Caribbean nations seeking compensation for slavery

July 26, 2013

Africa, International

Caribbean nations seeking compensation for slavery

Associated Press

Leaders of more than a dozen Caribbean countries are launching a united effort to seek compensation from three European nations for what they say is the lingering legacy of the Atlantic slave trade.

The Caribbean Community, a regional organization that typically focuses on rather dry issues such as economic integration, has taken up the cause of compensation for slavery and the genocide of native peoples and is preparing for what would likely be a drawn-out battle with the governments of Britain, France and the Netherlands.

Caricom, as the organization is known, has enlisted the help of a prominent British human rights law firm and is creating a Reparations Commission to press the issue, said Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who has been leading the effort.

The legacy of slavery includes widespread poverty and the lack of development that characterizes most of the region, Gonsalves said, adding that any settlement should include a formal apology, but contrition alone would not be sufficient.

“The apology is important but that is wholly insufficient,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. “We have to have appropriate recompense.”

The notion of forcing the countries that benefited from slavery to pay reparations has been a decades-long quest. Individual countries including Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda already had existing national commissions. Earlier this month, leaders from the 14 Caricom nations voted unanimously at a meeting in Trinidad to wage a joint campaign that those involved say would be more ambitious than any previous effort.

Each nation that does not have a national reparations commission agreed to set one up, sending a representative to the regional commission, which would be overseen by prime ministers. They agreed to focus on Britain on behalf of the English-speaking Caribbean as well as France for the slavery in Haiti and the Netherlands for Suriname, a former Dutch colony on the northeastern edge of South America that is a member of Caricom.

In addition, they brought on the British law firm of Leigh Day, which waged a successful fight for compensation for hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government as they fought for the liberation of their country during the so-called Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s.

Attorney Martyn Day said his first step would likely be to seek a negotiated settlement with the governments of France, Britain and Netherlands along the lines of the British agreement in June to issue a statement of regret and award compensation of about $21.5 million to the surviving Kenyans.

“I think they would undoubtedly want to try and see if this can be resolved amicably,” Day said of the Caribbean countries. “But I think the reason they have hired us is that they want to show that they mean business.”

Caribbean officials have not mentioned a specific monetary figure but Gonsalves and Verene Shepherd, chairwoman of the national reparations commission in Jamaica, both mentioned the fact that Britain at the time of emancipation in 1834 paid 20 million pounds to British planters in the Caribbean, the equivalent of 200 billion pounds today.

“Our ancestors got nothing,” Shepherd said. “They got their freedom and they were told ‘Go develop yourselves.'”

British High Commissioner to Jamaica David Fitton was quizzed on the issue Wednesday during a radio interview and said that the Mau Mau case was not meant to be a precedent and that his government opposes reparations for slavery.

“We don’t think the issue of reparations is the right way to address these issues,” Fitton said. “It’s not the right way to address an historical problem.”

In 2007, marking the 200th anniversary of the British prohibition on the transportation of slaves, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed regret for the “unbearable suffering” caused by his country’s role in slavery. After the devastating Haitian earthquake in January 2010, then French President Nicolas Sarkozy was asked about reparations for slavery and the 90 million gold francs demanded by Napoleon to recognize the country’s independence. Sarkozy acknolwedged the “wounds of colonization,” and pointed out that France had canceled a 56 million euro debt to Paris and approved an aid package that included 40 million euros in budget support for the Haitian government.

Gonsalves said far more needs to be done and he hopes to begin an “honest, sober and robust,” discussion with the European governments soon and intends to champion the issue when he becomes the chairman of Caricom in January. “You have to seize the time,” he said.

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CARICOM
Pess release 147/2013
(06 July 2013)
Heads agree on reparations follow-up action

Caribbean Community (CARICOM)

(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), on the final day of their Thirty-Fourth Regular Meeting agreed on follow-up action on the matter of reparations for native genocide and slavery.

The Meeting agreed to the establishment of a National Reparations Committee in each Member State with the Chair of each Committee sitting on a CARICOM Reparations Commission. The Heads of Government of Barbados (Chair), St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago will provide political oversight.

