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Repay historic debt to Haiti
by Cristiano Morsolin
27 January 2011

Haiti’s ex-leader Jean-Claude Duvalier, the dictator known as Baby Doc who was overthrown in 1986, is arrived unexpectedly in the capital Port au Prince from exile in France. Mr Duvalier has been charged with theft and misappropriation of funds during his 1971-1986 rule. He is also being sued for torture and other crimes against humanity.

The sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, world-systems analyst (he was Directeur d’études associé at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and was president of the International Sociological Association), declares to SELVAS Observatory that “in a world in which, in virtually all countries in the world, officials regularly abscond with public funds, Duvalier pushed the envelope, as we say in English. His degree of public theft of the funds of his poor country was a monumental exaggeration. One can only hope that he will meet his just rewards at the hands of a Haitian court”.

Gianni Novello – Pax Christi Italy says to SELVAS Observatory that “as Haiti suffered from endless violence and corruption under the Duvalier regime, in 1985 Pax Christi International (PXI) was asked to send an international delegation to report on the situation on the ground. With the help of religious orders and grassroots groups, PXI representatives secretly made contact with different sectors of society and the church. Following the report (published in several languages), a solidarity and international advocacy campaign developed”.


“Debt costs lives.” Nowhere is this more evident than in Haiti, where people are literally paying for the debt with their lives and livelihood. As an “indebted” nation, Haiti is not only required to pay down its debt, but also forced to adhere to economic policy prescriptions of the creditor nations and institutions that have crippled Haiti’s health, education and water systems and eroded their food security. In short, the debt in Haiti has brought a proud nation, the first nation built out of a successful slave rebellion, to its knees. In a country where in 1804 the people threw off their bonds of oppression, they have been captured and enslaved by debt. Haiti’s first “debt” was 150 million francs owed to France as the price of their freedom. After winning their freedom, slaves were required to pay for that freedom in order to be eligible participants in the world market. That payment was considered “debt.” Haiti is currently paying down a $1.2 billion debt at $50-80 million each year, twice the public health budget, three times the education budget and four times the agriculture budget.
Some social movements and NGOs argue that the debt is illegitimate and should not be serviced at all. Forty percent of Haiti’s current debt was accrued by the dictator Duvalier. According to international law, this debt is odious as it was a debt incurred in the name of the people but has not served the interest of the people. The people of Haiti have been handed a bill for their oppression.

Naomi Klein declared that “from 1957 to 1986, Haiti was ruled by the defiantly kleptocratic Duvalier regime. Unlike the French debt, the case against the Duvaliers made it into several courts, which traced Haitian funds to an elaborate network of Swiss bank accounts and lavish properties. In 1988 Kurzban won a landmark suit against Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier when a US District Court in Miami found that the deposed ruler had “misappropriated more than $504,000,000 from public monies.” Haitians, of course, are still waiting for their payback—but that was only the beginning of their losses. For more than two decades, the country’s creditors insisted that Haitians honor the huge debts incurred by the Duvaliers, estimated at $844 million, much of it owed to institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. In debt service alone, Haitians have paid out tens of millions every year. Was it legal for foreign lenders to collect on the Duvalier debts when so much of it was never spent in Haiti? Very likely not.

As Cephas Lumina the United Nations Independent Expert on foreign debt, put it to me, “the case of Haiti is one of the best examples of odious debt in the world. On that basis alone the debt should be unconditionally canceled.” ,( ).
Eric Toussaint, president of the Committee for the Cancellation of Third World Debt – Belgium ( , author of The World Bank: A Critical Primer, Pluto, London, 2008, declared that “as stated in the recent international appeal, “Haiti calls for solidarity and the respect for the sovereignty of the people”: “Together with many Haitian organizations, over recent years we have denounced the military occupation of the country by United Nations (UN) troops and the impacts of the domination imposed via the mechanisms of debt, free trade, the looting of its natural habitat and the invasion of transnational interests. The vulnerability of the country to natural tragedies – provoked to a large extent by the environmental devastation, the non-existence of basic infrastructure, and the systematic weakening of the state’s capacity to act - should not be seen as something disconnected from these policies, which have historically undermined the sovereignty of the people. Now is the time for the governments that form part of the MINUSTAH, the UN and in particular France and the United States, the governments of Latin America, to revise this action that is contrary to the basic needs of the Haitian people. We demand of those governments and international organizations that they substitute the military occupation with a true mission of solidarity, and that they take action to ensure the urgent cancellation of the debt that is still being collected of Haiti.”

