The French foreign ministry announced on Monday that it will not comply with a request to return $22 billion that Haiti was forced to pay France in exchange for its independence in 1804. The request was published as an open letter to President Nicolas Sarkozy in the French daily Libération. Its signatories, including Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Cornel West and Naomi Klein, called the debt “illegitimate” and “illegal.”
The Foreign Ministry defended its decision, arguing that France has already cancelled $72 million of Haiti’s debt. This is in addition to the $418 million it has committed to the recovery effort following the January 12 earthquake. However, the international relief aid pledged by nations like France and the United States has been dreadfully slow to arrive. Eight months after the disaster, only 10 percent of aid announced at the international donor’s conference in March has been delivered.
According to the 90 academics, politicians and writers who signed the open letter, if the $22 billion “independence debt” was returned to Haiti, it could fill the current aid gap, stimulate the reconstruction effort and put pressure on the international community to deliver the money that was promised.