18 Feb 2010

First ever visit by a French president to their former Slave Colony

Staying in Haiti for less than four hours, Sarkozy greeted French embassy staff and aid workers and took a helicopter tour to see the extent of damage left by last month's quake.

Later speaking alongside Rene Preval, the Haitian president, Sarkozy said he wanted to turn the page in France's long history of troubled relations with its former colony.

But for many Haitians, Sarkozy's visit highlighted the bitter legacy of the price paid by Haiti to secure its freedom from French rule.


Following a succesful revolt in 1804, Haiti was forced to pay compensation to France – a debt that took more than half a century to pay off. In today's money the payments amount to more than $20bn.

For many Haitians those payments are what set the seal on Haiti's endemic poverty and at a demonstration on Wednesday hundreds of Haitian protesters called on France to pay back the money.

"France has played an important role in the way the country is suffering economically, and it has a clear responsibility to pay reparations," Camille Chalmers, a Haitian economist, told Al Jazeera.

During his visit Sarkozy acknowledged that France and Haiti had had a troubled relationship, saying he was conscious that France "did not leave a good legacy" in its former colony.

Al Jazeera