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February 24th, 2010
10:57 AM ET

From slavery to Sarkozy in Haiti

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/WORLD/europe/02/17/sarkozy.haiti.france/t1larg.sarkozy.chopper.jpg caption="French President Nicolas Sarkozy talks with Haitian counterpart Rene Preval." width=300 height=169]

Patrick Sylvain and Peniel E. Joseph
Special to CNN

Haiti's emergence as the first free black republic, forged against the backdrop of Caribbean and North American slavery, is pivotal to today's discussions of citizenship, democracy, and freedom.

Now, 206 years after its declaration of independence, Haiti's dire poverty, the earthquake and its massive death toll have triggered yet another global "first," one with potentially major geopolitical consequences.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently visited Haiti, the first French president to set foot on Haitian soil. His historic trip recalled long-standing colonial wounds, even as he graciously offered much-needed economic assistance to a ravaged Port-au-Prince. The visit also offered a glimpse of the Caribbean republic's paradoxical relationship with its former colonial master.

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