By Max A. Joseph Jr.
Confronting a multitude of seemingly intractable issues at home that could deny him a second term in France’s 2017 presidential election, François Hollande has been busy trying to find solace in foreign adventures and make his country once again relevant on the international stage. Despite being one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, a post-WWII consortium that holds the power to regulate everything under the sun, France is a has-been entity that refuses to accept that its glory days are too far gone for them to matter in this day and age.
Facts matter. In Europe, France is playing second fiddle to Germany, its former enemy, over the future of the European Union or the entire continent for that matter. In Indo-China and the Middle East, the cultural ties with France’s former colonies have vanished or are simply disappearing. Besides its collection of islets in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and Polynesia, the only other region of the globe where France can still feel the pride associated with being a great power is in its former African colonies. And, as great power competition dictates, even its African sanctuary is being invaded by other actors seeking either lucrative trade deals or trying to overhaul the current geopolitical order.
Lo and behold, on May 12, the beleaguered Hollande somehow ended up in Haiti, the most improbable place for a French president to promote the redundant underlying principles of western supremacy: “peace, development, democracy and prosperity.” Like France itself, whatever Hollande lacks in stature and substance he makes up for it with arrogance. The late Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) was straightforward about this French political thinking when he said: “France must continue to behave as a great power because she precisely is no longer one.” I am inclined to believe that only Frenchmen understand this rationale.
Hollande’s dogmatic attitude vis-à-vis the demand for restitution of the money extorted from generations of Haitians and his lack of understanding of the historical facts that bind France and Haiti merit to be put in perspectives. The French president, like most of his countrymen, considers France a blameless victim of Haitian impertinence and savagery and the extortion was simply a commensurate price to avenge an historical abomination. They have long ago decided that repaying the money is out of the question. Strangely enough their dismissive approach to dealing with the issue got the endorsement of narrow-minded and morally defective Haitian politicians that apparently consider slavery a small price their ancestors were forced to pay for the unique opportunity to be civilized by the French. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of Haitians do not subscribe to this nonsense.
The notorious Gérard Latortue, who became prime minister a few weeks into the February 29, 2004 French-US invasion of Haiti, went so far as to label the demand for repayment “absurd.” Michel Martelly, whose final months as president resemble that of the imperious and illegitimate Latortue, must be reading from the same script. Luckily for us Haitians any guarantee made to Jacques Chirac by Gérard Latortue or to François Hollande by Michel Martelly has no bearing whatsoever on the issue, which could only be settled through a formal treaty between France and Haiti.
Because la France éternelle, basking in its illusory grandeur, will never agree to a treaty with a former vassal it considers less than its equal, the only alternative would be for Haiti to condition continued diplomatic relations between the two countries to a speedy resolution of the issue. The resourceful Diaspora could help by organizing sit-ins and noisy manifestations in front of French consulates and embassies on Bastille Day (July 14) wherever possible as a way of influencing public opinion. Being the elephant in the room during France’s most important commemoration will definitely get the attention of French people and that of the international community on the matter.
The whole world needs to be educated on the hypocrisy of France and its leaders. It is inconceivable that a country whose foundations stand on the universal values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity could have committed such abomination by ransoming former slaves for loss of property occurred during their struggle for emancipation and justice. Educating the general public would let the air out of the false narrative put forward by France and its allies that blames Haiti poverty and lack of development exclusively on corruption, political instability, Vodou and other homegrown peculiarities.
Though the demand for restitution has been somewhat muted since the overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide over the issue, it has ironically been revived by the arrogance of Hollande. It seems that the little man’s twisted concept of “moral debt” is a stronger bond between France and Haiti, which would have the latter carrying the torch of Francophone in the Americas and forgoing its national interests. He needs to go back to the drawing board and comes up with the only practical solution to the matter, which would be the restitution of the money extorted by Charles X.
France should forfeit its Security Council-derived responsibilities of enforcing peace and security in our world until it rectifies this great injustice. It is inconceivable that a nation that has shown a total indifference to human dignity could position itself as a beacon for the universal values that everyone holds dear.