The decisions were taken followed presentations by Member States, led by St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and their unanimous support of the road map.

Chair of the Community, the Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, at an end-of-Meeting Press Conference at the Hilton Hotel, described progress on the subject as a very positive outcome.

Earlier in the day, during his contribution to the discussions, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said he conceptualized the call for reparations as an integral element of the Community’s development strategy. The legacy of slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean severely impaired the Region’s development options.

“We know that our constant search and struggle for development resources is linked directly to the historical inability of our nations to accumulate wealth from the efforts of our peoples during slavery and colonialism. These nations that have been the major producers of wealth for the European slave-owning economies during the enslavement and colonial periods entered Independence with dependency straddling their economic, cultural, social and even political lives”, Prime Minister Spencer said.

Reparations, he added, had to be directed toward repairing the damage inflicted by slavery and racism.

“We, as political leaders, must encourage our various reparation agencies to continue the education of our Caribbean people and our Diaspora, and enhance their awareness of the reparations issue. It is important that there is solid people and multi-party support for our efforts and we must impress on our colleagues in both Government and Opposition that this is not an issue we should use as party-politics fodder. Our various reparation organizations must see the forging of bi-partisan political support and civil society consensus for reparations as one of their main objectives,” the Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister added.

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THE CARIBBEAN COMMUNITY
In 1972, Commonwealth Caribbean leaders at the Seventh Heads of Government Conference decided to transform the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) into a Common Market and establish the Caribbean Community, of which the Common Market would be an integral part.

The signing of the Treaty establishing the Caribbean Community, Chaguaramas, 4th July 1973, was a defining moment in the history of the Commonwealth Caribbean. Although a free-trade area had been established, CARIFTA did not provide for the free movement of labour and capital, or the coordination of agricultural, industrial and foreign policies.

The objectives of the Community, identified in Article 6 of the Revised Treaty, are: to improve standards of living and work; the full employment of labour and other factors of production; accelerated, coordinated and sustained economic development and convergence; expansion of trade and economic relations with third States; enhanced levels of international competitiveness; organisation for increased production and productivity; achievement of a greater measure of economic leverage and effectiveness of Member States in dealing with third States, groups of States and entities of any description and the enhanced co-ordination of Member States’ foreign and foreign economic policies and enhanced functional co-operation.

The Revised Treaty
In 1989, when the Heads of Government made the decision to transform the Common Market into a single market and economy in which factors move freely as a basis for internationally competitive production of goods and provision of services, it was also decided that for the transformation to take place, the Treaty would have to be revised.

In 1992, following the adoption of the report of the West Indian Commission, an Inter-governmental Task Force was established, to work on the revision of the Treaty.

Between 1993 and 2000, the Inter-Governmental Task Force (IGTF) which was composed of representatives of all Member States, produced nine Protocols, for the purpose of amending the Treaty. These nine Protocols were later combined to create a new version of the Treaty, called formally, The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas Establishing the Caribbean Community, including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.

Allowances have been made for the subsequent inclusion in the Revised Treaty, by way of additional Protocols, new issues such as e-commerce, government procurement, trade in goods from free zones, free circulation of goods, and the rights contingent on the free movement of persons.
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Slave Trade

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Video: Fight for slavery reparations splits French government June 2013

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Video: Brown University- Racial Slavery and Its Reverberations 2013

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Video: Brown University- Legacies of Slavery in American Life – Amanda Lewis 2013

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Video: Brown University- Legacies of Slavery in American Life – Linda Williams 2013

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Video: Brown University- Slavery in American Memory- Lois Horto 2013

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Video: Boston College- Should Reparations Be Paid to the Descendants of Slaves? Christopher Hitchens Debate (2001)

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Video: Slavery and Freedom in the Caribbean and Latin America 2008
UCTV
The Legacy of Slavery: Unequal Exchange conference resulted from the passage of Senate Bills 2199 and 1737 in 2000 and was meant to address a number of issues related to the economic and political legacy of slavery, the roles of governments and businesses in this enterprise, and the question of reparations for the descendants of slaves.

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