The Case for Restitution From France
In March 2004, then-U.S Secretary of State, Colin L Powell, nonchalantly declared that France had the right to intervene in Haiti because of past colonial ties to that country. That said, would Colin Powell have made the same statement, had French forces landed in Montreal to support Quebec’s continuing struggle to separate itself from Canada? In July 1967, when Charles De Gaulle, then-France’s president, declared “Vive the Quebec libre” during an official visit to the separatist province, he was thoroughly criticized in the U.S media. Many even insisted that the old man should retire because he was becoming senile. Whether the then-77 years old general was senile or not was conjectural because he went on to govern France, one of this civilization’s great nations, until April 28 1969.
Given Canada’s special relationship with the U.S, the media’s indignation at De Gaulle’s effrontery was warranted as the statement was a veiled attempt at undermining Washington’s authority in the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, De Gaulle’s statement was not only a breach of diplomatic protocol but also showed utter disregard for the Monroe Doctrine (1823), which implicitly forbids European powers from interfering in the internal affairs of any independent country in the Americas. Because a doctrine is an unambiguous concept, one can argue that Colin Powell’s declaration either nullifies one of the Washington’ fundamental foreign policy dogmas or Haiti is particularly excluded from the U.S hemispheric umbrella.
Indeed, the latter could be the case because in 1825, two years after the promulgation of the doctrine by U.S president James Monroe (1817-25), France, threatening military intervention in Haiti to restore slavery, extorted 150 millions gold francs from the beleaguered little republic. Washington did not protest out of unwillingness to stand in the way of punitive actions by civilized France against a band of renegade bandits whose actions threatened to disrupt the prevailing economic system of the 19th century, namely slavery. In retrospect, the 1825 agreement between France and Haiti was a travesty that confirmed France’s disdain for international treaties when dealing with its former colonies.
Contextually, all international treaties ever signed by Haiti are null and void, because the country was technically never sovereign and therefore did not possess the right to act on behalf of its citizens. If Colin Powell was echoing the official policy of the French government, which evidently gives France the right to intervene in the internal affairs of its former colonies, then the money extorted from Haiti in exchange for the recognition of its independence must be returned, since France never intended to keep its part of the bargain. The late F.D.R, an ardent opponent of European colonialism, albeit for strategic and geopolitical reasons, would be appalled at Colin Powell’s indefensible declaration which somewhat endorses the French’s pathological delusion of grandeur.
France’s contribution to this civilization remains invaluable; however, the French need to come to terms with the geopolitical reality in place since the mid-20th century. While other slave-owning nations have adopted neo-colonialism, a more refined form of subjugation, the French remained stuck in the discarded 19th century mentality of direct rule that has condemned its former colonies to poverty and despair. This arrogance or mass delusion on the part of the French is costing the international community dearly, as France’s former colonies remain in perpetual need of help because of inadequate or undeveloped political and economic structures. Those facts speak for themselves and epitomize France’s self-appointed mission to civilize untamed Negroes. Whatever France’s aims, they differ with the Haitian people’s needs and aspirations.
In fact, we, Haitians, had unequivocally stated over two centuries ago our disdain for the French approach, which made France’s military intrusion on February 29 2004 all the more unforgivable. Ironically, it was accomplished with the full support of the U.S, Haiti’s self-appointed protector under the Monroe Doctrine. Washington should know that pandering to the French’s pathological delusion of grandeur invariably brings aggravations rather than rewards. During the Cold War, U.S relations with the USSR, its mortal adversary, were more cordial and predictable than those with France, even though thousands of young Americans forfeited their lives liberating that country from the Nazis. Another victim of the French’s duplicity was Britain, whose admission to the European community was vetoed by Paris from 1957 to 1973 in gratitude to Britain’s selfless contribution to France’s liberation in June of 1944. That is unfortunately the French way of showing appreciation for services rendered.
The French admire the Americans for their scientific and technological prowess but would never, like spoiled brats, acknowledge Washington’s dominance and France’s own irrelevancy in a world dominated by continent-sized countries. Whatever Washington does would not change the French’s perception of the U.S, which revolves around the notion that America’s dominance is an anomaly because of its relatively short history which pale in comparison to France’s illustrious 1000 years.
Although Haiti is condemned by geography, it is however imprudent for anyone to think that Haitians have resigned themselves to the blows of fate. As an impoverished people, Haitians bear no illusions to the extent of their confines in this ruthless world and the relentless persecutions to which they seem pre-ordained to endure. However, oppressive structures always crumbled; freedom will once again ring in the land of Dessalines, Mackandal, Biassou and Jean Francois, and the collaborators, who facilitated Haiti’s occupation, would find themselves on the other side of the fence.