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France asked to repay Haiti billions in reparations.
August 16, 2010 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Many have pointed to the debilitating payments that Haiti had to make to France to compensate slave owners at the begining of the country's history as the key reason why it has been mired in poverty ever since - in stark contrast to it's neighbour the Domican Republic. Now there are calls for France to repay $23 Billion via an open letter. Of course, the US has had it's own debate over this sensitive issue for a while now.
posted by helmutdog (41 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes, slave reparations are discussed in the U.S.

But lest anybody get as confused as I was, we usually hear the word meaning an entirely different thing.

As for the issue at hand, I sometimes wish I wasn't so "cynical that intellectuals attack via open letter" didn't make me strain my eye muscles rolling. But I'm not.

Personally, I think that Haiti would be far better off with Wyclef as president than it would be chasing this particular avenue of funds.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:45 PM on August 16, 2010


I was unaware that Haiti was forced to repay money slave owners "lost" after the slaves revolted. That's an interesting way of handling things.
posted by nomadicink at 12:48 PM on August 16, 2010


Near-total deforestation is also a key reason for Haiti's poverty. It's also my understanding that purely monetary aid is a shitty way to help a country because it can be easily diverted and promotes corruption.
posted by mek at 12:48 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I agree with MCMikeNamara - dumping loads of cash into a country with no capacity to manage it is unlikely to do much in the way of good. Indeed, it's likelier to foster corruption than anything else. By all means, fund the NGOs (especially Partners in Health) working in Haiti - but do it in a controlled, accountable way.

Also agree that Wyclef Jean would be a sound choice for President of Haiti. Is he qualified? Oh, of course not. But nor is he likely to be actively, violently corrupt - this, in itself, would place him among the very top ranks of Haitian presidents. A president who does nothing but rubber-stamp the plans of the international aid community, while popularizing those plans for the Haitian people, could do a lot of good.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 12:50 PM on August 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


Has there ever been suggested a reasonable suggestion as to the system of paying reparations rather than simply a call to do so? France has plenty of individuals being screwed by institutionalized *ism. How do you filter them out, lest they pay for the crimes of the individuals who screw them even today?
posted by griphus at 12:50 PM on August 16, 2010


Very rough math: France has a GDP of $2.86 Trillion. Recently they were spending 0.5 percent of GDP on foreign aid. So that's $14 billion a year.

I think they have probably given at least $23 billion (2010 dollars) in aid to Haiti since they stopped asking for repayments in 1947. No?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:00 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you're trying to help a homeless person it's reasonable to buy him a sandwich instead of giving him money which he might spend on booze. But if you just stole $20 from a homeless person? In my opinion the right thing to do is give him his $20 back, and then maybe think about spending extra to make sure he gets a meal.
posted by miyabo at 1:02 PM on August 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


Also agree that Wyclef Jean would be a sound choice for President of Haiti. Is he qualified? Oh, of course not. But nor is he likely to be actively, violently corrupt.

Just passively, non-violently? There are some serious questions for him to answer over the accounts of his Yele Haiti charity.
posted by knapah at 1:06 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mr Jean, how many times do you expect to run for this office?

One time.

But what if your administration is successful and you remain a popular figure?

Two time.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:10 PM on August 16, 2010 [10 favorites]


But if you just stole $20 from a homeless person?

But what if a few dozen of "you" stole $20 from a homeless person, some individuals got a few cents a piece, most got nothing (and had no say in whether it would be stolen,) and now they're all dead?
posted by griphus at 1:12 PM on August 16, 2010


According to Wikipedia, Haiti's richest 1% own nearly half of the nation's wealth. Its GINI index is pushing 60. Injecting cash will likely only benefit those who don't need it.
I think it would be much better to channel real aid (medical, educational, technological) into the bottom of the pyramid.
posted by rocket88 at 1:14 PM on August 16, 2010


But what if a few dozen of "you" stole $20 from a homeless person, some individuals got a few cents a piece, most got nothing (and had no say in whether it would be stolen,) and now they're all dead?

A lot of people who voted in France before 1947 are still alive. Their kids are now ruling the country. It's not as nebulous a situation as American slavery.
posted by miyabo at 1:18 PM on August 16, 2010


I think it would be much better to channel real aid (medical, educational, technological) into the bottom of the pyramid.

