A year or so before the anniversary of Haiti’s 200th year of independence, an economist and a friend of mine told me he was laying out a financial reparations case to present to the French government. The friend, who died a couple years later, told me the study had been commissioned by Haiti’s President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
So sure was the president of the reparations claim, he unveiled a 2004 budget to Haiti’s Parliament that included forecasted revenue from France. I thought the claim was ambitious, if not unrealistic.
At the time, relations between the U.S. and France were tense after American forces invaded Iraq, a move France bitterly opposed. But when Aristide began making waves about the money France owed it, America patched things up with its old ally. The pair allowed a group of
former soldiers to march from the Dominican Republic into Port-au-Prince to topple Aristide.
That anecdote was among scores that The New York Times explored in its extraordinary probe into the reasons behind Haiti’s seemingly continuing challenges. A project that raised the question we hear so often from Caribbean heads of state: “Why is it always Haiti.”
While most of us were intimately familiar with the details in the multi-part article, when we have said as much to others, it has come off as an excuse. The newspaper of record saying it gives the history the credence and credibility to readers who see the Times as an arbiter.
Unfortunately, this view is highly criticized. Some people argue, saying ‘This is only an old story, retold.’ ‘The Times is acting as a white savior.’
A gift to the Haitian psyche
The New York Times series is a gift to the Haitian psyche. After the horrors of 2021, when President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, we were brought collectively to our lowest low in decades, the NYT piece is validating.
The Ransom, as the report is titled, painstakingly details how France, the United States government, Citibank’s predecessor and Credit Industriel et Commercial, a French bank, conspired to make the liberated Haitians pay dearly for their temerity in wanting freedom.
From the beginning, Haiti never had a chance. France demanded we pay for our liberty, claiming falsely that the ransom it forced Haiti to pay at gunpoint was for loss of property damaged during the slave uprisings.
The NYT investigation calculated the economic loss that Haiti suffered as being roughly $21 billion if the country’s economy had grown at historical pace and $114 billion if it grew at the same rate as that of its Latin American neighbors.
One interesting takeaway is that neither France, the U.S. or any other country could have pulled off the heist without the cooperation of the Haitian ruling class. The planter’s class, today’s oligarchs, never raised a ruckus because their interests were never in jeopardy. So the Haitian government paid up so France wouldn’t recolonize us.
Sadly, this scenario is still playing out in the country today and it has contributed to the continued decline and debasement of Haitian society.
Time for France, its wealthy families to pay up
I have said this ad nauseum: The diaspora, Haiti’s de facto middle class, must step up to the existential challenge Haiti faces. We have to come up with a solution to get our beloved homeland out of this morass.
At this point, I think we should find a way to pick up the case for reparations that cost Aristide his presidency and ushered in a UN mission that lasted 13 years. I call on the attorneys and financial experts who worked on this project to file a lawsuit in the proper courts to demand that France repay the money it clearly stole. Since the Times traced the living descendants of those who benefited from their country’s heist, those families should also be sued to return the funds to Haiti.
But I would not ask for direct financial indemnity to the Haitian government. Successive governments have shown little capacity or interest in managing funds properly, so they cannot be entrusted with the money.
Instead, I propose that Haitians insist on infrastructure investments. We have roads, water dams, electricity, schools and hospitals to build. Starting on them will create robust economic activity, providing jobs and opportunities to the young men who have taken up AK 47s, terrorizing the country that offers them nothing.
America must pay too for Haiti
After settling the French case, we should turn our attention to the U.S., our adopted land and examine America’s role in the destabilization of Haiti and what he owes to Haiti. I began my career covering Haiti and America’s role in it. When I worked for mainstream outlets, I remained dispassionate and told the story “Straight” for that audience.
But The Haitian Times readers demand more insights into what’s going on and we’ve done that, calling out the perpetrators, foreign and domestic. That is part of our DNA and we will continue to explain and educate you on what’s at stakes.
While the New York Times article has an historical arch, some of the same things are happening today. Let’s raise a few questions: Why did the U.S have to invade Haiti to return Aristide to power. Why did United States Agency for International Development agency officials kill all of the black pigs in Haiti? Why did Bill Clinton destroy rice production in Haiti?
Peeling these onions would reveal a laissez-faire attitude at best, abated with the help of local Haitians who sell out the country after they run out of money and drive their enterprises into the ground.
Immediate next steps
I find it interesting that no Haitian government official has commented publicly on the Times revealing article. The ministry of education should format the work, which was translated in Kreyol by the Times, into a PDF, and make it required reading in civic and history classes.
The Times should follow the same footsteps it took after it published The 1619 Project, which explored the consequences of slavery and their impacts on Black Americans in the United States.
The 1619 Project is used in schools throughout the US to teach history. The same can be done with The Ransom. I would call it, The 1803 Project: The year France suffered its greatest humiliation and Haiti rose up.
In the words of Biggie Smalls, “If you don’t know, now you know.”