Haiti Hoax, Fake Site and Fools Gold

The Quai d’Orsay says it is considering taking legal action against a group of activists responsible for a cloned French Foreign Ministry website proclaiming Paris is to repay the equivalent of 90 million gold francs to Haiti, its former Caribbean colony.

Left-wing hoaxers pretend France will pay "reparations" to Haiti – once ruled by the infamous Doc Duvalier

The site’s creators, who identified themselves as the Committee for the Reimbursement of the Indemnity Money Extorted from Haiti (CRIME) said France owed Haiti 17 billion euros. This is equivalent to the amount Haiti asked France to pay it in 2003, to compensate for the 90 million gold francs it was forced to handover after a successful slave revolt drove out French sugar farm owners during the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804).

The newspaper Libération said the hoaxers – “a group of activists from France, Quebec and the US” – had set up a crude copy of the Quai d’Orsay (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr) website and published a “news item” attributed to Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. This purported to be an agreement to repay Haiti 17 billion euros in today’s currency.

In a video posted on the fake site, an impersonator — labelled a “prankster” by Paris — posing as a French official announced that “the 90 million gold francs, which Haiti paid France between 1825 and 1947, will be reimbursed annually over the next 50 years. It said “economic advisors to the Ministry estimated the total amount owed was 17 billion euros after adjustment for inflation and a nominal 5%pa interest rate.”

Libération cited foreign ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero as saying : “France has no plans to repay Haiti this sum. The press release, video and website are all fake.” He said the hoax site, “broadcasts false news and has fraudulently imitated the foreign ministry site. We are studying what legal steps we can take to remedy this situation.”

The hoax is thought to have been inspired by earlier efforts in 2003 to get France to repay the debt. At that time –Haiti’s bicentennial celebrations – President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government asked France to “right this historical wrong”. Indeed Haiti turned its bicentennial celebrations into a popular campaign and the country was flooded by banners, stickers, and broadcasts demanding payback. Earlier still Paris rejected the demand when Haiti raised the issue on the 200th anniversary of the death of Toussaint Louverture the man who led fellow slaves in the revolt against French colonialists.

The activists responsible for the hoax appear to have been hoping to shame the West into boosting earthquake relief aid to Haiti in the wake of the January 12, 2010 devastation. But, led by the US, donors have been very circumspect about throwing cash at the notoriously corrupt local politicians. At the time of the earthquake a defensive Haitian President Rene Preval acknowledged his country’s reputation for graft – Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – but insisted relief aid was not lining the pockets of government officials.

However in a statement to rabble.ca (a leftwing Canadian news-site) Laurence Fabre, a spokesperson for le Comité pour le Remboursement Immédiat des Montants Envolés d’Haïti (spelling CRIME in both French and English) said: “The real hoax is how little France, as well as the US and Canada, have offered Haiti in earthquake relief, relative to what Haitians are owed in reparations”.

The group added: “The French government has stated that it is considering legal recourse against us. This is very fitting, as it is our concern with crimes that led us to make this false announcement.

In a subsequent email message, Ms. Fabre said, “It is most unfortunate” that the French foreign ministry “has been so ungrateful, and frankly, uncooperative, with our bold initiative to improve the French government’s reputation in Haiti.”

Meanwhile the French newspaper L’Express reported July 17 that the actor who played the part of the French official in the video (see below) appeared to have a French-Canadian accent. L’Express noted that the fake site was “created on 21 June and registered by a (person named) Toussaint … The real Toussaint Louverture is most unlikely to have had a Hotmail address, despite this being the email address shown on the registration: after all he was the hero of the (1791) Haitian Revolution”, the paper said.

Video of a person pretending to be a French foreign ministry spokesperson, posted on a fake Web site on Bastille Day:

For a time line, more on the 2010 earthquake and a report critical of public corruption in Haiti see the NYTimes

Haiti in recent history: Tue Sep 25, 2007 PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier must face justice regardless of whether his countrymen forgive him for his misdeeds, Haitian President Rene Preval said on Tuesday. Preval was responding to a weekend plea for forgiveness from the exiled former president, whose regime is believed to have killed thousands of Haitians and embezzled millions of dollars in public funds. Preval said the decision whether to forgive Duvalier lies with the Haitian people, who suffered under his totalitarian regime. But he said the current administration would continue legal proceedings to recover government funds from Duvalier, who has lived in France since his ouster in 1986. “It is true, he has asked for forgiveness. But at the request of my presidency, Jean-Claude Duvalier’s assets have once again been frozen,” Preval told a news conference shortly before leaving Port-au-Prince on Tuesday to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New-York.
“We are putting in place what is needed so that Duvalier’s trial may begin in order to recover state funds he has misappropriated,” said Preval. “Demand for forgiveness is one thing but justice is another.”
The United Nations and World Bank launched an initiative last week to make it easier for governments in developing countries to recover stolen assets stashed in rich countries by corrupt leaders. World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the bank was in the early stages of working with Haiti to recover funds stolen by Duvalier. In a taped statement broadcast on local radio stations, Duvalier acknowledged his government was responsible for wrong-doing. “During my presidential term, my government caused physical, moral or economic prejudice to people,” Duvalier said from exile in Paris. “I solemnly take the historic responsibility to ask the Haitian people to forgive me.” His father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, seized power in 1957 and bequeathed it to his son on his deathbed in 1971.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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3 Responses to Haiti Hoax, Fake Site and Fools Gold

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Haiti hoax, fake site and fools gold « French News Online Newsroom -- Topsy.com

  2. twf July 17, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Of historical interest — You can see a clip of Toussaint’s last moments in prison from the award-winning new short film “The Last Days of Toussaint L’Ouverture” at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2468184/

  3. Pingback: New Twist in Haiti Hoax Website Saga « French News Online Newsroom

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