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French President Hollande Visits Haiti

France's President Francois Hollande, center left, and Haiti's President Michel Martelly walk at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, May 12, 2015.

French President Francois Hollande visited Haiti Tuesday and pledged to help the impoverished Caribbean nation recover from the 2010 earthquake that left much of the country in ruins.

Hollande is the second French president to visit Haiti, the former crown jewel of French colonialism until 1804, when it became the world's first independent black republic after a slave revolt. Former president Nicholas Sarkozy visited the country in 2010, shortly after the earthquake.

But Haiti is now the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, due in part to an 1825 agreement that forced Haiti to pay France compensation for land and slaves lost in the rebellion -- a sum now estimated to be as much as $19 billion. A small crowd gathered outside the Champ de Mars to protest Hollande's trip, demanding France return the money it forced Haiti to pay.

"We cannot change the past, but we can change the future," Hollande said in a speech at Port-au-Prince's Champ de Mars plaza, where he and Haitian President Michel Martelly laid a wreath at a statue of Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture. He pledged that Paris would spend about $145 million to improve Haiti's education system.

During a stopover on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe earlier this week, Hollande admitted that France owed Haiti a "debt," but officials later insisted he was referring to a "moral" debt, instead of a financial one.