No Backing Down on Reparations Demands

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters on Sept. 28, 2012. (John Minchillo/AP Photo)
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters on Sept. 28, 2012. (John Minchillo/AP Photo)

by Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Caribbean governments restated their intention to pursue Britain and other European nations that participated in the brutal transatlantic slave trade for reparations. Likewise, they want those nations to know that they should negotiate with the region in good faith.

Freundel Stuart, the prime minister of Barbados and the trade bloc head of government leading preparations for the case against Europe, recently told reporters that governments and the umbrella reparations commission preparing the case prefer the issue not be handled not on a basis of “a diplomacy of protest.”

“There is going to be no retreat on the issue of reparations,” he said. “It is an issue to which the entire region is irrevocably committed, and we cannot turn our backs on our history and the legacy which has been bequeathed to us as a result of slavery and native genocide.”

The region has been leading the way among Blacks around the world in the fight to receive remunerations from Britain, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France and others for making millions of Blacks work on sugar and other plantations without paying them a cent in compensation, as well as for the millions who died during the horrible transatlantic journey from Africa’s West Coast to the Caribbean.

Professor Hilary Beckles, the regional academic leading preparatory work on the issue, made it clear to the British Parliament in a well received address last year that slavery and its lingering effects are most likely to be blamed for some of the social and health problems Caribbean citizens are forced to live with today, including a greater proportion of people living with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

These he linked to prolonged high levels of stress and an extremely poor diet dating back to plantations.

“We are pursuing the issue of reparations on the basis of a diplomacy of engagement. And that is very important because all of us have today civilized diplomatic relations with former slave trading nations, and we’re not about to undermine, depreciate or destroy those relations. We contemplate therefore, as a first measure, having a discussion with designated countries, former slave trading countries, to see what areas of agreement exist and whether there can be an amicable and civilized resolution to our differences,” he said.

Stuart said leaders had discussed the issue at length at their mid-year meeting in the Bahamas late last month. The region has already been assured by the British law firm it has hired to make the case in Europe that it is based on good legal, moral and historical foundation and should be won on a trot.

That same firm was a shoo-in among leaders because it had made Britain pay millions in reparations for genocide committed against Kenyan Mau Mau freedom fighters in the colonial era. Stuart said the preparatory work is continuing apace.

“There is a legacy with which we are dealing, and what we are trying to sensitize former slave trading nations to is the existence of that legacy and the connection between that legacy and their actions in the 17th and 18th and part of the 19th century as well. Having done that, we look at our areas of continuing deficit—social deficit, economic deficit and sometimes political deficit … and try to see what developmental initiatives we can initiate as a result of our discussions to redress some of these hideous imbalances. So that is the course we are intending to pursue.”

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