiti, where tens of thousands are feared dead from Tuesday's quake.

"We have to do something. We have to send money. There is nothing left there, but abysmal misery," said Kavanagh.

Rapper Kery James, whose parents are of Haitian origin, will be giving a charity concert while leading French playwright Robert Hossein said all proceeds from a theatre performance next week will go toward medical relief.

Links between France and Haiti go way back
The links go back centuries, to the earliest days of European colonisation after Christopher Columbus landed in 1492 on the island later named Hispaniola -- now shared by Haiti and its eastern neighbour, the Dominican Republic.

France later shipped in slaves from Africa to Haiti and eventually seized official control of it in 1697, growing rich on its sugar plantations until a bloody slave uprising against French forces led to independence in 1804.

Ties have since become more cordial, but Haiti's fortunes have not improved in the post-colonial era. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, stricken by AIDS, hurricanes and political instability.

France has played a role in some of Haiti's more recent political upheavals, with numerous Haitian political and intellectual figures living in exile there.

Former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fled into exile on the Cote d'Azur after a coup in 1986 and French and US pressure led former president Jean Bertrand Aristide to flee amid an armed uprising in 2004.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) speaks with Junior Minister for Foreign Aid and Francophony Alain Joyandet (2ndL), Foreign and Eurpean Affairs minister Bernard Kouchner (3rdL), Justice State minister Michele Alliot-Marie (2ndR) and French Junior Minister for Justice Jean-Marie Bockel (R) leave the cabinet meeting on 13 January 2010 at the Elysee Palace in Paris

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he planned to travel to Haiti in the coming weeks for talks with Aristide's successor, Rene Preval, on "how we can very quickly, after this catastrophe, rebuild this battered country."

Economy Minister Christine Lagarde meanwhile called on the rich creditor countries of the so-called Paris Club to cancel all Haiti's outstanding debt to its members.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the reconstruction conference, a plan launched jointly by France and the United States, could take place in March.

"To give hope to the Haitians, we have to show them that we will not abandon them," he told RTL radio.

AFP / Philippe Rater / Expatica

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