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17634: Lemieux: news.telegraph.co.uk: Haiti seeks to change its fortunes in French sting (fwd)



From: JD Lemieux <lxhaiti@yahoo.com>

Haiti seeks to change its fortunes in French sting
By Oliver Poole in Los Angeles
(Filed: 03/01/2004)


Two hundred years after an army of African slaves evicted
France from the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, Haiti is to
begin legal action demanding reparations of 16 billion
from its former rulers.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide made the declaration in a
speech marking the bicentennial that was intended to
highlight the achievements of the world's first black
republic.

Mr Aristide, 50, said: "1804 was the stinging bee; 2004 is
sure to be the honey."

His backers say the bill is to match the 150 million gold
francs Napoleon's France demanded as the price of
recognising Haiti's independence in 1804. It is increasing
at the rate of 22 per second. A team of American and
French lawyers is reported to be working on the claim.

But the move has been criticised as an attempt by Mr
Aristide to divert attention from the failings of his
increasingly dictatorial regime.

The demand had little impact on Haitians. Although the
capital is festooned with banners reading "Reparation and
Restitution" and car stickers saying "France, pay me my
money", opposition and government supporters again clashed
on New Year's Day, marring the celebrations.

As protesters poured into the streets and tried to march on
the palace, police used tear-gas and fired into the air to
hold them back. Many of the demonstrators set up road
blocks around the city.

Aristide supporters joined police in trying to push the
demonstrators back and began throwing stones. The
protesters held firm but dispersed when the Aristide side
began firing guns.

Mr Aristide, a former slum priest who became popular by
making fiery promises to the poor, said that by 2015 Haiti
- the western hemisphere's poorest country - would be
prosperous and politically stable, and outlined a 21-point
plan that he promised would end the anarchy and civil war
that presently grips the country.

The centrepiece of his plan to achieve this is based on the
assumption that France will pay up. This is considered
unlikely.

The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, has
already rejected the demand and it is uncertain how the
latest promise of legal action can be turned into judicial
fact.

No French court is likely to hear the claim, and the United
Nations is unlikely to become involved with a claim from a
regime to which international donors have already suspended
279 million in aid after the disputed 2000 presidential
election.

That vote was triggered by the latest phase in the
country's already brutal history. Claiming a flawed
election process, a conclusion supported by many
international observers, opposition groups boycotted
parliamentary elections, leading to a clean sweep by
pro-Aristide politicians.

Opposition paramilitary groups, aided by bands of lawless
thugs exploiting the instability, began to challenge the
government's authority, resulting in at least 41 deaths
since September alone. In Gonaves, the coastal city where
Haiti's independence was proclaimed and a flashpoint of the
current political struggle, militants known as the
"Cannibal Army" engaged in battles with government troops
last month.

Yesterday, a visit to the city by President Thabo Mbeki of
South Africa, the only globally recognised leader to attend
the bicentennial celebrations, had to be abandoned after
his advance protection team came under fire.

Haiti - which shares the island of Hispaniola with the
Dominican Republic - was born after the world's only
successful slave rebellion. On Nov 18, 1803, French troops
surrendered to forces led by Jean-Jacques Dessalines. But
in two centuries, Haiti has experienced more than 30 coups.

There was a flicker of hope in 1990 after 29 years of the
Duvalier family dictatorship. Mr Aristide was elected by a
landslide only to be overthrown the next year. He was
restored in 1994 after an American invasion.


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