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UEH initiative for historical reparation: Towards national and international mobilization for the restitution of Haiti’s debts

  • May 10, 2024
  • 14
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1. Context and justification

After more than 220 years of Haitian independence, the Haitian nation has never been able to properly develop like other nations and is still floundering in an unacceptable level of poverty. Alongside the poor governance which too often prevailed in the 19th century and the few efforts made by successive governments to relaunch the Haitian economy on new bases, the effects of what can be called double debt of independence have undoubtedly contributed to the impoverishment of the nation. The repayment of this double debt deprived the country, for a long time, of a good part of its export revenues while forcing it to establish extraordinary trade preferences for the benefit of the former colonial power. Furthermore, the settlement of various cases with international powers (Luders Affair, Rubalcava Affair, Captain Batsch Affair, Mews Affair, etc.) unilaterally imposed on the Haitian State the payment of large sums from the Public Treasury.

In Haiti, this debt and its repayment have repeatedly shocked the national conscience. During the Acaau uprising (1844-1846), the revolting peasants were indignant at the weight of this “monstrous debt”. In general, the Haitian state has had difficulty getting the population to accept this heavy burden. Military rebellions and street demonstrations have multiplied, Gusti-Klara Gaillard told us. This mobilization was often repressed in Haiti even with extreme rigor. This historian is undoubtedly the world specialist in the problem of the double debt of Independence. In an interview given in 1990 to Radio Haiti Inter, she even drew attention to the exceptional and exclusive contribution of the Haitian peasantry to the repayment of this famous debt thanks to coffee production, the main export commodity. In this context, she even spoke of a “looted” coffee culture. She also told us that in 1915, Davilmar Théodore had opposed the payment of this debt.

In the early 2000s, the former President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, brought to national and international consciousness the injustice and negative effects of the independence debt. Perhaps for the first time, the amount of this debt had been calculated and disclosed. Closer to us, this heavy drain on the coffers of the young nation has just been recalled, in February 2023, by the “New York Times” which devoted time and resources of a certain importance to this study. Furthermore, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Volker Turk, recently publicly recognized, in a forum of social organizations held in Geneva on April 19, the need for France to reimburse Haiti the double debt of Independence. The same day, more than twenty French non-governmental organizations also formally called on the French government to return to Haiti the amount of the double debt repaid over 150 years by Haiti. In an international conference organized on Saturday, May 4 this year, by Catholic leaders from Latin America, the link was established once again by two former presidents of Costa Rica and Chile, between the chaotic situation experienced by Haiti and the weight of repaying the former French metropolis of the famous independence debt.

Furthermore, we will have to take advantage of the opportunity to address two other aspects of the ransoms imposed on the young nation as part of “gunboat diplomacy”:

– The extraordinary trade preferences for the benefit of France imposed on Haiti as part of the Edict of Charles X on the recognition of independence. They lasted almost two centuries and ended in 1987. They too caused immense harm to the nation;

– The ransoms paid during these “Affairs” which dot the history of Haiti in the 19th and early 20th centuries, notably the Affair of Admiral Rubalcava (Spain), the Affair of Captain Batsch ( Germany), the Luders Affair (Germany), the Mevs Affairs, forced loans (United States), the SHADA Affair (United States).

The Haitian nation should seek to obtain their restitution at their current value from Spain, Germany, Great Britain and the United States.

A mobilization of national public opinion first, but also international is essential. The State University of Haiti, in its function of national intelligence and in its role of watchdog for Haitian society, can contribute to the advancement of these files so that the country obtains restitution.

Furthermore, at a time when the country finds itself caught up in a spiral of unprecedented violence and destruction, the conclusion of all these restitution files will certainly help to address the problem of reconstruction in a more calm and effective manner.

This is why the Executive Council of the State University of Haiti is setting up a “Working Group” on the studies to be undertaken and the mobilization to be created around the issue of restitution.

2. Objectives

The objectives of this reflection and work group are:

• To carry out all studies and investigations to complete and strengthen the file;

• To take the necessary steps to finalize the calculations of the amounts to be claimed;

• To inform and raise awareness of the Haitian State and the organized sectors of Haitian society on the different elements of the file;

• To disseminate and publish for the benefit of national and international public opinion the various elements of the file; it will be particularly important to create a real national mobilization, through the different national groupings of the various levels of Territorial Communities;

• To identify all national and international actors capable of moving this issue forward

• To take the necessary measures, within the framework of a large coalition of national and international actors, to bring this matter to fruition.

3. Strategies

All research, survey, study and marketing strategies can be used by the think tank and work group to achieve its objectives.

Thus, the reflection and working group will be able, in the interest of results and efficiency, to use the skills of the various entities of the UEH to move forward with its investigations and studies.

He will call on the University Council to relay and mobilize the necessary resources from the components of the UEH.

The reflection and working group will seek from the Executive Council of the UEH the means and resources necessary to fulfill its mandate.

4. Activities

The reflection and working group will undertake all investigation and study activities (documentation, literature review, interviews, surveys, e-questionnaires, focus group, etc.) to complete the data in the file.

Information, publication and dissemination activities will be necessary to advance the issue, as well as radio and television broadcasts; audio-visual capsules, articles, conferences, study days or conferences can be considered by the reflection and working group.

5. Composition

This group will be made up of academic staff from UEH and other universities, but also certain national and international personalities.

Here is a first work list that needs to be completed:

• Professor Judith Blanc, psychologist

• Professor Eddy Labossière, economist

• Professor Alvarez LOUIS, historian

• Glodel Mezilas, specialist in international relations

• Professor Alix RENÉ, historian

• Professor Jean Marie THEODAT, geographer

6. Expected results

At the end of the mandate of the reflection and work group on restitution, the State University of Haiti will receive a complete file of debts and other obligations that France and other countries will have to return to the Haitian nation.

Furthermore, a group of national and international personalities will also be submitted to the attention of the Executive Council. This grouping will define the ways and means likely to create a real national and international mobilization and will be authorized to initiate the first exchanges with the States concerned. It remains understood that a second phase of negotiations will be established directly between the States which will call different authorized groups of personalities as witnesses.

Rectorate of the State University of Haiti