Repay historic debt to Haiti: An open letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy

CRIME activists fool the media with a fake announcement that France would finally pay its 17 billion euro historic debt.

By Derrick O'Keefe

August 16, 2010 -- -- A Bastille Day hoax on the French government helped to expose the long history of extortion, betrayal and structural injustice that left Haiti so impoverished and vulnerable to devastation by the earthquake that claimed over a quarter of a million lives earlier this year.

Yes Men-inspired activists calling themselves the Committee for the Reimbursement of the Indemnity Money Extorted from Haiti (CRIME) pulled off a fake announcement indicating that France would finally pay its historic debt. France was forced to deny that it was doing any such thing and threatened legal action against the activists. The action brought media attention, reminding journalists and the public of the historical context behind Haiti's immiseration.

On August 16, Libération published an open letter from social activists, politicians and academics from around the world making the point that the demand for France to pay restitution to Haiti is "unassailable". I hope this letter will circulate widely, keeping this story in the news and raising awareness of the real causes of Haiti's plight.

An open letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy

The French government has indicated that it is pursuing possible legal action against the Committee for the Reimbursement of the Indemnity Money Extorted from Haiti (CRIME) over a Yes Men-inspired announcement last Bastille Day pledging that France would pay Haiti restitution.

We believe the ideals of equality, fraternity and liberty would be far better served if, instead of pouring public resources into the prosecution of these pranksters, France were to start paying Haiti back for the 90 million gold francs that were extorted following Haitian independence.

This “independence debt,” which is today valued at well over the 17 billion euros pledged in the fake announcement last July 14, illegitimately forced a people who had won their independence in a successful slave revolt, to pay again for their freedom. Imposed under threat of military invasion and the restoration of slavery by French King Charles X, to compensate former colonial slave-owners for lost “property” (including the slaves who had won their freedom and independence when they defeated Napoleon’s armies), this indemnity burdened generations of Haitians with an illegitimate debt, which they were still paying right up until 1947.

France is not the only country that owes a debt to Haiti. After 1947, Haiti incurred debt to commercial banks and international financial institutions under the Duvalier dictatorships, who stole billions from the public treasury. The basic needs and development aspirations of generations of Haitians were sacrificed to pay back these debts. Granting Haiti the status of Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) and canceling part of the current debt only begins to reverse the financial damage done by these recent debts. More recently, in 2000, Inter-American Development Bank loans of $150 million for basic infrastructure were illegally blocked by the US government as a means of political pressure. This also did measurable economic and human damage. Each of these institutions and governments should be responsible for the harm they did to Haiti's society and economy.

In 2003, when the Haitian government demanded repayment of the money France had extorted from Haiti, the French government responded by helping to overthrow that government. Today, the French government responds to the same demand by CRIME by threatening legal action. These are inappropriate responses to a demand that is morally, economically, and legally unassailable. In light of the urgent financial need in the country in the wake of the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, we urge you to pay Haiti, the world’s first black republic, the restitution it is due.


