January 5, 1999

France asks Haiti to explain president's speech

                  PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) -- The French foreign ministry has
                  summoned Haiti's ambassador to explain a speech in which Haitian
                  President Rene Preval blamed his country's poverty on French colonialism,
                  the French envoy to Port-au-Prince said on Tuesday.

                  In a speech to mark Haiti's Independence Day on Jan. 1, Preval denounced
                  Haiti's colonization by France before an audience of government ministers
                  and members of the diplomatic corps in the northwestern city of Gonaives.

                  "Every sickness has a history. If Haiti has an economic disease today, why
                  should we be afraid of looking at the country's history and discovering the
                  cause of the disease," he asked.

                  "Can diplomatic reasons prevent us from saying that a significant part of
                  France's riches has to do with Haiti's poverty? The colonialist France
                  exploited this country for more years than the years of the country's
                  independence," he said.

                  The French ambassador to Haiti, Patrick Roussel, said his country was
                  saddened by Preval's remarks.

                  "We were surprised and pained to hear President Preval evoke the past in
                  recounting the most sombre and distant times of Franco-Haitian history," he

                  "It is good to know one's history, but it is better in knowing it to work for
                  understanding between countries," Roussel said.

                  Haiti, which occupies the western third of the Caribbean island of
                  Hispaniola, became a French colony in the 17th Century. The French were
                  ousted in a slave revolt and Haiti became a republic on Jan. 1, 1804.

                  Today one of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti, then called Saint
                  Domingue, was once France's richest colony.

                  France has asked Haiti's ambassador to appear Wednesday at the Ministry
                  of Foreign Affairs to discuss Preval's speech, Roussel said.

                    Copyright 1999 Reuters.