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The root of Haiti’s misery: reparations to slavers


In 1789, before the slave rebellion, the marquis purchased 21 recently kidnapped Africans before leaving for France. But he did not indicate where they were implemented, so the commission assessed them at an average rate, to the nearest penny: 3,366.66 francs.

In the end, he granted Cocherel’s daughter, a newly married marquise, average annual payments of 1,450 francs, or about $280 in the 1860s, for decades, according to government publications of the decisions of the commission.

By contrast, coffee farmers in Haiti earned about $76 a year in 1863, wrote Haitian economist and politician Edmond Paul at the time—barely enough to cover one meal a day of the “least substantial food”.

It was reminiscent, he said, of slavery.

The Haitian government immediately ran out of money. To complete his first payment, he emptied the state coffers, sending the whole thing to France on a French ship, sealed in sacks inside nailed boxes reinforced with iron bands. That left no money for utilities.

The French government threatened war to recover the rest.

“An army of 500,000 men is ready to fight,” wrote the French Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1831 to his consul in Haiti, “and behind this imposing force, a reserve of two million.”

In response, President Boyer passed a law ordering every Haitian to be ready to defend the country. He built the leafy suburb of Pétionville, now the stronghold of the Haitian elite, on the hillside of the port – out of reach of cannon fire.

Even French diplomats have acknowledged that their threats prompted the Haitian government to pump money into its army, rather than send it to France.

“The fear of France, which naturally wants to be paid, does not allow it to reduce its military status,” read an 1832 letter from a French diplomat.

In late 1837, two French envoys arrived in Port-au-Prince with orders to negotiate a new treaty and restart payments. The so-called independence debt was reduced to 90 million francs, and in 1838 another warship returned to France with Haiti’s second payment, which again swallowed up much of Haiti’s revenue. Haiti.

The military sucked up another big chunk, according to French abolitionist writer and politician Victor Schoelcher. After that, very little was left for hospitals, public works, and other aspects of public welfare. Education had received only 15,816 gourdes, less than 1% of the budget.

From the start, French officials knew how disastrous the payments would be for Haiti. But they kept insisting on getting paid, and for decades – with few exceptions, notably during times of political upheaval – Haiti provided the money.

The Times has tracked every payment made by Haiti over 64 years, drawing from thousands of pages of archives in France and Haiti, as well as dozens of 19th and early 20th century articles and books, including of the Haitian Minister of Finance Frédéric Marcelin. .

Credit…Cannaday Chapman

In some years, payments from Haiti to France absorbed more than 40% of total government revenue.

“They don’t know where to turn,” wrote a French captain to Baron de Mackau in 1826 after recovering a shipment of gold from Haiti.

“After having tried domestic loans, patriotic subscriptions, forced donations, sales of public goods, they finally opted for the worst option”, writes the captain: 10 years of exorbitant taxes “so out of proportion with the feasible resources”. of the country, that when everyone sells everything he owns, and then sells himself, even half of the sums demanded will not be collected.

nytimes Gt

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