“Reparation to the slaves’ owners ” … Am I having a bad dream? What kind of country is that? Not only France must pay it back but should also pay at least the same amount in reparation to the slaves’ descendants!
The devastation wreaked on Haiti by Hurricane Matthew last fall was just the latest in a seemingly endless string of misfortunes that have befallen that country, which in March concluded a year-long interlude of caretaker governance by installing banana exporter Jovenel Moïse as its 58th president. Moïse faces a daunting task; Haiti’s chronic status as the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation is due to a litany of afflictions that range from widespread illiteracy, to endemic corruption, to woefully inadequate infrastructure. But while these would be hard enough for any country to overcome, for more than a century of its existence Haiti carried an additional but little-known millstone, the effects of which are still being felt.
In 1825, barely two decades after winning its independence against all odds, Haiti was forced to begin paying enormous “reparations” to the French slaveholders it had overthrown. Those payments would have been a staggering burden for any fledgling nation, but Haiti wasn’t just any fledgling nation; it was a republic formed and led by blacks who’d risen up against the institution of slavery. As such, Haiti’s independence was viewed as a threat by all slave-owning countries – the United States included – and its very existence rankled racist sensibilities globally. Thus Haiti – tiny, impoverished and all alone in a hostile world – had little choice but to accede to France’s reparation demands, which were delivered to Port-au-Prince by a fleet of heavily armed warships in 1825.