Haiti's President to Discuss Slavery Debt with French Leader

By Joe Colas (author)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (HCNN) -- Haiti's President Michel Martelly and his visiting French counterpart, Francois Hollande, on Tuesday planned to discuss, among other things, the issue of the French moral debt toward the Caribbean country, which became the first black independent republic in the world after defeating, more than 211 years ago, the army of the then French monarchy, which later imposed a heavy independence debt on the former colony.

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Francois Hollande Evokes France's 'Debt' To Haiti, But Stops Short Of Reparations

Speaking at the inauguration of a memorial and cultural center in Guadeloupe devoted to the history of slavery, French President François Hollande evoked France’s “debt” toward its former slaveholding colony of Haiti but also appeared to reject the idea of monetary reparations.

“When I go to Haiti, I will, for my part, handle the debt that we have,” Hollande said to loud applause. But later in the same speech he cited a famous French Caribbean writer’s objections to financial reparations.

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French President François Hollande Vows to "Settle the Debt" France Owes to Haiti

Speaking at the inauguration of the ACTe slavery memorial in Guadeloupe on May 10 – France’s national day to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade – Hollande surprised his audience by seemingly making a promise for his upcoming visit to Haiti.

“When I come to Haiti, I will, for my part, settle the debt that we have.”

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Hollande Rejects Demand for Slavery Reparations

“What happened happened,” French president François Hollande said yesterday when he rejected demands from a black group that the French state pay reparations for almost 200 years of slavery, during which French traders deported some two million Africans. “History does not erase itself,” Mr Hollande continued. “You cannot rub it out. It cannot be the object of transactions deriving from accounting that would in any case be impossible to establish.” Mr Hollande spoke at the seventh annual commemoration of the slave trade, slavery and abolition. The Representative Council of Black Associations (Cran) had announced it would file a lawsuit yesterday against French state-owned bank Caisse des dépôts et de consignations (CDC).

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French President François Hollande Inaugurated a Museum

Hollande, who is on a tour of the Antillean islands that includes a scheduled trip to Cuba, paid homage to slaves and their sacrifices at the memorial, which is the first of its kind by France to remember those who suffered during the slave trade.


"The way I see it, this monument will allow Guadeloupe, but also the entire Caribbean with a deep link to Africa as many African leaders will be here, to tell the whole world that the fight for human dignity is not over,” Hollande said on a trip to the French Caribbean island of Martinique on Saturday.

“We have to remember what happened, remember history of course, but also we must find hope, and we must fight on," he said, to explain the significance of Sunday’s inauguration.

Called the Memorial ACTe, the site is described as “a Caribbean centre on the expression and memory of slavery and the slave trade” and is housed in a former sugar factory in the Guadeloupian city of Pointe-à-Pitre.

The museum holds hundreds of objects dating back several centuries that bear witness to France’s turbulent history -- that included slavery from the 17th to 19th centuries -- when black people were sold to work on the islands’ sprawling sugar plantations.

Thierry Létang, an anthropologist, showed whips and shackles in the museum to a film crew. “This type of lock is very French. They were worn around the feet,” he said, holding the heavy rusted shackles against his feet.

The museum explains the history of slavery and the slave trade using archived documents, images, artefacts, everyday objects plus visual and audio testimonials, the museum’s website noted.

“We don't have museums or memorial sites that allow us to understand this part of French history and especially places that allow people to gather without courting controversy. But this memorial site allows us to do so,” said Patrick Lozès, president and founder member of the Council Representing the Associations of the Black People of France.

France abolished slavery in 1848 but only recognised slavery as a crime against humanity since 2001.

The cost of the Memorial ACTe project, however, has come under scrutiny. The 85 million euros spent on the memorial could have been better used elsewhere, critics say, in a region where 60 percent of young people are unemployed.

Hollande’s visit to the site has also put the spotlight on reparation claims made by descendants of slaves in Guadeloupe.

In 2013, Hollande acknowledged the country's "debt" to Africa because of slave trade and the "baneful role played by France." But he also said that this history "cannot be the subject of a transaction", AP reported.

The memorial, which hopes to welcome 300,000 people annually, is scheduled to open to the public in July.