‘Common Law’: A Bloody Revolution and an Odious Debt
Haiti’s “odious debt” to France in the wake of the island country’s revolution was an enormous financial blow that still reverberates today, explains Professor Mitu Gulati on the season finale of “Common Law,” a podcast of the University of Virginia School of Law.
In 1825, more than 20 years after enslaved Haitians revolted and won their freedom from French colonizers, France pressured Haiti to pay 150 million francs to earn sovereign recognition. With the French Navy’s gunboats moored on Haiti’s shores to add pressure, soon the island’s residents agreed to pay an amount that might be worth tens of billions in today’s dollars. It took 122 years to resolve the debt, and the financial burden crippled the country’s development, Gulati says on the show.
Gulati, one of the world’s leading experts on sovereign debt, tells podcast hosts Risa Goluboff and Cathy Hwang that the incident should be a part of the larger body of legal scholarship on odious debt, which typically applies to corrupt leaders who sink their own nations into financial quagmires. Gulati’s paper on the subject, “The Odious Haitian Independence Debt,” written with Kim Oosterlinck, Ugo Panizza and Mark C. Weidemaier, helped inform recent a New York Times feature series.
Gulati is the Perre Bowen Professor of Law and the John V. Ray Research Professor of Law at the Law School. He runs his own podcast, “Clauses & Controversies,” with Weidemaier, focusing on international finance and contracts.
On the show, Gulati, Goluboff and Hwang discuss other examples of odious debt and whether Haiti has any recourse to reclaim the funds.
The show’s fourth season, called “Co-Counsel,” features a rotating set of co-hosts: Hwang, Danielle Citron, John Harrison and Gregory Mitchell. Each joined Goluboff to discuss cutting-edge research on law topics of their choice.
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