French President Nicolas Sarkozy landed in Haiti this morning, the AP reports. It was the first visit by a French president to Haiti, described by the AP as once being the "nation's richest colony."

AP reports:
Some Haitians are welcoming France's new interest in their nation as a counterbalance to the United States, which has sent troops there three times in the past 16 years. But Sarkozy's visit is also reviving bitter memories of the crippling costs of Haiti's 1804 independence.

A third of the population was killed in an uprising against exceptionally brutal slavery, an international embargo was imposed to deter slave revolts elsewhere and 90 million pieces of gold were demanded by Paris from the world's first black republic.
Of course, in 2003, then President Jean Bertrand Aristide demanded France pay back its historical debt to Haiti. The amount asked for was over $21 billion. However, before the case could make it to court, Aristide was ousted in a coup and flown to the Central African Republic on a US Military plane.

According to the AP:
One official close to the French presidency, briefing reporters in Paris on condition of anonymity, hinted that France is not deaf to calls for reparations, calling Sarkozy's visit "an occasion to show that France is mobilizing to give Haitians control of their destiny and pay past debts."
The IDB said yesterday that reconstruction costs may reach $14 billion. If France were to recognize their historical debt to Haiti it could go a long way towards helping Haiti rebuild. However Reuters reports that Sarkozy announced an aid package of 270 million Euros over two years, and will cancel a debt of 56 million Euros. While these are welcome developments, the debt France imposed upon Haiti had devastating consequences, as AP reports:
In 1825, crippled by the U.S.-led international embargo that was enforced by French warships, Haiti agreed to pay France 150 million francs in compensation for the lost "property" — including slaves — of French plantation owners.

By comparison, France sold the United States its immensely larger Louisiana Territory in 1803 for just 60 million francs. The amount for Haiti was later lowered to 90 million gold francs.

Haiti did not finish paying the debilitating debt — which was swollen by massive interest payments to French and American banks — until 1947.

But Haiti's wealth already was destroyed. It had been the world's richest colony, providing half the globe's sugar and other exports including coffee, cotton, hardwood and indigo that exceeded the value of everything produced in the United States in 1788.

By the early 1780s, half of Haiti's forests were gone, leading to the devastating erosion and extreme poverty that bedevils the country today.