The Root of Haiti’s Misery: Reparations to Enslavers

This article by Catherine Porter, Constant Méheut, Matt Apuzzo, and Selam Gebrekidan (The New York Times) brings to the general public the topics of many discussions and writings by historians, sociologists, literary and social critics, philosophers, and other scholars in their arguments in favor of reparations in the Caribbean. Here are a few excerpts:

Coffee has been the fulcrum of life here for almost three centuries, since enslaved people cut the first French coffee plantations into the mountainsides. Back then, this was not Haiti, but Saint-Domingue — the biggest supplier of coffee and sugar consumed in Parisian kitchens and Hamburg coffee houses. The colony made many French families fabulously rich. It was also, many historians say, the world’s most brutal.

Ms. Present’s ancestors put an end to that, taking part in the modern world’s first successful slave revolution in 1791 and establishing an independent nation in 1804 — decades before Britain outlawed slavery or the Civil War broke out in America.

But for generations after independence, Haitians were forced to pay the descendants of their former slave masters, including the Empress of Brazil; the son-in-law of the Russian Emperor Nicholas I; Germany’s last imperial chancellor; and Gaston de Galliffet, the French general known as the “butcher of the Commune” for crushing an insurrection in Paris in 1871.

The burdens continued well into the 20th century. The wealth Ms. Present’s ancestors coaxed from the ground brought wild profits for a French bank that helped finance the Eiffel Tower, Crédit Industriel et Commercial, and its investors. They controlled Haiti’s treasury from Paris for decades, and the bank eventually became part of one of Europe’s largest financial conglomerates.

Haiti’s riches lured Wall Street, too, delivering big margins for the institution that ultimately became Citigroup. It elbowed out the French and helped spur the American invasion of Haiti — one of the longest military occupations in United States history. [. . .]

Violence. Tragedy. Hunger. Underdevelopment. These bywords have clung to Haiti for more than a century. Kidnappings. Outbreaks. Earthquakes. The president assassinated — this time in his bedroom.

How is it possible, many ask, that Haiti shares an island with the Dominican Republic, with its underground subway system, health care coverage, public schools, teeming resorts and impressive stretches of economic growth? [. . .]

But another story is rarely taught or acknowledged: The first people in the modern world to free themselves from slavery and create their own nation were forced to pay for their freedom yet again — in cash. [. . .]

No country could be expected to come to Haiti’s defense. The world powers had frozen it out, refusing to officially acknowledge its independence. American lawmakers in particular did not want enslaved people in their own country to be inspired by Haiti’s self-liberation and rise up. [. . .]

So, Haiti’s president, eager for the trade and security of international recognition, bowed to France’s demands. With that, Haiti set another precedent: It became the world’s first and only country where the descendants of enslaved people paid reparations to the descendants of their masters — for generations.

It is often called the “independence debt.” But that is a misnomer. It was a ransom.

The amount was far beyond Haiti’s meager means. Even the first installment was about six times the government’s income that year, based on official receipts documented by the 19th-century Haitian historian Beaubrun Ardouin.

But that was the point, and part of the plan. The French king had given the baron a second mission: to ensure the former colony took out a loan from young French banks to make the payments.

This became known as Haiti’s “double debt” — the ransom and the loan to pay it — a stunning load that boosted the fledgling Parisian international banking system and helped cement Haiti’s path into poverty and underdevelopment. According to Ardouin’s records, the bankers’ commissions alone exceeded the Haitian government’s total revenues that year.

And that was only the beginning. The double debt helped push Haiti into a cycle of debts that hobbled the country for more than 100 years, draining away much of its revenue and chopping away at its ability to build the essential institutions and infrastructure of an independent nation. Generations after enslaved people rebelled and created the first free Black nation in the Americas, their children were forced to work, sometimes for little or even no pay, for the benefit of others — first the French, then the Americans, then their own dictators. [. . .]

For full article and illustrations, see

“Baudelaire Jazz. Méditations poétiques et musicales”

Patrick Chamoiseau’s Baudelaire Jazz. Méditations poétiques et musicales avec Raphaël Imbert (Seuil, 27 May 2022) is based on a series of concerts created for the bicentenary of the birth of French poet Charles Baudelaire at the Musée d’Orsay. The book includes a QR code that allows you to download the corresponding music.

“Baudelaire Jazz!” will also be a live concert with Patrick Chamoiseau (text/vocals) with Raphaël Imbert (saxophone), Celia Kameni (vocals), Sonny Troupé (percussions), and Pierre-François Blanchard (piano) at Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MUCEM, Fort Saint-Jean-Place d’Armes, in Marseilles, France) at 21:00h. [See more at MUCEM.]

Here is a description from RadioFrance.

Parution de “Baudelaire Jazz, Méditations poétiques et musicales avec Raphaël Imbert” de Patrick Chamoiseau au Seuil / Essais Littéraires.

« Dans ces pays parfumés que le soleil caresse, où vous ne fîtes qu’entrevoir des esclaves, ils étaient déjà là, vos semblables, vos frères : leur poétique en devenir amorçait celle que vous alliez fonder ! C’est pourquoi nous avons voulu vous emmener dans cette matrice des plantations d’où se sont levés d’improbables créateurs : le conteur primordial, Césaire, Glissant, Fanon… »

Cette méditation poétique et musicale, véritable chaos-opéra, ramène le poète de la modernité occidentale dans l’univers des plantations esclavagistes, de la polyrythmie africaine et de l’improvisation… Un enfer d’où ont surgi, malgré tout, des danses, des chants, des tambours, le règne du conteur créole, maître-de-la-parole, et l’énigme indéchiffrable du jazz. En s’adressant à Charles Baudelaire, Patrick Chamoiseau l’invite à réfléchir avec nous sur l’histoire de l’esclavage, sur celle des plantations où naquit une musique qui semblait avoir été présagée par l’auteur des “Paradis artificiels” et des “Fleurs du mal”.

