A major French bank will hire researchers to delve into its history in Haiti, the head of the parent company said Monday, after DailyExpertNews published what he called a “sad illustration” of the bank’s role in an “ecosystem of colonialism.” “.
The bank, Crédit Industriel et Commercial, transferred millions of dollars in fees and interest from Haiti’s treasury to France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, The Times reported.
At a time when the bank, known as CIC, helped fund the Eiffel Tower, its executives and investors made so much money from Haiti that their profits sometimes exceeded Haiti’s entire public works budget.
Crédit Mutuel, a European financial conglomerate, bought CIC in 1998 and operates it as a subsidiary.
But Crédit Mutuel began as an organization to help rural farmers in late 1800s Europe, which the president described as a potentially uneasy clash with new revelations about CIC’s activities in Haiti during the same period.
“This is a bit of a tricky situation, more than a century later, to have this communal bank a bank whose history is linked to colonialism,” Crédit Mutuel president Nicolas Théry said in an interview.
Almost all CIC archives from that time have been destroyed. Mr Théry said he had already been in touch with university scientists about funding a team, ideally of Haitian and French researchers, to uncover the full history of the bank.
The Times article describes how CIC set up and run the National Bank of Haiti from Paris. Records show that it has made no investments in Haitian companies and charged fees for nearly every transaction the Haitian government has made. At a time when many French investment returns hovered around 5 percent, investors in the National Bank of Haiti were posting an average of 15 percent a year. In a few years, margins approached 24 percent.
The gains help explain why Haiti has been sidelined during one of the most significant periods of development in modern history.
At one point, Haiti set aside about half of its main source of income – coffee taxes – to pay CIC and its investors in the National Bank. Parisian financiers also used their allies in the French government to pressure Haiti not to disrupt the bank’s operations, the Times reported, citing diplomatic correspondence.
“It was a very good demonstration of the links between the financial, military and political powers in France at the end of the 19th century,” said Mr Théry. He called it an “ecosystem of colonialism.”
“This is a very sad illustration of the meaning of colonization and financial colonization,” he said.
Mr Théry said he was not sure whether the bank still owed any money to Haiti, more than a century after ceasing its operations in Haiti. He said researchers would have a broad mandate to pursue information on any subject.
“It’s a matter of principle for us,” he said.