Haiti indemnity controversy

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The Baron de Mackau of France presenting demands to Jean-Pierre Boyer, President of Haiti, in 1825

The Haiti indemnity controversy involves an 1825 agreement between Haiti and France that included France demanding a 150 million franc indemnity to be paid by Haiti in claims over property – including Haitian slaves – that was lost through the Haitian Revolution in return for diplomatic recognition.[1] The payment was later reduced to 90 million francs in 1838, comparable to US$21 billion as of 2004.[2]

France's demand of payments in exchange for recognizing Haiti's independence was delivered to the country by several French warships in 1825, twenty-one years after Haiti's declaration of independence in 1804.[1][3] Though France received its last indemnity payment in 1893,[4] the government of the United States funded the acquisition of Haiti's treasury in 1911 in order to receive interest payments related to the indemnity.[5] It took until 1947 – about 122 years – for Haiti to finally pay off all the associated interest to the National City Bank of New York (now Citibank).[6][5]


Saint-Domingue colony[edit]

Saint-Domingue, now Haiti, was the richest and most productive European colony in the world going into the 1800s.[7][4] France acquired much of its wealth by using slaves, with the slave population of Saint-Domingue accounting for one third of the entire Atlantic slave trade.[8][better source needed] Between the years of 1697 and 1804, French colonists brought 800,000 West African slaves to what was then known as Saint-Domingue to work on the vast plantations.[8][better source needed] The Saint-Domingue population reached 520,000 in 1790, and of those 425,000 were slaves.[8][better source needed] The mortality rate among slaves was high, with the French often working slaves to death and transporting more to the colony instead of providing necessities as it was cheaper.[4] At the time, goods from Haiti comprised thirty percent of French trade while its sugar represented forty percent of the Atlantic market.[4] About sixty percent of the coffee consumed in European markets was also produced in the colony.[8][better source needed]

Independent Haiti[edit]

Haiti’s legacy of debt began shortly after a widespread slave revolt against the French, with Haitians gaining their independence from France in 1804. As a result, the slave trade began to divert from independent Haiti to the Southern United States, bringing economic growth to the young nation as well as vast power to slaveowners, who became even more wealthy than their French counterparts.[4][9] President Thomas Jefferson – fearing that slaves gaining their independence would spread to the United States – ceased the aid that was initiated by his predecessor John Adams and sought the international isolation of Haiti during his tenure.[10][11] In collaboration with the French, the United States would pursue the isolation of Haiti for decades more.[4] Haiti had hoped that the United Kingdom would support their recognition due to the kingdom's strained history with France, even providing British merchants lower import duties, though during the Congress of Vienna in 1815 the British government agreed not to prevent France's actions by "whatever means possible, including that of arms, to recover Saint-Domingue and to subdue the inhabitants of that colony".[4][9] In 1823, the United Kingdom recognized the independence of Colombia, Mexico and other nations in the Americas while refraining from extending recognition to Haiti, further disillusioning Haitians seeking recognition.[9]

Until France recognized Haiti's independence, the fear of reconquest and continued isolation would persist among Haitians.[9] Haiti was also financially strained after purchasing equipment to defend itself from invasion.[9] Knowing that improvements could not happen until Haiti received international recognition, President of Haiti Jean-Pierre Boyer sent envoys to negotiate terms with France.[9] At one meeting in Brussels on 16 August 1823, Haiti proposed waiving all import duties for five years on French products and then duties would be halved at the end of the period; France refused the offer outright.[9] By 1824, President Boyer began to prepare Haiti for a defensive war, more armaments inland to provide increased protection.[9] After being summoned by France, two Haitian envoys travelled to Paris.[9] At the meetings held between June and August of 1824, Haiti offered to pay indemnity to France, though negotiations ended after France said it would only recognize their former territory on the west half of Hispaniola and that it sought to maintain control of Haiti's foreign relations.[9]

Ordinance of Charles X[edit]

As a show of force, captain Ange René Armand, baron de Mackau in the ship La Circe, along with two men-of-war, arrived at Port-au-Prince on 3 July 1825.[4][9] Soon after, more warships led by admirals Pierre Roch Jurien de La Gravière and Grivel arrived at Haiti.[9] A total of fourteen French warships equipped with 528 canons presented demands that Haiti compensate France for its loss of slaves and the 1804 Haiti massacre.[4][9][12]

The following ordinance of Charles X, King of France, was presented:[9]

"Charles, by the grace of God, King of France and Navarre.

