French President Hollande pledges Haiti investment

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French President Francois Hollande (left) and Haitian President Michel Martelly in Port-au-Prince. Photo: 12 May 2015Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Mr Hollande, pictured with Haitian President Michel Martelly, acknowledged France's historic role in the Atlantic slave trade

The French president has pledged investment to Haiti, but steered clear of the reparations some in the former colony are demanding from Paris.

In the capital Port-au-Prince, Francois Hollande said France would spend $145m (£93m) on development projects.

It is the first official visit by a French head of state since Haiti won independence in 1804.

The Caribbean country was forced to pay millions of gold francs to compensate slave owners.

'Independence debt'

"We can't change history, but we can change the future," President Hollande said on Tuesday.

He added that French investments in development projects - including education - should be seen as an appropriate effort for "a moral debt that exists".

Mr Hollande's visit provoked small-scale protests with demonstrators demanding France pay damages for its legacy in Haiti.

Meanwhile, Haitian President Michel Martelly said: "No negotiation, no compensation can repair the wounds of history that still mark us today.

"Haiti has not forgotten, but Haiti is not stubborn," he added, referring to the debate in Haiti about whether the country can rebuild relations with its former colonial power without demanding reparations.

By declaring independence in 1804, Haiti became the first black republic in the world.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Protesters in Port-au-Prince unveiled a banner that read: "Hollande: Money Yes, Morals No"

But France demanded that Haiti pay damages and compensation to slave holders for the lost of their profits. Paris warned the new regime that it would face invasion and a return to slavery.

Known as the "independence debt" it was later reduced to 90 million gold francs ($18.9bn; £12bn) which Haiti continued to pay into the 1940s.

In 2004 during Haiti's bicentenary celebrations, the then Haitian President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, demanded compensation from France.

Last year, the 15-member Caribbean Community announced a 10-point plan for seeking reparations from France and other slave-holding European nations on behalf of Haiti and other former colonies.

French administrations have acknowledged the historic wrong of slavery in Haiti and other former colonies but have avoided any real discussion over whether they would return the "independence debt".

But in 2010 after Haiti's devastating earthquake, the then French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, spoke about the "wounds of colonisation" and during his administration, France cancelled all of Haiti's $77m debt.

On Sunday, Mr Hollande acknowledged his country's historic role in the Atlantic slave trade as he helped inaugurate a $93m slavery memorial in Guadeloupe.