Irrespective of the debt issue, it is feared that the aid will take the same form as that provided after the tsunami hit several Asian countries at the end of December 2004 (Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh) or after cyclone Jeanne hit Haiti in 2004. Promises were not kept and a large part of the funds were used to line the pockets of foreign or local elites. The majority of these “generous donations” came from the creditor countries. Rather than giving donations, it would be preferable that they cancel Haiti’s debt: totally, unconditionally and immediately. Can we really speak of donations when we know that this most of this money will either be used to repay foreign debt or to implement “national development projects” decided on the basis of the interests of these creditors or local elites? It is clear that without these immediate donations, it will not be possible to secure repayment of this debt, at least half of which corresponds to odious debt. The major international conferences, whether G8 or G20 expanded to include IFIs, will not produce any progress whatsoever in terms of Haiti’s development rather, they will rebuild instruments to help them secure neo-colonial control of the country. The purpose is ensuring that debt repayments continue, the basis for submission, as has been the case since the recent debt relief initiatives.

On the contrary, in order for Haiti to rebuild itself in dignity, national sovereignty is the fundamental issue. A total and unconditional debt cancellation for Haiti must be the first step towards a more general course of action. A new alternative development model to the IFIs and the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA signed in December 2009, the Hope II Accord…), is necessary and urgent. The most industrialized countries, which have systematically exploited Haiti, beginning with France and the United States, must pay compensation towards a fund aimed at financing the reconstruction of the country, controlled by the Haitian people’s organizations”.


After the European Parliament vote on the resolution on the situation in Haiti, one year after the earthquake, GUE/NGL MEP Jacky Hénin (France) declares that "most of my group decided to abstain because the events taking place in Haiti are a clear illustration of the limitations of current workings of the UN. In Haiti, humanitarian intervention is showing its incapacity to put sustainable solutions in place for the Haitian people. 11.5 billion dollars were pledged by the international community to rebuild the country. How much of this aid has actually arrived there? Who decides where it should go? It still remains to be seen what reconstruction we’re talking about. Will we see, once again, a people becoming unemployed and watching while large multinational companies rebuild their country?

The compromise resolution adopted today only addresses the situation in Haiti in humanitarian terms; there is no mention of the responsibility of certain countries in the political crisis reinforced by the recent elections. The European Union and the United States would do well to follow the Cuban example, rather than wallowing in the media hype, which ultimately serves primarily their economic and political interests at the expense of a sustainable reconstruction of the Haitian state and its economy. In our opinion, the European Union, and France in particular, have a historical responsibility towards the country and the situation in Haiti cannot be solved by a paternalistic vision, which would amount to considering the Haitian people like children incapable of making their own choices. We should keep in mind that it took the worst disasters to occur so that the World Bank and the IMF finally decided to cancel Haiti’s debt", says a press release yesterday (January 19, 2011).

GUE/NGL MEP Ilda Figueiredo expressed her condolences and solidarity to the Haitian people.“This is a terrible tragedy but we must reject any neo-colonial attempts by others to benefit from it. We need to provide emergency aid, we need to be coordinated but we shouldn’t resort to neo-colonialism. The courageous people of this country who began a social revolution by overthrowing slavery deserve nothing less” (

Monica Frassoni, EGP Co-Spokesperson, says that “Haiti is the poorest country in Latin America. For decades its people have been suffering the effects of dictatorships, corruption, no welfare, internal racial divisions and the incapability of the international community to help. This makes the consequences of the tragic earthquake that destroyed the country even more dramatic. The central government is not functioning anymore. The international community is ready to help but the effectiveness of aid is greatly hindered by lack of coordination and the situation on the ground. We call upon the governments involved to immediately stop all unproductive competition. The earthquake in Haiti shows once more the need for the UN to set up a well equipped and professional early intervention structure which can become operational immediately. The EU, for its part, has to work on a stricter coordination in crisis management. It is crucial that the international community is able to help the victims and to avoid even more distress being caused by poor organisation and coordination. We welcome the decision of some EU member states to cancel the debt of Haiti and call on the EU as a whole to do the same. We also call on the international community and the EU in particular to set up an appropriate controlling mechanism for the reconstruction phase. These tragic events should be seen as an opportunity to get Haiti out of its enduring poverty and marginalisation”.