Tariq Ali, author
Gilbert Achcar, author
Pierre Alferi, author
Jean-Claude Amara, spokesperson, Droits devant!! (Rights First)
Kevin B Anderson, University of California at Santa Barbara
Roger Annis, Haiti Solidarity B.C.
Anthony Arnove, author and editor, Haymarket Books
Alain Badiou, Professor, European Graduate School
Étienne Balibar, emeritus professor of philosophy, Paris-Nanterre
Nnimmo Bassey, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth--Nigeria
Rosalyn Baxandall, Prof Emeritus, Distinguished Teaching Prof. SUNY Old Westbury. adjunct CUNY Labor School
Pierre Beaudet, founder,  Alternatives
Dan Beeton, Center for Economic and Policy Research
Walden Bello, member of the Philippine House of Representatives
Medea Benjamin, Code Pink
Andy Bichlbaum & Mike Bonnano, the “Yes Men”
Serge Bouchereau, Résistance Haïtienne au Québec (Haitian Resistance in Quebec)
Myriam Bourgy, CADTM International (Comité pour l'Annulation de la Dette du Tiers Monde)
Houria Bouteldja, Indigènes de la République (the Republic’s Natives)
José Bové, member of the Europeen parliament, Europe Ecologie
Leslie Cagan, co-founder, United for Peace and Justice
Aldrin Calixte, Friends of the Earth--Haïti
Ellen Cantarow, journalist
Camille Chalmers, State University of Haiti & PAPDA (Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development)
CEDETIM (Center for international solidarity research and initiatives)
Noam Chomsky, Massachussets Institute of Technology
Jeff Cohen, author & media critic
Jim Cohen, Dept. of Political Science, Paris VIII
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, member of European Parliament, Europe Ecology, co-president of the Greens-Europe Free Alliance
Brian Concannon, Institute for Justice & Democracy In Haiti
Raphaël Confiant, author
Mike Davis, author & scholar, University of California Riverside
Warren Davis, Solidarity Co-Chair, Philadelphia Jobs with Justice
Nick Dearden, Jubilee Debt Campaign UK
Rokhaya Diallo, activist, Les indivisibles (the Indivisible)
Christine Delphy, sociology professor
Rea Dol, director of the Port-au-Prince school SOPUDEP
Ariel Dorfman, Duke University
Stephen Duncombe, New York University
Berthony Dupont, Haïti Liberté
Ben Ehrenreich, author
Joe Emersberger, MediaLens
Yves Engler, author
Eric Fassin, sociologist, Ecole Normale Supérieure
Dianne Feeley, editor, Against the Current
John Feffer, co-director, Foreign Policy In Focus
Anthony Fenton, journalist and researcher
Bill Fletcher, Jr.,
Eduardo Galeano, author
Grazia Ietto-Gillies, UNCTAD & London South Bank University
Greg Grandin, history professor, New York University
Arun Gupta, editor, The Indypendent
Peter Hallward, philosophy professor, Kingston University
Hamé, rapper, La Rumeur
Stuart Hammond, Canada Haiti Action Network
Thomas Harrison, co-director, Campaign for Peace and Democracy
Helene Hazera, producer with France Culture radio
John Hilary, executive director, War on Want
HK, musician, Hk & les saltimbanks
Kim Ives, Haïti Liberté
Olatunde Johnson, director, Friends of the Earth--Sierra Leone
Eva Joly, member of European parliament, president of the European parliament’s Development Commission
Mario Joseph, BAI (Office of International Lawyers, Port-au-Prince)
Mathieu Kassovitz, film director
Robin D. G. Kelley, author and scholar, University of Southern California
Richard Kim, editor, The Nation
Amir Khadir, Québec Solidaire, representative in the National Assembly of Québec
Sadri Khiari, mouvement des Indigènes de la République (MIR)
Naomi Klein, author & journalist
Pierre Labossiere, Haiti Action
Fanfan Latour, Haiti Liberté
Charles Laurence, journalist and author
Reed Lindsay, journalist
Pauline Londeix, ACT UP-Paris
Isabel Macdonald, journalist and media critic
Christian Mahieux, national secretary of the Union Syndicaliste Solidaires (the Solidarity Syndicalist Union)
Henri Maler, scholar
Noël Mamère, representative in the French national assembly
Jerome Martin, ACT-UP Paris
John G. Mason, William Paterson University of NJ
Gustave Massiah, founding member of AITEC-IPAM (International association of Technicians, Experts and Researchers—Initiatives for Another World)
Georgina Murray, sociology professor, Griffith University
Cyril Mychalejko, Upside Down World
Robert Naiman, analyst, Just Foreign Policy
Jan Nederveen Pieterse, University of California at Santa Barbara
Bernard Noël, poet
Derrick O’Keefe, writer and co-chair Canadian Peace Alliance
Karen Orenstein, Friends of the Earth-U.S.
Rosalind Petchesky, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Hunter College & the Graduate Center, City University of New York
Wadner Pierre, Inter Press Service
Kevin Pina, Haiti Information Project
Justin Podur, environmental studies professor, York University
Serge Quadruppani, author
Adam Ramsay, No Shock Doctrine for Haiti
Jacques Rancière, philosophy professor, Paris VIII
Judy Rebick, author and founder of
William I. Robinson, University of California Santa Barbara
Pierre Rousset, ESSF (Europe Solidarity Without Borders)
Bobbi Siegelbaum, Health Educator
Steve Siegelbaum, Founder The Computer School, NYC
Fanny Simon, Aitec-IPAM (International association of Technicians, Experts and Researchers—Initiatives for Another World)
Eyal Sivan, film director
Ashley Smith, writer and Haiti solidarity activist
Jeb Sprague, University of California Santa Barbara
Louis-Georges Tin, CRAN (Conseil Representatif des Associations NoirsJerome Jerome Thorel, Big Brother Awards France
Louis-Georges Tin, CRAN (Conseil Representatif des Associations Noirs
Steve Weissman, journalist
Cornel West, Princeton University
Howard Winant, sociologist and race theorist, University of California-Santa Barbara
Cécile Winter, doctor, Collectif Politique Sida en Afrique
Lawrence Wittner, State University of New York Albany
Marie Yared, Advocacy Manager, World-Vision France