The Price Owed By France For Its 200 yr Extortion From The People Of Haiti

Marla Dukharan
4 min readJun 28, 2024


Caribbean people have been reveling lately to the most-loved sound of (uncle) David Rudder’s familiar call to “Rally ‘Round the West Indies”. But perhaps even more relevant today is Rudder’s less-celebrated chant “Haiti I’m sorry…we misunderstood you.” Trinidadian historian C.L.R. James said of French sentiment towards ‘The Black Jacobins’, “Rivers of blood were to flow before they understood.”

With a transitional government in place amid unprecedented international support in an nth attempt to stanch Haiti’s bleeding, understanding the cause of Haiti’s problems, who is liable and to what extent, are fundamental elements of the solution. France’s exceptionally acute and brutal >200-year tenure of extraction-cum-extortion from Haiti is undisputed. “The initial 150 million francs was equal to the annual revenue of Haiti before independence, or 15% of France’s annual budget. By the late 19th century, 80% of Haiti’s wealth was devoted to serving external debts, first to France and then to financial institutions in Germany — and, most notably, the United States” as reported by the Jacobin. From the outset, any attempt to measure the value of human life and suffering is an insult, and no measure of what France owes Haiti could ever satisfy everyone, but we have to start somewhere.

The New York Times calculated that France owes Haiti USD21 billion, French economist Thomas Piketty estimated USD28 billion, while Professor Jemima Pierre said “It’s USD21 billion plus 200 years of interest that France has enjoyed…more like USD150 billion, USD200 billion or more.” The methodology used for these estimates is unclear, but appear to be some derivation of the 112 million francs that France actually extorted from Haiti from 1825 to 1947. This arguably narrow definition of France’s damage and thus debt to the people of Haiti omits, as it is entirely reasonable to suggest, that absent 200 years of French oppression, the people of Haiti could have achieved at least the level of economic progress of other (French) Caribbean territories. So why not start there?


An oversimplification perhaps but hear me out — if Haiti could have achieved a similar economic outcome to the Dominican Republic, then France would now have to grow Haiti’s GDP by USD10K per capita or USD120 billion. Compared to Jamaica, France would have to grow Haiti’s GDP by USD5,600 per capita or USD67.3 billion. Surely somewhere between these two is a reasonable place for Haiti. But what if, instead of declaring its independence in 1804, Haiti remained a Caribbean colony of France? Haiti would then have a GDP per capita of France’s (and why shouldn’t it, as do France’s Caribbean colonies?) at roughly USD41K instead of USD1,750. Haiti’s GDP of roughly USD20 billion plus France’s USD2.8 trillion would then yield a GDP per capita for France (given Haiti’s population of 12 million and France’s of 68 million) of roughly USD35,250 — roughly USD33,500 more per capita or USD402 billion in total for Haiti.

Hypothetically handing over USD402 billion will not raise Haiti’s GDP to USD35K per capita. Haiti’s fiscal multipliers are unknown, but given that no Caribbean country has a fiscal multiplier even close to 1, we can be sure France would have to give much more than USD402 billion to Haiti, to raise its GDP by that amount. We can also be sure that hypothetically handing over USD402 billion would accomplish little for the people of Haiti given the level of instability and the culture of extraction evident with past aid attempts. As discussed on Radio Jamaica recently, the extractive institutions created during colonization absent meaningful reform post-independence, gave way to further extraction at the hands of the elite (descendants of colonizers) across the Caribbean, which persists today. Haiti is a most extreme case of this phenomenon in our region, thus necessitating an equally extreme intervention of institutional and governance DNA editing, if there is any hope of breaking the cycle of extraction and trauma. This will cost plenty.

We can debate what France reasonably owes Haiti and must pay towards achieving institutional and ultimately, nation-building and socio-economic stability for the people Haiti who deserve no less. This is probably the easier part of the solution. The more difficult task would be actually holding a colonizer to account, and making France repay Haiti, when it seems that France is more determined to continue to pursue a neo-colonial agenda, punishing its former colonies, and those who dare to want their freedom.

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