After his visit to Haiti, on 15 January 2010, Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Karel De Gucht briefed MEPs on rescue and reconstruction efforts after the recent earthquake. MEPs quizzed him about the EU’s visibility on the ground, the medium and long-term challenges of the reconstruction process and the possibility of establishing an EU rapid reaction capacity.“Given the scope of the catastrophe, the situation is satisfactory (...). All those that need to receive care have received it so far”, said Commissioner De Gucht. An urgent problem to come in the rainy season will be to shelter about two million people who now live on the streets and in informal camps that have been precariously built.

Development Committee Chair Eva Joly (Greens/EFA, FR), welcomed the EU’s rapid response, but noted that “the deployment of this aid has been slowed down by problems linked to logistics co-ordination and the lack of security on the ground.” ( ).
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. The newspaper Libération, on august, has 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.”

Camille Chalmers, State University of Haiti & PAPDA (Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development), Myriam Bourgy, CADTM International (Comité pour l’Annulation de la Dette du Tiers Monde),
Noam Chomsky, Massachussets Institute of Technology, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, member of European Parliament, Europe Ecology, co-president of the Greens-EU and others , write an open letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. “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. 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”.


Campaigners from across Europe joined with Haitian civil society groups today in condemning the failure of the International Monetary Fund to cancel Haiti’s debts, and the Fund’s extension of new loans to Haiti. As G7 finance ministers prepare to meet in the far North of Canada tomorrow, campaigners released a statement demanding the immediate and unconditional cancellation of Haiti’s entire debt.

Camille Chalmers of the Haitian Advocacy Platform for Development (PAPDA) said: “The debts imposed by the IFIs and the major world powers have contributed to destroying our country. It’s the equivalent of an earthquake which has lasted from late in 1983 when we signed the first standby agreement with the IMF. These loans have caused earthquakes, aftershocks and tremors which have undermined our institutions and our capacity to respond to a crisis of this magnitude." A cross-party group of British Parliamentarians led by Sally Keeble MP also signed a letter to Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, to support debt cancellation and calling the situation faced by Haiti “completely unacceptable”. In addition, the European Network on Debt and Development released a briefing outlining Haiti’s debts which show that Haiti owes as much debt now as was cancelled by the international community only 9 months ago: $1.2 billion. It also shows that in the coming 9 years the IMF will expect Haiti to repay at least $104 million – and over $500million will be expected in that time by all of Haiti’s creditors combined.

SELVAS Observatory with Vaticano Agency FIDES support Jubilee call in many languages. Cardinal Agostino Marchetto of Vaticano also writes me to support Jubilee Campaign. Gianni Pittella – Vice President of European Parliament writes a letter to Barroso about debt cancellation in Haiti, see Peacereporter agency ( ).
One of the measures to be taken urgently, to alleviate the appalling suffering of the Haitian people is the abolition of a large part of the 641 million dollars of foreign debt owed by the country. This proposal has just been made by the international network “Jubilee.” Thanks to the efforts of Jubilee, in June 2009 debts owed by Haiti until 2004 were cancelled, for a total of 1.2 billion dollars. Half of the sum due at the time must be repaid to the IMF and the Interamerican Development Bank. The executive government of Port-au-Prince had planned to return $10 million by the end of 2010, but with the current situation it will clearly be unable to do so, given that funds are being used for emergency response and reconstruction. Jubilee says the Obama Administration should act within the two multilateral institutions cited to call for the cancellation.

Cristiano Morsolin is Italian expert of Latinamerican SELVAS Observatory. He works in LatinAmerica since 2001. He collaborates with Jubilee South, Latindadd, Cadtm and other social networks. He writes some books, such as “Sobre la deuda ilegítima. Aportes al debate: argumentos entre consideraciones éticas y normas legales”. Quito: Centro de Investigaciones CIUDAD: Observatorio de la Cooperación al Desarrollo en Ecuador, Jubileo 2000 Red Guayaquil. 2008. 191 p (©id=151561&tab=opac ) and “Oltre il debito - America Latina: la conversione in investimenti sociali è conversione” Emi-Roma.

Cristiano Morsolin