Sunday, August 2, 2020

When France Demanded 15mn franc from Haiti to recognize her independence

A facsimile of the bank note for the 30 million francs that Haiti borrowed from a French bank. Credit: Lepelletier de Saint-Remy, 'Étude Et Solution Nouvelle de la Question Haïtienne.'

Indians are aware of the demands to compensate former colonies by their colonial overloads for draining the economy; and to apologize for the crimes they committed during the colonial era. In India, there are three main demands, first one is to apologize for the massacre of unarmed civilians in 1919 in Jalian Wala Bagh; the second one is for the return of Kohinoor diamonds; now many people also demands compensation from the British for systematic draining of Indian economy.

I do not think the British will ever fulfill the second demand. After all, it will open pandora’s box and soon British museums will be empty. Apologizing for the massacre is something that they can and should do. Expressing sincere regret for carrying out such a brutal massacre of unarmed civilians by people in uniform; that too in a province which abundantly supplied so many men to fight for British in first world war and later in second world war is the right thing to do.

However, this article is not about India or British. It is about a poor country in the Caribbeans called Haiti and their former colonial overloads – the French.

French asked money for recognizing Haiti’s independence, which Haitians were not able to refuse. Paying the same not only destroyed their economy but also hampered the development of Haitians ins in every possible way for a very long time.  

I always thought Haiti was a poor country. After reading the article – 'When France Extorted Haiti – the Greatest Heist in History' - it looks like they were not and paying indemnify to French made them poor.

I will give you the tragic story in short. For reading it in detail, please open the link mentioned in references.

French brought slavery to Haiti in the 17th century. Later in 18th century, Haitians rebelled and declared independence in 1804. 

It was not that French simply looked the other way. They tried to arrest the movement. To assert French control, Napoleon sent 20,000 soldiers and as many sailors under the command of his brother-in-law. Most of the French army died due to yellow fever. Overall 50,000 French troops died in an attempt to retake Haiti. This includes a whopping number of French generals - 18. They were able to capture Haitian leader who later died in captivity. 

Slaves under the command of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Alexandre Pétion and Henry Christophe continued fighting against French and decisively defeated them in the Battle of Vertières. After losing this battle, French gave up the idea of a North American Empire; withdrew 7000 troops from the island and sold Louisiana to US. Post-independence there was a massacre of whites in Haiti and a lot of white people migrated to Cuba and later to New Orleans.

Haiti was split into two. Pétion – ruler of the south - wanted France to recognize their independence and was ready to pay in lines of what the US paid to Napoleon for purchasing Louisiana (15mn francs). Louis XVIII rejected that offer. Later, Jean-Pierre Boyer reunited the country and he was determined to gain at least suzerainty.

At first Charles X, then ruler of France rejected that idea. He later sends a fleet to Haiti to restore the French monarchy. Under pressure, Boyer agreed to a treaty in which French recognized Haiti's independence if they pay 150mn francs.

“The present inhabitants of the French part of St. Domingue shall pay … in five equal installments … the sum of 150,000,000 francs, destined to indemnify the former colonists.”

Remember that the US paid only 15mn francs for entire Louisiana. That was 2,140,000 km2 of land. Louisiana was later divided into multiple states. Currently, this land is part of – ‘Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado (east of the continental divide), Minnesota (west of Mississippi river), the northeastern section of New Mexico, northern portions of Texas, New Orleans, portions of Louisiana (west of Mississippi river), small portions of land in Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Compare that with Haiti, which is small.

Haiti borrowed 30mn franc from French banks and paid their first installment. They defaulted soon. Later in 1838 outstanding amount was revised to 60mn franc. That means a total of 90mn. To get the gravity of this number one need to see that the annual French budget at that time was one-fifth of this amount!!! Haiti stopped investing in the development of her citizens and continued to pay until 1947. In addition to paying the French, they also had to pay the interest to the banks for all the loans.  They got political independence but fell into economic misery.

Even then western nations refused to recognize Haiti immediately. Britain recognized her in 1833. US refused to do so till 1862.



You can read the full story here: When France Extorted Haiti – the Greatest Heist in History

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