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Haiti: Bicentennial, reparations and conjuncture

Interview with Christophe Wargny

by Gotson Pierre

Translated from French by Max Blanchet

Port-au-Prince, November 3, 03 [AlterPresse] — We would need a neutral institution to receive French money in the event restitution is made for the ransom paid by Haiti to France for the recognition of its independence, according to French historian Christophe Wargny in an interview given to AlterPresse.

Questions relating to restitution, the celebration of the Bicentennial of Haiti’s Independence in 2004 and the current condition of the Haitian political regime were thoroughly discussed during an interview with Christophe Wargny after he had testified in front of the French Commission for the study of French Haitian relations in mid October.

In his testimony to the Commission presided by Régis Debray, Christopher Wargny defended the idea of restituting the 90 million old francs paid to France by Haiti during the first half of the 19th century. "France owes that money to Haiti. We need only discuss how this reimbursement must be done."

"Obviously, this will not solve Haiti’s problems," added the French historian. "But, this is a fundamental problem," and added that restitution could not be given to the current government in Haiti. Its governance style is such that "it is absolutely excluded that it be in charge of distributing it in Haiti."

Christopher Wargny favors the creation of "a neutral institution that would manage French money ,,, and would insure that it really finances investments in order to avoid that much of it is embezzled in the process."

Questioned about the impact in France of the colloquium recently organized in Haiti by the Haitian government with the participation of a few foreign intellectuals on the issues of restitution and development, Christopher Wargny noted that there was no impact.

The French intellectual confided that many of his peers and he refused to participate for fear of being "used" by the government. "Many feared that their participation would have been presented by state media as an indication that they support the government, which is clearly not the case."

Regarding the celebration of the Bicentennial, Christopher Wargny affirmed that he shares the concerns of Haitian alternative movements that deem there is "nothing to celebrate" and that "we should take advantage of the opportunity to question a series of failures."

Christopher Wargny also stated that he is essentially in agreement with the criticism formulated by more than fifty Haitian intellectuals in a petition circulated publicly at the beginning of October. "To be sure these intellectuals are correct to invoke how the bicentennial might be used." Wargny thinks, however, "they did not go far enough on the need for reforms and reflection."

In France, there will be a few initiatives to celebrate, "all in all, just a few" noted Christophe Wargny in the interview given to AlerPresse. Even the official French Commission on the Study of French Haitian Relations has not received much attention.

"They have organized the blackout of Haitian history during the last two centuries, especially its independence, and given these bad habits, the Commission runs the risk of doing its work in great indifference," noted the French historian.

Christopher Wargny hopes that the conclusions of the Commission, scheduled to be published in January 2004, will trigger a series of new events.

The lack of enthusiasm registered in France with regard to the celebration in Europe of Haiti’s bicentennial may be related to the "manner in which the executive branch behaves in Haiti," according to Wargny, who once again stated his disapproval of the methods used by President Jean Bertrand Aristide’s administration.

Wargny, who worked with Aristide until 1996, talks of "the regime’s increasingly grave drift that constitutes a break with the regime he supported during Aristide’s first mandate (1991-1996)." He notes a "drift towards an obscurantist despotism Â… insupportable both to Haitians and those who supported this formidable hope, more than 12 years agoÂ…"

Christopher Wargny recalls that he formally took his distance from Aristide starting in 2000. "I will take advantage of the Bicentennial, wherever I am invited, to state frankly what I think of an implacable, definitive and irreparable drift," he adds.

Questioned about the nature of this drift, the French intellectual noted that basic liberties are no longer absolutely respected. "There may remain a certain freedom of expression, but the problem is to manage what happens beyond that and that is difficult. There is the drift of the police, and ultra politicized police with which armed gangs cooperate Â… this is reminiscent of what happened under other Haitian regimes. The priority on behalf of the poor has become the inordinate expansion of poverty in the country."

All of this said, Christophe Wargny affirms that he is not about "exonerating" the international community, notably the United States. When those who support reforms of the judiciary and the police "multiply exceptional steps, free guilty parties, steal archives and turn down necessary extraditions, they project a totally corrupted image of democracy, that the government can easily emulate."