France | Haiti : Dissecting the Ransom!


Dissecting the Haitian Ransom!

by Jean H Charles

Saturday, May 28, 2022 ((–

The New York Times, one of the most prestigious newspaper in the United States, if not the world, has dedicated a whole section of Sunday May 22/2022 to the Ransom, a detailed account of “the double debt” imposed by France to Haiti after it has won the independence from the battlefields on November 18, 1803 at Vertieres, Cap Haitian. 

The New York Times has deputized four researchers (Catherine Porter, Constant Méheut, Matt Apuzzo and Selam Gebukidan) to comb the archives of banks, museums and universities to shed the light on this ignominious ransom paid by Haiti during more than a century to gain its international recognition from a world that still practiced slavery at that time.

It is a monumental exercise compared to the 1619 Project available freely for the first time to non-subscribers in French and in Creole. There is a current dictum if the New York Times zero in on an issue nine times, it will win the cause on the tenth.

Haiti, after thirteen years of a ferocious battle with the French, finished by crushing the soldiers of Napoleon Bonaparte in the battle of Vertieres where the General Capois La Mort distinguished himself so well, that the cruel General  Rochambeau stopped the battle to salute the bravado of Capois La Mort.

Haiti proclaimed it independence, on January 1st 1804 and swears to never let the French citizens owning one inch of the territory in the future. It was a hollow proposition because fate and the world was united against Haiti for its daring gusto, the black man and woman was to be chained in slavery and bondage for eternity.

Some years earlier, in 1796, Toussaint Louverture, the precursor of Haiti independence had pacified the island of St Domingue/Haiti, liberated the slaves and ruled the territory à la St Louis roi de France that means he was good and fair for everybody, black, white and mulattoes. His governance was so benevolent that he drew the attention of John Adams who came to power as the second President of the United States almost at the same time.

Their relations and their commerce was so cordial that Ronald Angelo Johnson in Diplomacy in Black and White, said the last time, Haiti enjoyed an equal diplomatic relationship with the United States was during the government of John Adams. “Since then, the two nations never again share an equal footing.”    

Toussaint had shared with John Adams, the proposition that “a ruler must bring happiness to his people and happiness to humanity”. John Adams was on the point of applying that directive in his next term but at the election of 1800, the delegates of one party ran against the delegates of the same party to elect Thomas Jefferson reversing the Adams agenda. I am submitting the proposition that slavery would not have waited sixty years to be abolished had John Adams win the election of 1800. Haiti, the United States and the whole world took a wrong turn with the election of Thomas Jefferson.

Napoleon Bonaparte with the support of Jefferson invaded Haiti with the aim of re-establishing slavery. Toussaint was kidnapped and sent to Fort de Joux where he died one year later of tuberculosis. But Haiti, led by Jean Jacques Dessalines and the help of the yellow fever pandemic decimated the French army giving way to the first black Republic in the world.

The celebration of January 1st 1804 was of short duration. Dessalines was assassinated by his peers, two years after the independence, on October 17, 1806. Haiti divided was ruled by King Henry in the north and Alexander Petion, President of the Republic in the West.

A first attempt by France to request an indemnity was rebuked vehemently by Henry Christophe. Louis XVIII in 1814 sent two commissioners to Christophe to negotiate; through his financial adviser, Baron de Vastey, the emissaries were notified that “our independence will be guaranteed by the tips of our bayonets”. 

At the death of Henry Christophe, France tried again with Alexandre Petion who was more conciliatory to the proposition; finally at his death, Jean Pierre Boyer in 1825 submitted to the pressure of Charles X to negotiate an indemnity upon Haiti for the recognition of its independence to the value of 150 million francs, ten times the amount that was paid for the purchase of Louisiana.

That amount being above the budget of Haiti, a loan of 30 million from France was arranged to pay the first two payments. Later the indemnity was reduced to 60 million francs; it took Haiti until 1947, under the presidency of Dumarsais Estime to finally clear the debt.

A moral debt or a legal one, this issue has not been dealt with, in the lengthy article of the New York Times yet it is at the fulcrum of the deliberations of the ransom issue. In 2015 Francois Hollande, the first president to officially visit Haiti offered to settle the debt issue but his advisers corrected his faux-pas by offering 50 million of francs as a moral obligation for education.

The Haitian ransom is a legal obligation as per the Taubira legislation. It all began in August 2001, when French former Minister of Justice Christine Taubira then French Guyana Representative urged his colleagues to adopt a law stating that slavery was cruel and inhuman treatment inflicted on a group of people. My legal mind (schooled in Law at the State University of Haiti and Tulane University) told me that France has ventured into a region that no other former slave nation would.

Based on the legal concept of retroactivity for criminal acts, there is no prescription neither in common or civil law. France could not with impunity demand from the Haitian nation compensation on behalf of the loss of service of the former slaves. It would be like a killer demanding reparation for his crimes.

I remember talking to my father, a well rounded legal mind, since he was the Chief Justice of the Civil Court of Port au Prince and formerly Dean of the Law School in Cap Haitian. France had committed a fissure by exposing itself to legal damages to Haiti.

There was a guest in the House that Saturday afternoon, Dr Francis St Hubert a confidential advisor to Jean Bertrand Aristide. He pitched the idea to President Aristide and we already know the rest of the story.

Instead of seeking out the best lawyers on both side of the Atlantic, including French legal expertise and with discretion and diplomacy, President Aristide used the subject as a political tool to gain influence with his supporters, annoyed the French, and compromise the outcome of the future of the ransom.

Haiti is the first and only country to inflict a fatal blow to slavery. It could also be the only nation with a legal right to claim reparations instead of a moral and political right as claimed universally by other slave suffering nations. When it gave in to Charles X under pressure, Jean Pierre Boyer mortgaged the future development of Haiti by accepting a usurious loan to pay the compensation. For 122 years from 1825 to 1947 Haiti has to pay the equivalent of 21 billion $ to France.

Where do we go from now, with this bonanza of publicity around the Ransom? The problem is that Haiti is not ready to receive the reward for the positive resolution of the dispute. The waste of some 11 billion dollars without concrete results after the 2010 earthquake, the embezzlement of 3.8 billion dollars from the Petro Caribe Fund are indications that the country is a sinking hole which will waste the refund of the Ransom.

Haiti must wait until it has a real democratic government to open this box of colonial treasure. I have suggested in my book For the country for the Homeland, a vision of society that will make Haiti rich, powerful and independent, that France must pay to Haiti 500 million dollars every year into an education fund; Haiti will add another 500 million through the transfers fees and the casino giving 1 milliards dollars each year dedicated to education, (primary, secondary, university and alphabetization).

There are issues that go above politics; if the Haitians in the homeland and in the Diaspora can agree to have a frank conversation around them, we would incrementally see the light after a long black tunnel.

The issue of security for the ordinary citizen to vacate to its normal obligations without the fear of kidnapping must be dealt with the most rigors.

The issue of generational misery of the majority of the population must be a concern for all. What are the means of creating wealth for the majority of the population?

The issue of environmental disaster must alert us all into replenishing the land with trees. If we start now, Haiti in fifteen years would be like Dominica but a much larger scale, a nature treasure.

The issue of corruption likes gangrene that eats the soul of the nation. How can we put the right person in the right position to achieve the common goal?

Last but not least the issue of the Ransom, how can we have France return the fund, without humiliation, in fairness and in justice? Christine Taubira that plays a crucial role in shepherding the legislation making slavery a crime against humanity would be a key advocate; she would be pleased to serve!     


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