Man, even more basic than that stuff, just infrastructure investment and reforestation... The technologies that can benefit Haiti the most are roads, irrigation canals, and forestry.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:20 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


TARP already cost the US Government $89 million dollars -- most of it pissed away on patronage projects. How would it have killed anyone if instead of pouring that money into the pockets of connected concrete companies in the states, it had gone to Haiti? And I don't mean into the hands of the Haitian government. I mean to split that money up into a check for every man woman and child on the Island? Aid for Haiti is just like slave reparations, in that as soon, as you bring it up, everyone is terrified that someone might actually give persons of African descent free money, and starts preaching about how "if you give a man fish ... " But no one talks like that when it comes time to bail out the banks. Give all the descendents of slaves in Haiti and the U.S. cash money slave reparations and lots of it -- then you'll see some REAL economic stimulation.
posted by Faze at 1:25 PM on August 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Mr. Excellent: Also agree that Wyclef Jean would be a sound choice for President of Haiti. Is he qualified? Oh, of course not. But nor is he likely to be actively, violently corrupt - this, in itself, would place him among the very top ranks of Haitian presidents. A president who does nothing but rubber-stamp the plans of the international aid community, while popularizing those plans for the Haitian people, could do a lot of good.

I'm not going to disagree with this on a practical level but speaking broadly this is the same kind of seemingly-well-intentioned development-from-without that justified a lot of the evils of colonialism - Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa analyses this subject exhaustively.
posted by doteatop at 1:25 PM on August 16, 2010


Man, y'know, once yo open that "reparations" door for the crimes (or bad decisions) of generations past, you'll never get it shut. Especially this year, Haiti has received a tremendous amount of attention and money from the world.

If France were to give a large chunk of money to Haiti, I would prefer to see it done for the goodness of the act and not just be "given" via check to whomever happens to be standing at the front door of the treasury. It needs to be given intelligently and applied to solving actual problems.
posted by chasing at 1:31 PM on August 16, 2010


Faze: Actually, you might see extreme economic destabilization if you give an entire country of poor people large checks.
posted by chasing at 1:33 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


France does owe Haiti, but I worry that the best thing we could do for Haitians is to allow them to emigrate freely, especially to the US. Instead, we've spent eighty years collaborating with dictators to keep the "boat people" trapped in poverty.

That said, we also owe them better than our tax dodgers. The Yele scam is just the tip of the iceberg.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:35 PM on August 16, 2010


"The United States might not have been able to prevent Aristide’s landslide victory, but there was plenty they could do to undermine him. The most effective method, adopted by the first Bush administration, was to fund both the opposition – their poor showing at the polls was no reason, it appears, to cut off aid to them – and the military. Declassified records now make it clear that the CIA and other US groups helped to create and fund a paramilitary group called FRAPH, which rose to prominence after a military coup that ousted Aristide in September 1991. Thousands of civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands fled overseas or across the border into the Dominican Republic. For the next three years Haiti was run by military-civilian juntas as ruthless as the Duvaliers."

source (although i actually read about it first, but cannot quote a book online)
posted by marienbad at 1:38 PM on August 16, 2010


I honestly don't understand how France could still try to enforce the indemnity treaty in 1947 with a straight face. But then, I guess that was way before the end of Jim Crow in the US, the end of French occupation in Algeria and Indochina, etc.
posted by kmz at 1:44 PM on August 16, 2010


Note on sources: the third link in the post is from the National Center for Public Policy Research's Project 21.
posted by jtron at 1:44 PM on August 16, 2010


$2.3x1010 could build a lot of roads and schools.

Schools could teach people to solve problems.

Roads could give them an infrastructure to move capital.

Capital combined with an educated populace could change everything.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:45 PM on August 16, 2010


TARP already cost the US Government $89 million dollars -- most of it pissed away on patronage projects.

TARP was the 'bailout' of the financial sector. If it cost $89m, then that's the lowest estimate I've seen by far. Perhaps you are thinking of something else?
posted by jtron at 1:49 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Still waiting for my 20 acres and half a mule.
posted by Eideteker at 1:50 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, y'know, once yo open that "reparations" door for the crimes (or bad decisions) of generations past, you'll never get it shut. Especially this year, Haiti has received a tremendous amount of attention and money from the world.

It's a good thing the Germans didn't pay any reparations for the Holocaust.

Oh wait they totally did.

Also, this isn't a question of 'reparations' but rather returning reparations paid by Haiti to France.
posted by delmoi at 1:52 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sounds like the best idea here is to invade and do some ol' fashioned nation building! Sadly, I'm only part kidding.
posted by incessant at 1:54 PM on August 16, 2010


'TARP already cost the US Government $89 million dollars -- most of it pissed away on patronage projects.'

TARP was the 'bailout' of the financial sector. If it cost $89m, then that's the lowest estimate I've seen by far. Perhaps you are thinking of something else?
He doesn't seem to be doing much thinking at all. The rest of his comment makes no sense. TARP and ARRA (aka. The Stimulus) were designed to help the U.S. Economy and were both hundreds of billions of dollars. And all of it happened before the Haiti earthquake.
posted by delmoi at 1:55 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Still waiting for my 20 acres and half a mule

yes, but which half?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 1:59 PM on August 16, 2010


TARP was the 'bailout' of the financial sector. If it cost $89m, then that's the lowest estimate I've seen by far. Perhaps you are thinking of something else?

