In an audacious move that confronts the past whilst addressing the present day plight of Haitians struggling to come to terms with one of the worlds most devastating natural disasters, a group of activists, academics, and writers are demanding that France repay the illegal debt it imposed on the newly independent sovereign state some 200 years ago.
After Toussaint L’Ouverture defeated Napolean’s armies in 1804, the French king, King Charles 2nd demanded compensation for the slave owners. Their extortionate demand was not political posturing, it was backed up by French gun boats holding the free nation to ransom: ‘Pay us or else’.
There are very few people today who would seek to defend the legitimacy of imposing that debt, which in today’s money would be around 17 billion euro. The main question on many peoples minds would be the time lapse. After 200 years is it fair to saddle the present French Government with the actions of their forefathers?
But that is precisely where the argument falls down. Right up and till 1947 the French nation were still collecting their extortion debt. One of the poorest countries in the world kept on its knees due its colonial debt.Therefore the crime – financially crippling a sovereign state – continued for more than 150 years, and as a result left an infrastructure so weak that when a natural disaster struck the effects were worse, much worse: 250, 000 people died and 1. 4 million people are still without homes.
Right now it’s not just the Haitians who demand the French should be held to account but the Black global community. France has much more than a moral obligation, it has an international legal obligation too.
By Simon Woolley