"Wishing to attend to the interest of French Commerce, to the misfortunes of the former colonists of Saint-Domingue and to the precarious condition of the present inhabitants of the island;

"We have ordered and order the following:

"Art. I. The ports of the French part of Saint-Domingue shall be open to the commerce of all nations.

"The duties levied in these ports either on ships or merchandise at the times of their entry or departure shall be equal and uniform for all nations except for the French flag, on behalf of which these duties are to be reduced to half the amount.

"Art. II. The present inhabitants of the French part of Saint-Domingue shall pay at the Caisse des Dépots et Consignations of France, in five annual instalments, the first one due on the 31st of December, 1825, the sum of one hundred and fifty millions of francs, in order to compensate the former colonists who may claim an indemnity.

"Art. III. Under these conditions we grant, by the present Ordinance, to the present inhabitants of the French part of Saint-Domingue the full independence of their Government.

"And the present Ordinance shall be sealed with the great seal.

"Done at Paris in the Palace of Tuileries, this 17th of April A. D. 1825, and the first of our reign.

"By the King: The Peer of France, Minister-Secretary of State for the Navy and the colonies.
"Comte de Chabrol."

Under Charles X's ordinance, France demanded an indemnity payment of 150 million francs in exchange for recognizing Haiti's independence.[13] In addition to the payment, Charles ordered that Haiti provide a fifty percent discount on French import duties, making payment to France more difficult.[14] On 11 July 1825, the senate of Haiti signed the agreement of paying indemnity to France.[9]

Indemnity payment[edit]

Payments were immediately difficult for Haiti; the first 30 million francs required a 24 million franc loan from French banks that resulted with high interest.[9] The story of the first payment – 24,000,000 gold francs – being transported across Paris, from the vaults of Ternaux Gandolphe et Cie to the coffers of the French Treasury was recorded in detail.[citation needed] Haiti would continue to acquire loans from France and the United States in order to fulfill payments.[4] Such large payments became impossible for Haiti and were often late, often raising tensions between the two nations.[9] On 12 February 1838, France finally agreed to reduce the debt to 90 million francs to be paid over a period of 30 years to compensate former plantation owners who had lost their property; the 2004 equivalent of US$21 billion.[9][15][16][17]

By the late-1800s, eighty percent of Haiti's wealth was being used to pay foreign debt; France the highest collector, followed by Germany and the United States.[4] Haiti established the Banque Nationale de la République d’Haïti (BNRH) under the supervision of French bank Société Générale in the 1890s, essentially moving its treasury to Paris.[4] The French government finally acknowledged the payment of 90 million francs in 1893 after fifty-eight years.[4]

United States occupation of Haiti[edit]

Due to the threat of German influence in Haiti, from 1910 to 1911 the United States Department of State backed a consortium of American investors – headed by the National City Bank of New York – to acquire control of the BNRH.[5] Following the overthrow of Haitian president Michel Oreste, the National City Bank and the BNRH demanded the United States Marines to take custody of Haiti's gold reserve of about US$50,000 – about $13 million as of 2020 – in December 1914 and the gold was transferred to the National City Bank's New York City vault.[18][19] This move effectively gave the United States control of Haiti's finances.[18]

The overthrow of Haiti's president Vilbrun Guillaume Sam and subsequent unrest resulted with President of the United States Woodrow Wilson ordering the invasion of Haiti to protect American business interests on 28 July 1915.[20] Six weeks later, the United States seized control of Haiti's customs houses, administrative institutions, banks and the national treasury, with the United States using a total of forty percent of Haiti's national income to repay debts to American and French banks for the next nineteen years until 1934.[21] Under U.S. government control, a total of forty percent of Haiti's national income was designated to repay debts to American and French banks.[22] Haiti would pay its final indemnity remittance to National City Bank in 1947.[4]

Reparation requests[edit]

Aristide government[edit]

In 2003, President of Haiti Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded that France pay Haiti over 21 billion U.S. dollars, what he said was the equivalent in today's money of the 90 million gold francs Haiti was forced to pay Paris after winning its freedom from France.[23][24]