The 'm' was probably just a typo, since Wikipedia currently puts the cost at $89b.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:01 PM on August 16, 2010


Man, y'know, once yo open that "reparations" door for the crimes (or bad decisions) of generations past

See, the best part of this would be that I'd get reparations for the Crusades *and* for Russian imperialism! Sweet!

...wait, what? I'm supposed to pay for Lindisfarne, and for all of those Ottoman atrocities? Dammit! I'd best sign up for some of those English "sorry about Longshanks" reparation funds too. I wonder if my accountant can tell me what percentage of Chinese "oops, the flu!" funds I might qualify for? He sure was handy when trying to figure out how much I owed the Congo due to that one Belgian fucker in my ancestry.
posted by aramaic at 2:03 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think we can pretty much accept the political reality that the bad post-death place of your religion of choice is going to become pretty frosty before France decides that reparations are the order of the day.

I think it would be far better to focus resources on getting in pledged, attainable money:
Yet only "five countries – Brazil, Norway, Australia, Colombia and Estonia – have so far provided $506m, less than 10% of the $5.3bn pledged for Haiti at a March donors' conference," according to AP.

Source
posted by djgh at 2:06 PM on August 16, 2010


Man, y'know, once yo open that "reparations" door for the crimes (or bad decisions) of generations past.


Fuckin' snakes, how do they work repay biblical wrongs when they have neither ascertainable income, nor assets to offer security?
posted by djgh at 2:09 PM on August 16, 2010


This is an unusual reparations case, in that you can actually put a dollar figure on it without too much effort. The big problem with the normal reparations is that everyone has to try to imagine what might have happened if money had been distributed differently, and that's an exercise in total futility. Even putting a dollar figure on it would be next to impossible, and then trying to figure out how to distribute it would take godlike intelligence. But in this case, we actually have a hard pricetag, possibly the only example extant.

I agree with the comments upthread that just dumping a ton of cash into the country won't do anything worthwhile, but it seems to me that building out an electrical infrastructure, and installing and running a couple of nuclear plants, fueled for thirty or forty years, would be incredibly useful. The French have very good nuclear technology, and abundant electrical power would do wonders for Haiti's economy.

With most types of electrical power, you need a large ancillary infrastructure to deliver the raw materials to the plants for consumption, and Haiti's not long on natural resources. But uranium is fairly cheap, relatively speaking, very compact, and very long lasting, so fueling the plants would be fairly easy even with the poor road system.

If there was enough money left over, they could work on roads, water, and sewer, but just getting a truly good power infrastructure online would be a big, big deal. Pretty much the only chance Haiti has of prosperity will be in high-tech something or other, and electricity is the absolute requirement for that.

It's no guarantee, you don't get those in economics, but that's the most truly useful aid I can imagine.
posted by Malor at 2:14 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


"yes, but which half?"

Top half, duh. I really want the outer half, but absent 4-dimensional tunneling, I won't hold my breath.
posted by Eideteker at 2:15 PM on August 16, 2010


"Actually, you might see extreme economic destabilization if you give an entire country of poor people large checks."

Not according to the new research in the book Just Give Money to the Poor.
posted by puny human at 2:15 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, you might see extreme economic destabilization if you give an entire country of poor people large checks.


What with the haitian economy working so smoothly just now, we really dont want to ruin something so perfect.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:55 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Interesting. In the US, affirmative action was an attempt at redress: All/most other things being equal, hire/admit the oppressed minority candidate. with mixed results, sure, but it has always seemed like a good effort. Given the grinding poverty, hunger, disease and ignorance in Haiti, if I were French (sadly, I am not so fabuleux), an aggressive campaign of infrastructure, food, medical and education aid to Haiti would be good for the Gallic karma. good for USian karma, too.
posted by theora55 at 3:49 PM on August 16, 2010


On a slight derail, but what the hell-

British payout to ex-slave owners in 1833 came from where, exactly? Seems to be the government via bond issues and such, but things happen behind curtains, and if there's crookedness behind it, I'd love to know. Any historians of the era are invited to chime in.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:21 PM on August 16, 2010


Haiti's richest 1% own nearly half of the nation's wealth.

We have so much in common with these Americans of Haiti!

-Signed, An American From America.
posted by Mister_A at 7:15 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not according to the new research in the book Just Give Money to the Poor.

Brought to you by Nike.
posted by codswallop at 7:19 PM on August 16, 2010


One anecdotal example of giving money to a Haitian, from npr's Planet Money. They've done a bunch of podcasts about Haiti's economy, and the mixed results of the world's best intentions. (free rice distributed as food aid = no market for Haitian rice, as well as the mango crate dance of the NGOs).
posted by ersatzjef at 8:21 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


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