NPR logo France's Sarkozy Tells Haitians They 'Are Not Alone'

France's Sarkozy Tells Haitians They 'Are Not Alone'

History was made in Haiti Wednesday with the visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the former French colony.

Sarkozy became the first French president to visit that nation's former colony.

He came bearing debt relief. France would forgive about $77 million in debts the Haitians owed France.

Of course, some blame France for helping to beggar what has become the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere in the first place. France exacted huge reparations from the former slaves who won their freedom from France in the 19th Century. Some estimate that the reparations would equal $22 billion in today's dollars.

But it was a day to look forward in Port-au-Prince.

As Reuters reports:

The French assistance will include the provision of 1,000 tents and 16,000 tarpaulins to help shelter 200,000 people during Haiti's rainy season, which typically begins in late March or April.

The quake last month killed more than 200,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless.

France also will provide 10 experts to work with the Haitian Prime Minister and his staff on the recovery effort for two years. Other experts will undertake short-term missions.

In addition, France has pledged to carry out a preparatory study to reconstruct the ornate, white Haitian Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince, which partially collapsed during the quake.

Sarkozy made the announcement on the grounds of the palace.

Besides visiting a French field hospital in Port-au-Prince, Sarkozy will be looking to turn the page with his visit on a long history of troubled French relations with Haiti, which won independence in 1804 after a bloody revolt by black slaves against their white masters.

In watching the Associated Press video which includes Sarkozy boarding a military helicopter to take a tour of the devastated Haitian capital, it's noteworthy that the door is left open. Hard to imagine the Secret Service ever letting a U.S. president fly that way.

And the French president doesn't appear to be wearing the standard ear protection you often see dignitaries and flight crews usually wearing aboard military helicopters which are much noisier than fixed-wing aircraft.