The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion ‘Blackmail’ is too tame a term to describe what the French did to Haiti

Demonstrators protest in Port-au-Prince on Sept. 19 against fuel price hikes and to demand that Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry step down. (Odelyn Joseph/Associated Press)

After reading the Sept. 23 editorial “Haiti’s descent into chaos,” I rushed to my computer to search for the May 22 New York Times article “A Land of Riches, but Not for Its Own People.” The article informed us that in 1825, a squadron of French warships arrived off the coast of Haiti to demand reparations for the descendants of their former enslavers. The New York Times found that if the money Haiti paid out to France and investors had remained in Haiti, “it would have added a staggering $21 billion to Haiti over time, even accounting for its notorious corruption and waste.”

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded reparations from France, which had more than a little to do with the French helping to remove him from power. The occupation of Haiti by the United States was discussed, as was how the United States propped up dictators such as François Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier. The Post’s editorial said that international organizations, the United Nations, the United States and France, among others, need to face Haiti’s collapse squarely and the role they played in it.

“Blackmail” is too tame a term to describe what the French did to Haiti. The debt was paid, of course, by the poor people of Haiti, not the elites. How do you restore a country to what it could have been?

Cortez Austin, Upper Marlboro