Will the Caribbean Repa­ra­tions Ini­tia­tive In­spire a Re­vi­tal­iza­tion of the US Move­ment?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Don Ro­jas

Pic­ture this scene. It was al­most sur­real, im­prob­a­ble just a few years ago: a room filled with pres­i­dents, prime min­is­ters and for­eign min­is­ters from the fif­teen-na­tion Caribbean Com­mu­nity (CARICOM), all lis­ten­ing with rapt at­ten­tion, sev­eral nod­ding in agree­ment, as Pro­fes­sor Sir Hi­lary Beck­les, one of the re­gion’s most distin­guished aca­demics, and per­haps the Caribbean’s most prom­i­nent public in­tel­lec­tual, gave a riv­et­ing re­port on the re­cent work of CARICOM’s Repa­ra­tions Com­mis­sion, which he leads. Yes, “repa­ra­tions,” as in com­pen­sa­tion for the crimes of slav­ery and in­dige­nous geno­cide at the hands of for­mer Euro­pean col­o­niz­ers— repa­ra­tions, as in repara­tory jus­tice for the hor­rific con­se­quences of two of the great­est crimes against hu­man­ity in the history of this planet—the 400 years of the African slave trade and the sys­tem­atic and cal­cu­lated ex­ter­mi­na­tion of the in­dige­nous peo­ples of the Amer­i­cas.

This scene played out in the con­fer­ence room of the beau­ti­ful Buc­ca­ment Bay Re­sort on the Eastern Caribbean is­land of St. Vin­cent on March 10, 2014; the oc­ca­sion—the 25th In­ter-Ses­sional Meet­ing of the Con­fer­ence of Heads of Gov­ern­ment of the Caribbean Com­mu­nity. Con­trary to what a ca­sual ob­server could con­clude, this was not some gath­er­ing of flam­ing rad­i­cal black na­tion­al­ists de­mand­ing repa­ra­tions from white so­ci­ety. There was ap­plause at the end of the pro­fes­sor’s re­port. Not a sin­gle dis­sent­ing voice was heard from a group of lead­ers whose pol­i­tics ranged from con­ser­va­tive through lib­eral to pro­gres­sive. The CARICOM heads of gov­ern­ment then pro­ceeded to unan­i­mously adopt a ten-point pro­gram for repara­tory jus­tice for the re­gion. This break­through plan calls for a for­mal apol­ogy for slav­ery, debt can­cel­la­tion from for­mer col­o­niz­ers and repa­ra­tion pay­ments to re­pair the per­sist­ing “psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma” from the days of plan­ta­tion slav­ery.

For over 400 years Africans and their de­scen­dants were clas­si­fied in law as non­hu­man, chat­tel, prop­erty, and real es­tate. They were de­nied recog­ni­tion as mem­bers of the hu­man fam­ily by laws de­rived from the par­lia­ments and palaces of Europe.

This history has in­flicted mas­sive psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma upon African de­scen­dant pop­u­la­tions. This much is ev­i­dent daily in the Caribbean. Only a repara­tory jus­tice ap­proach to truth and ed­u­ca­tional ex­po­sure can be­gin the process of heal­ing and re­pair. Such an en­gage­ment will call into be­ing, for ex­am­ple, the need for greater Caribbean in­te­gra­tion de­signed to en­able the com­ing to­gether of the frag­mented com­mu­nity,” stated the CARICOM Repa­ra­tions Com­mis­sion.

The plan also calls for as­sis­tance to boost the re­gion’s tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pac­ity and to strengthen its public health, ed­u­ca­tion and cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions such as mu­se­ums and re­search cen­ters. It even calls for the cre­ation of a “repa­tri­a­tion pro­gram”, in­clud­ing le­gal and diplo­matic as­sis­tance from Euro­pean gov­ern­ments, to po­ten­tially re­set­tle any per­son who wishes to re­turn to Africa, par­tic­u­larly mem­bers of the Rasta­far­ian spir­i­tual move­ment. Repa­tri­a­tion to Africa has been a car­di­nal belief of Rasta­fari for decades, and their fol­low­ers have con­sis­tently ad­vo­cated for repa­ra­tions.

Col­lec­tively, the economies of CARICOM mem­ber states to­tals about $78 bil­lion, which would place the re­gion sixty-fifth in the world if it were a sin­gle coun­try. Clearly, this is a re­gion that can’t claim much in the way of eco­nomic clout, yet its de­mands for repa­ra­tions pos­sess enor­mous moral au­thor­ity, as it suf­fered over 400 years of slav­ery and colo­nial­ism at the hands of Euro­pean pow­ers, mainly Bri­tain, France, Spain, Por­tu­gal, the Nether­lands and Swe­den.

Strong sup­port for CARICOM’s repa­ra­tions claims was voiced in late Jan­uary by the Com­mu­nity of Latin Amer­i­can and Caribbean States (CELAC) at its sum­mit in Ha­vana, Cuba. In a “Spe­cial Dec­la­ra­tion” on the is­sue of repa­ra­tions for slav­ery and the geno­cide of na­tive peo­ples, CELAC said it sup­ported whole­heart­edly “a swift, ac­tion-ori­ented and good-faith en­gage­ment with those col­o­niz­ing states re­spon­si­ble for the geno­cide of na­tive peo­ples and African en­slave­ment in the re­gion, with the spon­sor­ship and or­ga­ni­za­tion of the State with a view to iden­ti­fy­ing just and ef­fec­tive means to pro­vide repa­ra­tions for the im­pact of those se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights that are a crime against hu­man­ity, to which they are morally obliged.”

If the Euro­pean pow­ers fail to pub­licly apol­o­gize and refuse to come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, the CARICOM na­tions said they will file a law­suit against the Euro­pean pow­ers at the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice in the Hague.

They have hired a pow­er­ful Bri­tish hu­man rights law firm, Leigh Day, to rep­re­sent their claims against Europe. Mar­tyn Day, a se­nior part­ner at the firm, said that plans are afoot to con­vene an up­com­ing meet­ing in Lon­don be­tween Caribbean and Euro­pean of­fi­cials to “en­able our clients to quickly gauge whether or not their con­cerns are be­ing taken se­ri­ously.” He called the CARICOM plan a “fair set of de­mands on the gov­ern­ments whose coun­tries grew rich at the ex­pense of those re­gions whose hu­man wealth was stolen from them.”

In 2013 the Leigh Day firm waged a suc­cess­ful cam­paign for com­pen­sa­tion of al­most $20 mil­lion for sur­viv­ing Kenyans who were tor­tured by the Bri­tish colo­nial gov­ern­ment dur­ing the Mau Mau re­bel­lion of the 1950s.

Euro­pean re­ac­tions to the CARICOM de­mands have so far been mixed. There have been

Univer­sity of the West Indies Pro­fes­sor Hi­lary Beck­les con­tin­ues to lead the

charge for repa­ra­tion.

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