In February 2004, a coup d'état occurred against President Aristide. The United Nations Security Council, of which France is a permanent member, rejected a 26 February 2004, appeal from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for international peacekeeping forces to be sent into its member state Haiti. However, the Security Council voted unanimously to send troops into Haiti three days later, just hours after Aristide's controversial resignation. The provisional prime minister Gerard Latortue who assumed office after the coup would later rescind the reparations demand, calling it "foolish" and "illegal".[citation needed]

Myrtha Desulme, chairperson of the Haiti-Jamaica Exchange Committee, told IPS, "I believe that [the call for reparations] could have something to do with it, because they [France] were definitely not happy about it, and made some very hostile comments ... I believe that he did have grounds for that demand, because that is what started the downfall of Haiti."[23][24][25]

2010 earthquake[edit]

Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the French foreign ministry made a formal request to the Paris Club on 17 January 2010 to completely cancel Haiti's external debt. A number of commentators drew references from the early 19th-century indemnity demand and how it had severely depleted the Haitian government's treasury and economic capabilities.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "France Urged to Pay $40 Billion to Haiti in Reparations for "Independence Debt"". Democracy Now!.
  2. ^ de Cordoba, Jose (2004-01-02). "Impoverished Haiti Pins Hopes for Future On a Very Old Debt". The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  3. ^ "Why The US Owes Haiti Billions - The Briefest History". www.africaspeaks.com.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Alcenat, Westenly. "The Case for Haitian Reparations". Jacobin. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  5. ^ a b c Douglas, Paul H. from Occupied Haiti, ed. Emily Greene Balch (New York, 1972), 15–52 reprinted in: Money Doctors, Foreign Debts, and Economic Reforms in Latin America. Wilmington, Delaware: Edited by Paul W. Drake, 1994.
  6. ^ Marquand, Robert (2010-08-17). "France dismisses petition for it to pay $17 billion in Haiti reparations". Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved 2019-08-31.
  7. ^ McLellan, James May (2010). Colonialism and Science: Saint Domingue and the Old Regime (reprint ed.). University of Chicago Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-226-51467-3. Retrieved 2010-11-22. [...] French Saint Domingue at its height in the 1780s had become the single richest and most productive colony in the world.
  8. ^ a b c d "Latest News | The Canada-Haiti Information Project". canada-haiti.ca.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Leger, J.N. Haiti: Her History and Her Detractors. The Neale Publishing Co.: New York & Washington. 1907. Accessed 19 February 2011.
  10. ^ "Milestones: 1784–1800 - Office of the Historian". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  11. ^ Barnes, Joslyn (2010-01-19). "Haiti: The Pearl of the Antilles". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  12. ^ de Cordoba, Jose (2004-01-02). "Impoverished Haiti Pins Hopes for Future On a Very Old Debt". The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  13. ^ de Cordoba, Jose (2004-01-02). "Impoverished Haiti Pins Hopes for Future On a Very Old Debt". The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  14. ^ Barnes, Joslyn (2010-01-19). "Haiti: The Pearl of the Antilles". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  15. ^ de Cordoba, Jose (2004-01-02). "Impoverished Haiti Pins Hopes for Future On a Very Old Debt". The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  16. ^ Barnes, Joslyn (2010-01-19). "Haiti: The Pearl of the Antilles". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  17. ^ Sommers, Jeffrey. Race, Reality, and Realpolitik: U.S.-Haiti Relations in the Lead Up to the 1915 Occupation. 2015. ISBN 1498509142. Page 124.
  18. ^ a b "U.S. Invasion and Occupation of Haiti, 1915-34". United States Department of State. 2007-07-13. Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  19. ^ Bytheway, Simon James; Metzler, Mark (2016). Central Banks and Gold: How Tokyo, London, and New York Shaped the Modern World. Cornell University Press. p. 43. ISBN 9781501706509.
  20. ^ Weinstein, Segal 1984, p.28
  21. ^ Weinstein, Segal 1984, p. 29.
  22. ^ Weinstein, Segal 1984, p. 29.
  23. ^ a b Jackson Miller, Dionne (March 12, 2004). "HAITI: Aristide's Call for Reparations From France Unlikely to Die". Inter Press Service news. Archived from the original on 2 December 2008. Retrieved 20 April 2009.
  24. ^ a b Frank E. Smitha. "Haiti, 1789 to 1806". Archived from the original on 2009-05-14. Retrieved 2009-04-20.
  25. ^ "A Country Study: Haiti – Boyer: Expansion and Decline". * Library of Congress. 200a. Archived from the original on 2009-05-19. Retrieved 2007-08-30.

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