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This past Thursday, April 27, 2023, on the 175 th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in France,
President Macron marked the occasion honoring the memory of the father of the Haitian
revolution, Toussaint Louveture in a ceremony at the Château de Joux, in the south of France,
where the independence hero died after 10 months of incarceration. President Macron laid a
wreath in front of the bust of Toussaint Louverture before delivering his speech that was
broadcast live in the French media. In his speech, the French president praised the father of the
Haitian revolution as a tireless fighter for freedom who strove to give life to the declaration of
the rights of man, and one who embodied the true values of the enlightenment. The significance
of this moment is not lost on anyone given the current state of affairs in the country and that it is
the very first time a French leader was able to pay official tribute to Toussaint Louverture at the
prison where he dies. Perhaps President Macron is determined to work to reconcile the France of
today to its colonial and odious past.
Tousaint Louverture as born into slavery in Saint-Domingue, present day Haiti, in what was then
France’s most prized and brutal colony. He went on to become one of the leaders of the slave
rebellion that prompted the revolutionary government in France to declare an end to slavery
across all the colonies in 1794, at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. But when Napoleon
came to power, he sent warships to crush the former colony, reimposed slavery and Toussaint
was captured, and imprisoned without trial.
It wasn’t for another 46 years that France, on April 27, 1848, abolished slavery for a second and
final time. While Macron did not allude to the 1803 defeat of the French army at the hands of the
Haitians, he noted that the great lesson of the Haitian revolutionary leader is that the aspirations
of a people to become free and independent and sovereign always end up defeating the armies of
invasion and occupation one day. Just as in 2018, the French president celebrated the date, April
27, 1848, which corresponds to Victor Schoelcher’s decree abolishing slavery in France. He
intended to combine this historical reminder this year with the 280th anniversary of the birth and
the 220th anniversary of the disappearance of Toussaint Louverture, who died in the fortress on
April 7, 1803. Toussaint Louverture has already been honored in France, on the 220th
anniversary of his death, with commemorative activities organized by the Fondation pour la
mémoire de l’esclavage, le Centre des monuments nationaux and la Région Île de France, at
the Panthéon, in Paris, on Friday April 7, 2023.
In the shadow of these celebrations is the thorny issue of the legacy of slavery left by the French.
The French Minister of Education, Pap Ndiaye acknowledged earlier at the ceremony at the
Pantheon that there’s ignorance of Haitian history in France, because very few French students
are aware of the Haitian revolution while the opposite is not true of the Haitian students. Haitian
students know all about the French revolution and France’s legacy in Haiti did not end with the
declaration of independence in 1804. In 1825, French warships returned and forced the young
country to pay compensation for the colonial losses, or face war. Haiti became the world’s first
and only country in which the descendants of enslaved people paid reparations to the
descendants of their masters, for generations. That debt, and the loans the country took out to pay
for it, crippled the country’s economy for more than a century. According to a study by the New
York Times, over six decades, Haiti sent an equivalent of US$560m in today’s dollars to
descendants of former colonists and the banks that offered the first loan. Had that money stayed

in the country, it would have grown the economy from $21bn to $115bn over two centuries. And
that does not include later loans taken out.
Calls for France to return the monies stolen has increased over the years, with prominent scholars
and activists making the case for reparations but in his speech, President Macron barely address
the issue or even refer to the debt in his speech, not did he address issues facing contemporary
Haiti such as the violence that has engulfed the country and threaten to unleash war in the
country. Former Haitian ambassador to France, Jean Josué Pierre Dahomey said the tribute to
Louverture should also be a testament to France’s obligation of solidarity toward Haiti, while Mr.
Leslie Voltaire, who campaigned for reparations welcomed the tribute but said France owed Haiti
more than words. He pointed out that French president, François Hollande, promised to repay
that debt in 2015, but since then, nothing has been done, and Voltaire would have preferred a
follow up to that pronouncement.
Finally, the Annual Little Haiti Book Festival returns this Sunday, May 7, 2023, as we return to
in person events following COVID-19 restrictions. This year’s events will take place in three
locations. Libreri Mapou Book Store, the Caribbean Marketplace (Mache Ayisyen), and the
Little Haiti Cultural Center. The month of May is Haitian Heritage month, and the bookfair is
part of celebrations during the Haitian Heritage Month, in which the literary arts and cultural
heritage of Haiti is celebrated. The organizers have lined up several authors, publishers, and
booksellers to participate in addition to a range of activities, including book readings, panel
discussions, and music and dance performances. The lobby at Boston Medical Center has been
inundated by Haitian families with babies in carriages; immigrants with nowhere else to go to.
Another venue is a storefront in the center of Mattapan, where the Immigrant Family Services
Institute (IFSI) helps them find shelter. The Executive Director of the institute, Dr. Geralde
Gabeau said that housing has been a real nightmare, especially for people who are coming here
for the first time, and those who don’t know to go to IFSI, the choice is often the streets or the
emergency room, where dozens have ended up lately. By noon Monday, 135 people were there
seeking services at IFSI, and despite the New England cold weather, it is much preferable to the
gangs and violence they fled in Haiti.
Dela Harlley

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