France urged to repay Haiti's independence debt
A group of intellectuals and politicians Monday called for France to repay Haiti 17 billion euros extorted by its former colonial master in exchange for recognition of independence 200 years ago.
The left-leaning French and British dailies Liberation and The Guardian published the appeal to President Nicolas Sarkozy.
It was signed by figures including American linguist Noam Chomsky, Canadian author Naomi Klein and a number of philosophers and politicians.
The letter said the money would cover rebuilding costs in Haiti after January's devastating earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people, as it would cover the shortfall in cash promised by international donors.
"The 'independence debt', which is today valued at over 17 billion euros (21 billion dollars) illegitimately forced a people who had won their independence in a successful slave revolt, to pay again for the freedom," the letter said.
France had threatened to invade and restore slavery if Haiti did not pay up.
The debt of 150 million gold francs was equivalent to 10 times Haiti's annual revenue. The original sum was reduced, but Haiti was still paying off what campaigners dub a "patently illegitimate ... and illegal" debt in 1947.
"In 2003, when the Haitian government demanded repayment of the money France had extorted from Haiti, the French government responded by helping to overthrow that government," the letter said.
Such actions were "inappropriate responses to a demand that is morally, economically, and legally unassailable", it added.
"In light of the urgent financial need in the country in the wake of the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, we urge you to pay Haiti, the world's first black republic, the restitution it is due."
The French foreign ministry said such demands were not new, and added that France already plans to send Haiti 326 million euros in development aid by the end of next year and has written off 56 million euros in Haitian debt.
© 2010 AFP