French President Francois Hollande confirmed on Tuesday that his country wouldn’t be repaying the historic independence debt owed to Haiti.
Speaking at Port-Au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, on Tuesday, the French president referred only to France’s “moral debt.”
"We cannot change the past, but we can change the future," added Hollande.
On Sunday, in Guadeloupe, Hollande said he would pay the debt owed to Haiti, but later retracted claiming he was referring only to a “moral debt.”
The historical debt dates back to 1825, when the French government demanded a fee from Haiti in order to recognize its liberation as an independent nation. The fee of 150 million gold francs, later reduced to 90 million gold francs, was at the time 10 times the size of Haiti’s annual income and is thought to be worth about US$20 billion today. Haiti was paying France back until 1947.
The government of Haiti issued an official demand to France in 2004 to pay back the money. Haitian President Michel Martelly insisted the debt should be payed, stressing that it was a "grave injustice" that prevented Haiti from developing as fast as others.
The sum charged by the French was based on the amount demanded by slaveholders in compensation for loss of property. According to several experts, by the time France issued its 1825 Ordinance, slavery had already been abolished.
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During a visit to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe on Sunday, Hollande said he would resolve the debt with Haiti, sparking joy on social media and from his audience.
His speech was delivered during the inauguration of a new slave memorial in the island, that looks at the history of slavery from antiquity to the modern day and pays homage to slave revolts and runaways.
“When I go to Haiti, I will, for my part, cancel the debt that we have,” the president said, as dozens stood in ovation.
Shortly after his declaration, reporters asked how the debt would be paid to the Haitians, to which Hollande clarified his original statement.
“That is impossible … the (Haitian) president did not understood that … The Haitians do not want our charity. They do not want this kind of assistance, they want the means to succeed,” rectified the head of state.
Activists and intellectuals claim the money should be returned to Haiti, the most poor country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world, due to the illegal procedure of the transaction.
In 2010, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and Cornel West, were amongst the academics who called for the debt to be scrapped scrapping describing it as "patently illegitimate ... and illegal".