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'Shameful' France must pay for slavery legacy

Ben McPartland · 14 May 2013, 09:48

Published: 14 May 2013 09:48 GMT+02:00

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For Louis-Georges Tin it is a simple matter of forcing France to pay for the legacy of the slave trade in its former colonies such as Haiti and its current overseas territories like the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

The president of the country's Representative Council of Black Associations (CRAN) was dismayed last week when France's head of state President François Hollande said no reparations would be paid out to the descendants of the victims of slavery.

Two days later, however, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira raised hopes again when she suggested that one of CRAN's other demands - that land owned by the French state should be given to descendants of slaves - could be viable.

Tin tells the Local it is time for French governments - which he accuses of racism in their attitude towards France's overseas territories - to finally face the truth and pay up, whether through monetary compensation, the transfer of land, or allowing young people places at French universities.

Louis-Georges Tin:

"Paying reparations is a simple matter of justice. When a crime has been committed, there is a need to pay reparations. That’s the case for any crime.

"The French committed a crime against humanity in its role in the slave trade, so reparations are needed. By refusing to pay, François Hollande is showing he lacks humanity.

"The history of countries like Haiti is obvious. It was devastated by France. At one point it was the richest colony in the world but under France it became the poorest country in the world and Hollande thinks people will be happy if he just offers them a few words?

"It’s a slap in their face. These people are poor, they have nothing to eat. It is unacceptable.

“Marine le Pen, the leader of the far right, congratulated Hollande for his attitude on reparations. I wonder if the president is proud of being supported by her? He should reflect on that.

“Most people say to us: 'No one is interested in reparations and no one cares about it.' But they are wrong.

"The French say we are isolated in our demands, but 63 percent of people in the former colonies are demanding compensation. We also have Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and Malcolm X on our side. We are not isolated, it’s just that the French aren't listening.

“We have many ways to make it happen, one of which is going to court. Even if we don’t get a positive result against those French banks who were involved in the slave trade, we are at least damaging their image.

"We have the truth and that is always the best way to put pressure on people."

Land is freedom

“Land is hugely significant. In the past, having land for most people was the beginning of a career. If you had land you could live. If you didn't, you had no life. Of course things are different now, but when everyone was a peasant, those without land had no freedom.

“It would be very easy to distribute land. All you need to do is make a list of the available land that belongs to the state and say we will give a certain amount of it to the poorest people. It wouldn't cost anything , it’s a simple measure.”

Government policy towards overseas territories 'shameful and racist'

“The policy of France towards its overseas territories is shameful and there is more than an element of racism involved. In 2008 Eurostat, the EU data agency, revealed that the four poorest departments in Europe are not in Greece or Portugal but in France and of course they are its overseas departments.

“People in France speak about the poverty in the 'banlieues' (estates) but on the island of Réunion there is 60 percent youth unemployment.

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"People talk about social housing in France, but in Martinique we talk about slums. The only thing to compare the living conditions of some people in Martinique to is the situation of the Roma people living in makeshift camps and squats in France.

“One example of the racist attitude in the French government towards its former colonies is the use of pesticide named Chlordecone in Guadaloupe and Martinique.

"This pesticide was banned in the US and elsewhere but the descendants of the former slave owners in the French colonies said it was good for the banana plantations so they used it without regard for the impact on people’s health.

"Now we have some of the highest prostate cancer rates in the world.

“There hasn't been much difference between the French governments, both left and right, in their policies towards the former colonies over the years.

"All I can say is that Nicolas Sarkozy did many things that encouraged racism and François Hollande has done nothing to fight it."

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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