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Aristide asked the French to pay reparations to Haiti.  He ended up in exile.


Haiti’s payments to its former slave masters have piled up for generations, costing its economy billions of dollars over time, according to analysis by the Times, and a little-known public bank called Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations. raised the vast majority of the money.

But after Haiti’s disastrous earthquake in 2010, Didier Le Bret, the French ambassador, said the bank contacted him to help and, at least in part, to make amends: it made donation of approximately $400,000.

A spokesperson for the bank said the donation was simply part of its policy to help countries hit by humanitarian disaster. But Augustin de Romanet, the bank’s director at the time of the donation, told The Times that “there were probably some useful things to do for Haiti, given what had happened in the past.”

The bank’s discreet gesture, as small as it was, addressed a larger phenomenon: Mr. Aristide has not been in power since 2004, but his fight has forced a slow, often painful, settling of accounts in France. .

In recent years, famous intellectuals have spoken out in favor of restitution, and scholars have increasingly explored the economic and legal aspects of reparations. Last year, France’s national public research body published a database listing compensation paid to French slaveholders, including those in Haiti.

Myriam Cottias, who oversaw the database, was a member of the French commission that rejected Mr Aristide’s restitution calls two decades ago. But she said her view had changed and reparations should be discussed.

“The debate, yes, it must be raised,” she said.

The French authorities have sometimes shown a certain willingness to address this past as well. In mid-December, the French Ministry of Finance hosted, for the first time, an international symposium on the economy of slavery, with lectures focusing specifically on the history of payments from Haiti to France.

But public debate has involved a rhetorical tightrope walk.

In his 2015 speech, Mr Hollande, President of France, acknowledged that Haiti’s payments to its former slave masters were sometimes called “the ransom of independence”.

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

The crowd in front of him, which included African heads of state and the Haitian president, immediately rose to applaud.

“People cried,” recalled Michaëlle Jean, the former secretary general of the International Organization of La Francophonie, who attended the speech. “It was huge.”

A few hours later, Mr. Hollande’s aides issued a major caveat: Mr. Hollande was only talking about a “moral debt” that France owed to Haiti, not a financial debt. The French government maintains the same position today. (Mr. Hollande declined to comment for this article.)

France’s delicate stance towards Haiti reflects lingering uncertainty, sometimes unease, about how to approach the country’s colonial and slave-holding past. In 2016, the French parliament symbolically repealed the 1825 ordinance that demanded Haitian payments to former slaveholders – but stopped short of considering any financial restitution.

“We cannot, objectively, present the slightest argument that claims that we owe nothing to Haiti,” said Christiane Taubira, Minister of Justice in Mr. Hollande’s government, in an interview.

Looking back, Mr Aristide said his restitution campaign had at least led to French acknowledgment of his past.

“If I hadn’t asked myself the question in 2003, probably in 2015, François Hollande would not have recognized his debt,” he said.

“It was a step,” he said. “It is not finished.”

nytimes Gt

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