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17107: Lakata47: Haiti, South Africa Plan Joint Celebrations (Globe and Mail) (fwd)

From: LAKAT47@aol.com

Haiti, SA Plan Joint Celebrations

October 21, 2003
Posted to the web October 24, 2003

Jean-Jacques Cornish

The world's oldest black republic and Africa's youngest democracy are
planning a joint celebration of their significant anniversaries next year.

In January Haiti celebrates the bicentenary of its slave army repelling
French troops sent by Napoleon to quell a rebellion, while in April South Africa
celebrates a decade of democracy.

When he attended the Caribbean Community Summit in July, President Thabo
Mbeki agreed with President Jean-Baptiste Aristide to undertake a joint effort.

Haiti Foreign Minister Joseph Philippe Antonio was in Pretoria this week to
discuss the details.

"This is a big deal for us," he said. "South Africa has been hosting major
international conferences for the past five years. There is so much they can
teach [us] about protocol, security and logistics.

"We expect to get about 30 heads of state - including President Mbeki - at
our celebrations next year."

The really big deal for the Caribbean state, which overcame decades of brutal
dictatorship at the same time South Africa emerged from apartheid, is the
$21,7-billion restitution claim it has served on France.

After initially dismissing the claim, France has since appointed Regis Debray
as a commissioner to investigate the matter. He was due in Port au Prince
this weekend.

Antonio said he had discussed the claim against France with Mbeki and
Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

"We are not trying to create a camp against France," he said. "We do not
expect any of our African friends to side against France and hurt their relations
with that country.

"We are only asking for their understanding and for them to use their
influence to facilitate our dialogue with France.

"We believe that their efforts have led to the appointment of Debray. When we
first notified France of our restitution claim they responded that they were
not even prepared to discuss it."

Antonio said Haiti had started the process of seeking observer status at the
Africa Union. "One day we might even become members of the AU. We are, after
all members of the African Diaspora," he said.

"We have more in common with Africa than with Latin America."

Debray's appointment had improved relations with France, the minister said.
"If you had asked me about relations with France three months ago, I would have
characterised them as difficult. The previous French ambassador, Yves Gaudel,
left Haiti saying he was leaving the island to the storms.

"The new ambassador, Jean Burkard, arrived saying he was looking forward to
the good weather.

"We have no intention of going to war with France, we want to solve this
matter amicably."

The minister was adamant that the claim was for restitution not reparations.
"Haiti gained its independence in 1804, but this was never recognised by the
French [colonisers].

"Haiti was persuaded by France to return to colonial status, but in 1822
France made an unprecedented demand for 120-million gold francs as a sort of

"This was reduced to 90-million gold francs, which we did not have the money
to pay. France lent us the money to pay their ransom and charged an exorbitant

"Eventually France sold its right to the debt to the United States. We made
our last payment to France in 1880 and our last payment to the US in 1947.

"In 2000 the French Parliament passed a resolution declaring slavery a crime
against humanity. This opened a juridical way for us to make our restitution

The minister said diplomatic channels and negotiations at official level were
currently being pursued.

Haiti's ambassadors to France and to Unesco in Paris had both had talks with

"We also have a conclave of Haitian, French and American lawyers preparing
documents for legal action and deciding which would be the most appropriate
forum, but we have not formally embarked on this course yet," said Antonio.

"We have informed France of the sum we are asking for and how it was arrived
at by economists and actuaries. We have not yet handed the French government
our detailed documentation."

Haiti also faces a political crisis with opposition groups demanding the
resignation of the executive because of alleged election irregularities in 2000.

Six government parliamentarians have since resigned and Aristide is
negotiating with the opposition parties to hold new elections in the first half of next

Will this spoil the big party?

Not at all says Antonio. "The opposition groups might not officially support
the government organised celebrations, but the anniversary is an important one
for all Haitians. We will ensure that political differences aside all
Haitians are able to enjoy the celebrations."