France’s Francois Hollande Visits Haiti

France President Francois Hollande made an official visit Haiti on Tuesday, part of a wider tour that included stops in St Barth, St Martin, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Cuba.

Hollande became only the second sitting French President to visit the country’s onetime colony, following a visit by former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hollande’s visit included talks with Haiti President Michel Martelly and the signing of a joint declaration on cooperation in areas including education, vocational training and research.

Several other agreements were also signed in the context of the visit, including one between Electricite de France and L’Électricité d’Haïti, the country’s energy utilities, and between France’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation and Haiti’s National Office of Civil Aviation, among others.

Hollande pointed to the often tense history between the two countries; after Haiti’s revolution, France forced the young country in 1825 to pay 150 million gold francs in a debt of independence; while it was later reduced, it was a sum that was not paid in full until nearly 125 years later.

“Of course, there is history,” Hollande said, met by a group of protestors demanding restitution for the debt. “We cannot change history, but we can change the future. That’s what I came to tell you.”


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.


Guadeloupe Reparations Summit - Memorial ACTe. Point a Pitre

Sunday 10th May, 2014 was inaugurated the day of commemoration of the abolition of slavery, in Pointe-à-Pitre by France President, François Hollande. The Mémorial ACTe located on the Darboussier site was a sugar factory and is culturally dedicated to the Memory and History of the Slavery Trade. Additionally, it is part of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project, a global initiative to promote the rapprochement of peoples through the shared legacy of this tragedy. 

Rather than a museum, the Memorial ACTe will be a center gathering permanent and temporary exhibits and will host a wide range of art performances and conferences. The permanent multi-lingual (French, Creole, English) exhibit will feature media content organized in different sections: The Americas -Moving Towards Slave Trade – Slavery Period-Abolition Time.  The Secretary of Education will also be involved in the Memorial ACTe, throughout different workshops and educational tools available to students of all ages

The objectives of the Memorial ACTe are multiple:

  1. PARTICIPATE to the construction of a collective memory.
  2. SHOW the most extreme form of racism in order to condemn its contemporary forms.
  3. POINT OUT some persistent grey areas.
  4. TALK about colonialism and neo-colonialism around a historical, chronological and pedagogical “spinal cord”.
  5. EXPLAIN the context in which slavery started.
  6. QUESTION the world of today.
  7. RESEARCH throughout the creation of an official finding laboratory.
  8. TRANSMIT throughout different pedagogical tools.
  9. REMEMBER through the exhibit of artifacts.
  10. BUILD consciousness through art.
  11. COMMEMORATE in order to build a better future.


Chalkdust - Grandfather's Back Pay (1985)

Chalkdust's "Grandfather's Back Pay"  - a call for reparation for the enslavement of blacks in the Caribbean.

Useful Links

Sir Hilary Beckles address to House of Commons, Parliament of Great Britain

Voice recording of an address delivered by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commision, House of Commons, Parliament of Great Britain on Thursday july 16th 2014.