« Ceux qui durent renaître dans les plantations, le firent avec le rythme que vous connaissez bien. Le rythme qui ouvre à sa propre démesure, le rythme qui casse le rythme, et qui déporte le rythme dans les sauts du frisson et les hoquets de la cadence, la houle de ces mouvements qui montent et qui descendent, qui descendent en montant, cette vague qui force à l’implosion toutes ces belles cathédrales dans lesquelles vous avez ruminé votre ouvrage… M. Baudelaire, vous avez fait jazz ! ».

L’ouvrage de Patrick Chamoiseau, “Baudelaire Jazz, Méditations poétiques et musicales avec Raphaël Imbert” parait le 27 mai aux éditions du Seuil. Un QR code, à l’intérieur de l’ouvrage, permet de télécharger la musique. Raphaël Imbert (sax, clarinette-basse) y est entouré de Célia Kameni (chant), Pierre-François Blanchard (piano) et Sonny Troupé (percussions).

Patrick Chamoiseau a construit une œuvre couronnée de Prix (le Goncourt pour Texaco*) et traduite dans le monde entier, dans laquelle alternent romans visionnaires, essais virulents et engagés, réflexions sur la littérature, textes autobiographiques, contes et romans policiers.

Raphaël Imbert est saxophoniste et directeur artistique de la compagnie Nine Spirit. L’un de ses domaines de prédilection est le spirituel dans le jazz auquel il a notamment consacré l’ouvrage Jazz supreme aux Éditions de l’éclat.

Art Exhibition : « Des Corps libres–Une jeune scène française »

«Des Corps libres–Une jeune scène française» [Free Bodies – A young French scene] is the first group exhibition of Reiffers Art Initiatives. Artists with Caribbean roots represented in this collective exhibition are Kenny Dunkan (Guadeloupe) and Pol Taburet (Guadeloupe). [Shown above is Dunkan’s “Nèg Marron,” 2021; shown below: Taburet’s “Untitled,” 2021, Collection Pinault.]

Curated by Thibaut Wychowanok, committee member of Reiffers Art Initiatives, the body of work in the exhibition questions the representation and fluctuating materiality of the body and celebrates its diversity, its struggles, and its contemporary emancipation. The exhibition opened on May 5 and will remain on view through May 28, 2022, at Studio des Acacias (30, rue des Acacias, 75017 Paris, France). The gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays (11:00am to 7:00pm).


Description: The exhibition is an invitation to explore the possibility of a body, singular or universal, whether it be evanescent, fantastical, digital, anchored in our current world, science-fictional, or utopian. From the body-object to the body-subject, from the figurative body to the hint of a body, from the dreamed body to the digital avatar body, it is a question not only of writing the body without censorship, but of offering the possibility of taking a new look at it, in complete freedom.

Translated by Ivette Romero. For original information (in French), see

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Director Euzhan Palcy honored by SACD

The SACD—Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs [Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers]—have chosen Martinican director and screenwriter Euzhan Palcy as the recipient of the SACD Medal of Honor on Monday, June 13, 2022. Here is the announcement from their site:

A pioneer of cinema honored by the authors

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the SACD, will present on Monday June 13, 2022, the Medal of Honor of the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers to director and screenwriter Euzhan Palcy, first female director and first black artist to receive a César Award. This distinction created by the Board of Directors of the SACD is intended to honor the talent and the corpus of work by an author.

Chaired by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, the ceremony will take place at the headquarters of the SACD in the presence of members of the Board of Directors of the SACD, Pascal Rogard, Director General of the SACD and President of the French Coalition for Cultural Diversity and Patrick Raude, General Secretary of the SACD.

A journey of passion and commitment

Born in Martinique in 1958, French director and screenwriter Euzhan Palcy discovered her passion for cinema at the age of fourteen. Indeed, it was at this age that Euzhan Palcy read the novel La Rue Cases-Nègres by Joseph Zobel, a book that would fuel her desire to become a filmmaker. She then made the promise that she would one day adapt this story to the big screen, a story that spoke to her for the first time of an environment and characters that she recognized and that she wanted to [translate] into images.

In 1975, after the self-taught making of the TV film La Messagère, she left for mainland France to continue her studies at the École Louis Lumière. She performed assistantships or editing work for big names in cinema. In 1981, the National Film and Moving Image Center (CNC) awarded her an advance on earnings, making her the first filmmaker from the Caribbean to benefit from this award. She then shot Rue Cases-Nègres in Fort-de-France, thanks to the decisive help of Aimé Césaire, then mayor. In 1983, Euzhan Palcy fulfilled her promise as a teenager with the theatrical release of Rue Cases-Nègres, which became a great success. In 1984, the 25-year-old director became the first female filmmaker to receive the César for her first film. Rue Cases-Nègres won nearly 20 international awards.

Buoyed by this success, in 1989 Euzhan Palcy left for the United States to direct A White and Dry Season, a film about Apartheid in South Africa, which made her the first black director to be produced by a major Hollywood company and the first woman to direct Marlon Brando. The film was a success and earned her an Oscar nomination in 1990. She directed several other projects in the United States and France, ranging from fiction to documentary, including in 1994 a documentary triptych on Aimé Césaire, in 2007 a fiction on the colonial period on the island of Reunion Les Mariées de l’Isle Bourbon, or the documentary Parcours de dissidents in 2010. Winner of numerous awards and distinctions, the inspired and inspiring journey of Euzhan Palcy is an example for new generations of authors and authors, for which Jean-Pascal Zadi paid tribute to her when she won her César for Tout simplement noir in 2021.

Translated by Ivette Romero. For original article (in French), see

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