French leader brings reconstruction plan to Haiti, but bitter memories of ex-colonizer remain





President Nicolas Sarkozy is bringing a French plan to rebuild Haiti with him on Wednesday's visit to the Caribbean country, a trip officials hope will usher in a new era between France and its former colony.

Some Haitians are welcoming France's new interest in their earthquake-shattered nation as a counterbalance to the United States, which has sent troops there three times in the past 16 years.

But Sarkozy's visit, the first ever by a French president to what was its richest colony, 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 prevent slave revolts elsewhere and 90 million pieces of gold were demanded by Paris from the world's first black republic.

The debt hobbled Haiti, it seemed for life....

French officials say Sarkozy will announce details of "a French plan for the reconstruction of Haiti" _ if Haitian officials agree. It differs little from proposals from Haitian, U.S. and U.N. officials to decentralize power away from the devastated capital and boost agriculture and tourism.

The trip brings Sarkozy to an island where, French officials acknowledge, fascination with things French duels with strong, lingering resentments.

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."...

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