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French Prime Minister Visits Haiti

February 23, 2010

The Prime Minister of France has finally visited Haiti. And he is making promises to help – finally stepping up to the plate. It will never be enough… and it can never make up for the hundreds of years of brutal enslavement and exploitation… but it is a start. Now the re-building frenzy begins…

“France in Haiti: A Fresh Start by Sarkozy?”
(The writer is a Consultant and former Caribbean Diplomat)

AT LAST a French President visited Haiti – a country that contributed greatly to France’s accumulation of wealth in the 18th Century and which France impoverished for a century after that.

Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in devastated Haiti on February 17, a month and five days after a massive earthquake ravaged the capital, Port-au-Prince killing more than 200,000 people; maiming tens of thousands of others, and wreaking billions of dollars in damage.

The extent of the damage and loss of life in Haiti were undoubtedly due to the country’s lack of physical infrastructure and its poor building standards, neither of which could be accomplished in a situation where 70 per cent of its gross domestic product was paid over to France for over a century.

This is not to ignore the excesses of Haitian governments, particularly under the Duvaliers, which also deprived the country of monies that should have been pumped into constructing infrastructure, providing education and health facilities, and establishing regulatory bodies to ensure higher standards across a range of activity including the construction of buildings.

The harsh imposition by France of a levy of 90 million gold francs, which Haiti did not finish repaying until 1947, also does not excuse recent Haitian governments and political parties for failing to spend aid funds on an agreed and country-wide development programme instead of on narrow political interests.

Indeed, on any programme for constructing a new Haiti – both in a physical and societal sense – Haitian governments should be mindful that not only the Haitian people but the entire international community will want guaranteed machinery to ensure that aid money is spent on sustainable development.

The challenge is huge. Taking Haiti off the world’s “sick man” list is not a short-term or cheap affair.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has calculated that the rebuilding programme will cost US$14 billion and will take at least 10 years.

And, while there have been mountainous pledges of assistance from many governments as television images riveted the eyes of the world on Haiti, experience of previous disasters elsewhere in the world teaches that pledges often fall by the way side as soon as the cameras move on.

Acknowledging “the wounds of colonization” and saying that he knows well “the story of our countries on the question of debt”, President Sarkozy, in addition to cancelling all of Haiti’s US$77 million debt to France, also promised to provide aid of US$400 million over the next two years.

Included in the aid package is US$40 million in support of the Haitian government’s budget.

See full article in The Tribune, published 22 Feb 2010

Also published in BBC Caribbean, 18 Feb 2010

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